The Necessary Lessons I've Learned About Sex, Intimacy & Pleasure

by Kesiena Boom 

I had sex for the first time when I was 17 years old. It wasn’t romantic or emotional, but it was hot as hell and gave me something totally new to write about in my diary. In all honesty, I did not contribute a lot to the occasion, apart from a fuck ton of newbie enthusiasm and a general aura of disbelief. A few years and a few more partners later, I am a little less clueless and much more proactive when it comes to fucking. These are some of the lessons I have learned from getting up to no good.

1. My body is still my own during sex. 

It is not my partner's. It is not there to be used with no regard for my desires and needs. I have learned to be more present in myself when I'm having sex—to ask myself, “Is this what I want? Why am I doing this? Is this for me?” In the past I have let people project their fantasies onto me and it was unfulfilling and harmful. I have also let myself act out a performative version of sex one too many times. Now I know that my autonomy is of utmost importance and I appreciate the value of sticking to your guns about what you are and aren't willing to do in bed. Much of the pressure to be something you're not often doesn't come directly from your partner, but from the insidious influences of sexualized society. I shape my own sexuality now; I do not let sexuality shape me.

2. Don't extrapolate experiences. 

What worked for your ex may make your current partner give you a quizzical look, rather than small sighs of pleasure. Similarly don't think that just because you have no interest in something, that your partner will feel the same. I'm kind of lukewarm on people touching my boobs and have definitely thus been guilty of forgetting to pay attention to other people's as a result. (Sorry!) I no longer assume that my partner will have interest in anything in particular. I used to be convinced that oral was essential every time for everyone. That's straight up bullshit: some people hate it, some people only like giving it, some people are just too self conscious. Assumptions have no place in your bedroom; it is so key to come to your partner as a clean slate, with no expectations about what will or won't be going down. Ultimately I have come to realise that every time I sleep with a new person, it's a whole new ball game. It doesn't help that I know how to play rugby, because now I'm playing lacrosse. When I had only slept with three people I thought that once I had doubled or tripled that number I would finally feel totally confident every time I fell into bed with someone. That is so far from the truth. You have to start from the bottom (or possibly, not the bottom).

3. Communication—before, during and after—is so important. 

You've got to communicate! I find that talking about sex at times when my partner and I are definitely NOT having sex (i.e. over dinner) has been really helpful. Talking about what you do and don't like and have enjoyed together in the past when you're not already naked, pressed together, and worked up is really useful for easing pressure and is less likely to end in hurt feelings. As for talking during sex, I found it low-key mortifying when I was first starting out. Self-consciousness is a hell of a bitch, but you gotta give your partner something to work with. You don't need to shout the walls down if that's not your style, but an indication that things are going good for you is useful because it lets them know to keep doing whatever thing they're doing. If they become accustomed to your vocal or verbal communication, they will learn silence maybe an indicator to switch it up. That way, you don't have to say things like, “Oh, my god, that is NOT my clit.” Everyone's a winner.

4. Through sex I have come to understand the beauty in my own body. 

I had bulimia for years because I was convinced of my body’s shortcomings. I saw my physicality as shameful for being too brown, too fat, too hairy. Seeing so many different women naked and sweaty and natural has let me see that our bodies come in a myriad of configurations and they are all entrancing and perfect in their own ways. Maybe that seems trite, but it is the honest-to-Goddess truth. I feel that women who never properly get close to other women's bodies are definitely missing out on something transformative. I never felt truly beautiful and sure of myself until I had slept with another Black woman.

5. When I’m depressed, sex makes me feel more—not less—depressed. 

Don’t try and fuck your way out of a depressive episode unless you want to cry onto someone’s pants-less, bewildered body and leave yourself feeling vulnerable and naked in more ways than one. Despite the constant and overbearing message of capitalist society, sex is not a magical pathway to happiness and contentment. Sex cannot fix things beyond dissipating your want to have sex. I remember sobbing whilst having sex, not because I was happy (which has also happened), but because the empty despair I felt wasn’t going anywhere, even though I was sleeping with someone I cared about and fancied immensely. Sex is not an anti-depressant medication. You will still be depressed even if you are in the best sexual relationship of your life. It’s not your fault. It’s not your partner’s fault. When you’re in a better place, the sex will feel better. It’s as simple as that.

6. There is so much more to intimacy than sex. 

Sex cannot create deep bonds, it can only strengthen them. Sex is not a substitute for intimacy, nor is it a shortcut to it. I have slept with people in the past, hoping that it would bring us together. Sure, for those few hours it does, but beyond that, sex alone did not have the ability to forge the kind of deeper relationship I was looking for. It took me a long time to realise that simply falling into bed with someone will not automatically make them closer to you. On the flipside, you cannot make yourself fall for someone by fucking them. If the spark isn't there, it isn't there. It will not appear ex-nihilo. It took me even longer to realise that being sexually desirable cannot make you happy, if it’s not in harmony in other areas of your life. You cannot cure loneliness by sleeping with anyone and everyone. The road to contentment is paved with way more than orgasms alone.

7. My self-esteem should not be linked to my partner's sex drive. 

Not letting my partner's sex drive affect my self-esteem has been crucial. In one of my relationships I wanted to have sex much more than they did. That's totally natural. People have differing sex drives and it's rare that yours will match exactly with your partner's. I couldn't get it through my head that them not wanting sex right that second wasn't a slight towards me. Remember: You’re not ugly and they still love you, but they’re just not in the mood. It’s okay. I realised that I should bring confidence in my body and myself to the bedroom, rather than hoping to leave the bedroom with it magically bestowed upon me by my partner’s validation. As a light-skinned Black woman I had been raised believing that people judge my worth on stereotypes about my perceived sexual desirability. It took me a while to shake that off and see that I had value outside of people wanting to sleep with me.

8. Sometimes your body will not react the way you want it to. 

There will be days, weeks, months or even years where you won't be able to come. I took medication for months that severely messed with my ability to feel sexual pleasure and it made me feel a combination of broken/dead inside/defective. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that sex would just feel different for a while. Having an orgasm is really not the end-all, be-all. Hand on heart, the best sex I ever had didn't involve me coming. I learned to not be ashamed that I couldn't spring into action at the merest hint of touch. Lots of women find it difficult to come and this is only compounded by anxiety around it. You’re not going to come every time. That doesn’t mean that you’re not compatible with your sexual partner or that your partner is ‘bad’ in bed. Sex takes practise. At the end of the day it is a physical skill that also requires a lot of mental effort and empathy. Having good sex with someone sometimes means that you have to put the hours in. Sometimes it is magical and happens straight away, and sometimes you just have to get into the groove.

It’s important that we remember sex has a lifelong learning curve. As our partners, our bodies, and our lives change—so will our sex lives, and the things we find desirable or pleasurable.

What lessons have you learned about sex, intimacy, and pleasure?

Photo: Shutterstock

Kesiena Boom is a Black lesbian feminist and writer who adores Audre Lorde, sisterhood, and the sociology of sexuality. She is twenty years old. She is a regular contributor at For Harriet and You can tweet at her via @KesienaBoom.

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