Sex in the First Person

photo: Shawna Enyart

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.

—Elizabeth Zimmer, editor

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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?"

He was my mentor (on the low), he shared his thoughts (some of them), I shared my food (some of it). He invited me to hear his band; I went every chance I got. I took on his mannerisms, started dressing like him, spitting information I didn't know was inside of me; I had mad knowledge. I didn't realize how serious my transformation was becoming.

"Damn, girl, you look and act just like . . . " I started laughing. I guess I do kinda, sorta. . . . I was reading his books, his stories, listening to his music, and there would be times I'd just sit and contemplate life . . . just like I'd seen him do. I even respected his wifey, yo, she was mad cool, a talent all by herself and she had this brother . . . she got serious props.

I came to realize it wasn't gonna happen. I was much too intimidated to let him know how I really felt, and he was married. So I got married, and moved on.

I saw the brother the other day; I found out he's divorced. Yo, my heart still beats faster, and my mind's always thinking of things to say to keep him talking.


photo: Shawna Enyart

The Ghost

"I remember the first time she kissed me—she said, 'Men are so easy.' "

"That sounds like her. 'New girlfriends for everyone!' She was the first other woman I'd ever been with, but with her it was no big deal."

"She used to lie curled up so she could stare at my navel. She'd say, 'It's like a little cunt!' "

"She was all skin and bones and muscle. She weighed nothing, but she was so strong."

"Best compliment I ever got: A couple of months before she died, she told me one of her girlfriends broke up with her when she told her she couldn't come without thinking about me."

"Uh . . . you got that one too, huh?"

". . . It's still a nice thing to say, I suppose."

"So what did she like to do with you?"

"She liked me to cover her eyes really lightly and whisper how badly I was going to hurt her. Freaked me out at first."

"Jesus. She never told me that. I guess she did like knives."

"Lucky thing for her. And how about you?"

" . . . She had this thing she used to do with her fingers . . . "

" . . . Show me."

"Ahh, I guess I can. Here."

" . . . Wow. Her hands—I remember that. I almost thought I saw her scars for a second."

"They were right—down here. She was so shy about them at first."

"I remember how she used to kiss my chest. . . . I don't know how to describe it—"

"Now you get to show me."


"Oh. Yeah, that was it—feel that? You really do kiss like her."

"I can, when I want to."

" . . . "

"Do you want to do to me what she used to do to you?"

" . . . "

" . . . "


"Oh, my God."

"Oh, God, I miss her so much."

"Yeah. Me too."

—Douglas Wolk

The Way She Won

1. In summer, Alexis—with nice tan and broken heart, wanting to feel nothing—scans the landscape robotically, and is hijacked.

2. She is kissed by a stranger. She kisses back. She walks away.

3. She finds herself in a diner, waiting for the stranger. She scribbles in her notebook, and looks up at the new face. He says, "Hello. How are you? Nice to—" An amusement park flops open from the corners of his words. How did dinner become suddenly rigged with buzzers? The restaurant looks different, everything glowing. And now it seems she knew him all along.  

4. The broken heart swims through her body, does laps, almost jumps out her throat. She finds herself noticing newsprint again, excited by headlines. She walks with him, her mouth held open by invisible tension, and he kisses her in the middle of sentences. And streets.

5. In Union Square, her back against a pole, she looks up at his face and hears an internal pistol shot. There is a race and she is running it, squirming in his grip as if her body were unclothed. She sees how the city agrees—the Union Square protest swells as she becomes likely to split herself down the middle. Open mouth, open eyes, open lips: a prize—she recognizes him, instinctively.

6. In the absolute dark of her room, they disappear, and she walks her mouth down his body, finds and loses him ecstatically. She will kiss what she finds wherever she finds it, lock invisible eyes with him, come and gasp. She gives her thigh to his thigh, her hand to his mouth. She is telling him something, in pieces.

7. Word by word, he slides inside her—on streets, in rooms, at tables—and without needing to look, she knows him.

—Alexis Sottile

When 'Verlaine' Met 'Rimbaud'

I was 19, in my first year of art school, drifting from one genius muse to the next. Brad was a tall, slim, ethereal mess with a razor-thin goatee, a penchant for Basquiat and Artaud, and the attitude of a cool gangster.

We waited on the deserted subway-station platform, glancing at each other until he nervously broke the ice and asked me what I was carrying. "It's a video camera," I replied. We talked about art. He told me he was a poet and suggested we work together, scratching his number onto a torn piece of cardboard with a fountain pen. Three weeks later I phoned him.

"I was expecting your call today," he said. I was overcome. That night I took him to a gallery opening and asked him to help me direct a student play. He stared into my eyes with an inescapable, sexually ambiguous boyish charm.

He wrote me letters for months, even though we were together all the time. He named us "the Official Hooligans." We turned the play from an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 into an avant-garde experiment, the main character bathing in offal as she descended into madness. Meanwhile, his lingering stares slowly progressed to brushing his hand against mine, moving his leg closer to mine under the table.

After the closing-night party, we lay under the summer stars in a hammock. In a moment of silence I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He turned his face and met my lips with his and we kissed softly. He moved his hand up over my chest to my cheek. I slid my hand down over his taut stomach and into his loose boxer shorts. We made love for the first time.

The next morning as he left he said, "I'm probably going to be quite distant now." I never saw him again.

—Ethan Thomas

Tongue Kissing

In Brooklyn, when I wait for the subway at school closing time, the same groups of kids come laughing and shouting onto the platform. Most of them are coupled up, the boys holding their girlfriends close to them as fathers do, though the girls are usually taller. I watch one pair kiss against the tile wall of the subway station. They appear impossibly novice as they turn their heads from side to side, mouths open wide enough to swallow each other's nose. After they kiss the boy writes "El Capitan loves Lady Capitan" on the tile wall with a red marker.

I once carved the words "I Love Claire" on a small space of wall hidden behind my single bed in the attic of my uncle's lake house upstate. Claire was my first girlfriend, and she was my girlfriend at the start of every following summer spent there until I was old enough to work back in Brooklyn. When we were first introduced (at age seven or eight) I remember all we did was sit and pick the ticks off of her dogs, cross-legged in the driveway. The dogs came up to our shoulders. I listened to Claire as she explained each of the personality traits of the enormous animals. She was tan and skinny, and I thought she was pretty.

In the middle of that summer on a rainy day we walked through the drippy forest together trying to light strike-anywhere matches on every boulder and stone we passed. (It was safer, she said, to light matches only when it rained.) At the end of the trail we stopped and I looked at her and put my tongue in her mouth. Her mouth was warm and small. She tasted like sulfur from the match she'd tried to strike on her new ridgy front tooth. Claire didn't seem afraid. We stood still there, looking at each other. She put her tongue in my mouth, hard and straight. I remember focusing on her wide-open eyes as she poked the insides of my cheeks with her stiff, hot tongue. From then on at the end of every day, I put my tongue in her mouth and she put her tongue in mine.  

—Liz Solms

love in the time of the first amendment

heat travels up my river of sacred bone.

sanctus sanctus sanctus

how beautiful your dark red red bruise!

how warm the radius of

ulna and humerus, buttock and lip—

each of our phalanges

wild legislators of the flesh.

The body of my senate stands

in your lower house,

as we roar our allegiance

to a mutual congress of excess.

on this night of ache

and welcome loss, be uncivil

with my liberties:

intrude upon my private offices,

handcuff me with love!

now that I lie indiscreet

with arrest as you, in flagrante

delicto, habeas my corpus

—Luis H. Francia


Traditional Irish music sounds like raucous conversation, a cacophonous argument, really good sex. Passionate, willful, exploding with tension, notes less joining than colliding with each other. Maybe that's why they call them reels.

My eyes drift around the circle of musicians in the pub, and stop on Dan, his knees bouncing up and down to the rollicking tune. I look at the shoulders I love to bury my face in, hunched over and down, lips I can kiss for hours forming a gentle embouchure above the mouth of a flute. I can't help feeling a little envious, having watched the way he gets together with these musicians and picks up this intimate, intricate conversation after not meeting for weeks, months, years. I've come up to Boston from New York to see him, spend the weekend, and I wonder: Are we like that?

Outside the bar, he kisses me for the first time in weeks. We skip past the formalities, our bodies pressed together, but not tight enough, and I'm restless for the collision. In this frenzy of kisses I feel the fierceness he brings to playing in sessions, the competitive instinct. I push back with the confidence of knowing that in a way I've already won; he's mine alone for the rest of the night.

Back in his room, I'm still hearing the thrilling rush of his music as my hands play at his belt. We reel back into his bed, pushing, pulling, his palm to my cheek, my fingertips strumming his spine. When finally we settle into each other, finding an old rhythm, I'm composing a litany of murmurs and moans because it's the only tune I can carry. I don't know how to get inside who he is, maybe I'll never know, but when he slides his palms under my hips, lifting me up, pulling me in, I'm closer than I've ever been to the point where two complex melodies merge into one.

—A.J. McCormick

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Kiki doesn't look like the kind of girl who'll do anything, anywhere, anytime. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will leave a gushing note for her celebrity crush and receive a call from her within an hour. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will have sex anywhere—while she's driving, on a plane, in many a bar's bathroom. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will jump up and follow a woman into the bathroom at Time Café to see if she is, in fact, Natalie Merchant. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will have a threesome with you and the boy you like, even though she's really into girls. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will participate in a contest that involves rubbing her breasts up and down along a huge block of ice. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who, at the drop of a hat, will say, Yes, I'll be in your friend's porn movie. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will ask you to choke her, demand that you spank her, beg you to scratch your nails, hard, down her back. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will get drunk and press you up against the bathroom wall at your high school reunion, then flirt with your classmates. She doesn't look like the kind of girl who will follow her heart, wherever it leads, no matter how crazy or outrageous or reckless. The best thing about her is that she doesn't look like she will do any of these things, but she will do them all, and always be ready for more.  

—Rachel Kramer Bussel

Universe in a Skirt

It's here.

Under ruffled fabric in a solid or flower pattern,

either silk or corduroy,

near the buckle or the zipper,

beneath the layer closest to the skin,

between the softest part of feminine upper thighs.

It nestles itself in pink panties from

Victoria's Secret's semi-annual sale,

waiting to give you the earth.

It's here.

Wanting to give you heaven.

—Monica Levette Clark

photo: Shawna Enyart
Napping With the Ex

I went to see him in Chicago two years later. We had Greek dinner with my family—fleshy overcooked lamb and deep-fried cheese. He wanted pasta. We sat close and uneasy. I looked at him with a fixed grin and glassy eyes. He charmed my little girl cousins but not my Greek uncle. After dinner we dropped the family off and walked to a police bar.

The locals were sauced. A cop danced on the bar. A woman walked toward us with a stutter, tipping her martini glass. He pretended we were married. I went along with it, even slipped my gold ring from my right hand to left. We stayed until the dancing cop was slumped on the bar.

We walked back to my aunt's house, his arm hugging my shoulder. Everyone was asleep. He took off my clunking boots. We lay on the leather sofa cringing from the sound two bodies make against leather. His arm snaked around my waist, his head on my chest. His mouth parted in sleepy gasps, my heart pounding in what-the-fuck. We moved against each other for warmth and for wondering what happened. We lay still. He grew heavy. I grew tired of his weight. I rolled to the floor with my head on his lap.

He brought me closer, lifted my arms to his shoulders, my body to his. Tired and looking for a fit, I moved my legs to his waist. We grazed face to face but thought better of it. We fell back asleep breathing what used to be until 4:30 became too late for napping and too late for us.

I walked him to the door and didn't kiss his cheek, knowing the dinner we talked about having would turn into a phone call of sorry and a mouthful of not mine.

—Jaime Lowe

The Gift

I had been looking forward to this moment for years. Ever since I lost my virginity—at 16, on the floor of a college dorm—this had become my sexual Holy Grail. The calves balanced against my collarbones belonged to a girl I was falling in love with. She was smart, silly, sexy, and loving, with big lips and a perfect ass. For the moment, she was below me, perched on the sofa's edge, asking me to give it to her harder. Her lips were moist and slightly parted in that way of hers. Breasts bounced in syncopation with my every thrust. "So how did it feel?" she asked afterward, during our post-coital recap.

"It was amazing," I said.

"Really? Better than regular sex?"

I looked at her. Something in me dropped. "What do you mean?"

"You were just in my ass. Didn't you realize?"

"Uhh . . . " Great. Nice work. Biggest watershed in my sexual career, the culmination of a decade's worth of masturbatory fantasies, and I missed it. All those years of ogling ripe peaches gift-wrapped in denim, thinking nasty thoughts. Thousands of women bending over, reaching for the bottom shelf, leaning, arching, just beckoning to be penetrated from the rear. And finally, when the moment arrives, I seize it, and yet somehow miss it. Had I assumed that anal sex would have to be served up doggy-style? Had I been distracted by how she seemed to like it harder than usual? Was it some strange anatomical gift she possessed, to be equally penetrable in both orifices?

I found out that an integral part of anal sex is knowing that you're having it. Even something as distinctly carnal as sodomy takes place predominantly in your head.  

—Ryan Nerz

Chubby Chaser

From the back he looked like a woman—full hips, even a little bit of cellulite. If it is possible for a man to be Rubenesque, he was. Because he was terribly self-conscious about his weight, I never told him that he was not my first fat boyfriend. He was certainly the fattest. People cringed when they saw him walking down the aisle of airplanes: "Please, don't sit next to me." When I was with him, they looked at me as if to say, "Look, it's King Kong and Fay Wray." What was it? He was the opposite of agile. In fact, in bed, we were limited to two positions in which his tummy didn't come between us: me on top and me with my heels on his shoulders. But our limited menu was more than made up for by the fact that I found the contrast of his gruffness with the vulnerability of his pale, quivering flesh absolutely irresistible. His presence was almost entirely alien: something other than the human body, both more and less earthly. He did stand-up comedy in his spare time, and when I went to see him once, he did a bit about chubby chasers. At home we got into a huge fight. "I can't believe that you would insinuate that I'm a—whatever you call it, a chubby chaser."

Over the course of our relationship, he lost about 70 pounds. At his lowest point, we broke up. A few months after we had pulled the plug, we had a go-over-it dinner; he ran his fork over his entrée, a simple green salad. The last time I saw him was the cab ride home, when he put his arm around me and said tenderly, "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even know what a chubby chaser was." "Confession," I said, squeezing a handful of flesh on his belly, which I loved, and which, in spite of his weight loss, was still pillowy and spilled over the waistband of his pants. "I knew what that was. Even before."

—Shannon Welch

Lost Vegas

We skipped the Grand Canyon 'cause it cost 10 bucks to park (then spent the money in a frenzy at Pizza Hut), so it wasn't like we were being extravagant or anything. But it was to be our first time (and my first, period), so we booked a room at the Luxor in Las Vegas on the first night of our first cross-country road trip—hilarious, we both agreed—and raced each other into the closet-sized marble shower to heat things up. This was good: tender and hot and soft and giddy and soapy and hard.

Then to thick white towels, furtive half-laughs, the closet-sized bed—and considerably less hardness. "Nerves," she sighed warmly. "A fucking goddamn cliché," I hissed. Take two: certainly wet, slightly firm, increasingly tetchy. So we took an intermission, walking down the Strip giggling—she a study in ease, me an easy study—then pausing for $27 French toast. Like a damn Disney dad, this is what I remember now.

Checkout was at 11. We tried again at dawn's early light, and it was good again: slow and meaningful and, surprisingly, nothing like the particular Ginuwine song I'd expected. Then the phone rang; no way we're answering that shit. Then a knock at the door; we'll reuse the stupid towels. Then banging on the door connecting to the adjacent room, where three security guards were preparing to bust it down because I checked us out on the TV and it's already past 11 and this is Vegas and I guess only dead people try to lose their virginity before noon on a beautiful day at the end of summer. Hilarious, we both agreed.

—Mikael Wood

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