I sort-of lost my virginity when I was 18 because I was tired of being a virgin and because I was in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but fuck the first guy who looked at me. I was a freshman at the University of Iowa and absolutely more miserable than I had been in my entire life. I had sex because it was something to do.
This was not technically the first time I had slept with somebody. At 13, with a girl at a sleepover, I did what I would look back on now as having sex. Back then, we called it experimenting and never talked about it afterward.
So, with a guy who had “LED ZEPPELIN” tattooed on his ass and 10 pounds of weed on his bedroom floor, I tried straight sex. I was drunk, he was high. I was 18, he was 28. I didn’t tell him it was my first time until he was on top of me and almost inside of me.
I didn’t know what to say or the right way to go about any of it. Arching my back and adjusting my sports bra, I wondered if this was enough. I knew, from porn and movies, that there was a way that women were supposed to act during sex, but all I felt in that moment was the heavy weight of my clueless girlhood.
All in all, it was fine. Mostly, I laid there drunkenly and listened to the TV and his voice in my ear groaning “more.” I felt a dick move inside of me and waited anxiously for my cherry to pop. The pain never came, but he did. He asked suddenly — “Where should I come?”
“What? Oh, uh, my stomach?”
And just like that, it was over. I stared at the cracks in the ceiling and thought numbly: Well, that was interesting.
The next morning, I headed home reborn. Now, I was a woman; a man had looked at me, touched me, come on my stomach. Like a gallon of milk on my grocery list, I crossed off my virginity. When I called my friend to tell her, she said: “Welcome to the jungle.”
This wouldn’t be the last time I haphazardly gave my body to somebody whose name I didn’t know. Desperately, I wanted to feel desired. Searching for validation that I believed only men could give me; I looked relentlessly under cotton sheets and in frat house basements. Most notably, I also looked on the toilet.
A month before dropping out, I met a guy and went home with him. This was a standard Saturday for me — two Long Islands, a few songs on the dance floor and going home with whoever talked to me first. When we arrived, the house was filled with other coupled up students, and the bed was taken. Drunk out of our minds, we stumbled into the bathroom and proceeded to have sex on the toilet. Somewhere, in the thick of it all, I sobered up enough to feel water splashing at my ankles.
The details are blurry, but I remember turning on the lights to see that the entire bathroom was flooding. The toilet had broken; Water was everywhere. When the door opened, it was bedlam. The owner of the apartment was screaming hysterically as water rushed forth onto the living room carpet.
Panicked, blacking in and out, I slipped out of the door and ran to the elevator. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it outside and called a cab in one piece. His was another name I never learned, but to me he’ll always be “the toilet guy.”
All of this to say, my first and only semester at the University of Iowa was a sexual awakening in all of the worst ways. I learned to use sex as a form of self-medication, as a means of distracting myself from the depression that was, like rushing toilet water, nipping at my heels. That first semester, I learned just how addictive the male gaze can be and just how truly out-of-body sex can feel when you’re doing it for all of the wrong reasons.
It was a haphazard landslide into my 20s, with a lot more meaningless and equally ridiculous fucks, before eventually, things changed. After copious amounts of therapy and some growing up, I embraced radical self-acceptance. I started dating a woman, stopped trying to get the attention of men and began to heal the parts of me that needed to feel desired in order to feel worthy.
I had spent so many years neglecting myself, that when I finally experienced reciprocal and tender sex, I knew I would never again betray my body by giving it to men who saw only themselves in my reflection. Now, I know what I am looking for, and it isn’t an escape from myself, but rather, an intoxicating and joyous return. It’s not something to do, and it doesn’t leave me numb. It simply leaves me wanting more, more, more.