Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
You know the old joke about the cobbler’s children having no shoes, the priest’s kids getting knocked up, and the sex columnist’s partners not getting off?
I think about it every time I sit down to write—not in the getting off sense so much, but worrying that people expect me to be perfect at the whole “communication” and “competence” thing when I’m not.
Somebody once praised my condom technique the first time we slept together, and I blushed hard when, a few bouts of safe sex later, I rolled it on backwards (and then went to get a new condom, since you don’t want pre-cum on the wrong side, woo safe sex knowledge, and then things were good).
But hey. I hate, as we know, the myth that sex is natural and something we all know how to do—it’s one of the worst parts of being 16, having that expectation in your head and knowing, at the same time, that you personally? Have no idea what’s going on.
So I’m glad to be 21 now—and still finding new ways to be confused by sex every day. Don’t get me wrong, people like my colleague at the BiCo and Scarleteen are doing a great job of disseminating facts.
But I’m a Swattie and this week all I’ve got for you is questions, a lot of which get to the heart of everything I’ve been writing about this semester, but none of which I have answers to.
Why is asking for what you really want so damn hard sometimes? Why is it that nearly every time I do ask for what I want, I get a good response, and I’m still scared of it? Why do I have a hard time, sometimes, even when I’m asked point-blank what I want? Where did I learn that it’s a bad thing to express desire?
Why is my Hitachi Magic Wand so damn amazing?
Why am I sometimes really ticklish on the inside of my knees and sometimes not at all?
Why do we think of sexual assault as only something that evil people do in evil moments, rather than as something that belongs on a behavioral continuum? Similarly, why do I still sometimes find myself on the brink of sexual activity which I don’t really want, and having a hard time saying no?
Why do we think it’s OK to be emotionally intimate with many people at once but only physically intimate with one? Why do people think that bisexuals can’t possibly be monogamous if they so desire?
Why do people persist in thinking that a guy must be gay if he likes anal play or rear-entry positions? Is there a similar stereotype for lesbians, and would it have to do with the clitoris?
Why do I like the idea of actually playing “20 Questions” with my lover? I mean, why does that get me so hot, does it have to do with playing that game a lot in my childhood, and how am I going to tell them this?
For that matter, is there a sexy version of Operation, where you, like, cautiously remove the butt plug rather than the funny bone and the Adam’s apple? If not, why not, and who is going to come up with the idea first?
Why do I have an easier time talking about safe sex in a “fluids” sense than in an emotional sense? Why do so many of us have an easier time being vulnerable physically than emotionally, for that matter?
Why do people get surprised when I say that you should probably only engage in activities that could get you pregnant with somebody who agrees with you about what to do if your birth control fails?
Why does my cunt look like the most beautiful thing in the world some days and the ugliest others?
Why do I like having my head rubbed so much? (The tentative explanation I have for this is that once somebody told me as a kid that poetry “feels like the top of your head coming off,” and ever since then I have looked for reading and thinking experiences that will feel, well, like the top of my head coming off. And having somebody rub my head is a quick physical route there that doesn’t involve Emily Dickinson.)
Why do the people who get so upset about being judged for not being abstinent sometimes get so upset when somebody else chooses abstinence freely? How the hell does anyone still think abstinence-only education is a good idea in view of the piles of evidence that says it’s not?
Why do we focus on giving and getting sex rather than sharing sex? Is it that hard to carry over certain lessons from kindergarten? Wouldn’t this sort of model really help the whole sexual assault thing?
Seriously, why do I have such a hard time asking for exactly what I want? Do I not want to be the overbearing sex columnist/geek/goddess? Why do I feel like that’s what people will assume?
People who know me know that I’m obsessed with the metaphor of recovery from sexual assault as a spiral—you start in the middle and you work your way out, and it seems like you’re constantly running into the same problems, but every time you know how to deal with them a little better and every time the turns are a little bit calmer. But it’s not just a good metaphor for recovery—it’s a good metaphor for learning, too.
I grew up, like a lot of you, with Dan Savage’s three Gs—good, giving, and game. And those are all good things to be. But I guess “giving” and “game” have always sounded weird to me.
Though I know that’s not how they’re meant, I worry that if I say “No” to something my partner will throw those word back in my face and call me a Puritan. Not that I have anything against Puritans—I just think Anne Hutchinson was kind of hot.
And my whole sexual ethic has grown up around the idea of self-care. So recently I’ve found myself, when asked what makes for a good partner, talking about the three Cs a lot—careful, caring, and communicative.
(The lesser trifecta might be cock, cunt, and competency. There are a lot of good “C” words.)
So yes, I’m confused as all get out. But now that I have “careful, caring, and communicative” seared into my brain as the cardinal virtues, I’m finding that I’m a lot better at navigating that spiral of sexual improvement.
…and now I’m heading back to the Hitachi. Because you should always take care of yourself first.