This was supposed to be a lulzy recounting of my first time having sex, but then the examination of my sexuality took a turn elsewhere.
Word count: ~2,600.
“And if they feared the power, would they try to cut her off from it by breaking her? A Virgin Night performed with malevolent skill could strip her of her power while leaving the rest intact.”– Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood
It’s been years since I read Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books, but here’s how I remember it going down: a witch’s first time having sex is a make or break experience. Men looking to destroy a witch’s power rape her. For the others, sex is a rite of passage to be navigated with a safe (cis male) partner to ensure her power continues growing.
There’re problematic parts of this of course. The absence of pleasure, the cis hetero normative narrative, sex as a universal, the absolutism of it. But I do think there’s some truth to it. Our first times matter in the same way first impressions do. Have a shitty first time, and it’s harder to recover from than an underwhelming one.
It’s a rite of passage to be born, not done in pleasure. And isn’t that what sex is right now anyway?
Which is why I’m glad I chose the circumstances of my sexual first time by placing an ad on Craigslist*.
I’ve written about this before, there’s an old LJ post and a creative nonfiction piece that reframes it as a succubus’ first time. But I don’t think I ever wrote a factual recounting of it.
This isn’t it, though.
While I’d figured out masturbating in grade school, sexual desire didn’t lick its way up my thighs until college. Being a Virgo, I did the logical thing and got myself on birth control.
And when it was time for me to graduate and move back home with my parents, I knew my mother would never let me stay out late with unknown boys.
I also went to a small college, famous for its lack of partying and where dating dating or sex often became an incestuous affair. I had to take matters into my own hands.
Craigslist is good at finding what you need. The guy I slept with was looking to sell or buy a bike, I don’t remember which it was. I was looking to have sex for the first time on my own terms.
He was not my first, second, or third choice. But he was the most normal, he didn’t send unsolicited dick pics, and he wasn’t a Republican.
He was solicitous and considerate. Plenty of foreplay. I remember being surprised that the slick sounds were coming from me. That my voice dropped low enough to harmonize with the bass line of the indie band playing in the background. He didn’t shove into me, and when the angle was difficult for me, he set me on top of him to explore him on my own.
(All of these should be the bare minimum really, but, well the bar for cis men is six feet under.)
Right when things started feeling interesting, he came, and that was the end.
(What a heteronormative notion of sex.)
While that was the sexual conclusion, I lingered in bed. He wound up driving me back to campus, and when I left his car, I thanked him for the ride.
I wondered if I should look back, or thank him for giving me what I wanted. I did neither, and walked the rest of the way home.
I didn’t come, the sky didn’t part; but neither did my body cleave in two, nor did shame or fear make a home in me.
I hadn’t waited for love, or even attraction if I’m honest. I am slow to make decisions, but when I make them, I commit to them. I am proud of this one too, grasping the circumstances of my first time and making it happen for myself in the manner I chose.
It is a gift (and luck) that sex has never been painful for me. Of all the ways the world tried to bend me to its vision, sex has never been one of them.
I have no regrets.
When I unlocked my door, Ada opened hers across the hall.
“You’re back! I was so worried about you!” she said.
(What, you thought I didn’t have a stranger-danger buddy I texted the whole night?)
She’d been my wingwoman in this affair. She took pics of me in my underwear (god the lighting was terrible in them, and I never used them) and helped me pick my outfit (both times; I was to have sex with someone else entirely at first, but he’d had to cancel at the last minute). As I went to catch the bus, she took one last look at me.
“You need something fun for your outfit,” she assessed, and loaned me her tan scarf, threaded through with gold.
I folded it in half and handed it back to her.
“You’re a woman now!” she beamed.
I gave her a Look.
She laughed. “My bad,” she corrected. We did attend a women’s college after all.
“It was good,” I confirmed.
We fistbumped, and I went to sleep, ready to graduate the next morning.
“Sex makes us feel and re-member parts of ourselves we have forgotten or pushed away. Sex transmits affection, attachment, affliction, it transports us and it traumatizes us. Sex forces us to confront the shape and size or our bodies, our physical limits, our ability and disability.”–Kai Cheng Thom, We Need Pleasure-Centered, Trauma-Informed, Body-Affirming, Transformative Justice-Based Sex Education
After moving back in with my parents, my sex drive slowly evaporated. While masturbating was an option, there was no longing for another body or person to share in the experience with.
What stayed on my mind though, was the time I had lingered in the Craigslist man’s bed. The blanket he’d tucked me into was warm and soft, his body was next to mine, and his fingers traced patterns along my skin.
I didn’t want to leave, so I stayed, and blew past my bus’ arrival. (That’s why he had to drive me back.) I wanted to go right to sleep there. I didn’t care that he was a stranger, that it would be vulnerable, that we had not agreed to staying the night.
This is the memory I return to over and over, his hands on my body.
And eventually, my mind skipped to other memories of touch.
Maybe there’s something more to this, I thought.
After two years with my sex drive MIA, and still no desire towards anyone, I began imagining what my life would be like if sex wasn’t a key component.
It was hard. I had so wanted to sleep my way across town, and the perfectionist in me wanted to perfect the art of sex. Neither of those things were happening.
Not that I couldn’t have sex. It just wasn’t worth the hassle of dealing with people I was unattracted to, or whose idea of foreplay was a finger and then their penis. I could do better on my own, and they didn’t have anything else I wanted.
I began reading posts on Tumblr and articles by asexuals. It was there I found any semblance of my life’s priorities: a focus not on sexual connection, but an intimacy so deep, it could barely be called platonic.
And right as I was coming to be at peace with the absence of sexual attraction, it swept right into my life.
I invited Xavier into my bed to cuddle, and then to stay the night because I didn’t want to stop. And then, a few weeks in, as I was falling asleep, he pressed a wet kiss to my neck.
It was lightning.
I twisted away in surprise, and he resumed spooning me as normal.
The next night – because I will always grab a bull by the horns, name an elephant in a room – I told him, “I wouldn’t mind if we did that again, just tell me next time okay?”
“Oh?” he said, and that night we fell into bed in the figurative sense.
The next morning, to my delight, I woke with a collar of bruises.
I’ve described my sex drive and capacity for sexual attraction as a legendary Pokemon from the original Gameboy games. Just when I think I’ve found it, it runs away to a different part of the map.
I am sexually uninterested in most people, ambivalent about some, repulsed by a few, and genuinely want fewer still.
My current track record is being sexually attracted to 1 person per 24 years of living. If I keep going at this rate, I’ll be 48 before lightning strikes twice. So, no, I’m not banking on my vagina yearning** for anyone. (But I do still hope.)
Do you see why it’s easier to define myself by the absence instead of its rare appearance?
My desire for sex is abysmal, but my hunger for touch – most easily met through cuddles or snuggles – is insatiable. I dream about it, I lie awake at night thinking about it, I wish for dreams about it, I write in my diary how much I burn for it. I curl up in bed and cry from the sheer force of want.
People talk about sex drive incompatibility, but not touch hunger incompatibility.
Xavier had a higher sex drive than me, but I outpaced him in desire for touch.
They make creams and pills for low libido, but nothing for a low touch drive. Why?
What was the common denominator between my college and post-college appearance by my sex drive? The only thing I can think of is the amount of cuddles I was getting. In college, I could sprawl across my teammates’ laps, study in bed with them, scratch their scalps. And post-college, I grew accustomed to Xavier’s shape next to mine when I slept. A surplus of cuddles, enough that I wasn’t jonesing for it anymore, was confident I could and would have as much as I needed.
Is this what I need to be capable of sexual desire? Some kind of Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs but for sex? There’s not enough data to know, because I so rarely get enough touch.
I had assumed that one day my sexual desire would crash over me, and I would want and I would go out and slake my thirst. That day never came, and instead, I was faced with the depth of my want for touch.
It seems so easy when I write it out on the page like this, but this took years for me to make my peace with it.
My relationship to sex is not what I waited for, and my relationship to touch is not what I longed for, but it’s tiring to work against myself. I think of Octavia imploring us to partner with change, to shape it. So, I don’t try to will my desire to flow against the tide. I partner with it, following its course to some distant shore.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body– Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
love what it loves.”
I was bullshitting with the people at my table, relating a tale of my days as a volunteer pregnancy prevention educator during college.
“So this class is wild!” I tell them. “They look at me and my teaching partner and ask each other, ‘So which one of them do you think is a virgin?’ And I’m sitting there shocked the teacher’s not doing anything.”
“Well, my dear,” the man to my right laughs, “which one of you was?”
I think I said something like, “What does it matter? Virginity is a social contract!”
The table laughed, and we moved on.
After, in the bathroom, the woman who sat across from me asked, “Are you asexual too?”
I looked up at her from the sink in surprise. “How did you know?”
“Your answer, when he asked if you were a virgin.”
“Yes. Wish I’d figured that out before sleeping with people I wasn’t into.”
I wanted to ask her what about my response had given me away. Decrying social constructs was a common thing at my college; it wasn’t a good indicator of sexuality.
But I let it lie. It was nice to be recognized by someone. It was also the first time I said it out loud. I still hesitate to say it, because it feels messy to say asexual-ish, maybe demi-ish, asexual with key and enthusiastic exceptions-ish.
I want to joke I’m bi because I can’t afford to be picky when attraction is so rare. But that sounds terrible, and besides, I knew I was bi before my sex drive kicked in.
But time has only deepened my initial sketches of how I’d live my life. Yes, I am capable and willing to build a life with my friends, people who I have no romantic or sexual interest in. (Although I suppose building a life with your best gal pal is romantic.) Or, said another way: I have no interest in making romantic or sexual desire the compass points I live my life by. They do not make a person more worthy or important to me.
There are a number of things in my life that I just knew: when my favorite color had changed from pink to burgundy, that my mother’s conception of my gender was wrong, that I was bi. I just had to look into myself one day, and go, Ah, there it is.
Being somewhere in the asexual umbrella wasn’t like that. I struggled against myself for years, wanting to want people and their bodies.
It’s hard to define something by its absence. I suppose people just spontaneously want to climb people like trees? Fuck them senseless? I wouldn’t know.
I’m not sure what exact term in the asexual grouping works best for me, because my sample size is so small.
I’m comfortable as I am. I’m not seeking it out. If it comes it comes. I am not waiting for it; I have a life to build.
A retired expectation:
The forester at the State Fair is handsome in the summer heat. Tall, with brown hair somehow not damp with sweat, and his smile towards the kids pointing at Smokey the Bear is kind. He catches my eye, and that smile reels me right in.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hello,” he says right back, and I give him a once-over, wanting to climb him, hook my ankles around the small of his back.
We exchange numbers, and after dinner with my parents, I go to his apartment.
His kisses have just the right amount of teeth. I tell him how much I love bruises as souvenirs, and he obliges.
In the morning, he convinces me to stay for breakfast, and then we fall back into bed.
A longing close to my heart:
“It’s past midnight,” he notes, nudging me.
“I can’t stop,” I whine, flipping to the next page of the book.
“C’mon,” he says, bookmarking my page and pushing me back into the bed, then pulling the covers over me.
He presses kisses to my forehead, my cheeks, to the soft part of my neck. I pull him onto me.
Laughing, he slips under the covers, and my hands start pulling his shirt off, wanting skin. I duck under the covers to lie against the soft give of his stomach, the scratch of his hair nice. I surface to his amused face.
“Yeah,” I reply.
I turn out the lights, drawing as close as I can to his warmth and weight and skin. Tomorrow, he’ll still be here, willing to give me this. I would purr if I could, but instead I think of tomorrow, where touch is never in question, is plentiful, and I have this to look forward to again and again and again.
I sink into sleep, sated.
*Craigslist’s Casual Encounters (and the whole of its personal section) was shut down in response to SESTA/FOSTA. Sex workers have talked openly about how the bill is harmful. If you’re unfamiliar with the bill, I recommend looking into it.
**I first heard, “You know, when your vagina just years for someone?” from Natalie Tsui, and have loved the concept of yearning vaginas ever since. XD