We smiled nervously at one another from opposite sides of the breakfast table.
I had been stealing glances at her as she used the fork to maneuver potatoes around her plate. She must have been stealing glances at me too, because when our eyes finally met, the nervous smile was all either of us could manage.
My mind ran a thousand thoughts per minute. It had been a great weekend. But I knew we’d have to talk about it before Monday.
The sex, that is.
We had spent a while getting to know each other on an interpersonal level and developed a deep connection. I knew I wanted to be with her — she expressed the same. Sex wasn’t an option in the early days due to our geography, but honestly, that wasn’t a concern or consideration. I was having so much fun getting to know her that nothing about our future sex life could deter me or give me pause.
But then, some time later, we did have sex.
And it didn’t really … work?
You know, sometimes things just don’t fit or feel how they’re supposed to? The desire and effort are there! But it just doesn’t go down in alignment with your mental picture. That can be discouraging. That’s what happened to us the first time.
So, as I sat in a lovely restaurant with a beautiful woman for whom I cared deeply, staring at the world’s most interesting tofu (not) in an effort to avoid her gaze, I wondered, for the first time, if sex would be an obstacle in our relationship. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in the dire straits of relationship calamity: communicate.
“Hey, um. It doesn’t have to be now. But can we talk … sometime soon? About the sex?”
She almost choked on a potato. I refilled her glass with sparkling water.
“Look, the weekend is going great. Amazing. I’m having the best time. I just know last night didn’t really go how either of us planned, and I don’t want to leave that unresolved.”
She eyed me with half-disappointment, half-appreciation. “You’re right. I think we should talk about it. Let’s do it when we get home.”
That was the beginning of our sexual journey together. Neither of us had dated anyone like the other before. Our experiences with sex and intimacy differed greatly. I thought I had a pretty good idea about what I liked — she wasn’t so sure. We began to have very intentional, transparent conversations about how we would approach sex together, and I quickly learned a few valuable lessons.
- Nothing I knew before about pleasure really mattered. When thinking about how to build a healthy sexual relationship centered on pleasure with my partner, I had to realize that nothing I had done or thought I was “good at” in the past could be taken at face value. Nor could I assume I’d like my new partner doing something just because I’d liked it before. It was better to build from scratch (Literally. We started with kissing practice) without pretense or expectation, and to keep our minds open to possibilities.
- Patience. Patience! PATIENCE! When you’ve got emotional connection and physical attraction, sometimes you want to get right to it! It was hard to temper desire, but we both agreed it was better to talk about different sexual experiences we were interested in trying before going for them, as we both had a fair amount of anxiety about making sure the other would be comfortable.
- Keeping our chins up. This was the hardest part for me. It felt so discouraging to have experiences with one another that didn’t feel like a total home run. Sex and intimacy can be really special, and when things don’t go how you want, it can feel like you’re failing or missing a chance. We both understood that the other had pure intentions to learn, and please, and satisfy. And we made it through by keeping that in our forward-view. Always remembering that we could continue to try harder and get better.
Through the process, we came up against some interesting challenges that helped us become better communicators and more sensitive partners. Our first project was to define pleasure, for ourselves, and together, and we paid close attention to the aspects of our respective definitions that naturally aligned and those that differed. She helped me realize (with the help of a cheesy online questionnaire — don’t knock it till you try it) that the mood of my environment plays a key role in my arousal. Clean spaces, rich fragrances, lighting. I had always known that, internally — practiced it. But I had never realized how explicit and significant it was.
Trying different sexual activities multiple times humbled us. Often, I would try to lead and guide in a way and at a pace that gave her adequate space to interrogate and discern her feelings about activities. As with anything, you don’t always know how to feel the first time. Remember the first time you tried brussel sprouts? You probably like them a lot more now, huh? We learned to be okay trying things multiple times, in slightly different ways, if needed, to get a full picture of if we wanted to continue with certain activities, or cast them in the “No” pile.
It wasn’t all bad by any stretch. In our effort to explore each other holistically, from physical sensation to emotional arousal to spiritual entanglement, I got a chance to re-learn the value of things that I had not done in quite a while, since becoming experienced (eyeroll) at sex. Making out for long periods of time, like teenagers. Real romantic-like. Pointed focus on foreplay like oral and digital penetration. Exploring different sensory experiences through tantric touching. And even some fun, naughty virtual things for when one of us was on the road. We learned so much about one another. And we also learned what worked for us as a unit, irrespective of any external factors. The journey only made us closer.
H.D. Hunter is an author and activist from Atlanta, GA. His writing targets themes of coming of age, identity, and well-being through the lens of Black American life. Send him your thoughts, feedback, or a funny gif on social media @hd_tsd.