I’m ten, or somewhere around there, and I don’t yet know what the word “sex” means. I don’t know how babies are made, or that penises can go into vaginas, or that touching the parts between your legs can feel good. I watch a movie that shows two adults kissing feverishly, and I don’t know what happens after the camera cuts away. I don’t know any of that, and I can’t sleep. I stay awake all night, confused about the way my body feels, not sure why I want to hump my mattress, but doing it anyway. I don’t understand and I’m nervous and bewildered and distressed. I feel a release and I don’t know what’s happening to me.
I’m eleven years old and in sixth grade sex ed class. We watch dated movies from the eighties about menstruation and body hair and breasts. We look at diagrams of a uterus and watch an animation of fish having sex. There’s a round table discussion in which my teacher asks us to list reasons why we might not want to have sex, and we dutifully come up with answers about not being ready to get married or have a child. We learn that our male classmates will want to have sex with us, and we learn strategies for saying no to them. No one suggests that we will want to have sex someday. No one mentions that we might want to have sex with each other, instead of or in addition to the boys in the classroom next door.
I’m twelve and I’m in science class at my middle school, and we have a substitute teacher. We’re doing biology, and as our sub reads aloud, she keeps accidentally saying “orgasm” instead of “organism”. I know this is a bad word, because half the room is giggling and making rude remarks about our subsititute. The other half of the room, including me, looks confused and uncomfortable. We don’t understand.
I’m thirteen and curious, and I search the word “horny” on urban dictionary. I find erotica. I learn that a pussy is the box a cock goes in and that reading about people having sex with each other stirs feelings in my bits. I learn about something called the g-spot, that’s inside the vagina, that apparently feels amazing. I watch a show on MTV and hear women describe orgasms as fireworks and explosions and earth-shaking events. I wonder how this magical, incredible thing called an orgasm can be achieved, and if I’ll ever have one.
I’m fourteen and I don’t know why I can’t have an orgasm while he’s fingering me. I wonder if I’m broken, if I’m incapable of having an orgasm. I want fireworks and explosions, but they’re out of reach. I stumble on porn of a woman humping a pillow, and I’m confused. I thought I was the only one who did that. I always have to pee afterward, and I don’t know what that means. I wonder if needing to pee is all it is.
I’m seventeen and I’ve been hiding from this thing called sex for a few years now. I’m taking a psychology class at the college, and for homework, our professor tells us to watch three episodes of Sexplanations on YouTube. I sit on my bed with my laptop, and I end up watching their videos for six hours straight. I learn about polyamory and the Kinsey scale and tips for having sex while living in a dorm room. I learn how to prep an anus for penetration, about various gender identities, and the history of the pro-choice movement. I learn about want/will/won’t lists, and the term “heterosexual”, and asexuality, and female ejaculation, and I’m hungry for it. I want to learn everything. I watch a video about the clitoris, and a video about orgasms, and I stay up half the night absorbing all the knowledge I can find.
I’m eighteen and I have a new partner. I ask him if I can grind off on his leg. I explain, “That’s how I have orgasms, is by humping things.” He nods and says “Okay, great.” I’m a little relieved that he isn’t judging me. I have an orgasm. I know that’s what it’s called when I feel these sensations. I know that I’m having one because I’m stimulating my clitoris. I know that having an orgasm via grinding on something is perfectly healthy. I know, and I understand, and I feel happy, and powerful, and in control.