Seven and a half years ago, I rung in my '20s in a dorm room with a group of friends and a crush who had been poking me on Facebook all summer. Over the course of the next few weeks, he and I made out in the basement of his co-ed literary fraternity house, debated whether the whole world could be a projection of our unconscious, and attended a poetry group, where I awkwardly tried to put my arm around him and he didn't respond. I drew him his favorite tree for his birthday. When I learned he had hooked up with someone else, I broke down crying in his arms and he couldn't figure out what he'd done wrong.
Yeah, that was pretty much relationships in my early 20s.
I'd like to think I've matured and gotten better at finding healthy relationships since then, but I probably owe it to luck that a far nicer guy found me in a club in Ibiza in summer 2016 and then traveled 4,000 miles to make an unlikely relationship happen. So that's where I am right now.
During my early 20s, my sex life was just as uninformed, awkward, and unfulfilling as my dating life. I still thought it was great, because hey, I was having sex. I had nothing to compare it to. But when I look back on it, man, was I putting up with some sh*t. Sexual coercion, complete neglect for my pleasure, blatant disrespect, you name it.
Here are some things I've (hopefully) learned about sex since.
1You Don't Have To Try So Hard
Everywhere we turn, women are under pressure to put on a god damn show in the bedroom: get sexy lingerie, style your pubic hair, learn new moves, go above and beyond to keep thing exciting for your partner, we're taught. What about keeping things exciting for yourself (which you probably can't do if you're worried about your looks)? A partner who's worth your time won't care how much pubic hair you have or what flavor lube you brought into the bedroom. They want to have sex with you. So be yourself.
2Consent Is Sexy
It's crucial to make sure your partner consents to whatever you're doing, and it's equally important to make sure you consent to it. If you're only maybe into something or you're not sure, say "no" until you have the chance to figure it out. You can always change your mind. And don't be afraid to give your partner the low-down on consent before you hook up. The night I met mine, I told him, "Don't do anything with me unless you're 110 percent sure I want it." What? Consent is sexy!
3Sex Does Not Equal Intercourse
During my teens and early 20s, I had this idea that every sexual thing you could do besides intercourse was no big deal, and once I had intercourse, it would change me because I wouldn't be a "virgin" anymore. Now, I don't believe in virginity. No one act has any more inherent meaning than any other. And honestly, a lot of sexual acts can be more enjoyable than the traditional penis-in-vagina kind. Variety is the spice of life, right?
4It's OK To Give Negative Feedback
You know that useless fingering technique straight guys do where they just ram their fingers in and out of you? Yeah, that used to be, like, my whole sex life. I didn't have it in me to tell them they were doing it wrong. Then, one day, my partner asked me how I was liking it, which finally led me to admit that this act did nothing for me. "You know, you can say something," he said. "I'm doing this for you, not for me." A lightbulb went off: receiving pleasure is supposed to be for you. You're not doing you or your partner any favors by pretending something feels good when it doesn't. If you go along with something that doesn't feel great, you're not just depriving yourself. You're depriving them of what they really want: to please you.
5It's OK To Be A "Tease"
During my 20s, I got called a "tease" a lot for flirting, kissing, or fooling around with someone and not going further. I started to skip out on all those other things because I didn't want to "lead them on" — and went further than I was comfortable with because I feared I had led them on. But that's BS. Flirting, kissing, and non-intercourse sex are tons of fun in their own right, and you can do as much of it as you damn well please. Lots of people are far more fun to "lead on" than they are to actually have sex with (exhibit A: the useless fingering technique), and if I want to just engage in some foreplay and then go masturbate (which, yes, I have done), that's my prerogative.
6You Deserve To Take Up Space — And Time
I didn't orgasm with a partner until I was 22, probably because I was terrified of hogging too much attention for myself. That's some patriarchal BS right there. The same social norms that make women uncomfortable taking up time in meetings make us uncomfortable taking up time in bed. And they make taking up space and time uncomfortable. But if you push through the discomfort, the rewards are plentiful. Honestly, it's OK to be selfish. In fact, it's necessary. If you're not selfish, you don't come.
7Sex Is Not Love
We're taught from a young age to connect sex and love, and the rush of hormones you can get during sex might lead you to believe this. But these feelings don't mean the other person loves you, and — this is important — they don't mean you love the other person. If you assume yourself to be in love with someone just because you had good sex with them and you're feeling all the feels, you're giving them all the power. Love isn't just a feeling; it's a series of actions. Actions more meaningful than having sex with someone.
I'm sure that in my 30s, I'll be looking back at what an idiot I was in my late 20s. But for now, that's what I've got. I hope it can save you years of mediocre sex, since I won't ever get those years back.