I'm fascinated, but unfortunately not surprised, by a recent Salon article about how body image changes after first intercourse. The not surprising part of the study of college students is that men feel better about their body image after their first time–and women feel worse. Writer Tracy Clark-Flory cites a similar study from 1995 [the link to it is broken] and says:
"women were significantly more likely to report that their first sexual experience left them feeling less pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement than men, and more sadness, guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, and fear." The major culprit is that familiar foe, the sexual double standard in which men are crowned as studs and women are branded as sluts when it comes to sex.
So dudes feel worse and worse about their non-sexually-active status, and then when it happens they get a huge esteem boost. Women's esteem rises through college until, bam, they have intercourse and it plummets.
I actually don't remember feeling less esteem the first time I did it, because by the time I got around to it, I was more in the typical dude's situation. I do recall some serious discomfort with the whole if-I'm-naked-he'll-see-my-fat thing, though. Clark-Flory mentions something I used to totally experience, but never had a name for. It's called sexual 'spectatoring,' when you see yourself from a "third person perspective" during sex instead of being in the moment with your partner. She describes it as:
Translation: You think, "Do my breasts look OK from this angle" instead of, "Wow, this position feels fantastic."
As for me, I was pretty certain that the missionary position made my stomach look the flattest. There's another element to this as well, though. A woman's first time having intercourse *could* mean bleeding or pain or pregnancy or being very vulnerable to a stronger partner. And likely *won't* include the payoff of an orgasm. So, no wonder there's more anxiety around it, never mind all the body image issues.
She also points out that the double-standard is double-edged. That both men and women are judged by their sexual behavior - it's just that what's desirable for one is the total opposite of the other. The answer, of course, is not to avert low self-esteem by guilting and shaming women into delaying intercourse until they find their true-love-special-someone, but to counter-act the relentless toxic messages our culture sends out about feminine ideals, sexual roles and the idea that there's actually one right age to start having sex.