I did not get laid in high school. I shared a chaste kiss with a guy at summer camp when I was fourteen, and then spent four years living a life of celibacy. In all honesty, this was pretty voluntary. At the time, I longed to receive male attention, but only from a safe distance; the thought of actually having sex, of baring the body with which I was still unfamiliar, scared the shit out of me.
But then I went to college, and suddenly boys were paying attention to me. And I knew enough about myself to do things now. The problem was that everyone else seemed to have done them already. These people could hook up because they already understood the certain rhythms of sex, the unspoken rules of the body that could only be learned through years of experience. I, on the other hand, didn’t know any of that. And besides, I didn’t want to learn through random one-night stands. It wasn’t that I needed to be in a relationship to experiment sexually, but that I wanted my partners to like me enough to want to see me again. And I knew they sure as shit wouldn’t want to see me again if I was bad at kissing or didn’t know how to suck dick.
I made out with a boy at a club during the first week of school, and it was…so bad. The memory of summer camp had, by that point, long since left me. I remember the guy telling me I looked great, then leaning in to kiss me, then me not knowing what the fuck to do with my mouth. I remember him saying “slow down” and “more tongue” and shit like that. And then we never spoke again.
After that, guys continued to approach me at clubs and bars, but I felt obligated to apologize for myself if they made a move: Sorry if I’m not very good at this. Sorry that I’m a bad kisser. The reasons I gave alongside these excuses for my lack of experience depended largely upon how I wanted to be perceived. If I was trying to come off as a studious girl-next-door type, I lamented the fact that I’d never really had the time between all my classes and extracurriculars to pursue a romantic relationship. If, however, I was trying to be a Cool Girl, quirky and real in my self-awareness, then I would reveal that I was literally just ugly in pubescence. (You might call this being fake, but I call it reading the room.)
I wasn’t one of those girls who thought herself to be morally superior or somehow more respectful of her body than girls who were having sex. But I began to wear my sexual innocence like a badge of honor because I had no idea what else to do with it. I tried so desperately to reframe my personal narrative because posing as a shy, uncorrupted girl or a too-cool-to-have-sex-with-you girl was easier than accepting something of which I was embarassed. So I would coyly giggle, pull away, if a boy wanted to kiss me. I’d bite my lip and bat my lashes and say “I’ve never done this before.” I thought that it was attractive to be unattainable.
And then. And then! Miracle of miracles, I ended up in an almost-but-not-really relationship. I drunkenly kissed my best guy friend one night, and we ended up exclusively seeing each other for two months. During that time, we hooked up enough for me to improve upon basic mechanics. We sometimes slept in the same (twin XL, unfortunately) bed. I was beginning to learn. But when things ended, I was still lost. Now I knew how to make out well, how to share intimate space with someone, but I still hadn’t given a blowjob—and this was my biggest concern of all. I didn’t want to give bad head to a random hookup, and I also didn’t want to get into another relationship just to learn to give good head. You know. The age-old conundrum.
Then, a few months later, it happened. A boy I’d been crushing on in class invited me home with him after a party, and it was intensely, desperately awkward. I oohed and aahed at his posters, then sat down in the desk chair adjacent to his bed. When I felt him looking at me quizzically, I stared straight ahead at the wall, avoiding his gaze. “I’m going to get some water,” he said.
When he returned, I was still perched on the desk chair, anxiety beginning to take hold as I unblinkingly analyzed the wood grain of his nightstand. In the midst of my realization that it was actually not attractive to be unattainable, he bluntly asked, “Alright. Do you want to hook up or not?” and I stuttered and stammered and told him I was scared because I hadn’t done much before. “That’s okay,” he said. “If you’re not feeling it at any point, just say the word and I’ll call you an Uber home.”
After five minutes—maybe not even—of making out, I was in the Uber.
But don’t worry. I ended up going back to his place thirty minutes later because I knew I had to get over my Fear of Dick at some point. And I did end up giving a blowjob that night.
What did I gain from this zero-to-sixty experience? What did I learn from doing nothing and then, in a few hours, suddenly doing almost everything?
For starters, I realized that no one actually cared about why I hadn’t done anything. No one—and by no one, I mean this particular guy, but it applies to anyone—really asked for me to contextualize my lack of sexual experience. Out of insecurity, I had projected that expectation onto people who couldn’t have cared less.
I also realized that anyone who was worth my time and my body would be willing to meet me where I was. That first time I gave head, my partner was immensely patient—guiding me into a steady rhythm, showing me how to apply more pressure with my hands. In a few short minutes, I knew what I was doing. He chuckled at my “fast learning curve.” And that was the thing: most sex acts, I discovered, didn’t take that long to learn. All I had to do was try them. Once.
So I caught on. I gave him head twice more that same night. (Two months later, the boredom of quarantine would lead me to overanalyze every sexual interaction I had ever had with this man. I sent dozens of frantic text messages to my best friends explaining how scared I was that I wasn’t actually good at sucking dick. They then pointed out that I made him cum every time, so it couldn’t have been horrible, which is the only reason I felt reassured enough to include any information at all about blowjobs in this piece. Truly, what are best friends for?)
I ended up going to his place again the following weekend. When he asked me if I wanted to have sex, my response was an enthusiastic yes. When he looked at me and asked if I was okay with my first time happening in our casual situation, I still said yes—and then I wondered if I was doing this whole thing wrong. I remembered middle school conversations in which I had promised myself my first time would be with someone special, a boyfriend of at least six months. And here I was now, having sex with someone I hadn’t even known for one.
But sex, I realized, didn’t exist on some sort of schedule. There was no universally agreed-upon age at which I was supposed to lose my virginity, and there were no real rules dictating how soon after meeting someone I was allowed to have sex with them. With this boy, I was neither early nor late; I was simply comfortable. Of course we weren’t in love. The experience wasn’t special in a rose-petals-on-the-bed way. And yet, when it happened, I knew that it was right.
Admittedly, I was a little stressed out about the fact that we weren’t in a relationship, because he was good, and naturally I wanted to continue seeing him. I worried that, without something officially tying us together, he would stop wanting to hook up if I was bad at sex. And then I would be back to square one again—unsure of how to fuck, left to hook up with more men who would be turned off by my uncertainty.
That didn’t happen. The guy kept seeing me. People, I learned, didn’t just immediately toss each other to the side if they were lacking in sexual prowess, because inexperience was not the universal turn-off I had previously thought it to be. If anything, my partner seemed to enjoy watching me learn. He marveled at how sensitive I was, looking amusedly at me as he traced his fingertips across my body: “Has no one ever done this to you before?”
“No,” I said, dumbly. “Except for you.” I felt foolish in my admittance then, a never-been-touched eighteen-year-old girl. But then he smirked.
“It’s kind of fun knowing that I’m the only guy who’s correctly hooked up with you.”
We slept together twice more before leaving campus. Each time, I grew sexually. All of this felt like a dramatic departure from the person I used to be, but really, it wasn’t—all I had done was open myself up to possibility, to exploration. I was beginning to learn what sexual power and freedom felt like.
Aside from discovering what worked for me, I also learned how to better pleasure a man, which was empowering in itself. The last time I blew him, he asked, “Wait, so am I the only guy you’ve ever done this to?” When I reminded him that yes, he was, and how had he not remembered this by now, he stopped me: “I know. I guess I just like knowing that I did a pretty good job.” (I’m including this statement because it compliments my head game, but it also baffles me. Like, I think he meant he did a pretty good job teaching me, but it’s not like he…actually taught me? His mouth was not the one sucking a dick. But I digress.)
No longer was I hesitating to get on top because I was worried I’d be bad at it—instead, I only hesitated to get on top because I was 1. submissive and 2. plain lazy. My reasons for reluctance were no longer rooted in a lack of confidence, and it felt fucking amazing.
My time in quarantine has been spent thinking about new things I want to try. (Which is frustrating as hell, because of course the second I’m finally mentally able to do things, I actually can’t.) But honestly? The fact that I can’t currently see people doesn’t change the fact that I’m happy with where I am sexually. For the first time in my life, I’m fantasizing about sexual situations without doubting that they could ever even happen to me. I’m ready to see other people in the quarantine-free future, and I’m ready to have a good time doing so.
I know now that hooking up in college isn’t an impenetrable thing, permanently closed off to those who arrive from high school with little experience. The only way to gain that experience is to try it. And when you do try, there’s no right or wrong way to do it—you can take two months to get comfortable with having your top off in front of a man (like me), and you can also go balls-to-the-wall and fuck on the second date (also like me). Because sex doesn’t come with concrete milestones or a set timeline. Things just happen when they’re meant to, exactly how they’re meant to.
Illustration by Raven Yamamoto