So, here’s an odd statement, which the guy who emailed me was kind enough to allow me to publish:
I sometimes want to try things out – I have zero or little experience and I worry about that. Would be wrong to use a girl as just like to practise on and improve?
The word ‘practice’ bothers me, and not just because of its context-dependent spelling of ‘s’ or ‘c’. This gentleman was asking, after my article on virginity, whether it was OK to find someone to practise sexual things with (kissing, oral, and other delicious non-penis-focused activity) without having to have actual sex.
The answer to this question is a wholehearted ‘yes’, but also a wholehearted ‘no’, because of the way it was phrased.
Not having sex is totally fine
If you meet someone and want to do sexy things but without having what you’d class as ‘full sex’ (i.e. train goes in tunnel) then that is not only fine but, if the other person you’re with is a fan of kissing, oral, frotting, etc, utterly delightful. There’s a deep and gutwrenching joy in having things that aren’t ‘full sex’, and although I am personally a bit of a penetration fetishist (I find it hard to get off if I’m not being pounded, or at least under promise of being pounded in the very near future), there are hundreds of other things that are fun.
However, the word ‘practice’, makes me shudder with discomfort, because it implies some things that make me sceptical of how you actually feel about your partner.
There is no sex Olympics
The key question, really, is what are you practising for? Is there some sex competition that I didn’t know you could enter? Are there skills and techniques you need to know in order to pass a shagging exam? Is this hard work going to pay off ten years down the line when you meet someone who refuses to sleep with you unless she can see your Doctorate in lovemaking? No? Then what you’re doing isn’t practice.
It’s an uncomfortable word because usually we practise on something that isn’t the real thing. We learn to drive with supervision, in cars that have a spare set of pedals so our instructor can slam the brakes on when we almost power headlong into a roundabout (and Colin, if you’re reading this, I’m really bloody sorry). We practise exam questions on past test papers. Above all, the results of our ‘practice’ don’t really matter, because the marks aren’t real or final.
But in bed, the person you’re with is real. They have real nerve endings, real emotions and desires. To reduce them to a GCSE test paper, in which the marks (i.e. their feelings) don’t really matter sounds deeply disrespectful. This, coupled with the word ‘use’ was what gave me shudders in this guy’s email.
There’s nothing wrong with having consensual sex fun with someone that doesn’t involve penetration, but there is definitely something wrong with viewing any individual sexual partner as just a stepping stone towards the amazing sex that you’ll eventually have with someone else. Heavily implied there is ‘better’. You practice on the not-quite-real person, then have better sex with someone… well… better.
Sex practice doesn’t make perfect
Most importantly, the idea of practice implies that if you do enough of it you’ll eventually become ‘good’. This is one of those bullshit beliefs we hold because so many advice columns, sex books, and articles about ‘Ten Ways To Blow Her Mind In Bed’ insist on peddling the myth that everyone likes the same thing. That you can be, objectively, a ‘good shag’. This – and I cannot stress this enough – is bollocks.
Sometimes you’ll have sex with someone for the first time, and loads of your trademark moves will genuinely blow their mind. They’ll sigh, and writhe, and moan in delight as you rub, lick, suck, and fuck them into a glorious and delicious climax. But this is rare. Most of the time you’ll do some things they like, some things they love, and many things that make them want to say ‘left a bit’, ‘a bit softer’, ‘no, wait, a bit harder’ until you do something exactly the way they like it.
I’ve slept with a fair few guys as well as a few girls. Each and every one of them was slightly different, with some of them doing things in ways I’d never have anticipated but turned out to love. Others did things that worked well for their previous partners but turned me right off. I’m sure the same is true of what they thought of me, and generally with those people I was with for longer, we got better at pleasing the other one and knowing what they wanted. No amount of practice can prepare you as well as the knowledge that everyone’s different. So practice doesn’t make perfect – it doesn’t even make ‘good’ – the best revision you can do is to talk to the person you’re with, and listen when they tell you what they like.
Don’t ‘use’ anyone
You don’t owe it to any hypothetical future partner to be the best you can be in bed. It’s not the case that you can pick people who don’t matter to help you perfect your techniques so that you can wow the love of your life at some point. Firstly because the love of your life may well want something completely different, secondly because whoever you’re practicing with may turn out to be the love of your life, and finally because it’s just a shitty thing to do. If I had wild and sticky sex with someone and subsequently found out that they were just ‘using’ me for ‘practice’, I’d kick them out of bed before you could say ‘I am not an unfeeling shag-robot.’
I don’t think this guy is deliberately being mean, or callous. After a few emails back and forth I think he’s just under the impression that he needs to be the best he can be. But you can be at your best not by learning techniques or practising your cunnilingus skills, but by being empathetic, caring and considerate of what your partner needs and wants. Not a hypothetical future partner – the one you’re with in exactly that moment.