What is sex like? My answer to this tricky question…

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

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. 


  • fuzzy says:

    “Sex is the end of time.” And everything else you said, but this pealed the temple bells for me. This little missive is quite possible the very best thing that I have *ever* read on “what sex is like…”. Thank you, yet again.

    Sex is the best meditation ever.

    My earnest wish is that i die in the middle of having sex.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oooh you’re not the first I’ve heard to describe sex as like meditation – I like the calm and focus that is implied in that! <3

  • Steve says:

    I really love this post, I will give it to my daughter when she is a couple of years older. Thanks for writing it!

  • Abby says:

    As a (gasp) thirty something virgin (yes, it’s possible, yes it’s deeply embarrassing…), this post is exactly what I wish I could ask my friends without fear of judgement.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah thank you! Although definitely don’t take my experience as gospel – I wanted to answer the question because I think it’s interesting but I do hope others will contribute their thoughts in the comments too where I might have missed things or not been able to speak directly to other people’s experiences!

  • Marcus Lundgren says:

    I’m a 42 year-old virgin.
    To me, sex doesn’t seem to be any of the fantasy depictions you describe.
    I mean, it’s basically just mutual masturbation; an exchange of fluids that take place while people
    pretend that they’re engaged in something beautiful. Probably in order to feel less disturbed by the
    sheer clinical physicality of what they’re actually doing.

    I get it that emotions are involved. But being someone who’s unable to attract sexual partners, I can only
    view sex objectively, and as such, it appears to be a fairly dirty business.

    Would I like to experience sex? I certainly would! But I’d like to think that it wouldn’t reduce me to an irrational
    being who compares it with being naked on a stage, or some other fancy glorification.
    I mean, why is it necessary to make it into something almost mystical? That sort of nonsense is really putting me off.

    Perhaps I’m an idiot? I don’t mean to be rude. But when I read things like this about sex, it only increases my anxeity
    levels, because there’s no way on Earth that my little pecker is going to provide a woman with that kind of out of body
    experience. And if that’s what’s expected, then I’m a failure from the start.

    Oh, right. I’m an old virgin, so I guess I already am a failure…

    • Girl on the net says:

      You’re not a failure, but you do appear to only have read the first half of the article I wrote. Perhaps this bit will be more to your taste:

      “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.”

  • Bee says:

    At 17 I lost my virginity to my boyfriend of 9 months. We’d been trying for ages but he was too big and I was too anxious. I’d been brought up with a “lose your virginity to someone you love” message, and I did, despite forays with previous boyfriends. For me, sex was something I wanted to tick off a list, but it was also something I wanted to prove I was good at. Losing my virginity and, soon after, said boyfriend, gave me a freedom that I hadn’t anticipated. I adored sex. I loved how it made me feel. I enjoyed sex with strangers and multiple people at the same time. As an adult who has a social anxiety I didn’t when I was younger, I find it amazing that sex still gives me confidence. I can more happily have sex with a stranger than I can participate in small talk. I’m not sure what that says about me though!!
    It took me until my relationship with my husband to actually take the time to find out what I like though. Or I should say, he took the time. It took courage and patience for me to describe what I like him to do. To not feel embarrassed about naming my pleasure. To be able to relax while he goes down on me. When I’m hurting, sex provides a bridge where my brain is creating a barrier. The touch of his skin, watching him enjoy every orgasm he sends my way, all helps to bring me back closer to him. For me sex is kinda everything. I don’t always want it, and I do need reminding that I like it (short term memory!), but there is nothing I ache for more than to get home and for him to go down on me, followed by sex where he gently tugs on my hair and growls in my ear. I feel wanted, loved, safe, and desired. He brings peace to my chaos.

  • Banquo says:

    I think sex involves engagement of a different personality. I’m not the same person when I’m having sex, whether it’s foreplay, fucking, mutual masturbation, or whatever, as I am at any other time. I’m potentially allowed to do things that my mum would have definitely disapproved of, if she was still around. And yet, she and my dad must have done some of the things my wife and I have done, or I wouldn’t be here. When I’m engaged in sex I’m going to expose another side of my personality to someone else, and there’s the possibility that they won’t like some or all of it. It’s a risk I have to take, to begin with.

    In my early sexual encounters I didn’t know what I’d dare to do. I was worried that my girlfriend would think I was some kind of pervert, or alternatively, not adventurous enough. Or maybe it would turn out that I wasn’t very good at it. What we didn’t do was discuss what we might like to do and to seek each other’s approval. But we were starting from scratch, with no previous experience, so we didn’t know what we might like or what we’d be willing to try. It was a sort of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ situation where one of us might scare off the other, or might feel humiliated by their reaction to what we’d revealed to each other about our alter-egos. So, to begin with, there’s a tentativeness about what we do, and we’re trying to work out whether it’s going OK before we try the next move.

    I remember the first time I went down on her. We’d fucked a few times, and engaged in mutual masturbation and it was all going pretty well. I’d been toying with the idea of ‘licking her out’ but we hadn’t actually talked about oral, so I was quite nervous about it. What if she was disgusted about the whole thing? What if she pushed me away, got dressed and left, saying she didn’t want to be involved with a perv? But I really, really wanted to try it, so while we were in my bed together one Saturday afternoon, rubbing, stroking and kissing our way to arousal, I moved down to kiss her breasts, something I’d done several times before, but then moved on down to her stomach, trying to gauge whether she was tensing up or uneasy. So far, so good, so I moved south of her belly button and into the top of her bush, and getting no feeling that she was unhappy, carried on down to kiss and then lick along her labia. So, now I’m down here, how long do I carry on? And what the hell happens next? Better keep going for now. I probed between the lips and she spread her legs a little further, so that was a further green light for me to continue. By now I had a rock solid erection, and she was very wet indeed, so I thought I’d done enough after a couple of minutes, and worked my way back up, kissing all the way (and wondering if she’d kiss me when the bottom half of my face was wet with her juices, but clearly that didn’t turn out to be a problem) and her hand was rapidly down between us, guiding my dick inside her.

    It was a glorious and vigorous fuck, with her wanting to get on top, as she always got her best orgasms that way, followed by me on top to finish off. I did ask her if going down there was OK, hoping that she’d say it was mind blowing, but rather coyly she said it was ‘very nice.’ But she was OK with me doing it again over the next few days, and then she gave me my first blowjob. Again, there had been no discussion about it beforehand, she just went down and rested her head on my stomach while stroking me to hardness, then moved down far enough to get the tip in her mouth and that DID blow my mind.

    But afterwards, when we’ve cooled down and got dressed, we’re back to our every day personalities, even though we’ve now got shared secrets about what we do when we switch back to our alter-egos. So that’s what sex is, exposing your other self to someone for a short period of time and sharing intimacy that you don’t share with anyone else. At least, that’s what it is to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.