Editor’s note: The following is a conversation between the author, Scout Turkel, and a friend of hers, Sarah Reeves, with whom she previously had sex. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Scout: I guess we slept together not that long after we met each other, which is maybe part of the story. Back in freshman year, why did you want to sleep with me? [both laughing] I mean, that’s the question!
Sarah: Oh God. Well, in the first semester of college, I wanted to affirm my queerness. I wasn’t seeking a partner because I was already in an open relationship, but I was looking to have deeper experiences with people who weren’t cis men.
Scout: From my perspective, it seemed like you had slept with a lot of women or non-men before we slept together. But I realize that I don’t actually know if that was true.
Sarah: Well, I had slept with maybe three or four non-men, but it was more about wanting to have more agency in my intimacy. I had met my boyfriend at camp, where there was a lot of external pressure around sex, and a lot of my intrigue with you was that you were smart and hot and nice, but also that I felt I had agency in that chase; there wasn’t so much pressure from others.
Scout: That’s interesting because I feel like the fact that we’d recently met each other — and that our friend group wasn’t fully formed — created more pressure for me. I think part of the reason I asked if you had slept with non-men before me is because, in my mind at the time, you were the coolest person that I knew. So I felt like there was a lot of pressure! The stakes felt high, and I knew I had built a facade to make you think I was cooler than I was. Though I don’t know if it worked …
Sarah: No, yeah, it did.
Scout: Well good, it was successful [laughing]. I mean, I had been in a long, complicated relationship with a woman before you, but I had still only slept with one other nonmale person. I thought I had to live up to the facade I had presented, and also address my fears around sleeping with new people. I’m sure that was evident. I mean, we had just met, but we immediately had a connection. We’re both pretty forward in our flirtation —
Scout: But I think you more so than I. I actually tell this story semi-frequently: We were hanging out in your room in October of freshman year, and as I was leaving, you said, “Oh wait, I forgot to tell you something,” very casually, and then said, “So I really want to have sex with you. I think we should have sex.” [both laughing] Maybe, now, I wouldn’t have the reaction I had then — I hope I wouldn’t! I hope I’m more liberated, or whatever. But at the time, that was so shocking and revolutionary to me. That moment totally changed the way I went about asking people to have sex with me from there on; it was really radical to see someone be so unafraid of the answer. Actually, I think I said, “I don’t know! I’ll think about it,” and you just said, “OK, that’s fine!” [both laughing]
Sarah: I really don’t care if the answer is going to be no — it doesn’t scare me. But freshman year, I was performing what I would now call toxic masculinity as I started to outwardly navigate my gender. And I think that my confidence was related to that. It wasn’t false, but it was part of a new kind of behavior for me where I was being really, really honest and hoping that if I practiced that honesty, I could better figure out how things would make me feel.
Scout: Which is a really good quality. Part of the reason your question was so shocking to me was that it made me realize how emotionally behind I was. I was so grateful you responded the way you did to my uncertainty, with so much care, but I also knew I couldn’t have responded the same way if the roles were reversed. Was asking me to sleep with you spontaneous? Or was it premeditated?
Sarah: It was premeditated in the sense that I knew how much I enjoyed your company and our flirting and our chemistry, and I knew I wanted to have sex with you. That night, I think I was trying to move beyond the feeling of anticipation and see what pleasure without anticipation would look like. So I just came right out and asked you.
Scout: Oh wow, that’s something I should think about, pleasure without anticipation. Which brings me to the biggest question: When we actually did have sex, how do you feel like it went?
Sarah: Honestly, I knew you had been in this intense relationship with a woman before, and I had never had that with someone who wasn’t a man, which was scary. I thought a lot about how you were perceiving me, and my own internal shit. I mean, I had never fully affirmed the sex I had with people who weren’t men. Just a lot of internalized homophobia. What was the question? [both laughing]
Scout: How do you think our sex was!
Sarah: It definitely went well. I mean, when I have any kind of relation with someone, I usually fall in love with them, and I was in love with you for a few weeks. But now, I can see that’s just who I am. I seek out that connection — I’m a Pisces.
Scout: When I reflect on having sex with you, I remember it and you as very patient. I don’t know if you remember this, but at first, I couldn’t even kiss you! I was too scared — I’m outing myself as a huge pussy in my own sex column. But you were so patient with me. And when we did start to have sex, I was taken aback by how forward and communicative you were. I don’t think I had ever been asked what I wanted, and you asking me made me realize that I had no clue. You seemed so confident, and I was so fearful. But we had such a sweet time. I think I probably felt in love with you while we were having sex. But I also felt really insecure.
Sarah: I mean, I think I was insecure as well. I’ve gotten this feedback before, about me being really honest and direct. I’m really glad that’s how I appear to the world. But I think a lot of that was in response to other sexual experiences that were nonconsensual or where I was very passive and got very little pleasure. Learning consent and that confidence was my own decision. I decided to do it, and I did it.
Scout: You did it!
Sarah: I did it!
Scout: You were also one of the first queer friends I made in college, and I was stressed out about how attracted I was to you. I really believed that sex could doom us. I thought our only options were that we fall in love and start a long-term relationship, or that we have sex and implode our friendship beyond the point of recovery. I did end up saying yes, so something obviously changed. Though I would say that having sex did have a momentary negative effect on our friendship.
Sarah: I wouldn’t say negative, but I would say uncertain and frustrating. When I was 15, my therapist told me that expectations turn into resentments, so ever since then, I try to keep my expectations low. And I think we were both in weird places with our lives, which made what was happening between us very unsure. I remember being frustrated with you.
Scout: That’s fair. I wasn’t direct with you. I was still figuring out the difference between sex and romance. I still am. I do think we had good, enjoyable sex, but I was comparing it to sexual experiences in my past. And our sex was very different from those times, partially because it was so mutual and forgiving and equal — I guess I’ve dated a lot of dominant people and was reckoning with the question of what sex could mean if it wasn’t about being dominant or submissive. If sex can be something else, where do I fit into it? And to top it all off, we’re very similar and competitive. Right after we hooked up, you started seeing someone I had a huge crush on …
Sarah: I did?
Scout: Yes, you did. And seeing you with her — this other person who I also thought was super hot — brought out this really possessive side of me. I was jealous of you for getting with her, but was also mad that you weren’t hung up on me. I think I internalized our intimacy in a big way, one I was reminded of just last year at your birthday party: You were dancing with your recent partner, and I felt this surge of jealousy. Obviously, we’re still good friends, but I wonder if jealousy will always be a part of it. It’s a way that sex did lastingly affect our relationship.
Sarah: Yeah, I agree. I think I got resentful after I tried to communicate and be direct and it wasn’t reciprocated. At the time, I thought, “OK, Scout doesn’t want anything more with me, and I need to get over it.” I left Berkeley for winter break pretty sad about you. And then I sat with my feelings about us. I saw you as so smart and so queer — so when nothing more materialized with us, I had a lot of resentment. Like, if we’re both here and we both like each other, why can’t we figure out what we could be?
Scout: Do you think we should have?
Sarah: I mean, I don’t know. It’s all so connected, right? All the people I’ve slept with who weren’t men, including you, were building toward something. Do you think we should have?
Scout: That we should’ve given it a whirl? [both laughing]
Scout: I don’t know. I think there definitely was some way we could have kept having sex, and that it’s sad to lose someone who you’ve had pleasureful sex with because of tension around it. I would like to think we should have, but in reality, we were both single for the first time in a while and needed to have other experiences. And I probably needed to feel very jealous watching you have those other experiences. It did work out though, I think? We’re still friends.
Scout Turkel writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]