by Rachel Brasell
The first time I had sex was on the red-carpeted floor under a pastel-patterned synthetic-fluff comforter in my best friend’s bedroom. She and her boyfriend were in her bed above us. My boyfriend was a short sixteen-year-old boy with a lazy eye and an obnoxious laugh. I was so excited to be finally doing the deed that I had a vaginal orgasm quickly. First time out of the gate—orgasm. I thought, “No wonder people love this so much.” I was fifteen.
After that it was a good long while before I had another strictly vaginal orgasm, but not for lack of trying. My boyfriend didn’t really seem to care whether I came or not. It was all the same to him. We had sex in cars parked at public parks a lot—he had a white Volkswagen bug and it was a good thing we were both short because we barely fit in the back seat.
Once, we borrowed his best friend’s old yellow sedan with white leather interior and screwed while parked. The seats made that squishy vinyl sound under our naked asses, and a police officer rapped at the steamed-up windows with his Maglite. I was super freaked out that we would get in trouble, but I think the cop was probably laughing at us.
Sex wasn’t much fun for me after that initial time, mostly because my young boyfriend could care less whether I was enjoying myself, but I really liked making him come—even though it was hardly challenging, being a sixteen-year-old boy and all. Once, I stopped mid-handjob and told him I was didn’t really want to jerk him off anymore. He said, “You could at least give me a blowjob. I’m gonna get blue balls.”
My eyes couldn’t roll back far enough into the back of my head. I felt like I was in a permanent state of blue balls because he never reciprocated. It was the first time I decided I wasn’t really into just doing shit for him with nothing in return. We broke up soon after.
"My boyfriend didn’t really seem to care whether I came or not. It was all the same to him."
My mother put me on the pill the second she realized that I had a boyfriend for longer than a couple weeks. My older sister had gotten pregnant when she was fifteen, and my mother was not taking any chances with me. It was a good thing too. I wanted to have sex. A lot. My mother didn’t really talk to me very much about sex, though she was single throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s and having lots of loud sex herself. I pretty much got the general idea that it had to be fun if it was that noisy.
My next boyfriend was older than me. He had bleach-blonde hair, a leather jacket with studs on one sleeve and a huge Adam’s apple that moved up and down when he talked—I thought that was the sexiest thing ever. He was tall, lean and had ropey muscles. He liked to cuddle and smoke and talk after sex, which was super endearing. He shared a house with some other dudes and we screwed on a small bed in the tiny enclosed porch he had made into his bedroom, listening to the Descendants or Toy Dolls.
He was the manager of a Pizza Hut, and I worked at the movie theater across the street. We both wore polyester uniforms, and when I drove us back to his pad, we smelled like an unholy mixture of popcorn and pizza. And while he was slightly older than my first boyfriend, he was still only nineteen and also didn’t seem to care or notice if I enjoyed sex.
Maybe the expectation was that girls didn’t like sex. But really, maybe girls didn’t like sex because it was usually preceded by long sessions of making out, a feel up, and then a quick jackhammering that culminated in his orgasm. Dullsville. No one knew what they were doing or even how to talk about it.
It wasn’t until I got a college boyfriend that my pleasure even entered the picture. Maybe it was his college education or the fact that he was a sensitive architecture major with a penchant for black jeans, The Church and Talk Talk, but he was really interested in how much I enjoyed sex with him. He was slow and methodical, asked questions, asked permission. I was crazy about him.
It was the first time I felt like I was being made love to, and it was fantastic. Even when it was just dirty fucking and involved porn or videotape, it always felt like my happiness was just as important as his. I was seventeen and totally in love. I finally understood what chemistry and good sex was. Not too shabby for seventeen. Best of all, I could just be myself. I didn’t have to play coy or flirty or super experienced or virginal or whatever. It was an equal combination of give and take and boundary pushing.
But the relationship didn’t last because we were young, and that’s just what happens. I fell madly in love with a young, beautiful, closeted gay man who hadn’t had very much experience with other men yet. That sex was predictable—frustrating and not fun for either of us. And even though we loved each other, there was just no way. I still love him dearly. Of course. Who doesn’t love their first gay boyfriend?
"Maybe girls didn’t like sex because it was usually preceded by long sessions of making out, a feel up, and then a quick jackhammering that culminated in his orgasm."
Next, I was with a guy who was game for anything, always asking me if I wanted to try different things. We had great sexual chemistry. He would show up at my tiny apartment with a fist full of neckties or pull off the pillowcase and tell me to put both my arms in it. He was so fun because sex was never this serious, somber affair, and he made the best noises. Plus, he loved to eat pussy, so naturally he was good at it.
I got to experiment with a little power and control: I often set the rules about how we were going to proceed. He went right along with it—the most game partner ever. We especially liked having sex in clandestine places where there was an opportunity to be caught. We had sex in the empty bride-and-groom suite at his best friend’s wedding, minutes before he gave his best man’s speech at the reception. We were a little late and came down the elevator flushed and laughing, while a mutual friend of ours raised an eyebrow at us.
The best partner I ever had was someone I worked with at a coffee shop. I would get coffee from him every day on my way to my waitressing job. I had such a big crush on him I decided to apply at the coffee shop. He was handsome, from Texas, super funny and sweet. He seemed to be a person who had lived a relatively square life with a specific trajectory until he moved to Albuquerque—Texas football, cheerleader girlfriends, college and harmonizing with his best friend on an acoustic guitar at keg parties.
And then he moved, started smoking weed, taking mushrooms, working at the coffee shop, hanging out with artists, and writing bad poetry. He didn’t stay on that path for long, but while he was on it, we started sleeping together and had a ton of chemistry. We would argue over whose turn it was to vacuum the seating area. Then he would follow me to the cleaning closet where the vacuum was stored and grab my ass and whisper in my ear that he couldn’t wait until we were off work.
Everybody we worked with knew we were sleeping together, even though we thought we were being super secretive. Every day after work, we’d go to my apartment or his house, take huge bong rips and fuck. His roommate would turn up the television, and we would make the bed scoot across the floor. I found my loud vaginal orgasms again, and he would lie underneath me, watch me. He had great control—I could tell him not to come and he wouldn’t until I was done. He also had great recovery time and a fantastically beautiful body. We were serious daytime fuckers just so we could see each other the whole time, and we worked mornings.
The first time we had sex was after he had wrecked the U-Haul truck he had moved his stuff out with, and his face was full of stitches. He called it pity sex, but I was crazy about him from the first time I saw him. He was the right combination of dominant and aggressive when it came to initiating sex, but let me take over once we were in the throes of it. He loved to watch my face, especially my mouth, and he would tell me what he thought was sexy about me all the time.
I couldn’t keep my hands off of him. He decided to take a job teaching ESL in Turkey and just so I wasn’t the one who was left, I split to Washington. He visited me there once. After he got to Istanbul, he wrote me sweet, longing letters, or poems in Spanish or described in detail what he was gonna do to me when I came to visit him. Which I did, with a whole $200 in my pocket for a month, but that’s a story for another time. He was the only man I was ever with who watched football. The Cowboys, no less. But man, was he fun in the sack.
"Who doesn’t love their first gay boyfriend?"
After a string of great sweet experiences with men who both cared about my pleasure and I had great sexual chemistry with, I was with a man who turned out to be both emotionally and physically abusive. The sex started out in a mutually consensual, aggressive manner but slowly devolved into a hurtful, cruel and difficult-to-exit situation. We drank a lot, which led to fights and arguments and then rough sex that left me feeling empty and misused. He cheated on me with a woman who lived in my neighborhood—I would see his car parked at her house.
He was an expert gaslighter who made me doubt my experiences, especially because we drank. It was an intensely painful relationship and I was strung out on that man for a few years after we split. At first he cared about whether our sex was good for me. But as our relationship became more abusive, the more he ignored my needs, made me feel dirty for even having them. When I brought this up, he said, “nobody MAKES you feel anything—you feel that way because that’s you.”
He told me I had the potential to be super cool if I just didn’t drink, but he drank just as much as I did, if not more. He constantly romanticized a past relationship, comparing me to his ex often. When she showed up in town, he went to a shitty motel room with her and shot a bunch of dope while I sat on the dirty chair next to the door and watched them reminisce. It was Valentine’s Day, and they both ignored me the whole time. He gave her the ‘68 El Camino that he drove and that I loved so much, just because she asked him for it.
I never ever felt safe or valued around him. He often made me feel stupid, inexperienced and young. He resented the shit out of me for taking my preplanned trip to Istanbul, even though I told him when he initially expressed interest in me that I was going to make the trip. Worst of all, he choked me during an argument. It was scary as fuck and a terrible experience.
I had a string of shitty short relationships after that, partially because I was so wounded from that abusive relationship but also because my drinking was becoming a whole new animal. I felt worthless and used sex as currency to get booze, drugs, a place to crash or just company for a little while. I didn’t care about myself or see my worth.
I stopped enjoying sex and started performing sex. I would look up longingly while giving blow jobs, fake orgasms, sleep with women for the benefit of the men watching and let dudes pound me in the shower, in a bar bathroom or an alley. I didn’t fucking care because I had lost something in that relationship that I’m not sure I ever got back completely. Most of it was trust, both in myself and in men: in myself, because I stayed in that relationship, and in men because they ceased to be equal to me after that. They had a different power over me that I have been afraid of ever since. They could really hurt me, and not just physically.
I moved to Vermont to go to college and to try to avoid turning into a complete degenerate. I had a boyfriend who liked to have sex in public, and so we did. I had sex at the National Cathedral in D.C. and under the Charles Bridge in Prague because they are among the registered historic landmarks at which to fuck. We were nationwide; we screwed in a lot of places. He moved on to another college and wanted to chase strange, so we parted, but it was fun while it lasted.
I ended up with a guy I would become engaged to who had issues about sex. It often felt like sex was a burden for him—his own sexuality and drives, but especially mine. The sex we had was rote, predictable, and I kept hoping that the longer we were together, the more he would relax. But he never could. He struggled with desire and want and felt guilt over sex, even in a committed, monogamous relationship.
He was exceptionally hard on himself, often anxious and afraid. Which ran counter to my wild, drunken, public-sex-having personality. Once, we had sex in his truck in the dusty parking lot of a bar after a particularly rousing game of darts. But he rejected me a lot, and it made me feel like my desires and needs were wrong or repulsive. He broke up with me after deciding to become a monk in Thailand. Probably for the best. We were only suited for each other intellectually and humor-wise. And we both loved singing in the car. I still love him, even though I haven’t seen him for almost twenty years. There’s just something about those sweet broken-hearted motherfuckers.
"I stopped enjoying sex and started performing sex."
After that breakup, I was devastated. This was the second or third time in my life that my abandonment issue came up and if I’m not careful, that issue will bury me. Everybody has their own baby-monkey/wire-mother issue stemming from childhood. But when it comes up for me, I never recognize it, and it leads to unbelievably self-destructive behavior. Especially when I drank.
Not giving a fuck about yourself because you feel worthless rarely produces good things. I slept around with dudes I picked up in bars and the occasional woman for about a year after that. My drinking and drug use was out of hand and I did some things that I still cringe at when I think about them: sad, desperate things that only serve to help me tear myself to shreds and make me even more ashamed of myself. I do love a good penance session. I’m really good at it.
And then I met the man who I would marry. Things got temporarily bright and sunny again. We had an intense physical connection that bound us together even when our marriage was terrible. I felt safe with him. We did lots of things that I had only secretly fantasized about. I would attend class lectures, and the thought of the previous night would make me squirm in my seat and blush. I would write his name over and over in the margins of my notes and spend the class thinking of all the things I wanted to do to him and with him. Sometimes, it’s particularly fun to just be an object.
That was the one certainty—we had good sex. But he was lying about his background, hiding a giant secret about childhood sexual abuse, which eventually erupted into a furious rage that ruined our sex life and killed our marriage. But for years and years, we had sweet and dirty sex, and I never felt weird about my desire or asking for what I wanted. It got twisted eventually because the end of marriage begins with the end of sex. Ours was no different. It was a loss I really mourned because it was something I really loved.
And now here I am, mid-forties, divorced, and trying to navigate where I am with sex these days—how it shaped me, what my relationship with it is and what I want. I’ve had a few sexual encounters with men since my divorce, but not many because I’m pretty wary these days. Trust is still an issue; I have yet to relax completely with someone. And I can tell you it’s obvious that men on the verge of divorce watch a lot of porn, because they fuck like it, which I have to say, is a bummer. Because while porn looks like sex (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom for people, more like), it’s not really sex. Or at least the kind of sex that’s mutually satisfying. Not to me, anyway.
Women’s pleasure is often overlooked because men are hurt, desperate, angry, selfish, afraid, insecure and all the things that keep them from giving a shit about someone else. That kind of sex is not particularly fun. I have sex for communication and connection, not necessarily for an orgasm. Not that an orgasm isn’t welcomed and enjoyed, but it’s the connection I’m interested in. I don’t know if I can do that without emotion or with someone who doesn’t think that my pleasure is an essential component to having sex with me. It’s so incredibly entitled; I can’t believe it still happens. But it does.
I often crave distance and solitude, but I also want the opposite. I’m trying to figure out how to be unattached and less greedy with my desires, because my wants are huge and consuming. I’m interested in exploring my own dualistic nature. I’m trying to figure out if I can have sex without an emotional component and if I can have the parts of a relationship I want without the parts that I don’t want.
The pool is significantly smaller and more weather-beaten than it was back when my tits still saluted proudly and you could dine off my flat stomach like it was a platter. And there are so many issues because marriage and divorce are so hard on folks. Men don’t tend to delve deep into their shit to examine where they are. And if they do, it’s for a limited amount of time, like taking your car to the shop to get it fixed.
"Women’s pleasure is often overlooked because men are hurt, desperate, angry, selfish, afraid, insecure and all the things that keep them from giving a shit about someone else."
Everyone is a little hand shy and afraid of going all in because we know now how difficult it is to extricate yourself out of a major commitment. We’re afraid of getting it wrong and getting that fucking hurt again. It snowballs, the shit we do to each other. We’re afraid of missing out and trying to do all those mid-life things we do. Wanting to connect, but within or without the specific confines of whatever it is that we want. Ready to chew off our own arms if things feel too trappy. Stumbling around in a dark room. Some people just jump right back in and get married right away again. Brave motherfuckers. Brave motherfuckers for trying it again because love is risky as fuck.
There were a few times when I really connected with someone and things began to become three dimensional and flesh themselves out, but the relationships were too short and too far away for anything to really take flight. And sex takes a while to develop a rhythm. I really miss my old fearlessness and sense of adventure—it would be nice to have that long-lasting middle-aged sex with somebody other than myself, see if there are new things I haven’t tried yet.
I just recently discovered why people talk about having sex all night long like it’s a good thing. I could never understand why people just wouldn’t want to do it, then go about their day and get some shit done. But after thirty-one years of having sex, I found out that’s totally a benefit of middle-age: long, slow nights of sex. Oh happy day! There are still some things that can surprise and delight.
Rachel Brasell is a bleeding-heart do-gooder at a small non-profit and a social-work student. She’s a mother who writes shit that would embarrass the hell out of her own mother. She believes everything is about relationships, unless you're a hermit. And even then, you're probably a hermit because of a relationship.