In my new novel, The Pisces, there is merman sex and human sex, good sex and bad sex. I like writing good sex because I turn myself on. If I’m not wet, it’s probably not a great sex scene. But I also enjoy writing bad sex, because it provides me with an opportunity to gain control of narratives over which I previously felt powerless.
In The Pisces, my protagonist Lucy engages in several seemingly-consensual sexual encounters that are disappointing, disgusting, sad. In each of these encounters, there is plenty of opportunity for her to say “stop” as soon as the situation becomes unpleasant. Yet she doesn’t say “stop,” and then wonders why.
“I thought about all this subterfuge, just to get out of a situation I had put myself in,” she says. “Technically I didn’t even need to do anything to get out of the situation except leave.”
Likewise, in my time of fucking, I have found myself in a number of seemingly-consensual (and at times seemingly-enthusiastically consensual if I faked my orgasm right) encounters just like this: with men, women, and non-binary partners. These were not situations in which there was any threat of violence. There was no clear power imbalance, and for many of them I was totally sober. Yet I still wasn’t able to, or was afraid to, access my voice. So why did I ignore myself? Why didn’t I say “stop” even though the sex was bad?
6. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings
I’ve been in a lot of situations where I was scared that if I spoke up, I would injure the ego of my partner. There was a virgin who used his cock like a battering ram. After we were finished, I made some suggestions as to how he could be gentler for his next partner, but not until my own pussy was thoroughly mangled. There was another nascent sex-haver, with whom I suddenly realized I was exhausted. I should have spoken up and said, “let’s postpone,” but I didn’t want her to think she was boring me. In retrospect, this would have been the kinder thing to do. When I fell asleep with her face in my pussy, she was upset.
My reticence to tell the truth may also reflect a deeper fear of being judged, disliked, or rejected for my needs. For me, it’s much more comfortable to shroud my own needs in the fear of not meeting someone else’s.
5. I thought there was something wrong with me
It’s always taken me a long fucking time to have an orgasm. I compared myself to the women I saw in porn who had an (often totally performative) orgasm in five minutes. Or I read erotica where a woman had an orgasm on page 5, and I was like, “Damn, I wouldn’t come until at least page 21.” When I got into bed with someone, I was already worrying about this.
Or maybe it didn’t take me an inordinate amount of time to come, I was just afraid that it did. Maybe it was more about the fact that deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of the sustained effort required of another person in order to give me pleasure. I, myself, have always been a “giver.” But I felt more comfortable with that role than with the possibility that I would be judged as “slow” or “weird” or even “greedy.” In order to relax enough to have an orgasm, I’ve always had to issue the disclaimer, “Hey, it’s going to take me a while. Let me know if you get tired.” Perhaps I should have just posted a little sign.
4. It seemed too complicated
Sometimes, the act of communicating one’s needs can be emotional. Even when I knew my partner very well, I found that dealing with myself was confusing or repellant. The sound of my own voice? Total turn-off. Also, sometimes I didn’t even know what exactly I needed. In those cases, it just felt easier to go along with a displeasing experience than try to find the words.
3. I didn’t think I mattered
I guess this one is probably the saddest. The tendency to prioritize another person’s experience over my own—my performance over my pleasure— may be a reflection of the way I was raised. It probably has something to do with being raised a woman. In these cases, I did a lot of dissociating. It was like, “Who cares? I’m the only one living in this body. And if I’m sort of OK with it, then I guess it’s OK.”
2. I wanted the fantasy
In the books, music, and films that informed my early conceptions of what desire should look like, there were plenty of external obstacles (think Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet) but seemingly no internal ones. The sex itself was seamless, easy—fueled only by longing, want, but not so much by lube. In my imaginary version of what sex would be like, I never fantasized about getting fingered so dryly that my right labia puffed up like a balloon. When this happened, I felt disillusioned by the discrepancy between my fantasy life and reality. I hoped that maybe if I just kept going, the reality would somehow rise, or morph, to meet my fantasies. Of course, the only thing that rose was a swollen vagina.
1. I didn’t know I was allowed to change my mind
One time, while still pining for my ex-girlfriend, I went home with another girl I’d had a crush on. I really thought I could handle it. But once we were in bed together, I felt melancholy, distant, and like I just needed to go home. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I was allowed to have a change of heart. I didn’t know that it was reasonable to discover something about yourself while in the moment, which impedes the moment from happening. So instead I performed like I was having a good time. Then I slept over. Then I did this for four months. Had I spoken up that night I would have saved us both a lot of time.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.