I stumbled upon erotica at 13, through an innocent Internet search. It was the ’90s, when going online meant everyone in the house had to get off the phone so you could use the line to dial-up. I was reading fan fiction of my favorite show, “the X-Files online,” when suddenly the sci-fi story took an unexpected turn: “Mulder moaned as he licked between Scully’s thighs.”
In the “computer room” of my childhood home – an empty bedroom where my family stored Christmas wrapping paper and winter coats – I was suddenly paranoid that my mom would walk in on me and force me into a deep-feelings conversation about sex. I was still recovering from the time she trapped me in a long car ride and asked if I understood what menstruation and intercourse were. Part of me knew it would probably be a good idea to just shut down my computer and go back to my homework. But I was a hormonal teenager with a David Duchovny crush, so I decided it was worth the risk of getting caught. And so, my fingers hovering over the CONTROL/ALT/DELETE keys in case of emergency, I read my first sex story.
As I reached the story’s climax, I wavered between thinking I was going to hell and thinking I needed to get my hands on more stories like this. My sexually curious brain was confronted by my moral compass, which had been shaped by 13 years of Catholic masses with my Polish grandparents. My mom was a poor vegetarian who listened to R.E.M. and my grandparents were wealthy suburbanites obsessed with fitting in, but both camps wanted me to be a smart, independent woman who was not at all interested in boys. But despite knowing that my sexual curiosity wasn’t part of the family plan, I went back online for more literary porn – again and again and again.
Over the next two years, I read stories about naughty gym teachers and high school students, babysitters and next door neighbors. I became obsessed with the idea of sex – literally, just the idea of it.
In real life, I was completely chaste. I had crushes on boys, but I was too cerebral and argumentative for them. I thought intellectual sparring was foreplay, and I’d try to prove them wrong in algebra class, correcting the errors in their problem sets when they were up at the chalkboard. And the boys who actually wanted to touch me didn’t have that David Duchovny swagger and charm. They had nicknames like “Pizza Face” and “Clarinet Randy.” I yearned for my lustful thoughts to leap off the web page and onto a living man. But I was stuck with my virginity, worried that I’d always be staring at a computer screen instead of being stared at spread eagle on a bed.
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Eventually I started writing my own stories. My first story featured the lead singer of my favorite band, Blur, a Britpop group I discovered while perusing the CD racks at Tower Records. Damon was British, with blue eyes and floppy blond hair, and I daydreamed about him endlessly in class. The story I wrote about him was a weeping mess about two lovers reuniting at an apartment in London. There was kissing and tender words and then the sloppiest shower sex scene any 15-year-old virgin could write. I based the sexual choreography on what I had read on the Internet. It did not occur to me that if a woman was hanging upside down from the shower head 69-ing her lover, they’d both likely drown before they had an orgasm.
I had a surprising lack of guilt about the whole process. I believed that teenage girls had a divine right to spend hours fantasizing about hot sweaty British guys and aquatic sex. I was so proud of my first draft I decided to share it with the world. I found an erotica writing group on AOL just a few clicks away from the innocent chat rooms for fans of “Melrose Place” and “Party of Five.” I sent the writing group my work to get feedback, and after years of erotic reading, I was amazed to discover that there was a group of people who wanted to read and critique my horny thoughts.
My first story received praise and encouragement from the writing group. No one seemed to suspect that I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to sex, or that I was underage. I found an inner circle of thoughtful and encouraging writers. We read each other’s drafts and championed each other’s art. There was Jim, the night manager at an Econo Lodge, who constantly reminded me about my spelling errors: “He SEPARATED her legs with his giant cock.” And Alice, the 50-year-old shut-in from Minnesota, who was singularly focused on stories involving women fellating werewolves. She encouraged me to delve into the extraterrestrial realm and write about “a hot-ass alien who could orgasm you with his mind.” My ego swelling, I started to believe that I could actually make a living writing this stuff. I decided that when I became an adult I’d assume a pen name and become a bestselling erotic novelist.
Those dreams drifted away when I left home to attend college at a state school in a cornfield town. There, I met my first boyfriend, Brad, whose name has been changed here to protect his privacy. Brad and I met at an off-campus house, with a broken hot tub on the lawn, called the “White House.” Brad was the very definition of a Midwesterner, tall with perfect biceps and a killer smile. He took my hand when we were introduced at the keg and soon we were walking to the eternal flame statue on the quad. He said the legend was if you kissed your sweetheart there you’d end up together forever. It sounded like a line from a tragic Lifetime story, but he was sincere. Brad kissed me with his eyes closed and I made a wish that he’d be my boyfriend someday, that we’d have the kind of love you only saw on “Dawson’s Creek.” I was still a virgin, but I wanted to explore sexual positions with him, and marry him on the student lawn.
From the quad, we made our way to Brad’s dorm. We sat down on the couch next to his Ikea coffee table with its Yogi Bear decal and listened to Dave Matthews Band’s “Under the Table and Dreaming” CD. When we were both down to our underwear I told Brad that I thought we should do it. My high school friends had all done the deed; I was falling behind. And now that I had this naked, chiseled man in front of me, I didn’t want to waste any time.
Real sex wasn’t as acrobatic as I had imagined. Brad and I were horizontal the entire time. There was a lot of build-up through the hours of making out and dry humping. But after we went penis-to-vagina, he came, and I didn’t. That was the part that surprised me – after years of dreaming of intercourse, I hadn’t considered that I might not get off. But I didn’t think about that at the time. I focused on what it felt like to be desired. I loved the way Brad looked at me when I was naked, like he would move continents to be inside me. In my mind, I was a girl who hadn’t mentally grown out of her braces and AP calculus phase. He made me feel different.
After that night, Brad and I became a couple and did what all 20-year-olds do in college. We had sex in public spaces and in other people’s bedrooms when they were away at class. We had sex before and after fraternity socials where I had to dress up like a schoolgirl or a cow girl or a slutty CEO. I thought the key to keeping a guy was to be adventurous in bed. So we fucked constantly. And all the while, sex remained the same: theatrical but completely focused on his pleasure.
I loved Brad, but I didn’t really want Brad – the real guy. I loved the idea of this boyfriend. Brad would heat up a potato in the microwave when he was drunk and throw it at his frat friends. I would sulk in the corner wanting him to whip out a guitar and sing a song in French about all of his feelings for me. I wanted that perfect boyfriend character from my erotic stories, the guy who would know exactly what you wanted without you having to say a word. So I ignored all of the warning signs. Brad loved snowboarding, I hated the cold. I worked on political campaigns and Brad’s mom did his voting for him. Brad wasn’t thrilled about being locked down with a girlfriend while he was in college; I didn’t want either of us to see anyone else. We tiptoed around our tension from freshman year to junior year. When we were seniors, Brad finally admitted that he kissed another girl while he was studying abroad in Chile the summer before. I admitted I was falling in love with a guy from my psych class. But we didn’t break up.
After college, I took an internship in D.C. while Brad started his graduate degree and taught summer school in the Midwest. In D.C., I befriended a group of intellectually curious, outgoing weirdos who wanted to share chili cheese fries at the Johnny Rockets in Georgetown and watch Michael Moore documentaries on a Friday night. I was chaste that summer, doing the long distance dance with Brad. But I kept fantasizing about all the preppy Republicans walking around the city. I knew if one of them touched me we’d end up having dirty hate sex in their car. My D.C. life was like the erotica days all over again; sex was a perfect fantasy. I kept picturing the sex I wanted, but in real life I held back.
When I moved back from D.C., we broke up. We said goodbye, but for a few years kept hooking up. Brad was my sexual security blanket. The adult world was unpredictable, but my old boyfriend’s penis was not. It was bland, unremarkable sex and I always left desiring that orgasm that never seemed to happen for me. Having an orgasm would have required being honest with Brad and myself about what I wanted. The truth is I didn’t want to be that vulnerable. I still yearned for the perfect guy from my fantasy to bring me to sexual ecstasy without me needing to say a word. I wanted a guy who knew me better than I knew myself. That was the irony of all of my teen years preparing for sex: I knew the catalogue of moves, but I didn’t know how to be intimate.
Years later, I moved to Los Angeles and lived in an apartment in Venice Beach. I was 28 and miles away from my old college life with Brad. I had an interesting job and was surrounded by my funny friends, guys who probably used to go by names like “Pizza Face” and “Clarinet Randy.” That’s when I met Max, whose name has also been changed, at an Irish pub in Santa Monica, a bar my friends dragged me to on a night I wanted to stay in. Max had bushy brown hair and a dimpled smile. I told him he could buy me a drink. Max had grown up in Eastern Europe and spent his teenage years in Atlanta. He was witty and would later ride his bike 20 miles to my apartment when the Los Angeles highways were shut down to give me a birthday present.
Max and I started dating. His authenticity disarmed me and I loved that he would read me stories about mathematicians before we fell asleep. Max loved my intellectual side and we’d have long conversations about the nature of reality. I realized that I was starting to like him more than I had been planning to. I would steal a glance at him working on a physics problem and love the way his face looked when he was concentrating.
A few weeks later when Max told me he wanted to talk, I couldn’t contain my nerves. This was a break-up, I was sure of it. “We’ve had sex a few times,” he said. “And it’s not working for you.” We were at his apartment and he was making me hamburger salad, something he invented using cucumbers, Greek yogurt and organic ground beef. He brought up my orgasm like it was a “how’s the weather” topic. I was stunned and didn’t know how to respond. I could handle an early break-up but I didn’t have any go-to moves for answering questions about sex. I tried to deflect and told Max I could enjoy sex even if I didn’t have an orgasm. But Max said that wasn’t good enough for him and that he wanted to make me happy. So I took a deep breath, grabbed his hand, led him to the bedroom and said, “O.K., I’m going to show you.” And that’s when the magic happened, after Max and I got under the covers and I showed him where I really wanted to be touched. We both came almost immediately.
From that point on, sex was more mutual than it had ever been before. I focused on receiving pleasure and Max was turned on by focusing on me. It was the opposite of my agenda with Brad, when I tried so hard to impress him that you would have thought my performance was going to be judged by Olympic panelists. The judges were gone and so was the stress, which ironically led to more orgasms.
After a few months, Max and I decided to try sex in the shower, fulfilling my erotica dreams in real life. There was no 69ing but there was plenty of laughter, trying to adjust for the small shower and not getting leg cramps. After we finished up Max said, “I think we had half-decent sex and an even worse shower.” I chuckled and kissed him. Our sex wasn’t worthy of an erotica story, but it was perfect for us.