I knew I would want to write about my first time. Whether good or bad, I believed that having waited for, wondered about, and even idealized that first encounter for so long I would be moved to write. Whether I would be recording how the reality differed or affirmed all I’d previously imagined or making an entry of the memory like a flower blossom from a firmly preserved in the pages of one’s journal, I’d expected that I (as sick as this would sound to a non-writer) would write the something soon after the act. I was wrong. I had no words to write after that weekend. There was a lot to be said, but nothing quite felt right to write about and I couldn’t quite express the multiplicity and complexity of feelings. But a year later, I think I’ve processed it a bit better and – as writing is cathartic – that I need to express it after all. Not merely to mirror reality with my prior imaginations nor to save the memory as I had thought, but to address myself, the younger me, the present me, and women who may be like me.
And when I say women like me I mean the African women who have been struggling with their sexual desires, women who because of their religious background, insecurities, critical minds and more never really ‘had the chance’ to enjoy sex freely. This is for us, because when I did the search on “things I wish I knew before having sex for the first time” a lot came up; practical advice but not the things I think about now over a year later. So this is the blog I wish I had come across then. These are the things I would tell another me going into it late if I were to meet her now.
1. First of all, I don’t regret the wait. Nor do I regret ending the wait.
If you are a virgin (and I use this word for lack of a better one) long enough in today’s society you are likely to experience and imbibe a range of impressions about yourself. Up until around 23, those who knew I wasn’t dating considered me a ‘good girl’, a nerd, overly romantic for waiting on ‘Mr Right’. After 25, the story changed, those who knew now called me ‘picky’, questioned my sexual preferences, and warned me that my biological clock was ticking.
Whether I like to admit it or not (and for the record I don’t), I like many other African women were socialized into believing our virginity made us ‘pure’, thus deserving of the best, and more likely to be appreciated by a guy. Not being a virgin meant you could get a crappy man and have no right to complain because, after all he was not your first.
I didn’t get the sex talk from any adult. Just the “don’t let any boy touch you or you will get pregnant” warning that comes with the announcement of your first period. I learned sex from romance novels I read avidly, and then from discovering my older cousins porn CDs. I compared the imagery painted with words to the visuals on the T.V and concluded though it was the same thing, it wasn’t. I wanted the one the books talked about. This could have been because I’m a romantic and craved a sentimental attachment to the sexual partner as much as a physical one. But more likely it’s because the idea of sex as portrayed in the novels appealed because it didn’t differ so much from religion and purity culture – the hero and heroine did always end up getting married or living happily ever after…
I recall a particular event where one of my friend’s boyfriend (she had probably told him my business) made a comment undoubtedly directed at me. He said “virginity is not dignity, its lack of opportunity”… I laughed when he said that, the kind of laugh of self-derision that convinces people that you’re okay and unfazed. It was also the kind of laugh that suggests agreement and thus ends what would have become a discussion. I didn’t want to debate it then, but if I had not used a laugh to end the conversation, I would have probably told him that not having had sex was both of those things for me. At that time I saw it as dignity given how I’d been socialized to see it, BUT I always always knew that I wasn’t waiting just because of that ‘dignity’ (I mean we commit other sins without batting an eye).
I was waiting because I wanted to feel what I felt when I read the words in my favourite novels. I was waiting because I wanted to be already sentimentally attached to whoever it was so I was certain it wouldn’t be just physical. In an old diary entry I had written that all I wanted was to be sure that I wouldn’t regret it in the morning. The fear of regretting it kept me waiting more than any religious indoctrination. In this way, my virginity was definitely a lack of opportunity, the opportunity of meeting/finding someone I felt I wouldn’t regret it with.
And in retrospect if there was any ‘dignity’ in not having had sex for so long, it was not in the supposed virginal purity but the discipline I was able to exert; the fact that I was able to deny myself physical satisfaction for so long in hope of both physical and emotional.
Why am I sharing this as the first point in a blog about one’s first time? First because, most of the articles read targeted teens and people in their early 20’s so none of them discussed the ‘why now?’ question or discussed how to know it’s time. But that is something that needs to be discussed for people embarking on their sexual journey’s much later in life. And secondly, because a year later the most reassuring thing about my first time remains the fact that I have never regretted it. Not the day after, not a year later.
The most recurring question I get from friends ‘was it worth the wait’. I would say yes. Not because I *wanted* to wait all those years, heck I am unhappily waiting now… But it was worth it to know that you went in on your own volition, it is super empowering to defy the socialization that teaches us that virginity is something ‘taken’ from women as if you weren’t part of the act. As if it wasn’t sharing. One of my girlfriends summed it up pretty well: “It is amazing when we do these things in our own time and way”. We often speak of the first time as something that happens spontaneously, we make it out to be something a girl gets hoodwinked into. I wish we spoke more about how powerful it is to choose to share your body.
I neither felt like ‘I should have done this earlier’ because I was by far more ready than I would have been earlier. Nor did I feel like ‘I shouldn’t have done this’ because I had led the deciding on the when, where, who and why. May all our sexual adventures afford us that power.
2. Bedmantics isn’t the most prominent bedroom gymnastics
In case you reading this are not from West Africa, the term ‘bedmantics’ is contrived from bed and gymnastics to refer to those elaborate sex positions or sexual performance in general. Despite having read in those articles I researched that your first time will not be like a pornhub video and despite going in with the knowledge that it’ll be unlikely that I have an orgasm because of initial pain, I still wanted to impress. I may have been a virgin with regards to having a hymen at 30 but I had none of the naivety attached to it. Aside from the years of reading books with sex scenes and blogs like this one, I’d gone pretty close before with other guys. I’d also bought myself a vibrator at 25 so I could say I’d experienced an orgasm before that first time. I felt like since I ‘knew’ so much about sex I should be able to impress. And in retrospect perhaps a bit of me had believed that nonsense about winning a guy over with ‘bedmantics’. So in addition to reading those articles, I watched instructional videos, downloaded a Kama Sutra guide and bought expensive sexy lingerie (which I never got to wear)…
But lord knows I fumbled. All contrived confidence from second-hand knowledge left me when I realised I was really on the brink of having the sex. I’m laughing while recollecting it. Shoot, if he hadn’t moved towards me I would have sat on that bed and stared.
If ever there was something of which to say ‘you have to experience it for yourself’, sex is that thing. This is not to say it was underwhelming… the guy I’d chosen spent a considerable amount of time performing oral sex, obviously hoping it would ‘ready’ me, and I could sense and appreciate his control during penetration… Still, I couldn’t do all I’d planned. It wasn’t the adventure I had painted in my mind.
For one, because despite all effort that shit hurt. The novels lied eh… Julia Quinn and Julie Garwood lied in those sex scenes… Tsuip, what “shift from pain to pleasure” happening in the first time? Lies! More like the 4th time around.
But above all, the real reason my first time was less than I know it could have been, was because bedmantics wasn’t the chief exercise going on in that room. Above it was the mental gymnastics I was doing. I’m both a chronic over-thinker and hopeless romantic so perhaps this is unique to me, (I doubt it) but my first experience left me with the firm belief that what we can do with our bodies, and in out of coitus depends largely on what we’re already doing with our minds.
In talking about sex, people often try to paint the picture with their physical senses. And when I think on the memories I can do that too; I can recall that in dimmed light his dark skin seemed part of a vignette and it was his eyes I followed, I can recall the smell of soap, the slightly salty taste of sweat on skin, the feel of his beard scratchy, yet oddly arousing between my thighs (I affirm the power of beards and have confirmed my membership in #beard gang), and hearing nothing but the air conditioner and his heartbeat as we cuddled afterward.
But these are things I have to remember with effort. What I have no problem recollecting are the way thoughts raced through my mind, from start to finish all the while we were in that room. Yet our mental adventures, what is likely the most common ‘adventure’ in the bedrooms of African women is the least reported.
I wish someone had warned me that my first time would – at the very least – be a threesome. Because it was. There would be two versions of me in the room (and I don’t know if it was the same for him). One version of me was there to let go; it is this version that wanted to try all she had read and imagined. This version wanted to put on the playlist previously made just for this. This version of me wanted more pleasure and wondered how to get passed the pain to the point of googling it under the sheets…this one wanted to wear the lingerie on the second night and wanted to feel the power of being the seductress.
But another version of me was there too.
And that one wondered if he noticed how ugly the insides of my thighs are from chub rub while he was down on me. That version was glad the room lights were dim and couldn’t walk from the bed to the bathroom without something to cover as he did. That version was in perpetual fear of doing something embarrassing, and too self-aware of flabby skin and rolls…because of that version I kept shifting and turning to lie on my side, afraid I’d look too wide laid out flat on the bed. That version of me questioned the desires of the former… Get on top? You’re too damn heavy! And it questioned his desire of me too “if you didn’t offer yourself up, this wouldn’t have happened… are you even sure he really wants you that way… or is he just taking what was offered? That version of me needed more than sex, it needed validation
The problem is, your partner sees only one version of you. Even I didn’t think of it this way during those three days. So I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get wet enough, when that has always been the easiest thing. Hell, I got wet wanting him during near-innocent chats, so why need lube when in bed, skin to skin? My body wasn’t living up to what I knew was possible, because my mind was working overtime. I recall at some point he expressed disappointment because I didn’t cum. I told him I hadn’t expected to, and honestly I didn’t. All the articles I read beforehand made it clear that you are unlikely to have an orgasm your first time(s) because of the pain so I went in without that expectation. But that was only part of it, it would only be later that I acknowledged that with the internal war I had going on, I wouldn’t have been able to cum with or without pain. It wasn’t just me and my vibrator, it was me, someone I liked and two versions of myself; one anxious to explore and the other in need in ways she was scared of expressing.
The articles I read emphasized the need for foreplay to truly enjoy your first time, but fail to address what is needed to get there. They should have addressed how it would feel to take off your clothes for someone, how to manage the anxiety that comes with wanting to please versus the cravings you want to be pleased. A line from a series I watched recently goes “when a woman feels safe with you, then she wants to be adventurous with you”. No doubt, if the issues of the latter version of me were addressed, if she felt safe, wanted, free…then the more adventurous version would have had more say. It is this less I carry with me going forward as I consider what I would do right next time? I would make sure just one version of me enters the room. Perhaps that is the hardest thing.
3. Sex is for Grown folk
The all-encompassing aspect I wish articles on one’s first time discussed is how sex is for grown-ups. Yes, we hear this or variations of it throughout life; they tell kids sex is for grown-ups but they don’t tell them why. Both kids and adults need to know why. Sex is for grown-folk because all the things required to start it, enjoy the process, and be content with the memory of it require some aspect of maturity. Having mulled over it for a while, I have concluded that what makes for truly great sex is being grown.
For one, being grown enough to consent to it without pressure, without doubt, without shame is definitely foundational to having good sex. How would you truly enjoy it if you’re unsure of if you wanted to be there in the first place? If you feel like you’d have to lie to people afterwards or sneak around because of it… Consent is a thing of maturity; for both the person asking it and giving it. Having given it with the most assurance I could muster I was excited going in, I could talk about it with those I wanted to… heck I’m the one that suggested it and looking back I think this is major, because when some Christian sisters would bring up that biased notion of ‘soul ties’ I could shut them down. Besides this, I can confirm that one of the best parts of my experience was being asked in bed what I liked, if I felt comfortable, if he should stop and if he may try something risky…
Sex is for grown-folk because good sex requires that people know themselves, be comfortable and honest with themselves as well as each other. I’ve already mentioned the fact that you won’t be dealing with two versions of yourself if you feel comfortable and free enough to be one multidimensional version openly. But knowing yourself, being comfortable and honest with each other makes for a much better during and after in ways that remain understated. When I think of that experience, I revel in the fact that despite the insecure version of me aside, I had felt comfortable enough to tell him what I was doing to prepare leading up to the rendez-vous from what I was reading to the fact that I was buying lube and HIV/STD kits for both of us to get tested prior. And that ease and openness is sexy as hell, but also grown. It takes being knowledgeable of your body and tastes to be able to tell another person what turns you on or not. It takes grown knowledge of your limits and confidence in yourself to avoid the temptation to want to please the other person at the expense of your own pleasure. The lack of this growth explains why a lot of women fake it so much, and why a lot of men are clueless, they can’t know their partners taste if not told, and she can’t tell him if she doesn’t know herself. And just like that everyone is unsatisfied.
Perhaps, most importantly, sex is for grown-folk who are willing to be honest about what they feel, and who are committed to unlearning the problematic ideas we’ve been socialized with about what sex should be. It is this last lesson – the realisation that I wasn’t completely honest with myself and my need for unlearning- that I am finally coming to terms with a year later as I reflect on it in an attempt to move on.
See, in retrospect I can see that while I was ready mentally, physically, I was not completely ready emotionally. I had believed that being emotionally ready meant detaching my feelings from the act and thinking of sex ‘like a man’. So I proposed it matter-of-factly: “If you’re still single when I come in December, let’s do it”. I went in so determined not to catch feelings; repeatedly saying “we’re not dating, nor in a relationship… we’re just going to do this because I’m ready and I like you enough”. Again and again I said this to both of us and anyone who inquired, trying to convince myself that I was going in with my eyes open and heart frozen. I was so apprehensive of how women like me tend to conflate sex with love and fall prey, that even as I went all out not to fool myself, I fooled myself.
If my eyes were truly open I would have noticed as I made plans for that weekend that I was still trying to ‘set the scene’ I’d always had in mind of how that first time would be. From how I stocked the fridge, to the lingerie in my backpack, to the care I put into finding the perfect room… all signs of it being more than just the 3-night stand I was claiming it was. The only thing I didn’t do from my previous romantic imagination was play the cheesy music I’d always thought would be the soundtrack for such a night (a playlist of songs like JHud’s Giving Myself).
And if I was being honest with myself, I would have acknowledged that no amount of careful planning and none of my attempts to detach emotions could undo years of seeing sex as more than just sex and yearning for more than just sex. Like going in with two versions affected the experience, going in emotionally unready affected what happened after.
Still, these are lessons you only learn upon reflection. Errors you only see in retrospect. Few people’s first time is all round perfect. I’m glad for the ways mine was and happy that the ways it wasn’t revealed what unlearning I must do.
Do you recall your first time? The experience and what led to it? The details of it? And most importantly, how – if at all- it changed you? What do you wish you had known that you now know from your adventures?