A long long time ago a friend of mine asked this question: “What is sex like?” Normally my answer would have been something along the lines of “why not try it and see?” but she was religious, and didn’t want to have sex before she was married. That didn’t stop her being desperately curious about it, though. Being celibate doesn’t stop you being horny, and we’d often have chats about boys who made her flutter, and the way she’d yearn to do more than just blush. Hence her question: what is sex like?
At the time, I think I gave her platitudes – generalisations about what it felt like when everything went well. She followed up her first question with “is it better if you’re in love?” and “does it really really hurt the first time?” and others that I’d probably have asked too, if I’d been in her position. I didn’t give her a proper answer then, but after many more years of thinking and little bit more experience, I thought I’d have a crack at answering properly now. So with the obvious heavy caveat that everyone will experience sex differently, here’s my answer: what is sex like?
What is sex like?
The first time I had sex it was like throwing away a label I didn’t want any more. Where I grew up, losing your virginity was a rite of passage: something that all the cool kids had done as early as humanly possible. We didn’t realise ‘sex’ included all the other stuff we did – frotting and fumbling and fingering round the back of the sheds on the playing field or in dark corners of public parks. ‘Sex’, to us, was penetration. Pain or ejaculation or both. It was a yardstick of maturity. A badge of honour. And we were far too young and horny to examine why that was.
The act itself? It felt like being poked, wetly, for about twenty seconds.
Sex is simultaneously the weirdest, most alien thing that we do, and also one of the most human. So much of the stuff that we put on for show is stripped away, and all that is left is the cluster of nerves and lusts and bumps and ridges that is you. You show someone the most intimate things about you. Not your genitals – though there are those of course – but your quirks and kinks and needs. The noises you make when you’re mewling with joy, and the faces you pull when you can’t bear it to stop.
So: sex is awkward sometimes, and embarrassing sometimes. Sometimes sex feels like standing on a stage entirely naked, having delivered your best joke or spilled your deepest secret, waiting for the audience to either boo or applaud.
Sex is like playing tennis with someone, but much messier.
Sex is like a sneeze multiplied fifty times, if you happen to do it well. Or it’s a heavy stone sitting in the centre of your chest if things went badly.
Great sex can be like taking a midnight walk to the corner shop and finding they have Dairy Milk on discount – a whole bar for fifty pence, woo hoo! Bad sex is like arriving at the pub after a ten-mile hike to find they stopped serving food ten minutes ago.
Sex is sometimes a performance: one that you deliver with passion to the person whose opinion you care about the most. Occasionally it’s total freedom: in the face of your affection for this person, you abandon all pretence and shame, in favour of saying exactly what you mean in that moment. Like ‘harder please, let me feel you in the back of my cunt’ or ‘I don’t bend that way – what are you doing, mate?’ or ‘gimme a second while I put a towel down to catch the drips.’
Back then I think I told my friend that sex was done for love or fun or both. But these days I know that those two reasons don’t even begin to cover it. You can fuck because you’re horny, you’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re bored, you want to do someone a favour or make them feel better after a terrible day. Some people only have sex if they’re in love, others do it out of habit or as hobby or for money or all the above. If you’re anything like me, you’ll sometimes have sex even if you’re not physically into it – because someone you adore is horny and you can’t resist the chance to see that sexy, screwed-up face they make when they come.
Sex is like a trip to Ikea where you get to bounce on all the sofas together, giggling at private jokes. It’s a story you tell each other in the dead of night, when no one else is listening and you don’t have to censor what you say. Sometimes sex is simply about needing dick right this minute – at other times it’s about cajoling myself into remembering that dick is something I like.
What is sex? It is love and it is definitely not love. It can be hate. It can be grief or lust or pragmatism. It’s political and personal: the way you fuck says something about who you are, even if – like me – you try really hard to pretend that it doesn’t.
Sex is the end of time. That moment when you’re with another living, breathing human and their flesh is pressed against your flesh and all you want to do is keep them inside you forever. And it’s the start of time, too – pressing ‘go’ on the countdown clock that marks the invisible minutes and hours you’ll spend together, never knowing when that timer will run out and you’ll have seen them naked for the very final time.
This year marks my thirty-fifth one on this planet, and what that number lacks in numerical significance it more than makes up for in emotion – like every birthday I’ve had since the age of 33. I lost my virginity the night before I turned sixteen. Had that wet-poke, awkward sex that opened the floodgates to the rest of my life. Since those first delicious fumbles with the punky boy who was kind enough to love me, I’ve now spent more years having sex than not knowing how sex felt. In that time I’ve fucked friends, strangers, enemies. Even people to whom – and my lovely pal would have been shocked to learn this – I felt utterly indifferent.
What is sex like?
If I could go back in time to when she asked this question, I think this is what I’d have said:
The sex you have for the first time on your wedding night could be the start of something incredible or the end of something short-lived. More likely you’ll find – as so many of us do – that your first fuck will not transform you. It won’t prove your love to your husband, and nor will it destroy it.
It will be a beginning. The start of a conversation. An introduction to something you might want to explore together. It will probably be a little disappointing, because the sex you see and hear about is usually the stuff that works – and the ‘working’ bit takes time and learning and communication. And the learning is part of the fun.
This conversation with her happened over twelve years ago. We don’t stay in touch but I know her on Facebook, where I pop in occasionally to wish long-distant friends happy birthday, or offer ‘likes’ and congrats on new weddings and babies. It was a recent visit to the site that prompted this post – made me remember the conversation that we’d had so many years ago.
She is on her honeymoon. She looks radiant and happy.
She didn’t need any of this.
Huge thanks to Cara Thereon, whose draft folder challenge prompted me to finish this post off and get it live. It’s been sitting waiting for an ending for well over 6 months, as I tortured myself with the thought that I needed to end it on something wise. I realised, as I read through it, that the world doesn’t need my wisdom any more than my friend did. Sometimes it’s enough just to tell our own stories, and let people take from it what they will. Click the link to see who else is joining in the challenge, and polishing drafts that otherwise might never see the light of day, and if you like sexy words do check out Cara’s blog – she’s an exceptionally talented writer with a serious penchant for filth.