When my first boyfriend, Chris, and I had sex for the first time, it was the end result of several months worth of Cold War-level strategic negotiation and planning. We were both virgins, and we wanted everything to be perfect. And so we spent hours hammering out logistics over AIM — where we would do it? How would we ensure that our parents didn't catch us? Who's job was it to go to the one grocery store in town and try to figure out how to buy condoms? We had schedules. We had code words. Eventually, our friends became involved, creating a veritable model U.N. of people working as one to helps us rub our junk together. When it finally did happen (his parents went to Costco), we were so excited, we took a photo.
Almost exactly two years later, I had sex for the first time with my second partner, Matt. I had just finished my freshman year of college, and Chris had dumped me and moved in with another girl while I was on vacation with my grandma. Matt, a friend of a friend from high school, took me to a movie; we then quietly drank unrefrigerated beers in his garage so as not to wake up his mom, and had distracted sex in his childhood bedroom with NPR playing as white noise. It should go without saying that we did not take a picture afterwards.
Matt became my second real boyfriend, but our first sexual encounter was my introduction to all the reasons that people have sex besides the fevered pain of virginity/"true love": boredom, horniness, need for distraction after being dumped for an "aspiring improv comedienne," etc. And I learned that, while society places a great value on our first time with our first partner, hooking up with our second partner is often where the real education about sex, and its greater role in our lives, begins in earnest.
So let's all tip our hats to our second partners, who probably set the tone for the rest of our sex lives way more than our first partners. If sex with our first partners is a high-pressure dinner at some fancy restaurant with a six-month waiting list, sex with our second partners is more like an order of Nachos Bell Grande — different, but good, and probably more satisfying in the end.
So what are the differences between the ways you hook up with your first partner, and the ways you get together with your second? Let us count the ways.
1. Why did you decide to do it for the first time?
First Partner: You're in love! Or at least in like. Heavy, heavy like. Can we round it up to love? I mostly just want to get this taken care of before I leave for college.
Second Partner: You like each other! Or at least can tolerate each other. Can we round that mutual toleration up to like? I'm, like, already under a lot of stress about my Poli Sci midterm, and I can't deal with any drama about this.
What You Learned In Between: That you don't necessarily need to be "in love" in order to have sex. You don't even need to rationalize it! It can be just a fun way to spend some downtime, like Netflix or racquetball.
2. How did you decide when to do it?
First Partner: You've spent weeks — possibly months — planning out every last detail, facing strange roadblocks at every turn. Could you do Thursday? No, I have to go to youth group at my synagogue. Well, what about next Sunday? No, my mom is going to be running around the house all day making apple butter. BUT I could possibly get away for 15 minutes around 4 p.m. IF you can borrow your dad's car to pick me up in the Wawa parking lot. I'll be wearing a trenchcoat, just in case we run into anyone we know.
Second Partner: One of you says, "So, you want to have sex now?"
What You Learned In Between: It doesn't need to be perfect in order to be satisfying (also, planning out everything perfectly is no guarantee that things will be satisfying, anyway. I mean, whose first time wasn't basically the sexual equivalent of those sad trombone "womp womp" noises?)
3. How much prep did you do before the actual event?
First Partner: Plucking things, waxing things, buying seemingly improbable sexy undergarments from the mall and feeling like the sales associate who rang you up just knew what you were going to do later, she just KNEW, oh my god, what if she calls your parents?
Second Partner: You have showered recently-ish.
What You Learned In Between: People who want to have sex with you are just stoked to have sex with you, and don't need you to, like, be wearing a hundred dollar bra and have jewels pasted to your labia. I mean, those could both be fun things to do when you feel like it! But they're certainly not requirements (I actually don't know how fun it is to have jewels pasted to your labia).
4. What kind of knowledge did you have going in?
First Partner: Almost none; you engage in endless Googling, and ask your most sexually experienced friend, who almost inevitably gives weird and terrible advice (i.e. "make sure to spend a solid 15-20 minutes just focused on the taint")
Second Partner: You're not quite a sexpert yet, but you do know a few things (such as that the role of the taint in sexual congress has been highly exaggerated).
What You Learned In Between: Literally everything you know about sex.
5. Where did you guys do it?
First Partner: Either a very special hotel room strewn with rose petals, or a very special back seat of a Honda Civic, parked next to a closed Best Buy.
Second Partner: Your house, your car, an alley outside the Cheesecake Factory. The human body is nothing to be ashamed of and sex is beautiful and natural — which is what you tried to tell those Cheesecake Factory prudes.
What You Learned In Between: Sex is way better when you're not desperately trying to cram it into a small opening in your schedule (thank you, ladies and gentlemen, you've been a wonderful audience; don't forget to try the meatloaf).
6. How confident were you?
First Partner: Beforehand, you're like 90 percent sure you understand where everything goes; but mid-act, you think "There's no way that's supposed to go there. I have, like, definitely been reading some diagrams incorrectly."
Second Partner: Oh, I know where all the stuff goes. All of it! Come on, ask me.
What You Learned In Between: Like driving a car or welding, this is an activity that you can really only learn about by doing.
7. How did you feel afterwards?
First Partner: Oh my god, everyone can tell. Wait, can they tell? Wait, do I want them to be able to tell? Wait, can my MOM tell? Oh god, I need all my friends to come over right now and tell me if I look different and if I need to find some kind of special disguise to wear around my parents to keep them from knowing.
Second Partner: Oh, who cares. Are there any Nachos Bell Grandes left?
What You Learned In Between: No one's trying to figure out if you had sex; everyone is too preoccupied with trying to figure out how they are going to get laid.