Quick backstory: I’m 29. Recovering alcoholic. Been sober 2.5 years, woot woot! Lost my virginity at 16 because all my friends had so I wanted to catch up. And so began my sexual career. Completely lost. Hooking up with damn near anyone. Nobody that cared about me and certainly nobody I cared about. Into college I went where the drinking really got started and I slept around a lot. No emotions attached. As a 29-year-old I’ve had two very short-term boyfriends, connected with both of them but spent [the] majority of the relationships stoned / drunk.
So now I am sober — YAY — and lost sexually. I know I’ve experienced incredible sex in the past, but couldn’t tell ya exactly what makes me orgasm. Legit no clue. Started dating the sweetest lamb of a man. We’re total opposites. He grew up in a really religious household and only made out with girls for a long-ass time. He’s only had sex with five women. We’ve slept together five times now, and I am like WTF IS HAPPENING. I suggested he go down on me once and he put his face down there for all of three seconds and proceeded to say he just wanted to f**k me. Yawn. No orgasms obviously.
He thinks I am all experienced and in a way I am, yet I have no idea how to communicate to him what I want because I don’t know what I want! The incredible sex I’ve had, I’ve been so wrapped up in it, I haven’t paused to jot down any pointers for future partners.
I am so lost!!!! I was never blessed with that tight-knit group of girlfriends who’d talk about sex tips and stuff — a few friends here and there, but I don’t know. I feel lost and alone and unsure of how to proceed.
Dear Sexy and Sober,
The past two and a half years you’ve been clearing out your path so that you can now actually see where you’re currently walking, where you’ve been walking, and where you’re walking to. Although there are still plenty of branches to chop (aren’t there always?), the beginnings of your self-reflecting practices have made your metaphorical machete sharp enough to slice through the obstacles that you perhaps once thought would be impossible to slip through.
You’re in a time of rebirth, and it’s important to remember that we’re all naked when we’re born. We’re slimy and squinty-eyed and so vulnerable. We don’t know who we are yet or what the world is, and the only way to figure out how we fit into it is by trying on different things and seeing what works.
The concept of “beginner’s mind” is one I tend to invoke in moments when I feel utterly naked and without a foundation to base my metaphorical outfit off of, and one I’m sure I will repeatedly refer back to in this column. Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Zen Master, popularized Zen teachings in the States in the 1960s through his book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” and whether he coined the term or not, he did write this book, and my overly anxious, constantly imposter-syndromed brain will forever be grateful. “A mind should be an empty and ready mind, open to everything, whereas a mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are,” he wrote. Basically, Suzuki talks about approaching every aspect of life as a newborn, unknowing and unbiased. The more you know, the more you tend to think you know, when truly, the one who knows the most understands they don’t know all that much in the first place.
This principle is applicable for every aspect of life, but I bring it up now because sounds like both you and your boo could benefit from it.
Your relationship with this man, and your sexual experiences with him, are brand new. Even if you’d had all the sober and intentional sex in the world before him, this experience would still be brand spanking new. There’s a bunch of really fun, added elements of newness to this particular situation that it sounds like you haven’t experienced before — like being able to be a lot more present with him than perhaps you’ve been with other partners — which makes you a lot more vulnerable than past sexy times. It probably feels kinda scary.
You’re no longer a teenager, or someone who gets high all the time — but that doesn’t mean you’re not still running away. You’ve overcome so much, but it seems like you’re still afraid of actually seeing yourself. Your real self — not the self that others project onto you, or the self that you’ve projected for so long.
Let’s pivot our attention to your mans for a moment. It sounds like he’s also swimming in unmapped waters as someone who doesn’t feel that they’ve had a wide breadth of sexual experience — even if that concept is kind of funny and made up. From what you’ve written, it actually sounds like perhaps your experiences were a lot less varied than his, as the emotional and mental state you were in was often the same throughout your sexual encounters. Sure, there may have been a rotating cast of characters, changes in scenery, and perhaps some variation of the choreography, but the storyline always started and ended the same. For the first time, you’re rewriting the story with this new partner. Meanwhile, he’s nervous about missing a beat or forgetting his lines.
The cool bit about sex and intimacy? There are no prescribed lines you have to say, or parts you have to act out, as long as you communicate (and I include consent as a necessary part of this communication). It’s a blank slate every time, even though most of us never treat it that way.
A beginner’s mind works wonders, young grasshopper, because communication during sex isn’t just about what you do or don’t like, it’s about expressing who you are and how you’re showing up to this particular moment.
It sounds like you think your partner has projected a super-sexual persona onto you — have you ever talked about how you don’t feel aligned with that perception? Do you want him to continue to see you that way, or are you ready for him to see you just as you are — the smooth and graceful bits of you, as well as the awkward and uncomfortable ones?
In terms of sexual acts, you’re beginning to communicate to your partner what you like, for example, telling him you want him to go down on you — that’s awesome that you know that works for you. However, in the anecdote you share, he goes down on you for three seconds, then proceeds to insist he wants to f**k. Sounds like perhaps there may have been some performance anxiety there on his part, and that he wanted to get to the act where he felt like he knew what he was doing. Either that, or he’s selfish in bed, which in that case, boy bye — although from the way you’ve described him and your relationship, it doesn’t seem likely as the first assumption. Of course, there could be a slew of other reasons as well, and there is no way of finding out what’s going on unless you two engage in a conversation about it.
You deserve to orgasm, and that is a human right alongside any other, but what if you took away the goal of orgasm for a second? What if instead, you both reshifted the focus of your sexual intimacy to exploring and getting to know how your bodies move together and respond to each other?
“To put the focus back into exploring touch, take turns pleasuring each other,” Louise Head, a relationship coach and certified sex educator, told Salon. “Set a timer for three minutes and begin by focusing on one partner. When time is up, switch to the other person. Do this for several rounds. As you start to feel more turned on, you can increase each partner's turn to five minutes. This exercise takes the pressure off of performance and orgasm and creates space for each partner to focus intentionally on the other partner's body,bo giving both partners practice being the giver and the receiver. Pay attention to which role feels more challenging to you!”
This is a great way to just play with each other, and take the pressure off while being present. There isn’t any destination or end goal, simply room to explore and experience the moment as something unique that has never been done before.
Now, exploring each other’s bodies and presence is wonderful, but GIRL — it’s time to take some matters into your hands — literally. Masturbate. Explore yourself. Make yourself cum. Figure out what you like and don’t like with your own hands and your own mind. Fantasize; let your dreams roam into all the weird places you never let them go before. Be present with yourself, face yourself, touch yourself. No more running away. No more being filled up by substances, experiences, and people that don’t serve you.
“Explore what feels good when you have sex with yourself,” shares Head. “Once you have a good sense of this, find a way to communicate these techniques to your partner. This might look like talking about what techniques you use on yourself, or you and your partner can take turns masturbating while the other watches, later attempting to recreate the moves on each other.”
Going back to you not having notes on the good sex you’ve had, a great practice for you would be to literally it write down —journal what you’re feeling after being physically intimate with your partner. Jot down what you liked, what you didn’t, what you were hoping to try. Have him do the same, then share it with each other. This might feel terrifying and awkward, but it will also give both of you permission to communicate exactly what’s going on. You can even use this sex journal, created specifically for this practice.
This is all brand new, remember? You’re learning to walk again, so step towards the adventure of it, the newness of it, the possibility of it — and enjoy it. Be open to learning about yourself and finding playfulness in tension and in the discomfort of being vulnerable. It can be so much fun, I promise.
Have questions about sex and love? Email Arielle@Salon.com