Fucking, Complicated

The author has chosen to publish this piece anonymously to protect her sexual privacy.

“Oh thank god, I thought I had raped you,” my ex-boyfriend said. He’s probably the only man I will ever date. We were eating ice cream in a train station three years after we didn’t have sex, at least not by my definition at the time, though these days I would call our fumblings very bad sex. I was entirely dry and it hurt when he touched me, but I didn’t know what to ask him to do instead.

“You should masturbate,” he told me. “Go home and masturbate. Figure this out.” Sullen, I turned away: Who are you to direct my relationship with my own body? Who am I not to?

“Yes,” I had said earlier, “I want you to touch me. I’m sure. I think.”

I am still hesitant to let a partner touch me. It is still the gift of my most vulnerable moment, that first shock like stepping into cold water. I will flinch, and she will ask if it’s okay. Yes, I will say, and I’ll will it to be okay until the trust kicks in, always a few seconds late. Besides, these days I know we will both end up disappointed. It’s easier to get her off, so I start there if possible. I’m not stone, exactly, not a top, just resigned to my body.

But lying on an air mattress at sixteen, I knew only that my body was betraying me, fleeing the scene, tuning out, while my brain wanted to be having almost-sex, yes, yes I kept saying, yes. No wonder he was confused. He tried to respect my body’s no, but I insisted. I was trying to convince both of us.

My clit is not easy to love. She crawls into a funk and won’t be cajoled back out. My vagina sulks; swings moods on a whim. Get out. Come back. No more. Don’t stop.

 “You need to relax,” my first girlfriend told me.

“You have some tissue of the hymen left intact,” the nurse told me, “because you’ve never had penetrative penis-in-vagina sex” (she was trying hard; she was very tactful) “which may be causing you a little pain. You could also have vaginismus, which means your muscles are clenching during sex. There’s good therapy, though.” I never went back for the therapy. I wasn’t fucking anyone at the time, and it seemed indulgent.

“I’m learning to be patient,” my lover told me. “Every other woman I’ve slept with comes so easily. I’ve never understood the point of vibrators before.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “You feel good inside me, and that’s what I want.” White lies in bed.

“My nipples didn’t used to be sensitive, either,” my first girlfriend told me. “Just wait.”

I doubt my nipples will ever be sensitive, but once I licked a woman’s areola until she came. I was delighted with myself until I saw how upset she was. Her body had betrayed her. She hadn’t meant to give me control. Even when I realized she was shaking, and held her tight, and rested my lips on her shoulder, my gloating grin wouldn’t fade. I had taken her most vulnerable moment without her consent, but I still felt proud.

The first time I had an orgasm I didn’t recognize it. I have never shaken the heavens with my coming. The magnificent Betty Dodson is literally the only source I’ve ever read that mentions the gradual development of orgasmic response – and I read a lot about sex. We don’t all thunder, at first or ever. Other myths of sex and capitalism, exploded: my favorite vibrator is not the one I bought with the sum of my grandmother’s Christmas money, but the free, small, super-powered blue one I received after reading a very bad sex poem to a packed room. Look, Ma, writing is a lucrative career after all!

After the ice cream, but before we caught our respective trains home, my ex-boyfriend told me about the girl who had been flirting with him all semester and then accused him of sexual assault.

“But all my friends agreed,” he said, “that she was the one initiating the touching. We never had sex, and I never came on to her. But I thought so much about this: was I sure I hadn’t done anything? Am I a bad person? Is this a pattern? Am I a rapist?”

I don’t know what I said. Congratulations, you single-handedly buck all statistics! Accused of sexual assault by your own conscience, and again out loud by a woman: but you didn’t do it.

And if she had come to me instead? What could I have said? How could I call myself a feminist and not believe a self-proclaimed survivor? I’m glad I’m not dating him any more: I clearly remember latching on to this thought. I’m glad I’m not dating him any more, because moral dilemmas always turn muddled when he’s around. All my feminist tenets start to disintegrate: never blame the victim; always believe them; rapes are almost never falsely reported. You’ll know when you’re ready to have sex. Just ask for what you want. Just listen to your body. Sex will come naturally. Yes means yes.

 “She’s crazy, you know?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, but I meant no, no, no.

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