Youth may be wasted on the young but at least the sex gets better

Esplanada do Teleférico, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. All rights @ Mahkeo

Ten years after my ex and I broke up we were drunk again and fucking in his living room.

He was contentedly living in squalor in a triplex on campus where the previous tenant had actually fallen through the bathroom floor into the crawl space. My ex didn’t mind the hasty linoleum patch over the gaping hole, the safety hazards, or code violations. He threw all his empty beer cans on the lawn for the homeless guys who came by for recycling. If you could smell an episode of Hoarders you would immediately recognize that stale filth if you walked through his door. His new mattress was on the middle of the living room floor with no sheets or mattress cover.

Suffice it to say, this was not a high point in my life.

Ten years prior we lived in a historic brownstone with drafty windows and hardwood floors. We had an old-timey cupboard with a door that opened from our hallway into the building stairwell for the milkman to pick up your empty glass jugs and leave fresh milk jugs in their place. My peace was consistently plagued by the shit music of the bikini-clad college girls sunbathing next door, (not surprisingly, their middle-aged landlord was there all the time, puttering, and working on nothing), the nighttime sirens of non-stop car alarms and the actual sirens of the occasional ambulance hurtling toward Our Lady of Perpetual Help. But the dinner-and-drinks hum from the middle eastern restaurant downstairs almost drowned it out. They had outdoor seating with tiny lights in the trees. The drag queens downstairs always came home in the wee Saturday morning hours after performing late on Friday nights. The back stairwell was frequently covered in glitter. One weekend a naked mannequin stand with only a wig was standing outside their backdoor like a sentry. They were never loud on Saturday nights. Only Fridays. We had a little arbor in the backyard where we would all smoke sometimes. It was charming. I gave my ex my virginity there. I never thought of it as losing it. More like transferring. In our Christmas card, the downstairs neighbor below us, a tall redheaded theater seamstress wrote, it’s so nice to hear young people in love. To this day, even though virginity is a concept of dwindling importance, I feel like it, whatever it actually is, is in good keeping with him. And my neighbor’s memory, apparently. But I didn’t just lose it somewhere along the way toward growing up. I gave it to a good man who took good care of me. My ex and I are still close. We fought constantly but I climaxed regularly. I thought that was as good as sex could get. I come, then you come. That is, my understanding of “good sex” was only broad enough to equate it with climaxing or not. My understanding was binary, with no variance or depth or nuance. Intimacy wasn’t necessarily required but turn-taking was.

Most of my friends were still having the same bad sex they’d had since high school scrunched up in the backseat of some guy’s car. I learned the term “cum dumpster” around that time. Guys used it to describe “sluts” and women used it to describe how they felt when men only cared about their own pleasure. The term horrified me. And back then it wouldn’t have occurred to me that nice guys can be selfish too, without being deliberately misogynistic. It could be the most non-political act of selfishness. But it still sucked.

One night when I was back in town I met my ex at a dive bar I’d actually never been to. The bartender had a pink mohawk. He was wearing a utilikilt and a t-shirt that read Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits. I thought it was funny so I asked him if we could take a picture together. That’s the last thing I remember before waking up naked and panicked. I looked sober and happy in the picture, smiling and pointing at his t-shirt.

Suffice it to say, I also had a drinking problem.

The next thing I remember was my ex’s tornado fallout of a crashpad, the mattress on the floor — a spotless stage in the middle of a filthy theater. I was on top of him and he was hard inside me. My heart dropped into my stomach.

“You haven’t seen me naked since I got fat!”

No part of me questioned how we had gotten to this point after being ten-years-post-breakup friends. One time when he was drunk he told me he would never sleep with me again. The preemptive rejection was uncalled for but I never acknowledged it. He had a drinking problem too.

I had gained almost twenty pounds in those years since we broke up, courtesy of depression medication, and only in unflattering places. I was young when we were together. We were that medically acute age when binge-drinking didn’t make a dent in your youth or beauty. No one looked haggard the morning after a bender no matter how much booze they pounded. And we drank a lot. And chain-smoked. And slept as erratically as most young drinkers do. No one ever thinks it’ll catch up to them.

“Is it different?” I asked and heard a loathsome tremble in my own voice.

“What do you mean?” he asked me, his dick still inside me. I was scared, ready for the sting of an honest answer.

“Does my body feel different?”

I had tried several different medications for depression but weight gain and fatigue were ideal side effects for an insomniac who couldn’t keep weight on. And enormously preferable to the hallucinations and the occasional, and serenely peaceful suicidal thoughts I’d had on the first two medications. I saw a gun on the coffee table and it made me feel calm. It was just there like a centerpiece or a candle. I’d never even owned a gun so I don’t know why the one in the hallucination felt so lucidly like mine.

And so I stayed on the third hallucination-free medication for almost a decade. I was doing better but felt like my body was all belly meat and chin wattle. Even my thin arms looked pillowy in pictures.

Waiting for his response with his hard dick inside me, my self-esteem spiraled like a toilet flush, imagining all of the things he might be thinking about my soft body. He was a no-nonsense believer in negative reinforcement and I braced myself for his brutal honesty. Anything less would be “coddling”.

“You feel like, like more you,” he said comfortably. He sounded completely casual, unfazed.

I couldn’t have even conceived of that response.

“What do you mean?” I asked, allowing myself the faintest little glimmer of hope.

“Like you’ve come into your own. Like you know what you like.” he explained, still inside me.

It was sweet and insightful and suddenly made me realize that sex was more than just the bodily machinery or the ideal figure. For those of you that already knew that, congrats.

I didn’t.

Or at least I hadn’t felt it with my being until then.

In retrospect, I probably wasn’t unlike a mattress on the floor when I first started having sex. I had antiquated ideas about femininity that were too demure, and so, inherently passive. So I lied there waiting to be desired and taken. Real men are aggressive, right? Real men throw you down and have their way with you if you’re pretty enough, if you’re woman enough. I realize now I actually thought initiating sex or asking for what you wanted was not only un-feminine but pathetic and desperate. I didn’t see it as passionate or sexy or self-assured or desiring your partner but something that sad people starved for touch had to resort to doing. I just didn’t see it as anything a woman could or should do. Now I’m not saying women should use their deepest register and grab their dude by the dick or fireman-carry him to the bedroom. But I am learning that men want to feel desired just as much as women do. And mutual desire between two people who are finally comfortable in their own skin is deeper and more complex and therefore sexier than most young people frantically rubbing each other’s genitals while their parents are out of the house.

Sex doesn’t automatically get better as you age. But we do. Or at least we can if we want to. And all those women in their 40s were right. You really do stop giving a shit what other people think. It’s enormously liberating. Like an exhilarating freefall without the adrenaline. And when you start to sense it happening, it’s hard not to imagine what your life could’ve been like if you had been stronger all along.

Taking initiative is not the sad failure I always imagined when these women talked about it, their hair greying and their crows’ feet spreading. It was emboldening in a sexy way. Knowing what you like and co-creating that dynamic with your partner and their preferences is as empowering as it is pleasurable. As overly simplistic as it sounds you are free to just be you.

Maybe a year after I slept with my ex I was still drinking to medicate my depression and anxiety. The pills were not enough. But I had met a kind man whose patience and empathy were gifts. And I was finally with a man who got off on the power differential as much as I did. I never thought I could have both in the same man. I always thought I would have to choose between a good guy who might be a dead fish in bed and someone who would carry me to bed and ravage me, but likely wouldn’t be into monogamy. Yet I had found both. In one man. Or so I hoped at the time.

“Be a good girl and sit on Daddy’s dick,” he said low and deep with his hands on my hips. I was still depressed. But I was pretty sure I was loved. I came like a freight train.

We had put a floor-to-ceiling mirror on the wall by the bed, confident, empowered adults that we were. I watched him sucking my tits with my hands in his hair and my open mouth still screaming. I looked beautiful. He looked gorgeous. I didn’t notice the imperfections that always fed my insecurities. I didn’t see the flaws he saw in his own body. Maybe it was the oxytocin and dopamine exploding through my body but all I saw was curves and lines in all the right places, my arched back and small waist and round ass, his braided muscles and broad shoulders and strong arms. His square jaw and sexy beard. This, I finally understood, was what good sex was.

It’s not that you stop having insecurities. It’s that you stop being defined by them. Good sex isn’t about finding the best performer. It’s not about the biggest dick or biggest tits, the most erections or the loudest screamer.

It’s about finding a good listener, (sounds boring, I know. But trust me.) Sex with someone who’s willing to hear your insecurities and share their own is the beginning of intimacy. Sex with someone who’s dying to know what turns you on, who asks how to satisfy you, who is turned on by being trusted with your desires is the building of intimacy. And intimacy is the beginning of love.

“Sex without love is so empty,” someone told me when I was 16 and I haven’t forgotten.

Yet in all those years since it never occurred to me that you have to love yourself too, not just the person you’re fucking. You can’t let their love mask your own insecurities. This isn’t to say you can’t have insecurities. But if you love yourself in spite of and even, eventually, because of them, the calm confidence that defines you from within becomes the prowess that frees you to be good in bed. It makes you strong and giving instead of weak and needy. It makes your body a place of abundance.

That’s right. You can be good in bed too. We always think of “good in bed” as something the other person is or isn’t. But have you asked yourself if you’re any good? Are you too passive? Too selfish? Do you even know what turns your partner on? Do you do those things without being asked? Do you know how to make your partner climax like the walls are crashing down? Are you affectionate while you’re passionate? Do you talk dirty? Does your partner prefer silence? Lights on? Lights off? Music?

Being good in bed doesn’t mean you spontaneously intuit all these things just by walking in the bedroom. Good in bed means having the confidence to ask your partner all the questions that allow them to express their needs and desires and fantasies. And choosing a partner who’s excited to do the same for you.

We don’t automatically get better at this just because time passes. But if aging is something you’re actively participating in, a process you see as self-cultivation rather than rotting on the vine, you’ll keep becoming better and better versions of your true self. And the sex will get better too.

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