Sex Q&A

Does Your First Sexual Experience Shape Later Sexual Preferences?

February 12, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

A female reader recently asked the following question:

“One of my first experiences in the bedroom was anal. This was about 3 years ago and it was a rather good experience. Ever since then, I’ve been more into anal stimulation than vaginal, or any other stimulation. This is truly my number one preference—it gives me the most pleasure. I was wondering if this has something to do with the fact that anal was one of my first experiences, or if just happened to end up this way.”

So does your very first sexual experience have an impact on the kind of sex you desire later on? I have some data that can speak to this.

I surveyed 4,175 adults about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want. As part of this survey, I asked people to report on the activities that took place during their very first sexual experience, including kissing, mutual masturbation, oral sex (giving and receiving), vaginal intercourse, and anal sex (insertive and receptive).

I then looked to see whether the activities that took place during people’s first sexual experiences were correlated with how often they currently had sexual fantasies involving those very same activities.

What I found was that—across the board—if a given activity took place the first time someone had sex (be it kissing, oral, anal, or otherwise), they reported having more frequent fantasies about it later on.

This suggests that our early sexual experiences may very well have some bearing on our later sexual preferences and desires. In other words, those experiences may shape what turns us on down the road.

However, there is an important caveat here: it may be the case that people who currently like or prefer a given activity simply have an easier time bringing to mind previous experiences involving that activity. In other words, there might be some recall bias going on here, wherein people are just more likely to bring to mind memories of previous events that are consistent with their current attitudes and preferences.

We know from a mountain of research in cognitive psychology that it’s simply easier to remember information that is consistent (rather than inconsistent) with our attitudes, so it’s possible that this is part of what’s going on here.

Also, it’s important to note that our sexual fantasies and desires are very complex and are affected by multiple contributing factors. Our sexual histories certainly play some role, but they’re also shaped by our personalities, our partners, our culture, and more.

So with all of that said, yes, there is research to support a linkage between early sexual experiences and later sexual preferences, but given how complex our sexual desires are, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single, precise source for where any given desire comes from.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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