At 16 years old, I had never really kissed a boy. For years, I imagined what it felt like to have one of those passionate, storybook-romance kisses. All of my friends had already rounded a few of the metaphorical "bases" while I was still practicing on one of my body pillows. I patiently awaited the day when my first boyfriend would come into my life, ready to put my single days behind me.
We were at the state finals for our high school basketball team. I was sitting with my best friend, Erin, and I saw him sitting a few rows up from me. About a week prior, Erin and I had found out from her brother that he thought I was cute. Considering he was a senior, it was the best thing that I had ever heard. Erin and I kept turning around surreptitiously, peeking to see if he was looking in my direction.
Finally, I decided to break the ice.
I marched up the bleachers and sidled into the empty spot next to him. His blond hair caught the stadium lights, so he seemed to have a soft glow all around him. My heart felt like it was in my throat.
"Hi, my name is Nicole!" I practically shouted at him. I was so nervous I felt like I was going to vomit all over him.
"Hey, I'm Ben." A smile crept over his face, and I instantly melted inside.
We spent the rest of the night shouting over the crowds and loudspeakers. I found out his favorite band was The Grateful Dead, and as the proud daughter of a Deadhead, we debated the merits of American Beauty versus Shakedown Street.
From that star-crossed night, we were inseparable. As an awkward girl with a penchant for books and science fiction, I felt like the coolest girl in school to have an older boyfriend. He was practically carved out of my teenage dreams at 6'3" with long hair, towing a skateboard and guitar.
I can't even remember where we had our first real kiss. It certainly wasn't as romantic as I imagined it to be. I just felt immensely grateful that a boy had given me the time of day, let alone an older, more experienced boy.
We started to move very quickly, and I began to realize that Ben's sexual appetites were more fringe than mainstream. He watched hours of porn daily, something I figured that all guys his age were doing. One time, he asked me to perform a foot job, a scene from one of the videos he had recently come across. I knew this wasn't exactly the "normal" sexual activity any of my friends were doing, but I loved him and I figured that was what he wanted. I also felt that if I didn't comply, he would break up with me, and anything I had gained by dating an older guy would dissipate as quickly as it came.
One day, about three months after we started dating, we were up in his bedroom, home alone. He had just finished playing some video games, and we started making out.
"I really want to go down on you." He looked down at me, breathless.
"Um, well, I'm actually on my period right now, so I don't think that would be the best idea." I was lying underneath him, pinned to the bed.
A greedy smile lit up across his face, his eyes looking at me hungrily. "That's even better."
I was so taken aback that I'm fairly certain I was completely silent for a whole minute. My mind started racing, clouding any semblance of judgment I should have had in the moment.
"I mean, I don't know. It's like my second day. Maybe in a couple of days we could try it." I hoped that this would close the conversation. I was curious about receiving oral sex, but this was not exactly the ideal time.
"Come on, babe. Just let me do it. I promise it will be awesome." He sounded more forceful now, and he was still on top of me.
At that point, I gave up. I knew what that tone meant.
"I guess if you don't care, then that's fine," I said. I went to the bathroom and pulled out my tampon. I positioned myself back down on the bed, defeated.
There was nothing enjoyable about it. I lay there still as possible, waiting desperately for it to be over.
After he decided he was done, he ran to the bathroom. When he came back out, he told me that it was disgusting.
"I am never doing that again. It was so dirty and gross." He was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he looked down on me.
I knew all the logical reasons he didn't enjoy it. I knew for a fact that there was nothing wrong with my vagina; all that was wrong was what Ben had just said to me. In two sentences, he completely destroyed any comfort I had in my body as a teenager. I felt like a used rag, and the shame washed over me in a thick, dark cloud.
Ben and I broke up about five months later, after he went to college. The next person I dated after him didn't even come close to performing oral sex on me. I wouldn't let him near it. Subsequent relationships suffered the same consequences, and when I finally did let it happen again, an orgasm was the furthest thing from my mind. I merely replayed the first time over and over again in my head, waiting for the moment when my partner would proclaim that my vagina was gross. I practiced pretending how to orgasm in my spare time, fearful that one of my new partners would ascertain I was faking it.
In hindsight, I realize how many factors played into the series of events that afternoon in Ben's bedroom. We were both young, exploring what it meant to be intimate, and testing each other's boundaries. Experimentation is a vital part of growing up. The line between coaxing and force has always been blurry, and when I was younger, I never felt like I had been pressured or assaulted, technically. Now, as a grown woman, I know better.
It took many years, a solid amount of therapy, and a loving, trusting relationship for me to finally reclaim my sexual power. For years, I assumed that I was supposed to perform oral sex on men, but they didn't have to reciprocate. I compromised my body in dozens of situations for very little in return. My strength as an intelligent, independent woman stopped dramatically short of the bedroom. When I eventually learned to relax, I was startled by how beautiful and powerful my vagina truly is, even during my period.
The first time I orgasmed from oral sex, I was 26 years old, a full decade later. In that ecstatic moment, I finally understood what all the fuss was about.