Sex in the First Person

Back when we used to sleep around, we really got to know the city. Heading for a party, we'd throw into our leather bag the contact lens case, wetting solution, diaphragm or packet of Enovid, clean underwear, and money for cab fare home. Who knew where we'd spend the night? Who cared? If a guy was cute, funny, articulate, and had his own place—or at least his own room—we took a gamble. Morningside Heights, Greenwich Village, or the areas below Houston that didn't yet have names all harbored rumpled beds, instant coffee, and men—boys, really—with fuzz on their cheeks, little aluminum-foil packets of hash in their pockets, and irrepressible penises calling our name.

But those were different times—the years before AIDS, before we understood the impact of herpes, human papilloma virus, and other insidious STDs. A guy who couldn't knock you up could still disappear without warning; a girl with a prescription for the Pill hadn't necessarily filled it. In some ways it was a brave new world, in others the same old shit: Men did the asking, and women had the right to refuse. A girl could make the first move, and might even get laid, but if it wasn't his idea in the first place, the guy was likely to wander off.

There was a joke we told: Rape is theoretically impossible because a woman can run faster with her skirt up than a man can with his pants down. As I say, different times. In these times—and in the dozen or so personal commentaries that make up this valentine—people are wary, diffident, almost shy. The bravado is gone, the condoms ever at the ready. But the pursuit of knowledge, carnal and otherwise, is what we are still about.

photo: Shawna Enyart

—Elizabeth Zimmer, editor


Ménages à trois (I've had exactly three) can be sublime, ridiculous fun—playful, giggling, shrieking, moaning, ambidextrous, octopus utopias. I've buried my previously straight face in a former rival's creamy, studded stubble, been boldly fisted by my best friend, and demonstrated my lapping, swirling gustatory technique on her boyfriend, to the concentrated glee of all. The sheer strangeness of the couplings and recouplings, the Möbius-strip madness of possibilities—her on him on me—it slides you in and out of time. Jealousy and possessiveness are unimaginable when pleasure is so multifariously available.

But enough about the zipless threesome. Ultimately it's a decadent pastime, the tequila buzz of a night or two. Far darker, far more perverse, far more consuming, is a more common French connection: the love triangle. You know you've done it: lunged for the same girl or guy as a friend, hooked up with your best friend's ex, looked longingly over your lover's shoulder at another couple, transfixed by their absorption in each other, trying to catch the other's eye. Who do you really want? Which one do you want to be?

"Mimetic desire," my mother explained. "You want someone because someone else wants them, especially if that other person is close to you." I was only 15, staying up late nights flirting on the phone with my close friend Sarah's boyfriend Paul, while his best friend Matthew pined for me, sending smoldering glances across the schoolyard. My mother, the novelist, shed light on my histrionics with help from the literary theory of René Girard. Desire, he wrote, is best understood not as a subject-object relationship, but as a triangulation: subject-model-object. The model, of course, is also your rival for the object, who is also a subject with triangulated lusts of her own. Here's where things get brutal.

My own tangle unraveled in a series of moments that, years later, are still charged with heat. One autumn afternoon I found myself kissing Matthew in Paul's bedroom. Then, on a freezing December camping trip, under a brittle gibbous moon, I silently suckled Paul's fingers, pressed against him as Sarah slept next to us in their two-man tent. And most vividly, one night while the adults drank cocktails below, the four of us lay in Sarah's bedroom, lights off, playing a game of Truth. Matthew's fingers wandered across my belly, his breath was on my neck, but my hand trailed down off Sarah's canopy bed to find Paul's in the dark.

Eventually, it had to come undone: the friendships ruined, the romances both tiresome, drawn-out sulks. But Matthew, prince of petulance, still wanted my virginity, and he knew just how to get it: by breaking Paul's confidence to tell me exactly how our ex-friends had given it up to each other—the stolen condoms, the stolen hour, even the words they spoke when the deed was done. It was a tease, a challenge, and a feat of triangulation I can never forget.

—Lola Stevens

The Secret Sharer

The first time I saw the brother he was walking slowly down the hall. This seemed to be his trademark. When I shared my thoughts with the sistas, they all looked at me like, Girl, you have got to be kidding!

"What?" I, laughing, asked. "He has dreads, he speaks with intelligence, he can read, and he writes for a major publisher. He has a job; he's an artist, a musical genius. So what if he walks kind of slow, and talks in a way that only a career ex-con could understand? Uh-oh, he's married, isn't he?"

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