The first time I had sex, I didn’t want to.
I was 16, just turned and had been seeing this guy for a couple of weeks.
He was my first boyfriend and older then me. How much older, I didn’t know. He told me one thing and when I finally got my hands on his driver’s license, it told me another thing.
It was a bizarre situation, right from the beginning and I have no idea why I was seeing him. Best guess—he was interested in me and he was intellectually stimulating. He intrigued me.
One Friday night, we end up at his house and in his room. He’s bugging me for sex. We’ve barely only kissed and I’m a virgin. I’m saying no, over and over again.
It’s getting later and later, and by now I just want to get home—I don’t want to break curfew. At some point, sick of the whole situation and desperate to get out of there, I say yes. Sure, get it over with and then take me home.
Now, it seems like a strange choice. Why say yes when I didn’t want to? Why not just demand to get taken home? Why not walk out of his room and into the house? Were his parents there? I don’t remember. I don’t remember much.
It’s more than 20 years ago now and much of the situation doesn’t make sense to my 38 year old self.
I do remember lying flat on my back. I remember him putting on a condom. I remember watching the clock and wishing he would hurry up. I remember him stopping and telling me he had to change the condom and knowing he was lying to me and he couldn’t stay hard or get off because he knew I didn’t want to have sex and the condom was making it all too difficult for him.
But I still didn’t say anything.
I just lay there. Watched the clock. Disappeared out of my body. And waited for him to finish.
I was 16 years old, a virgin and a proclaimed feminist. I questioned teachers at school, I challenged my parents, I’d quit youth group because I couldn’t reconcile a loving God with the homosexuals go to hell party line.
Yet, still I said yes when I meant no because…because…because…I don’t know.
My memories of that night aren’t great. I got home—late for curfew and was grounded for the first and only time in my teenage years. I went to the toilet and discovered my intuition was right—he didn’t put on a second condom. I lay in bed and thought, I’ve just had sex. I’ve just had sex. I’ve just had sex. But I didn’t feel anything. I was numb, completely numb.
That one incident formed the bedrock of my developing sexuality. I didn’t have sex again for two years, and when I finally did, three months into relationship with my first love, I had to be on top. I had to be in control. My sexuality became assertive and dominating—because that was the only way I felt safe.
Because this is the odd thing about it all.
I was a strongly sexual being, even as a teenage girl. Yet in relationship with this man, I felt no particular sexual attraction to him. I was with him for intellectual reasons. And he had his own insecurities about how attractive he was to women.
My lack of sexual interest in him triggered those insecurities and made him anxious and demanding and belittling of me—I was a prude, and I was frigid. There was something wrong with me because I wasn’t attracted to him. At the time, I wondered if he was right. Was I a prude? I certainly hadn’t had much sexual experience. At 16, I’d only kissed one or two boys and I hadn’t done any other fooling around.
I doubted myself, and questioned my sexuality. So much self-worth is tied up in how we’re perceived sexually – and no one knows this more than a teenage girl. We’re conditioned to believe that being sexy means looking like and acting like the women portrayed in the media. Sexuality is an act we put on to please the men around us, it’s an act we put on to attract men. Our sexuality is an act.
Only it’s not.
Our sexuality is a part of who we are at core.
It’s an expression of our identity and it looks different for all of us.
Most of the hyper-sexualized images we see of women in the media are men’s fantasies. They’re not authentic expressions of female sexuality. For that, you want to look at people like Madonna and Annie Lennox. And that’s exactly what I was doing.
I adored Madonna growing up—absolutely adored her. The reason? Because she had a strong, fuck-you attitude and she completely claimed her own sexuality. She wasn’t acting out men’s fantasies, she was acting out her own.
But as a teenage girl, how did I find my own way to an authentic expression of my sexuality?
I didn’t get any messages that it was ok to express my sexuality in any way, shape or form. I didn’t know how to be strongly in my own power as a sexual woman. And at 16, like it or not, a woman is a strongly sexual being. I just knew so little about my sexuality that I didn’t even know I wasn’t attracted to this guy. I didn’t know that’s why I wasn’t much interested in fooling around with him. I didn’t know there was nothing wrong with me.
That I wasn’t a prude. Or frigid. I didn’t know that he just didn’t get my juices flowing.
But he knew it.
So he bugged me.
And I said yes.
Even though I meant no.
My second boyfriend, a year later, was also much older. Only this time he was honest about it. And he respected my sexual boundaries—kind of. After a month or two of seeing each other, merely kissing and maybe fooling about a bit, a mutual friend told me he’d been having sex with his ex-girlfriend. He was 24. I was 17. I didn’t want to have sex. He did. I could understand his infidelity. My understanding didn’t stop me from breaking up with him immediately though.
And, more interesting, the night I discovered he’d cheated on me was the night I masturbated for the first time.
It was like I finally decided to enter into my own sexuality and get comfortable with it. That was the beginning of a thorough and regular exploration of my sexuality. I wanted to know what turned me on. I was most curious about the waves of sensation and how they built to orgasm and how I could manipulate those building waves—stopping at the edge, waiting for subsidence, building again. I was almost clinical and scientific about the entire process. It was a nightly game for me—where could I go, how powerful an experience could I create?
When I finally met and fell in love with my first ‘real’ boyfriend, at age 18, I was dismayed to discover that he didn’t match me sexually.
Sure, we had fun, but there was an intensity and curiosity about my sexuality that he didn’t have. After a year or so together, I decided to head to Auckland—obstinately to explore the big city, but also because I wanted to explore my sexuality. I was madly in love with him, but saw no contradiction in exploring sex with other men. In my mind, sex and love were two completely separate things. One could have sex with anyone—it was like a physical workout. it didn’t affect my love for him.
That was boundless.
My boyfriend didn’t see it the same way. He didn’t understand my desire to go and sow my wild oats and then come back to him. But I didn’t listen to what he was telling me and was totally shocked when he broke up with me during my trip. And it was all for little—sexually, the trip was nothing like I thought it would be. I needed few glasses of wine to contemplate getting physical with a man, and it usually wasn’t about the physical delight of sex, but the rush of conquest. Or at least, the illusion of the rush of conquest. Who’s going to say no to a 19 year old girl eager to play?
And how come I wasn’t having fun?
I’d seen movies, I knew what sex was meant to be like. This wasn’t it. What was wrong with me? What was wrong with me?
It’s taken me nearly two decades to understand these early forays into sexuality.
The biggest error in judgement I made was the belief that sex and love were two different things. Now, I’ve discovered that my strong sexual side is only fully aroused when I’m in love with a man. My heart has to be engaged—and when it is, something powerful and magical can unfold.
If it’s not, I’m not even attracted to a guy.
Oh sure, I can fake it. And for years and years, that’s all I was ever doing. Getting drunk and high and trying to find a deep attraction that was never ever there. Getting off on the illusory thrill of the hunt, on the power of it all, and never really getting off physically at all.
It was only later, in relationship, that I was able to begin to explore my sexuality. Yet even then, the use of alcohol or drugs with sex was so embedded that it was the norm. I don’t think I ever had sex straight until I was in my 30s.
Likely it all goes back to that very first encounter.
I said yes. But I meant no. How does a 16 year old feminist make sense of that? It wasn’t rape. But it was something. It did something to me. It took something away from me. And it planted ideas inside me about the need to fulfil a man’s desires in order to keep him happy, in order to get him off, in order to be approved of and worthy.
I learned to play the seductress in order to please a man which then pleased me—and made me feel safe because I felt like I was in control.
My own sexuality got lost in the process—it became something to be achieved through the man. And I never learned how to be honest about my own needs and desires.
This inability to honestly express my sexual truth with my male partners was a major factor leading to the two episodes of psychosis I experienced at age 29. It’s a part of the story I haven’t shared before, mostly because I was ashamed. But I’m no longer ashamed and it is an important part of the story.
My fiancé at the time made a request early in our relationship that threesomes were a requirement. I was just off the back of a relationship which had collapsed partly because of that boyfriend’s insecurity over the fact I’d had threesomes. So I said yes, absolutely. Sounds great. Finally someone who accepts me as I am. Or at least, as I thought I was.
See, there’s a big difference between two women—best friends—going out and finding a man to bring home and share for the fun of it, and a couple going out and finding a woman to bring home to share for the fun of it. The idea of seeing my fiancé with another woman brought up all my insecurities—ironic eh? And beautiful mirroring…
But instead of being able to honestly say to my fiancé that I didn’t feel comfortable going through with my promise, I tried to deny my truth and kept trying to make it happen, only to pull out in the middle more than once.
Nope. Can’t do this. Not me.
He wasn’t happy.
I wasn’t happy.
And I shrank into myself, fled my body into my mind, just like when I was 16 years old, lying flat on my back watching the clock and desperately wanting my first boyfriend to hurry up and finish so I could make it home in time for curfew.
Yet again, I couldn’t fulfil a man’s desire. I couldn’t be the woman he wanted me to be. I failed. I failed because I was afraid to say what was true for me and I was afraid let the chips fall where they may. Who knows, my fiancé might have been cool with it all. He might not have cared. He might have understood. But I was too afraid to say anything—too afraid of losing him and his love for me.
We all know how that ends right?
For me, in psychosis. A mind shattered and split from reality. The ultimate price to pay for denying my truth around sexuality.
It was a pattern I though I’d left long behind once I hit my thirties – a period made up mostly of two long-term relationships.But last year, something strange happened.
Single again, I started spending time with a man I found engaging and stimulating—a successful businessman who moved in different circles to me. He intrigued me. I enjoyed his company. I knew his interest in me was more than just as friends, and I was sure that my interest was only in friendship…but as per that old pattern, I wanted to spend time with him and I was afraid if I made it really clear there was no hope of sex, he wouldn’t be interested.
So I hedged, and hung out, and second-guessed myself. I tried to convince myself I was attracted to him. I tried to convince myself that if I wasn’t attracted to him, it was only because I was being superficial and judgmental—as he was shorter than me.
One night, out on the town, drinking more than I usually drink, he kissed me. It was odd. But… you guessed it, I went along with it. I bought into the idea that there was something wrong with me and I ended up having sex with him—after deliberately consuming more alcohol, thinking that would help. Thinking I’d find my way into desire that way.
After sex, he got up and left and I was alone on the bed. Lying there, I felt an intense wave of shame.
I realised in that moment that this was what I had felt all the way through my twenties, all those sexual encounters when I hadn’t really wanted to have sex but had wanted the company of the man or had second-guessed my own knowing. I’d felt ashamed and I hadn’t even known it because in my twenties and younger I had existed entirely in my head.
It was a watershed moment for me. Feeling the shame that had always been there liberated me.
In that moment, I knew that I could trust myself, I knew that there was nothing wrong with me, I knew that I had to speak my truth, no matter what.
At age 36, I finally took full control of my sexuality. And so began a year of celibacy—something that organically arose because I simply wasn’t interested in any man that crossed my path. There were one or two men that intrigued me, one or two men that intellectually stimulated me…but I’d wised up, and despite opportunities to engage with those men, I could feel that I wasn’t truly interested. So I didn’t engage, and felt all the better for it.
Until I went to a party. And a sexy, intelligent, witty man sat down beside me For the first time in a long, long time I felt the deep yearnings of intense desire. Now that—there was no mistaking that, and it was all me.
I wanted that man.
That man and I are now together, and in him, I’ve found someone whose sexual intensity and curiosity matches mine. Best of all there’s a strong container of love and caring to hold that intensity safe. With him, I’m free to express my sexuality in it’s fullest. It feels strong, it feels powerful, it feels safe.
And when I’m with him, when I’m fully engaged and playful…I notice that I am behaving in a way that’s similar to all those male fantasies I was bombarded with as a teenage girl. But now it’s my way. It’s organic to me. It arises unbidden from the depths of who I am. And it’s for my man’s eyes only.
Through the liberation of my own desire, I’ve become that woman my first boyfriend tried to bully me into being. I’ve become that woman my fiancé demanded I be. I’ve become the woman I always was—on my terms, in my own time, and in my own way.
Never again will I deny my truth. Never again will I compromise my sexuality. Never again will I betray myself.
At 38, I’ve finally grown into my sexuality.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise