For as long as I can remember, I’ve masturbated daily. First with my fingers, then with the stream from a removable shower head and finally with vibrators. For much of this time, I was touching myself to what I thought penetrative sex must feel like. I’d wanted to have it since at least middle school and was excited to think about it finally happening. But then I attended a small high school where I found no one sexually appealing. Between extracurriculars and taking care of my little brother, I didn’t have much time to look for potential partners outside of my school. So I continued to touch myself whenever I could and braced for the sweet release of college. I was intending on making up for lost time by hooking up with as many people as possible upon arrival.
I got to UC Berkeley in January 2014 (shout out to my fellow spring admits) and immediately hooked up with my neighbor in the residence halls. I intended on continuing to fuck whomever seemed interesting, but that didn’t happen. Along with the craziness of constant readings, papers, problem sets and midterms, I had fallen for my neighbor. While we had negotiated a poly relationship from the beginning — because we both really liked the other but still wanted to explore — I had a serious case of new relationship energy and was not interested in other pursuits.
The entire semester had passed and I had only fucked one person. Dissatisfied with my count, I tried to redeem myself at Burning Man that August. My first day on the playa, I met a man who seemed to understand me like no one else did. We spent the rest of the week together and continued an email exchange once we returned to the default world. More than two years later, we still talk weekly. I had once again failed at having a hook up.
Inspired by my kinky experiences at Burning Man, I became involved in the kink community that fall. In the kink scene, pick-up play, or doing a kinky thing with someone you just met, is common. But instead of “tasting the world,” I found myself forming friendships. I still couldn’t redeem myself.
After doing this for about a year and a half, I grew increasingly frustrated with myself. For years, I dreamed of having a sex life filled with anonymity and pure pleasure, and now here I was, in a sex dungeon, surrounded by scores of beautiful naked people fucking on a Friday night and talking about why cinnamon raisin bagels are the best bagels. I was determined to have a one-night stand.
When I was home for winter break, I finally had a Tinder hook up, and I hated it. I had gotten used to having long conversations about what made me feel good before an interaction, but he simply assumed what I liked. I knew each night of pleasure as being a lesson in how to make the next time better, but this was just … it.
I know writing off an entire way of interacting based off of one bad time may seem short-sighted or immature, but it made me realize so much about the sex life of mine that I had previously taken for granted. In my head, I had connected the idea of having a fulfilling, amazing sex life with having a number of partners who were just used for sex. But I completely neglected the emotions that come with it. My body may have felt beautiful and invigorated, but my mind was haunted by the idea that a truly sexually liberated woman separated sex and feelings.
There appears to be a dichotomy in college romance where you can either be fun-loving and hook up or be committed to one sweetheart, and I thought I had to choose. I thought the love I felt for my partners somehow made the fun I was having less legitimate and made me weaker. But in the end, these emotions have given my sex life more color than I thought possible. I’ve had my bags packed to run away from all responsibilities, cried from pure joy when wrapped up naked with a lover and, out of frustration, thrown my phone at a wall resulting in my screen shattering into hundreds of little pieces. These feelings engaged every part of my body. What from the outside looked like bodies rubbing together felt like the world was finally right. I would have never deemed these feelings worthwhile or even possible a few years ago. But I have come to view these emotions as a vital part of my life, and they keep my fire burning when UC Berkeley occasionally makes my life so regimented.
I know I am not the only one who has felt this way — like we have to choose between sexual freedom and love. But in my life, I’ve been blessed with getting to let myself have both. When I wanted to love, I loved, and I no longer feel that it makes me weak.
Kylie Sammons writes the Tuesday column on Sex. Contact her at [email protected].