The Story of a Fling, and the Myth I Created From It

 

Out of all of Mari Andrew’s Instagram posts that I have saved on my phone, there’s one that I return to time and time again. It’s simply six pairs of lines titled, “Relationship History.” Each of the six relationships is broken down into two lines: one indicating the length of the relationship; the other, the intensity. Perhaps you can already imagine the pairs aren’t all balanced. In the caption, Andrew mentions spending seven years getting over three dates she spent with someone.

My someone was Max. 

Why have I continued to want to see him a year later? Why was I so intensely attached to our situation? How did I feel about it then? How do I feel about it now? What storylines did I create before, during, and now? What were my requirements? What patterns were showing? What meaning did I attach to the relationship? His actions? The short answer could be I actually — almost — believed he wanted me. So when he later didn’t, it proved once and for all that I was unlovable.

He was already a mythic figure to me, even before we knew Skater Boy’s name was Max. I felt as though he was smitten with me immediately — something that stuck with me for the year before I saw him again because it was such a contrast from the usual response I received when chasing guys. The intensity of the attraction I felt towards him was acute, sharp. Like getting the wind knocked out of you. If someone like that could be into me, then maybe I was desirable. Already, I was layering on the possible meanings. So when I saw him later that year, as I handed him a cup across a different counter in a different coffee shop, it only felt more miraculous that he still seemed to want me. 

The fantasy of him was so perfect.

He, unlike my exes, liked to dance. He was stylish, wore jewelry, had a nose ring. He threw artsy gallery shows and house parties where there was live painting and music. He was the first guy I spent the night with, which I didn’t even consider might connote different things for each of us. He was cuddly and generous with words of affection and admiration. He said he felt lucky to have me.

He didn’t know how loaded that could be for someone so convinced they were a disappointment. I believe that people who were abused repeatedly in the past play out the story built by their abuser(s) with different people — thinking that if we try again, try harder, try to change ourselves, we can kill the ghost of their abuse. And maybe also find peace by obtaining their love and acceptance. The darkest, most poisonous part of this narrative is the idea that we affect — even cause — their behavior. The little kid who had “you are worthless” screamed at them, thinks the actions of their abuser were their fault, that they deserved it. Broken: it’s a devastatingly normal way to see yourself if you grow up like us. 

But Max wasn’t like that. He wanted me. And because he was cool and stylish and artsy and popular and wanted me, that meant I was cool, stylish, artsy and popular enough, too.

But he was messy. I made so many excuses for him, refused to even entertain negative ideas about the relationship. On some level, I must have known the darker realities. I was preoccupied with him all the time, I would feel this visceral jolt that made me sick to my stomach every time I saw him, and I slept restlessly when we shared a bed. I thought the reason I struggled to be and want what he wanted was because there was something wrong with me. There it was again: “broken.” I was working so hard to push away anything that didn’t fit my carefully curated narrative.

The first time we went out together, he only answered and confirmed the date an hour beforehand. I paid for food because I wanted to, but he promised he would cook me dinner in return. Next time I ended up making us dinner, while he showed up without the bottle of wine he had promised to bring. Yes, I would’ve liked to hear from him while he was out of town, but that was manageable. What was not as manageable was him telling me he didn’t have cell service in Vegas the entire time he was there. The doubt and the distrust continued to creep in. 

Relatable to some of you, I’m sure, but for those who are confused, here’s an explanation: I still felt unlovable. Unlovable enough to think that him acting like this, or him making me feel this way was okay — to not think anyone could or would treat me better, that I deserved better, or that it might even be better to be alone. I still craved someone outside of myself telling me I was good enough. Max is just one someone I’ve tried. There have been a few.

I repeat the pattern… until what? Maybe I actually inch towards creating higher standards for myself every time. Maybe I just say fuck it and dump people on a whim that the reason I’m miserable is that my low standards are not being met. Maybe one day, feeling powerful on a bathroom break between dance classes, I’ll see my one-day-a-week boyfriend posting flippant jokes about falling in love and getting his heart broken on Tinder and I think, “I don’t have time for this bullshit.” Maybe it still takes me a few months, fucking a few other guys, and at 4AM one morning, I’ll briefly consider moving to New York with him, before ultimately, I call the whole thing off. Maybe that won’t be the last time. 

Maybe Max sends me a DM now, a year later, saying he’s sorry. Saying he wanted to reach out but it wasn’t possible, because he lost his phone. But he thinks my hair looks really good buzzed… what do I do?

 

 

Art by Quin Feder. Photos (in order of appearance) by Ana Salazar and Dariana Portes. Gif by Mole Hill.

 

Orgasm Equality

“Nope, I never have.”

He was asking me, again, as if I hadn’t already told him I don’t orgasm, as if it was just so appalling that I couldn’t possibly have been telling the truth the first time. In a twisted way, it was amusing that he was so insulted by what people with a vulva experience. I was a 21 year-old and had never had a orgasm. For most people who are socialized as a female, this isn’t surprising. 

But of course I hadn’t. Even after living in a school district that covered (slightly) more than abstinence in sex-ed, even after voraciously reading every sex listicle or Yahoo answers thread, even after watching people fuck on TV and Chrome Incognito, I had barely heard anyone talk about what makes a vulva feel good.

Every mainstream magazine targeting women boasts the same derivative kind of article like “29 Ways to Drive Him Wild.” Movies constantly show women having a orgasm from penetration, when in reality, a majority of people with vulvas don’tI literally once read an article about how to cut a grapefruit for the use of stimulating a penis, yet I’ve never read about how to stimulate a vulva. God forbid we want to pleasure ourselves, or our partners with vulvas.

The closest magazines get is usually along the lines of “Here’s how to accidentally get off during vaginal intercourse…” implying that intercourse is the only sexual act that matters. Laurie Mintz describes in Becoming Cliterate that language exemplifies the ways society centers sex around the male experience. Most people understand the word “sex” to mean vaginal intercourse between vulva and penis.  This reliably leads people with penises to orgasm, and simultaneously negates the experience of non-hetero sex, manual, and/or oral sex— which are generally a more reliable route to orgasm for people who have a vulva. 

Same goes for the overuse of the word and focus on “vagina.” The reason why Mintz encourages, rather, the use of  “vulva” is that it’s more anatomically correct, plus it includes all of the different machinery that, depending on the person, may be more crucial to their sexual satisfaction than the vagina. The fact that the anatomy of female genitalia is not common knowledge, and that society frequently use the wrong word reinforces the idea that these bodies and their subsequent needs are not important.

What further proves this lack of consideration is the normalization of female pain during intercourse. 

“A casual survey of forums where people discuss ‘bad sex’ suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience… But when most women talk about ‘bad sex,’ they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain,” asserts  Lili Loofbourow in her incredible article The Price of Male Pleasure: Female Pain.” Heterosexual women are taught to expect little from sex or else face disappointment. We’re taught that our bodies are for satisfying men, not ourselves. That our partner’s pleasure is more important than our pain. That’s bullshit, and I’m angry about it.

Unfortunately, it is normal for a person socialized as female not to orgasm or enjoy sex. If you’re someone in that situation, know this: you are normal. You are not alone. If it doesn’t always feel that way, I understand. It definitely didn’t to me. Most of the time I felt like I would never enjoy sex, and any attempts to change that felt hopeless. I felt like a freak, worried maybe there was something medically wrong with me. I tried so hard to do everything I could to please my partners that when my lack of orgasm hurt their ego, I felt like I had let them down. I wished I could orgasm to make them feel good.

So that’s how I got to be 21, an expert on all things dick-approved but completely at a loss for what to do with my own vulva. I finally decided I deserved pleasure as much as my partners did, and that I would pursue mine as eagerly as I had theirs. As unfair as it is, I wasn’t going to stumble across sex-positive media centered around the female body and experience, so I had to seek it out.

I started masturbating. I bought a couple of vibrators. On OMGYes.com I found videos of people with vulvas explaining and demonstrating exactly what motions and rhythms worked for them. I read Come as You Are and Becoming Cliterate, which are both books specifically geared towards helping people with vulvas revolt against the toxic sexual norm and craft the fulfilling, reciprocal sex lives that we deserve.

Reading about other people who had struggled like me and had gone on to learn to enjoy sex gave me hope. It also made me feel normal for the first time. I could recognize how society had lead me to this position, which gave me the knowledge to walk away from all of the ideas that didn’t serve me, and walk right into my bedroom and give myself my own goddamn orgasm.

Deciding my pleasure was important  and worthy of time and effort were the biggest factors leading to my orgasm, and in fact, it many ways more important than the orgasm itself.

In reality some people with vulvas don’t orgasm, and that’s okay, too. They can lead just as exciting and satisfying sex lives as everyone else. However, what good sex does include is knowing you and your partner’s body, which is why the lack of education on vulva satisfaction is so upsetting. When I initially admitted to a partner I had never orgasmed, I thought a lot about how his shock reaction revealed how little he understood the female body. Although, through the months and the books and the vibrators since, I was surprised to find out how little I understood about my own body, as well. Both parties needed to change.

If you’re having sex with someone, your pleasure should be as important as theirs. Oral sex should be reciprocal. Everyone should be taught where the clitoris is. Female masturbation should be as widely accepted by society as male masturbation. Public and private sex education should cover pleasuring people with vulvas! Additionally, emphasis should not be placed on vaginal intercourse as the sole valid form of sex.

More than anything, we need to talk about sex: as a community, as a society, with our parents, with our children. Reassure your friends that they are normal. Ask your partner to tell (or show!) you what makes them feel good. As Loofbourow says, “sex is always a step behind social progress in other areas because of its intimacy.” So, let’s talk about intimate justice and orgasm equality. Let’s give the next generation the education they need to have mutually satisfying encounters, instead of struggling and scrambling for years like many of us have. Let’s tell them what we wish our partners had known. And what we wish we’d known.