Reading Emily Nagoski’s How to break your hymen and the comments has made me think.
I remember the fear very well. I think it’s inside me even now. The fear of being penetrated. The terror of being hurt by something that should be pleasurable.
I remember how hollow I felt after the first time I had sex. I didn’t feel anything. There was nothing there that I enjoyed and there was nothing there in my partner that could understand me – reach me – after the fact. He was just taken aback that I didn’t enjoy it even though he didn’t do much in the way of foreplay or talking for that matter.
This was also reminded to me by Joe, when we talked. He confessed to losing his virginity to a girl at the age of 19 and said it didn’t go well. When I was younger, and even in the not so recent past, I never realized how terrifying it must feel that there’s this very real possibility that you couldn’t perform. That all the sex is dependant on your physical functioning. The other thing I never realized was how frightening it is to be scared of not pleasing your partner.
I remember Wonderboy telling me, how he was scared that he wouldn’t last long enough or couldn’t please his partner.
And I remember the first time I was really worried about getting my partner to come – when I was having sex with a girl. I knealed in the foot of the bed to lick her pussy and suddenly realized, how incredibly intimidating it was that I was about to try to please her. I didn’t know her! She could be totally different from me! She did come and I was washed over with relief. I got to experience what it feels like to have to perform in a different way than I’d experienced in the past – not as the sexual object but as the perfomer. I also got to experience, how it feels that your orgasm is taken for granted. She hardly touched me, and although it was fun and I came, I felt like I’d been used to perform the whole sex.
Now, with my experiences in mind, I could totally relate to Joe’s story about his total inability to perform, when it was his first time. And he carried this knowledge of himself as the failure with him to this day. But when he met this woman again last summer, he decided to face her and tell how he felt. As he did tell her it had been his first time, that he’d been nervious and frightened, the woman started to cry. She had blamed herself for ruining everything. She had blamed herself for being no good at sex.
What good did it do for Joe to keep quiet about his virginity? He failed miserably, because of the incredible stress – and also I think because of the lie. He needed to try to keep pretending, because she didn’t know. So they both suffered.
Wonderboy didn’t tell me he was a virgin, either. I suspect I’ve slept with one virgin before him, and I didn’t know about that either. My first partner knew full well that I had no experiences. I was 15, he was 27. I wasn’t at all ashamed, but I can imagine the shame building up. I wanted to get rid of my virginity and I was only 15. What about at 19… or 23?
I wish I’d known about Wonderboy. I could’ve taken him into consideration. I could’ve been more communicative, more gentle, more compassionate. But I didn’t know to be. There was still something magical there when we met. His touch was like a flame on my skin. He found me, he felt me and he heard me. It was something I’d never felt with a man before. That hasn’t changed. His touch made me suspect that he’d actually had loads of experiences. I thought he’d had a girlfriend who had trained him.
When I found out, I almost didn’t believe him at first. I couldn’t believe he would just be so attuned with his body, with touching mine, if he’d never done it before. After the first few times, after confessing he’d been a virgin, he started to have problems with keeping an erection. It’s clear to me now, as it was then, that this was emotional. Sex is not some separate thing our bodies perform. This was a thing I argued with Joe about. He was telling me, with different anecdotes about his life, his cheating on The One True Love, his 3 year celibacy that followed, with now paying Thai girls to like him, how incredibly hurt he’d been. And he still couldn’t accept that the problems he was having with sex were most likely because he was emotionally so broken.
There are things, hurtful things, that we believe about the world. One of them is that not having sexual experiences is a bad thing. One of them is that we think there are certain ways we need to perform and certain acts we need to do for sex to be real somehow. And one of them is that we can separate our body from our soul. This is where sex starts to mean performing and not playing, finding out, exploring and experiencing connection. We wouldn’t want to hug a stranger or possibly wouldn’t be very compassionate about their troubles. Why would sex be any different? Why do we expect our bodies to function in a situation where they never naturally would?
I feel so sad about my first time, about Wonderboy’s lack of trust in me the first time and about Joe’s experience the first time. And I know the only thing that could’ve changed everything… is communicating. But we just didn’t have the courage and the ability then. I hope we do now.
Our bodies remember everything we’ve ever felt. Every little stab, kick, trauma or loving embrace. There’s no way to override yourself. And that’s what your history is. A part of yourself.