I lost my virginity when I was 17 years old.
Influenced by the tales of ardor and catharsis so often portrayed in the media we consume, I came into my first sexual escapade expecting fireworks and exultations or, at the very least, an orgasm.
As seems to be the case for most women, my first venture into the world of debauchery was resoundingly average. Aside from the persisting pain of penetration, there was nothing especially memorable about my “first time.” It was over nearly as quickly as it started, and of the two parties, one was left satisfied and the other not so much.
Despite the lackluster experience, I was very aware that something significant had shifted within me. Not one to define myself or others on the basis of sexual exploits, I was surprised by the sudden discomfort I felt in my own skin, my own body.
It was clear to me — whether founded or not — that I had given away an intrinsic piece of myself, which was now floating aimlessly in a sea of adjective nothingness, discarded like emotional debris and out of my reach.
Where was the strong woman I saw in the mirror previously? Where was the girl who found no qualms in spitting on conservative reservations around intercourse, who hoisted signs encouraging others to embrace their sexual proclivities and identities?
Nothing remarkable had happened during that first bedding, and yet I had never felt more unlike myself.
In the years following, I would eventually leave the boy who was the first to see me in the dark dusk of my childhood bedroom. He is sweet and kind, and even as I somewhat berate him on this public forum, I treasure him deeply.
In making the decision to move on, I knew my personal reservations and sentiments about sex were ones that I needed to contend with on my own.
I was on a college campus, and it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk about was sex. Body counts, sneaky links, dating apps and sexcapades: These were as good as social currency to a student body experiencing independence for the first time. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to fit in.
Despite my discomfort, I exchanged tales of my own R-rated interactions. I talked with friends about the attractive guys and girls walking down Telegraph Avenue, touted my own sex stories — turning them from below-average to fantastic — and agreed wholeheartedly when they expressed desire for a night in the sheets.
In these conversations, I felt a profound sense of displacement. Why did it seem so foreign to me? I felt like a liar and a clown with every word, my face painted with a gruesome smile.
And it was during this time that I also saw my body count grow. I slept with a few boys and hooked up with a couple girls; our conversations ranged from full-blown pillowtalk to hastily given directions on how to exit the staircase of my apartment.
With every notch on my metaphorical bedpost, I waited for the feeling of loss to go away. I waited for the sensations to become normal, for the hands on my body to feel pleasant instead of exploitative. I wanted to like sex. I wanted to love sex!
Everyone else seemed to, so why not me?
While I can’t say I’ve changed much — or at all — in the past couple of months, I will say that I have come to a realization.
Whether or not this is a universal sentiment or one felt only by me, I do believe that my initial fear of losing a piece of myself to every person I have slept with is not unfounded.
But it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Every time someone new touches my body and sees me in the light of that dusky bedroom, kitchen, living room, hallway, etc., I am offering up a deeply personal piece of myself.
In return, I take a piece of them too.
Whether it’s the intoxicating smell of his cologne or the feeling of her hair between my fingertips, a little piece of them stays with me even after the person in question is long gone. After a while, that piece also slips from my gentle grasp, floats off into that vast nothingness I mentioned earlier.
I used to think the feeling was ugly, lonely, extracting, but I am of a different disposition now.
Sex is not beautiful, not ugly and it does not leave you as a less than or a more than. It’s an experience you share with another person — or people — and when I look in the mirror, I can still feel whole, my being a puzzle of voices and faces who will one day be forgotten into the wind.
Samantha Lim is the special issues editor. Contact her at [email protected]