I first had sex when I was eighteen years old. It was very unromantic. We had to be quiet and careful because her parents were rustling around in the downstairs kitchen. My thoughts were flushed with the moment, doing my best to appreciate what was happening. Of course I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young, and still so shy with this girl. Earlier that day we had run into each other in the halls of our high school, my cheeks flushed just from the sight of her wide, brown eyes. That night, I was looking into them and wondering Where do I touch? Where do you want to be touched? Such a primal thing, but still a lot for a boy to grasp. Movies always made it seem ravishing, like you simply forgot about your surroundings and lost yourself in the glory of the other person’s body. And my peers played it down, like sex was the natural course of things. “It’s just sex.” That phrase, along with everything else I expected, fell to pieces when I looked into her eyes, gazing up at me in all her nakedness, and wondered what was happening behind them.
When we finished, with my expectations of sex forever defeated, we went back downstairs and drank tea with her mom, and I was not a virgin. As sensitive as I tend to be, that change didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that even after something so intimate, my insecurities had heightened. I knew less of her then than I did before.
I didn’t love her. I probably thought I did at the time but was just scared to say it. Lush that I am, I often told girls that I loved them after only a couple weeks into dating them, which never failed to freak them out. So I didn’t say it, but I felt more deeply for her than I had for anyone else previously. I know love now, at least—the pain of it. Regardless, our relationship could best be described as puppy love. I was always slightly awkward around her, never saying things the way I meant to say them. We got around that by doing a lot of kissing.
She was the kind of girl who preferred the company of boys over girls, often found saying things like “girls are so dramatic!” So I heard a lot about the guys she hung out with. They often got confused about boundaries. They also gave her grief for dating a “good Christian boy,” which made her angry, but always self-consciously. “Do they think I’m going to change or something?” she would say, which would undoubtedly shame me into silence beside her. Sex became my affirmation in the face of all that insecurity. Whatever happened, wherever else, it was only the two of us on that bed. And, just like our conversations, it was always something full of uncertainty. All the excitement and tension and imagination that led to each encounter always boiled down to two bodies, warm, sweaty, all tangled up, but still, just two bodies.
We had sex a few more times over our two-month relationship, and when she broke up with me I didn’t have sex again for seven years. I wanted to, obviously. And I didn’t want to. I was worried I would do what I usually do: that is, become deeply attached, even more so because of the mystery that develops between two minds that encounter each other like that. I wanted to wait until marriage before I dealt with it again.
But time dragged, and I couldn’t hold on to love.
I think it was the damn loneliness that brought me into bed with two other women at the end of those seven years. Just to be held, to be wanted.
Each time, a familiar sensation of hollowness settled over me—that seven-year-old feeling of defeat. Shame, and no self-respect to fight it. I can still feel their eyes wandering over me so uncertainly. Am I still that eighteen-year-old boy, blundering into something he doesn’t understand?
Yes, I am. I am older, wiser, and the same. I can’t look at my past, both distant and near, and say otherwise. I still desperately want sex and all its disappointments. But I want it with someone I love. If only I had left sex alone, where instead of this burden that needs redemption, it was still something hopeful.
What is beautiful about sex, after all this? But of course, the moment I ask that question, I can see it: we are together and I look into her eyes, my wife, and instead of feeling insecure, I will know her, looking up at me in all her nakedness, and she will know me.
Then, all of our insecurities will be splayed out, together. We will be naked inside and out, clinging to each other in longing and understanding. And if none of this happens, and I grow old with no one but my friends and family to love, at least that loneliness is a better one.