In grade school I was in love with my best friend. We were going to get married to each other. We were going to move to a tropical island. We were going to have lots of children, and also lots of dogs and we didn’t ever really think about the people we’d leave behind on the mainland. We kissed all the time-in the back of his parent’s car which had these seats that faced the wrong way so that you were staring into the oncoming traffic and not the car’s interior, in his basement on the white canvas couch and cuddled with a fuzzy blanket, underneath the porch of his family’s beach house, and in my backyard by our small and twisted dogwood tree we were not allowed to climb on, but did anyway. We exchanged gifts on Valentine’s Day, one year he gave me a small red, spongy heart that expanded when you put it in water, and I gifted him a paper cutout heart with love notes and sequins which he kept on the side his refrigerator until we both graduated from 8th grade.
Love at that age is weird because it’s not “love” (I’ve been told), and it’s not lust. I know it wasn’t lust because our friendly, simple “romance” grew moody and brooding until it eventually killed itself when I grew boobs and became a full bodied menstruating women. This was in fifth grade. I don’t know if you experience lust before fifth grade, but when I lost my baby fat and wiggled into a training bra, my weak, testosterone fueled friend was just absolutely beside himself, completely overcome with impure thoughts and a pressing desire to see me naked. One day, we were playing wall ball in my backyard and he suggested we switch to strip poker. I refused. He asked again. I refused. He asked again. I refused, and ashamed of myself and my apparently irresistible but awkward and misunderstood body, skulked inside.
I joke about that experience now, but when it happened I was intensely uncomfortable. I knew what he was asking me to do was wrong, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how to play poker, or be naked. And I thought I trusted this person who I was used to playing hide and go seek in the dark and ball tag with, this person who all the sudden was asking me to do very adult things I wasn’t prepared to do.
Shortly after this event, my mother had “the talk” with me. It’s incredible how differently people treat you when you grow boobs, here was little sixth grade me learning about sex, all because my chest had balls of fat protruding from it. She asked if I knew what “sex” was. I explained to her that I had heard the word before and I was pretty sure it was when two people made out while also being naked. She said “yes” but then added that there was slightly more to it. Because in her words, “a man’s penis is usually floppy like Jello, but when he sees a girl he really likes, it becomes firm, so you can do things with it.” The accompanying hand motions were even more uncomfortable than the phrasing, but at least I now had a working knowledge of the mechanics of sex. I was intrigued, grossed out, completely horrified and fascinated and I was absolutely never going to let that happen to me.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I dated a gay man in high school. We didn’t have sex. It was a long time before that happened. My introduction to sexual experiences was very clunky.
I went to a Catholic High School. We were not given sex-ed or free condoms or any useful advice about what to do should you find yourself in a steamy situation confronted by a firm penis you could do things with. We did, however, have frequent and intense talks from a group called Generation Life. Generation Life is a group of people in their twenties who travel throughout Catholic High Schools and preach abstinence and “love.” It was from these people that I developed my intense fear of birth control and its alleged ability to destroy my uterus while also giving me cancer and ultimately assuring my death. It was also from these people that I learned that sex could not exist without love. Sex without love would leave you perpetually bitter and heartbroken. “All men are dogs”, my school composed entirely of females was told again and again, “they’ll tell you they love you, then have sex with you and forget about you.” Other commonly preached sentiments included “You do not have control over your emotions once you have sex,” “You are forever linked to every person you have sex with even though they are not linked to you,” “If you have sex with someone before marriage your body is irreparably ruined and you will not find a husband” and of course, the clichéd but effective, “You will get pregnant, contract an STD that ruins your fertility, and you will die.”
Sex became scary in a whole new way. I did not want to end up heartbroken, or dead. I did not want genital warts, or a ruined uterus, and I definitely did not want to destroy my chances of ever finding a husband at the ripe age of sixteen. I was, however, intensely curious about the act itself. I had already been a woman for seven or eight years. My hormones were beginning to rage even as I was slowly becoming acclimated to the idea that sex was something special, sacred. When it happened, I would be forging a bond between me and someone who would never leave me. When I had sex with someone, I would be giving them a piece of myself, and taking a piece of them with me wherever I went. Sex was serious. My boyfriend at the time went so far to say that he wanted to wait for marriage to have sex because during marital coitus, the Holy Spirit would be present. Marital sex was holy and made all of the waiting worth it. I believed him and I came to agree with him. We would have sex when we were married and we would never get divorced. It would be perfect because it would be safe and full of trust and love. Whenever one of us got too aroused, we stopped what we were doing and went back to watching TV. Obviously, we broke up because he is gay, and somehow even without the sex, I was devastated. My life honestly went off the rails for a brief period of time. I lost a lot of friends, I lost a lot of weight, I struggled to get out of bed most days, and I had lots of emergency therapy sessions. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We didn’t have sex. I was still supposed to be in control of my emotions and disconnected from this person.
I lost my virginity to a guy, older than me, who called himself, un-ironically, “Big Dick Rick.” Fucking hormones.
I really liked the guy I lost my virginity to, even though I did it very absentmindedly, almost accidentally. I started texting him during one finals season. It wasn’t finals season for him and I needed a distraction. He was flaky, but so are most men, so I wrote it off. He promised he’d make it up to me and “hand me the reigns” when we saw each other, hot I know. When we did finally get together for my proposed “date and/or hookup” evening, we went out for Vietnamese food. He bought us beer. We talked for hours. He kissed me hard on the mouth on my dorm’s rough, gray couch. He pushed me down on my back, removed my glasses, and positioned himself so that he could grind against me. Then, he took me by the hand and led me very gently into my bedroom. He removed my clothing and murmured how cute I was into my polka dot blue underwear with its torn, lacey edges.
He was so beautiful. He had these big strong hands with nimble fingers that moved gracefully and confidently, molded by hours of studio work, piano playing, and video games, the quintessential training guide for the twenty-year-old boy learning the art of erotic touch. He made me feel good. He made me feel confident. He wanted to have sex with me, little inexperienced, admittedly out of shape, me. He whispered something, then bit the bottom of my ear lobe and slid off of my bed to retrieve the condom he had left in the pocket of his discarded jeans.
I was going to have sex. I was not ready, but I was. My anxiety was in a decent place, I was comfortable, relaxed, and aroused. I trusted this person, who did for the record end up being shit that I cried about at 2AM for months afterwards, but you can’t ever trust that someone will love you forever, and even if they do love you forever, there’s still a huge chance you’ll get hurt. The only love sex requires is “self-love.” When you love yourself, everything (and everyone) comes easily. All sex is good sex as long as it’s consensual, and as long as you love yourself.
The only truly regrettable sexual experience I’ve had was when I was desperate for validation. I wasn’t getting enough of that from the boy I wanted it from so I settled for what I thought would be an easy fix. It took lots of showers and laundered sheets and ignoring the dark bruises he left on my thighs to be ok again, but then I was, and I learned to not seek shallow validation from horny college boys I don’t know very well. I still have not contracted an STD, an unwanted pregnancy or died. I take physical precautions and I take care of my soul. There’s no right way to have sex, nor is there a right person to have sex with. My sex and my sexual experiences don’t define me, but I can define my sex. I don’t have to listen to other people’s opinions, I just have to trust myself. In that way, sex has enabled me to grow. Sure, it’s fun, but it took a lot of work for me to have fun with it.