Every mistake I've made in bed -- and why there's no reason to be shamed by any of them

So you're caught in the act or something goes wrong. So what? It's part of life, part of sex, and no big deal

Published May 22, 2016 11:30PM (EDT)

Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in "The 40 Year Old Virgin"
Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in "The 40 Year Old Virgin"

I am loath to take part in the narrative trope that conveys, “Young women who have sex, in doing so, are embarking on a wacky, embarrassing, ill-thought-out comedy of errors,” without some recognition of how cool and worthwhile casual sex can be. Sexual autonomy is often presented as “confessional”—either overly comic or overly melodramatic, and when a female sexual youth is described as a series of “misadventures,” it rankles me. Upon taking in movies, magazines, and the anecdotes of others about the so-called bad behavior of a wayward woman they know, I so often feel like screaming, “She didn’t lampoon or victimize herself—she fucked someone!”

I have never once seen a young dude subjected to the same hand-wringing or false pity that his female counterparts are so regularly met with, or a guy who, in every other beat of his story about a physical encounter, feels the need to giggle or apologize it into an acceptable shape for his listeners. If a woman has had sex that she likes: Enough with the jokey contrition. Sex doesn’t have to be bad to be good.

Just as destructive would be recounting a sexual past that’s been edited and finessed into a montage of soft-focus orgasms in which I am played by a young Natalie Wood, except with butt implants. I can’t pretend that all the sex I’ve had was that of a swanlike pinup sans an overbite that makes head risky if I’m not careful. Making mistakes is one of my very favorite things in this life, because then you become aware of how they were forged, and how to avoid them in the future. The key is not letting them define, discount, or dissuade you from the superb aspects of your sex life, or even seeing them as extricable from those. Fucking up is how you go pro. No need to be abashed or apologetic about that.

When it comes to the escaping most perplexing quagmires of sexual propriety, like how to contend with unexpected bodily effluvia, noises, behaviors, and getting caught masturbating by your roommate’s new girlfriend Marie (sorry, Marie—this Hitachi is truly thunderous and I didn’t hear you come in), act under one law: Instead of bugging out about your OWN potential humiliation and what this means about your sexual aptitude/worthiness, think about how to put the other person at ease about what is, in the grand context of life, history, and space, a nothing-event that you will have mostly forgotten about in a few weeks expeditiously. What is the gallant thing to do? Communicating that sense of calm and contextual awareness to your fuck-pal! Preserving your sense of personal security and confidence is easy when you consider that blights on what really should have resembled swan-sex enjoyed by fat-butted movie starlets on le Francebeach are also enjoyed by those same people, who are, by the way, fictitious.

If someone shames you for any natural/unexpected/otherwise potentially mortifying phenomenon occurring from what you’re doing together, kick them to the curb with no compunction: Basic self-worth demands that you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if the sex you’re having results in unwieldy bodily goings-on. No by-product of sex is repulsive enough to negate the commodities it manufactures: recreational sweetness and connection. And orgasms.

If you find yourself actually hurt or otherwise medically dented-up by any kind of sexual contact, locate real medical care. Though you can pull a mental assist using the following list of what to do should your pride be jeopardized, it does not stand in for a health professional. That said, here’s everything you shouldn’t be embarrassed about.


Queefs are the colloquial name for the sound vaginas expel when vacuoles of air are trapped in them and then come out. This usually happens when something is inserted into them, and the likelihood increases if that something is coming from an unusual angle or at a variegated speed. Queefs are normal and inevitable when you’re having interesting vaginal sex, and should be seen as a casual confirmation of that, not a ghastly interruption—or even something worth commenting on at all. Doing so is like admitting, “I have limited experience with etiquette.” Some alternate lines of thinking include…

If you’re the queefer: Oh, a sound happened. Who cares?

If you’re the bequeefed: Oh, a sound happened. Who cares? You do!

Take it as a compliment. To the untrained ear, queefs might not seem harmoanius with the sighs of pleasure you’re more used to classifying as evidence that your work is appreciated, but if you’re smart, you’ll come to hear these as hot.

Caught in the Act (Like the Time Marie Caught Me Masturbating)

If you live with people other than the ones you’re having sex with, they’re liable to know more of the intricacies of your goings-on than you’d both prefer, and vice versa. However vigilant you think you’re being, there’s always room for surprises here (especially if there’s a meager amount of actual room in your home): It’s possible you’ll be caught in some compromising situation.

There are plenty of settings in which you can be witnessed in flagrante delicto. Public sex is the best precisely because of the risk of getting caught…until the rare occasion on which that risk is realized. And if you escape this life without someone interrupting you as you jerk off, it should go in your obituary with the rest of your notable achievements.

You could be apprehended in one of these ways when you think no one else is home…and are dead wrong. Or maybe you and your partner are staying in a foreign living space with others for a big event, like a wedding, family reunion, or competitive spell-a-thon, got a little drunk after, and badly misjudged the window of private time you’d have back at the base. In any case: You’ve been caught, and your face is mad red. Regain your composure and maybe even, if you’re a halfway decent actor, pass off your indelicate intertwining as a more chaste entanglement, by...

  • Considering your setting: Is it totally “inappropriate” for you to be boning in this context? Do you know you might harsh someone else’s good time (e.g., are you at a christening or something?). Then maybe don’t take off your clothes, or do so only with extreme caution. I don’t think it’s always bad to have sex in places you shouldn’t, as that will probably make for some of the most memorable sex of your life, but draw the line at having it somewhere that’s actively disrespectful to others (most of the time).
  • Consider your potential audience: If you find you’re not hurting anyone by being a brazen public-sex-having menace (e.g., a national park ranger is not going to be galled to the gills that you’ve deigned to desecrate a redwood with your grapplings—something no one has ever, ever done before). Many other non-forester people in non-woodland surroundings, if they have senses of humor, will laugh this off, and some might even be like, “Good for you—get yours.” That leans heavily on the age and relationship factors in play here: Your mom, unless she is simultaneously unshakably cool and kind of alarming, boundary-wise, will not duck out like “Soz!” and then text you for the blow-by-blow later on, whereas your best friend might be more inclined in this way.
  • Above all else, try lying: You don’t have to be an actor of Nude-Brando proportions, but you do have to put on a little show about what it was you were doing that was very much not sex, no way, no how. No one WANTS to go through the excruciating conversation about the fact that they recently saw someone’s butt for all it truly was. Do you know how badly the interloper is probably wishing you’ll fill out the tail end of the phony statement, “We were just…” rather than having to accept the reality that they were watching you get some? Lying is the stepladder out of any potential sinkhole of embarrassment on the culprit’s end, sure, but it’s also a relief on the other end. Blaming clothing-related mishaps helps with any apparent nakedness: You were fixing a broken button on your partner’s pants! They noticed your zipper was broken, and knew they had to step in to help! You were cleaning spilled punch off of their bra with your tongue! That is all VERY believable, as long as everyone is uncomfortable enough.

Premature Ejaculation

I have never understood the impulse to knock a premature ejaculator, but I do get it! From what I’ve noticed, no guy wants to be remembered as the one who couldn’t last—the loveless phrase “two-pump chump,” which was popular among my high school girlfriends, whooshes to mind. Much like dudes who aren’t hung, these people will usually put extra muscle into making sure you feel amazing with other parts of their anatomies. This is great news if you don’t get off on penetration alone—so, this is great news for many, many people. If someone is looking to reframe how you characterize them sexually, they probably know the surefire way to go about doing that: giving you life-changing head.

Not Enough Lube/Not Fitting

I once had sex with a person whose genitalia fit so poorly into mine that getting him in me was like trying to hammer a bent-up screw into a sugar doughnut. I had no idea why this could be, or that it could even happen!

We were frustrated because we had been involved in a dire mutual crush for two years or so, and having gotten out of a relationship about five minutes (fine, five days) beforehand, I summoned him to hang (fine, nail/screw/otherwise misapply hardware euphemisms to me).

Even those you foster titanic infatuations with can be subject to compatibility-based bodily oddities. We tried all kinds of different positions and spit-based lubrications to try to make it work, which, eventually, it KIND of did? Instead of the natural pulse of intercourse, that nice rhythmic pummeling, it felt like…scraping?

Neither of us came, I don’t think, and after getting home, I discovered that one of my labia was swollen. I did what I always do in times of medical crisis: avoided googling my symptoms at all costs—the pictures are life-threateningly gross and misleading; I have found 100 percent of the time I don’t follow this rule. Instead, I dialed up my sage older sister, Laura, who is a lot smarter than I am, and less of a sensitive little nightmare who thinks she’s dying or else STI’ed up because of benign vaginal swelling.

“I used a condom!” I wailed, sans salutation of any kind when Laura picked up, because I have excellent phone etiquette. She didn’t balk, but calmly asked what happened, because she is the best and instantaneously gets it most, if not all, of the time. “I finally got it in with Alan and one side of my vag looks like someone took a bike pump to it.”

“Oh, dude, calm down. That’s totally normal! Did you use enough lube?” I recalled that our only kind was salivary, and she told me to go sit on some ice for an hour. Post-deflation, I called her back to say thank you, having sufficiently calmed down enough to even say “hello” first. Since then, I make sure that if I’m carrying a condom, I’ve also got one of those single-use packets of lube close at hand, lest I run into another issue with my and a partner’s construction.

Period Blood All over the Bed

Did you bleed on someone’s bed, or have a bloodletting on your own sheets? No big deal (unless maybe it’s coming from someplace other than a vagina, out of a wound). Like most natural fluids, period blood doesn’t have to stain your bedclothes permanently. If you know you’ll be engaging in period sex, you can avoid any trouble here by laying out a burner sheet—this can be any old bedding or towel that you’re okay with Jackson Pollock–ing with menses. If you discover that you or your partner is beginning their cycle immediately after you’ve finished in bed: Rush some seltzer onto the hemogravy in question.

You know how I can’t seem to stop stanning for seltzer throughout this book, to the point that it almost reads as though I’m an infamously raunchy heiress to the Schweppes fortune? (GOD, I wish that were my life.) That’s because you can harness the powers of carbonated water not only to keep your mouth pleasantly wet during oral and seeming like the kind of “together” adult for whom even WATER can be improved upon, but also to get blood out of fabric.

You don’t want your partner to think you’re grossed out, in large part because you’re not, so don’t act like you’re trying to douse a wildfire. Calmly be all, “They’re just sheets!” omitting any portion of that sentence in which you are tempted to enumerate the thread count of said bedclothes, and pour half a glass of the cold seltzer sitting on your nightstand. If this seems like an excessive amount of water: You want to keep enjoying that jacked-up number of threads, am I correct? Gently blot out the stain with paper towels. They’re just sheets—stain-free sheets on which you also got to enjoy the miracles of period sex.

Condiment Attack

The most painful thing that ever happened to my vagina was when a boyfriend added “ZEST” and “SPICE” to our sex life in a tragically straightforward sense. We had been revising a new recipe for wing sauce to exactitude every few days for one whole summer, so it was a shame that I utterly lost my appetite for it when, after dinner, Chris touched me without washing his hands. We had forgotten that pepper hurts more than your tongue, and wing-based pleasure morphed instantly into intense pain. Even as I was wincing and screaming “THIS IS NOT WHAT ‘HOT SEX’ IS SUPPOSED TO MEAN, YOU JAG” at Chris, I was laughing and grateful to have a new story to tell my friends for the month, but since then, I have taken care to avoid buffalo-style sex.

Handling spicy foods like peppers—or wing sauce—before handling another person’s D or V is the living worst. Wash your hands eleven times if you think you’re going to bone after dinner, and maybe decide against cooking/eating scorch-inducing foods on a date. (And not only because they often incorporate beans, putting you at risk of “letting out” my British friend’s gaseous terror.) If you still heat things up in the most regrettable possible way, get in a cold shower immediately, wing sauce be damned to burn on the stove in retribution for how it burned me. Flush out the point of contact, then take a break from sex until the next day. If you don’t feel better in two hours, call a doctor.

Getting Come in Your Eye

I wear lots of makeup. As such, I’m far from intimidated by the prospect of effluvia around my general eye area. As with mascara, though, the key is making sure your actual optic nerves aren’t suddenly clouded with alien liquids by applying them to your face with precision.

Did you know that when you see the world through a filter of semen, your eyes inflate and redden until they resemble rubber grade-school kickballs? If you’re masturbating and have a curved dick, or if you’re in the mood for a 100 percent natural facial treatment, consider your or your partner’s aim: This is an orgasm, not recess. (Well, it’s kind of recess, but it’s DEFINITELY not happening at a primary school.)

I was given this unfortunate education recently, when I found myself looking down the barrel of a partner’s loaded dick. “Wait—!” I yelp-cooed, trying to preserve both my fake eyelashes and the sensuous tone of klymaxxx, to no avail on both counts. My vision blurred with come. I brushed my tear ducts gently with the back of my hand as the dude susurrated apologies: He had never done this before! He lost control! He was so so so so sorry! I played it cool: It had come from his body, so it couldn’t hurt me too badly, right? There was no need to jet off to the bathroom and flush my eyes immediately, as far as I was concerned.

That turned out to be wrong—semen does not make for a good saline solution at all. The swelling was swift and stung badly…and I had a meeting to go to in an hour. How do you even lie about such a highly visible vision-based irritation? I had no idea, as I’m an unskilled liar with an overactive imagination, but not a useful one. I came up with a bee sting to the eye, an allergic reaction to eyedrops on just the one half of my face, and, “Oh, this remedial sports equipment I’m calling part of my head? I was crying! I was crying very hard about…having…sadness,” which doesn’t work if you’re trying to maintain a professional profile, but which I thought might still be better than the obvious conclusion of semen-eye. In the end, I canceled the meeting.

If this happens to you: Don’t make my mistake of trying to be all casual about things. There’s come in your eye! Get thee to a faucet and wash it out with water immediately! If, like me, you do not actually have an allergy to eyedrops, employ those afterward. Make sure your eye is totally cleansed of all semen—leaving any behind will be sure to irritate it.

Excerpted from Action: A Book About Sex published by Grand Central Publishing. © 2016 by Amy Rose Spiegel. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. All rights reserved.


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