Everything My Straight Friends Told Me About Sex Was Wrong

Their heteronormative idea of sex sounded like a game with levels, where you only ‘won’ by being penetrated. Then I learned it meant something different to me.
Young homosexual couple lying and cuddling in bed, embracing and touching
miodrag ignjatovic via Getty Images
Young homosexual couple lying and cuddling in bed, embracing and touching

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My first time hadn’t gone as I’d anticipated.

A stocky man with hair on his chest scrolled through his emails on the bed and made no attempt to cover his nakedness. He occasionally glanced at me as I pulled on my jeans and shirt. The hotel room felt like an Edward Hopper painting, lit by the wall-mounted TV playing a late-night panel show on mute.

About 30 minutes earlier, I’d put my hands in his hair, and it had felt fragile. The gel he’d used to style it was the kind that made your hair into brittle spikes. As he moved his lips around my body, he arrived at my mouth but simply breathed heavily as he got off instead of kissing me. He went down on me, and I on him. His body convulsed and crumbled as he quickly came.

There had been no penetration, something I believed defined sex but neither of us wanted it, and I hadn’t orgasmed. He’d offered to ‘finish me off’, in the same tone you might ask if someone wanted a lift to the train station. I’d declined.

As I got dressed I wondered if I could call what happened between us ‘sex’? What I’d seen in movies and heard from my friends seemed a world away from what he and I had done. I thought about the lack of fucking. How much did penetration matter? It was, after all, entry into another’s body and it was so linked to virginity, the act of ‘popping the cherry’, to before and after.

My trepidation, I realised, stemmed from a deep confusion around my gender identity, my role within sex, and how all that fit together. This wasn’t helped by my straight friends who defined sex by penetration. When talking about their sexual encounters they would say things like “We did stuff, but we didn’t have full sex”. ‘Stuff’ would often refer to kissing, fingering, and oral, which made sex sound like a game with different levels, where you only ‘won’ by being penetrated.

I tried to figure out where this preoccupation with penetration came from. Was a religious hangover? Most frown upon, restrict, or outright condemn sex. Did these different harbingers of ‘full sex’ act as a way to avoid sin by lightly skating around it? Or maybe it was biological; penetrative sex is part of our reproductive process, and so it might be held in greater esteem? A law student friend pondered that it was ingrained within our society by law, in which rape is defined by penetration and anything else classed as sexual assault.

When I told my friends the next evening about my sexual encounter, they obviously wanted details. I relayed the Grindr messages, the dirty talk, the nerves I felt walking to his hotel room, but I skimmed over the specifics of the sex itself. I was worried they might write off this entire experience as essentially foreplay because no one had ‘been fucked’. Why did I feel I had to be cagey about the details? Why was penetration, an act far easier for straight people, the pinnacle?

Over the next few months, to seemingly prove something, I burned through men, mostly casual hook-ups and one semi-serious whatevership with an American artist, but no penetration. There were moments I revelled in; the man who left his door unlocked and waited in nothing but a blindfold, a seemingly shy man who dominated me in an Airbnb, and the first drunken, weed-hazed, night with the artist. I found intimacy in ways my straight friends didn’t – in handjobs, in blowjobs, in dirty talk, in submission, in spit, in kisses, in long-held glances, on webcams, and in sweat. Yet, to some, I was a virgin because I hadn’t ever let penetration enter my sexual lexicon.

What is sex from a queer perspective, I wondered. Did it include my Twitter sexting with a man who lives in Germany, online role-play in chatrooms, wanking with men on Skype, voyeurism, or edging? It struck me that sex is not fixed but rather something fluid, ever-changing, and subjective.

The heteronormative perimeters of sex made me feel outside of something, even as my ‘number’ rose above some of my friends. It was as if what I desired was somehow less than what my straight friends did and that I should change. Now, as I run through the men I’ve slept with, I know that it doesn’t, nor should it, matter if they’ve been inside of me or I them.

Sex, for me, is as I define it and it’s simply about the pursuit of pleasure; however I try and seek it.

Jon Paul Roberts is an essayist and journalist specialising in queer issues, politics, pop culture, and personal narratives. Follow him on Twitter at @jonpaul_roberts

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