For the longest time, I wasn’t sure I liked having sex with guys. I liked everything that lead up to it: the kissing, the guessing, the passionate, loaded interactions. The silence that hung in the air as we’d walk back to his place or mine. That stilted conversation that kept you on edge, constantly wondering if he was thinking what you were thinking; trying desperately to glimpse into his subconscious. I adored the prelude, but the actual sex itself always made me feel uncomfortable, nausea-swept and, yeah, it hurt. A lot. Everything up until the tumbling into the bed sheets was fine; I always preferred the feeling I got just before it happens, the one that makes you question if anyone else in the world really exists.
As a teen, I expressed this disdain to a gay guy I knew that went to another school. Hopeful he’d display even an ounce of empathy and understanding, I rehashed my fears and dislikes about sex as if he were a therapist and I was paying for this session. He told me it was ‘weird’ I didn’t like the sex part. That I’d never manage to be in a real relationship if I didn’t have sex. At this age I was painfully naïve, especially by comparison to kids these days, and so thoughts of a loveless future unfolded in front of me, cementing me to my desk and chair for what felt like eternity. I wanted to feel the warmth of being wanted, minus the terrible flashes of balls, sweaty body parts and spit that looped in my head after any sexual encounter. But mostly I didn’t want the pain, the physical pain that is, of sex.
When I was teenager we didn’t have fancy dating apps like Tinder, or the dick-pic-dispensary that is Grindr. There was a couple of dating sites still in their infancy, but they weren’t accommodating for same-sex singletons. The only salvation offered was a site called Gaydar and so with stealthy mouse clicks and hushed typing I created a profile and set my age to ’18.’ Of course at the time of me doing this, I had none of the self-awareness I have now. I just wanted to find someone to talk to who could hopefully release some of the boiling-pressure that this sex confusion was causing me. After school every day I went home and signed on to see if anyone had mailed me – they hadn’t. Not hot enough to seal the deal, but not ugly enough to be repulsive. That seemed my lot. Then one day, say a month after I created my account, I got a message from an older guy. At first, I was dubious. He didn’t have a face picture and was 38. This was the same age as my dad and a few years older than my mum, so at first I relented. Then, after a few reluctant exchanges, I started to ease up and we chatted more. I approached the conversations clinically over a number of days, but eventually I disclosed my fears about sex. Like a glittering messiah he told me he knew what I was doing wrong: I just didn’t hadn’t done it with the right person. It was hard not to misconstrue this reply: Was he saying that when I fell in love sex would finally mirror the passions of the movies? That I’d no longer suffer the unwanted noises and humiliation I felt that accompanied my (very) few experiences of sex? Or was this little more than a lame attempt at flirting/trying to get me to sleep with him? Whatever it was, it worked and a week later we went a drive in his car.
Around 7pm on a Wednesday night, once I’d convinced my parents I was at my drama/junior operatic club, I ventured down to the car-park at the harbour and waited, nervously, for him to show up. It was a sticky night and my teenage nerves brought an onslaught of sweating with them, so by the time he arrived, fifteen minutes later, I found myself wishing I’d stayed peacefully in my room. I clambered into his car and dutifully he asked if I was alright. After I replied the first thing I noticed, as he leaned against the dashboard, twisting slightly so he could look at me, was how pristine and polished he looked compared to other men I knew his age. I hadn’t met someone that was so fastidious about their appearance and grooming before. He had a perfectly styled helmet of hair, was a sort of buzz cut at the sides. His eyes were animated and the thing I noticed most of all was that he did not look 38. My town was small, so small that gossip accelerated and spread in the blink of an eye, so I slid down into my seat and when he asked, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I shrugged with an indifference that only teenagers and Brexit voters can execute. He smirked a reply, put the car into gear and headed out of town.
I was silent for the first few miles, letting him fill in the awkward silence with personal facts. At first it seemed like shyness. Like he was a gentleman and we were taking our time. He was friendlier than most adults were supposed to be and, even though we both knew I wasn’t 18, not even close, we both employed a mutual understanding – don’t ask, don’t tell. By the time we had pulled up and parked next to the beach I had decided he was ‘hot for his age.’ He asked me what was wrong a few times, and I just told him I felt faint and I was tired. He leaned over, his shoulder blade pressed against my chest, and in a wizardly-way he pulled out a bar of chocolate and handed it to me: ‘Eat this.’ He said. His slightly sour breath caught my cheek and I replied, poetically, ‘OK.’ I took chomp out of it and it made me feel better. Afterwards he revved his car to life and we were off again, careening down the backroads toward to my town. He didn’t have to tell me he was dropping me off.
A week later he messaged me again, asking if I wanted to go over and chat, maybe watch a movie. I agreed. So, again, he picked me up and hastily we sped back to his. We arrived and he asked if I wanted anything to drink, I asked if I could have a vodka. He laughed which I translated as ‘no chance.’ He handed me an Irn Bru and another bar of chocolate and we sat on his sofa, put on a film and chatted with a little more ease than the stony silence he received last time. Throughout the movie his fingers zig-zagged from my arm to across my lap then trickled down my sides. I have absolute zero shame in admitting that, at the time, a moving bus gave me an erection; so this certainly wasn’t going unnoticed. We wound up kissing – and given my sexual prowess at the time, kissing me probably felt like plunging a loofah inside a mason jar.
Ten minutes later we were in his bedroom to ‘cuddle,’ my left hand still clutching the bar of chocolate he gave me earlier. I slid it into my pocket and lay beside him, silently, and in those ten minutes I formed what seemed like an unbreakable attachment. Practising a move that had been used on me before, the ‘push in’, he started advancing, slowly, but surely, towards my body, but I lay there like a dead fish showing no interest at all in engaging psychically. Every so often he’d ask, ‘is this okay?’ I’d nod as his hands explored my body, like someone fumbling blindly in the dark, trying to locate something delicate amidst a grass of broken glass. He did this for a while, but never once placed his hands under my clothes. The closest we came was when he ran his flattened palm down my trousers, but over my boxers, and squeezed my ass. Then I took off to the bathroom, where I removed my belt and stood in just my boxers, looking at myself in the mirror of his closest-sized bathroom, daring myself to go back through like that. I clambered back into his bed, and the rest of the time he writhed around like a cat heat, hoping to graze me in some way that could translate as pleasure. I don’t know if he was genuinely tired and really did have to work early, or if he thought I was an alien that was given lessons in human sexuality by a robot, but twenty minutes later we were back in his car and he was, again, taking me home. He gave me a hug as I got out of his car and I told him I thought he was ‘perfect.’ ‘That’s because you just met me,’ he replied, closed the door and drove away.
When I got home I instantly messaged him and when after two days he didn’t reply I was again catapulted back to the place where I started: No further forward and all of my questions remained unanswered. He clearly had enough self-respect to remove himself from the situation after he clicked on that I wasn’t putting out. I missed chatting to him online more than I did the awkward-riddled silence that were our short exchanges face-to-face. He was a shield against loneliness, against fights with my parents; he was something different than the advice that I was offered by my peers. I knew we would never fall in love, but his online presence soothed me. He offered something that the ‘straight’ guys I’d gotten with didn’t. That my female friends couldn’t relate to. They didn’t get it. They didn’t get any of it.
That weekend I decided last minute to go to a beach party as a boy I fancied was going. I threw on some clothes and bolted for my bus and spent the journey thinking about me and this guy from school getting together, how his bed could be my rest stop for the night. The evening unfolded and, as expected, the guy I liked didn’t like me – probably because I don’t have a vagina. Cider-drunk and teen-horny, I ended up sleeping with a boy in my year that I hooked up with a lot during that period of my life, on a golf course nonetheless – Right on, bro.
Afterwards we found ourselves stuck in beige conversation, as he went back to liking girls and I went back to hating how sore sex was. We walked the rest of the way in silence. As I walked I reached into my trousers and found that bar of chocolate, now squished and melted by body heat and a two-day vacation in my jean pocket, that I was given a couple days before. I looked at the wrapper like a kid mourning the breakage of his favourite toy. I compared the situations and thought about how nice the 38-year-old’s house was; how delicately he spoke to me. I thought about how he had asked if I was okay and how he didn’t treat me like I was a dead dog. There was something gentle about him, something tender that made me think sex with him would have been different than the sex I just had. I had gone from perfect companionship to none at all. I unwrapped the bar and took a bite. It tasted better.