Is sex really as simple as something that you get better at, more used to, with time? With practice? Are our bodies really as simple as objects that can be turned on and off — our minds the same? I’ve written a lot about love, about relationships, about sex and the way that it feels, the way that it impacts me emotionally, the way it connects the mind and the body, the way it lingers when the person upon which the memories are attached has disappeared. Sometimes I feel that I have both grazed only the surface and skimmed the entire depths at the same time.
As an eighteen year old, I knew only what hurt, what didn’t last, though it felt like it should have. I knew only what wasn’t meant to happen but what did anyway, knew how to say no in order to preserve myself, but not how to say yes as a motion of empowerment, as a method of taking what I wanted and using it to make myself stronger, more whole.
When I turned twenty, I had been in a relationship long enough to feel comfortable lounging naked in front of another person. I had experienced the thrilling shame of having sex in a public place, felt confident enough to participate in conversations circling around sexual experience. I had certainly orgasmed by then, but was not comfortable enough to admit my need for one, my desire to have sex that wasn’t dependent on a one-sided climax, the one that was easier to see, easier to obtain.
At twenty-two, I learned for the first time what it feels like to have a clitoral orgasm. I think I vaguely knew what it was, but all I knew for sure was that it felt different, more surface-level, quivering as it made its way up and down my body like something soft and tingling running as quickly as it could, no spot on my body given time to forget the sensation before it had returned again, quick and strong. It took me longer to admit my like for it, my desire for it, to express my desire to try something sexual, something new in order to chase that feeling, let it emerge and show itself on my skin and my face, again.
It took me longer to become comfortable with masturbation, to let go of the disgraceful feeling associated with pleasure created by and for oneself, only. For so many years I longed to know what it felt like to let go, but was deeply afraid of the embarrassment, couldn’t relinquish the sense that someone was watching, had always been watching.
It’s easy to be ashamed of these things, if you’ve been raised to do so. It seems relatively easy to accept sex as a fact of life, something that can be given only as much precedence as you would like to give it. I’ve done these things, could very well still be doing them, if I wanted. But it seems such a tragedy to turn off the flow of information, close the well of honesty within myself before it has emptied itself, before I have found all the ways to be as a sexual being. If you want to know how many people I have had sex with, I am not ashamed to tell you. But I am wiser than to broadcast this information on a public platform.
As a twenty-four year old, I know this:
No one told me that sex is more physical than anything else. It can be passionate, can be loving, can feel like things are right with the world, that everything has paused for a moment, but at its core, sex is two (or more) bodies, moving themselves among and inside and alongside each other in hopes of crafting a unique sort of pleasure between them. Anyone can do it, with almost anyone else. And almost everyone does do it, and only some people feel ashamed, and only some people feel satisfied, and only some people feel free.
It is hard sometimes, to allow myself to let go. Sometimes sex feels so contrived, especially with near-strangers, people you have only just begun doing it with. Kisses, anywhere, can feel so ostentatious, when they are placed with the express goal of getting from point A to point B. Sex with someone for the first time, someone with whom you have not yet decided is worth additional time and effort, feels a bit like a bad handshake, an opportunity to judge someone by the pressure they apply to a certain part of your body.
Don’t get me wrong, when things click the right way, sex with anyone, anytime, can work the way a good meal works — giving you a glowing feeling of fullness. Good sex, great sex, inspires a buzzing sensation of having been changed, briefly, by the good judgement of allowing someone access to you in a personally physical way.
Sometimes sex can feel like the only way to make someone stay, to remind someone of their inability to replace you. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve given it away too soon, that the reason you have become forgetful to another person, or the reason why things haven’t worked out, is because the purely physical was offered up prematurely, before someone else has been given the chance to desire it acutely enough. In times like these, it is important to dust yourself off, to remember that what was taken from you was also given back; sex is not a one-sided operation. It took me so long to learn that sex is not always used to express love, sometimes the simplicity is carnal, and sometimes that is enough. There will always be things that exist to serve purposes.
Sometimes I think that sex is what I want, and I am wrong. I’ve been lucky enough to have not been pressured to a point of no return, and I am grateful for that. It’s been as simple as my mind showing an irritatingly strong attention to detail: someone’s hands are too small, someone’s body has too much hair, someone is fumbling too much, someone’s tongue is too aggressively pulsing its way down my throat. It’s been as complicated as realizing, suddenly, that the person with me is not enough, cannot distract me from recent history, cannot wipe my mind clean of remembering the feeling of someone else, the desperate thirst to feel that someone else again.
What else can I say? Sex is everything and nothing, freedom is what we allow ourselves to take, bodies will not stop desiring.
Also? A word of advice: don’t ever let someone convince you that you will be unable to have sex (or good sex) without a condom. This kind of insistence speaks more about their own ability than about condoms’ actual effect on sex. I’ve had some of the worst sex of my life without them, and some of the best (and safest) with them.