Content Warning: Some parts of this article may depict assault or unclear consent, you can scroll past the section, marked at the start and end with double asterisks**
It’s simple, really: much like Drew Barrymore’s character in the excellent millennium celebrated film, I was (almost) 25 and had never been kissed. Except, unlike Barrymore’s character, I had really, really never been kissed. And until the moment I had been, I couldn’t even decide whether or not I wanted it. Unfortunately, this is not some magical love story: my first kiss—my whole first time, was a massive disaster.
I’d had crushes, but I’d rarely seen them through: chickening out rather disastrously when I was 19, determined to preserve a friendship I could rely on, rather than a relationship I was doomed to destroy. I’d otherwise been dumped when I was 22 for having a “difficult family history” and mental health issues that left my partner convinced they’d always receive less from me than someone else (it helps for context, to add that right in the middle of this relationship I’d been diagnosed with severe depression and probably wasn’t in the right place for a serious relationship). Needless to say, three years on, I was not looking for love, but I was looking for something.
I had really, really never been kissed.
I’d felt late to the game with my 25th birthday looming in 2020 and seemingly nothing to show for it. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it before, but suddenly in those last few months of being 24, my lack of experience felt like the last milestone of adolescence I finally wanted to cross.
The second eldest of mostly sisters, I was the last of us and the only one to remain single for so long. While they never made a big deal out of it, it certainly felt like one. I worried they considered me prudish, shuttering more explicit talk when I neared, not wanting to make me feel uncomfortable, I assumed, in my inexperience. They’d later clarify it was in fact because of my indifference.
“Well you can’t know if you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex.”
This too, is true: I’d never understood, in the way it felt like my youngest sister always did, what made this actor or that person hot.
What did that mean?
What did that feel like?
How did I know if I was interested in someone if all I felt when I saw a simple picture was nothing?
My college experiences were borne of deep friendships: I’d cultivated an intimacy that made me feel safe enough to be vulnerable. It wasn’t how they looked, it wasn’t because they were both male.
When I toyed with the idea of finding a label, a well-meaning friend said, “Well you can’t know if you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex.” A few months after that conversation, I could confidently say that having sex absolutely did not make understanding sexuality any easier.
In fact, if anything, perhaps backed by this sense of feeling broken and behind pushed me to make a decision I probably wasn’t ready for. Now it bears mentioning that I am a planner—I keep shoes in my online cart for months debating whether or not they’re the right ones, or whether I need, need them before executing a purchase. So it’s rather telling that from the time I thought of it (mid-February), to the actual execution of what occurred on the first Monday night in March that I was breaking my own rules by rushing into what I hoped would make me feel better. Rather, I was rushing toward someone I hoped would make me feel less confused. Someone, who, unfortunately, had no idea what was going on.
I wanted to get over this feeling of being “too old” to be a virgin.
A classmate of mine who I considered more than an acquaintance, if not friends, was where I landed. True to my nature, and probably my antidepressants, there wasn’t an immediate frisson. We were both writers, and perhaps through sharing our writing, I thought, in the smallest of ways, knew each other better than random strangers.
So after thinking about it and deciding against it, after a particularly rough week I woke up on Monday, March 2nd and by that evening showed up at his place and asked him to turn me down.
While he expressed genuine surprise in seeing me there and insisted that he couldn’t enter a relationship with me, he asked me if I wanted to go up. Bundle of anxiety that I was, I did. And I overshared—a lot. Probably too much. I wanted to get over this feeling of being “too old” to be a virgin. I wanted him to understand that I was nervous, but that I could be brave. The only thing I miscalculated was that he didn’t care.
Sure, he listened patiently as he tried to sober up from the blunt he’d smoked before I arrived. He was quiet, introspective—listened to my anxieties about graduating, about my family life, about my failed relationships. Finally, he asked me why I was there. I didn’t know—to feel seen, I guess. For him to know that I’d been thinking about this—about him for a few weeks. I wanted to know if he could ever—would ever, be interested in me. He paused, then, before asking, did I want him to kiss me now? Only if he wanted to, I said. And he did, so we did. And while I was sure I’d be terrible at it, he said it didn’t matter. So I decided not to worry about it and follow his lead.
There’s a reason we talk so much about consent — because everyone, myself included, will go back to a moment and try to understand what happened. What changed? How did it go from a (somewhat) positive encounter to murky gray so fast? Was it when I joked that if he liked my breasts in my dress he’d like them in my bra even more? Or was it when he shucked the dress, mouth going straight to the cups that I was surprised, but still went with it?
By the time he said he needed to come, and even though I couldn’t because of my meds, it wasn’t fair to lead him this far, it was still only gray territory. Because, it was “of course, only if I wanted to.” I said no exactly twice that night, first when he said he didn’t have a condom (he didn’t prefer them because it was less fun with them).
And yet somehow, after a very enticing, and repeated “come on, let’s just stick it in” that no, turned into an okay. Fine. Sure. Thankfully, the second no stuck—despite his repeated requests that I put my mouth on him, I told him I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t ready, maybe next time.
He had no interest putting his mouth on me, first claiming reciprocity. But he did—just once to help me along. It wasn’t enough to get me ready, but he’d given up trying. Or didn’t notice. So what happened next was pretty painful. So. Extremely. Painful. I’d be bleeding for the next day.
There was an exact moment I swear I was watching my body from the corner of the room, in pain, trying to be into it. Watching him tell me about a girl he’d been sleeping with who also liked how he’d smelled so much she asked what it was so she could get it for her boyfriend. That definitely didn’t help things along. Finally, he gave up.
He didn’t come, I wasn’t into it, and now he needed to read for class. I should probably go. I asked him if he would hold me, but apparently, that was relationship-only privileges, which this was not. I felt like I was slowly returning to my body, but not in those cliched ways. It felt stranger now, that he had seen me naked. That he had put himself inside me, knowing it was my first time, with so little care. I dressed mechanically, saving my scarf for last, feeling his eyes on me as I recovered my hair.
He wouldn’t ask how I was doing until two days later, the evening after I showed up to work looking “distressed”. He’d get drunk at a concert with a friend that night and tell her he thought he’d fucked up. That I had come on to him. That I’d been obsessed with him, insisting we have sex without a condom. He’d start gaslighting me, reminding me I’d initiated it whereas he’d been clear on the relationship point. So what else did I expect? This was how it was done, didn’t I know? He didn’t like condoms, couldn’t be bothered with them—I was being silly.
I’d wonder for months during the long hours of quarantine if he was right. If I had pushed aggressively for this. If I had insisted he sleep with me. If, in accordance with his version, I was a villain. Leaving him no quarter, showing up at his place unannounced and insistent. I’d agonize over why he hadn’t been nicer, gentler, rejecting that he’d said that’s how it was supposed to be.
In my journey for answers, for catching up with the crowd, I suddenly felt all alone (in the middle of a global pandemic), discarded, and unlovable. I didn’t want him to love me, but how could he renounce any responsibility?
Several months later, he wouldn’t have any better answers. He’d start sleeping with a friend in whom I’d confided about what happened. A friend who had at the time claimed to be stunned and so angry with him on my behalf. But suddenly she’d disappeared from my life, choosing him, and as he said it, “his side of the story.”
To be very clear, consent isn’t “tricky”. There’s yes and there’s no.
In the end, I could care less about my virginity—I had no answers and even more questions. My body no longer felt like my own. Every day, it felt like he’d told yet another person about what had happened—exposing me and my body before everyone. It felt like despite my scarf, my semblance of control over who could see my body was gone.
I felt like hiding from the world, anxiously messaging friends trying to feel out if they too were laughing at me, or if they meant it when they said they loved me.
To be very clear, consent isn’t “tricky”. There’s yes and there’s no. Yes is enthusiastic and genuine and if it’s not then it’s not consent. Especially if it’s given after repeated questioning, or is the easier option to get out of a situation.
Women don’t often come forth with encounters that they regret because there’s a misconception that we only cry assault because we regret it ever happening.
I do not regret my choice to want sex.
But wanting it, even approaching someone who knows you want it, does not replace agreeing to it. My only regret is approaching someone who cared so little for me and my comfort that I agreed to something I said no to after feeling pressure to change my answer. For my mental health, I’m not ready to label this assault, but if this has happened to you, you are entirely within your rights to call it such. Your body and choice are always deserving of respect.
There doesn’t have to be a lesson here. But the only thing that goes without saying always, is that there is no deadline.
There’s no shame in not being interested in sex, in being interested, in pursuing someone, in waiting, in going for it. I was gaslighted and taken advantage of by someone who had no intention of taking care of me.
But I’m not terrified about what’s next. In fact, I’m hoping that he’s the worst I’ll ever have.
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