Caring About Pleasure

The second time in my life when I had sex, which is when my parents found out that I had had sex at all, it was not especially great. I wanted to have sex again, but I was feeling guilty for sneaking around. I wasn’t very wet, because I was nervous, guilty, and feeling inexperienced. Vaginal intercourse didn’t feel great, because I wasn’t wet and we didn’t have lube. My boyfriend penetrated me anally before I knew what he was doing, which felt awful. I don’t remember having an orgasm. I had a reaction to the intense and dry friction and my vulva was so swollen for 24+ hours that I could hardly walk.

When my mom had the intuition that I had had sex, she asked me if I did, I told her yes, and she cried and cried and cried. I cried. Why did I cry? I was so sad that I made her so sad. But thinking back on it, I still feel like crying. She never asked me if the sex was good. If she had, I don’t know what I would have said then. I maybe would have lied, because I wouldn’t want her to be more upset. But if she were to ask me today, I would tell her the truth. It was not pleasurable sex.

In later conversations, she would say (and says) that she was “at least happy for me that I had sex for the first time with someone I loved and who loved me back.” That’s nice. It really is. (And I know her perspective comes from her own history of sexual abuse as a kid.) But where is pleasure in this equation? Where is feeling empowered to act on my sexuality and to talk to my partner about what I like? Where is consent? And why hasn’t my mom ever asked me if I had good sex then, and if I have good sex now?

When I ask J about his sexual encounters with other partners, I make a point of asking: “Was it good? Did you have fun? Did you come? Do you want to do it again?” (And J also cares about my experience with another partner and inquires. That feels important for me.) Asking the questions and hearing his answers can sometimes make something inside me twinge. It could be a jealousy or envy or an insecurity. (And, honestly, I also ask these questions so that I have more information about J’s other relationships as a means of staying in the loop, and oftentimes this has the effect of me needing to deal with insecurities, fears, etc.) But I manage it on my own internally as best I can, because it is infinitely more important to me to know how J is experiencing sexual pleasure with other partners than to not ask and to not validate his experiences of sexual pleasure. I think a large part of this is driven by my own experience of not being asked pleasure-focused questions by my first boyfriend (Do you like this? What feels good? Did you orgasm?) or by my mom (Did you like it? Did it feel good? Did you orgasm?).

What is it about sexual behaviors and acts that create such emotional meanings? It is one thing to ask a partner: Did you kiss, cuddle, dry hump, do hand jobs, have oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex? It is another to ask: Did you feel satisfied, pleasured, honored, or did you feel unsatisfied, bored, blasé? Why does it matter as much what sexual behavior someone engaged in? Shouldn’t it matter more what their state of being was? I have definitely experienced being totally blissed out while making out with a partner, and then when I had vaginal intercourse with that same partner I felt unsatisfied and bored. And yet, I remember the former experience “mattering” less to both J and I and the latter experience being a “bigger deal.” This has happened in the other direction, too, where I made a “bigger deal” of J having vaginal sex with someone as opposed to making out, even though I found out that his level of connection and intimacy and satisfaction was higher during the make out sesh than during the pussy-cock sesh. I think this speaks to the emotional baggage still attached to specific sexual acts, as opposed to the caring I attach to the energy and feelings that happened during the experience itself.

My challenge to myself and to you: focus on the sensations, pleasure, and feelings from a sexual experience. Try not to focus on what “level” of sexual play is going on. For myself, this means not getting hung up on whether or not J kissed or had oral sex or had vaginal sex with another partner, but paying more attention to his satisfaction with that experience. And also, it definitely means for myself focusing more on my own satisfaction with an experience and paying less attention to what “level” of sexual play is going on. (This of course is dependent on prior negotiations and boundaries that have been agreed to by partners.) I think this is somewhat of a tough one, but it feels necessary for me in continuing to heal from a somewhat traumatic experience and in redefining what sexuality means to me.

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