Sex, you know? It's a weird one. Infinitely alluring, and just as infinitely complex. It's one of the topics that as a kid you'd sneak out of bed to hear the adults talking about over dinner, as you lurk in the dark around a hallway corner.
Growing older and more emotionally intimate with other people has taught me that there are some things that almost all people do. And some things that almost all people do which almost all people refuse to talk about—like finding a hair between your butt cheeks in the shower, or faux-sexually experimenting as a little kid.
When I was probably 10 years old, my two best friends would come over and we'd watch movies and have sleepovers. Every now and then someone would "accidentally" land on the channel SBS—where foreign films always played on Saturday nights, and where I first witnessed sex scenes between women, and unflinching shots of body parts in detail. We'd all laugh awkwardly and say things like "this is so gross!" all the while completely transfixed and not changing the channel.
One night my friend said "let's just watch it. It'll be funny," changing our lives forever. I remember saying at school some time later "No one's allowed to tell anybody that we watched that porn movie." I can say now with absolutely no dissillusion that I'd only brought it up again in the hope that we'd talk about it and maybe agree to do it again. Kids are weird like that.
These days I know more or less how to express myself, so I know a lot of my friends also have stories just like this; stories of reaching out into the dark unknown as children, wanting to figure out what this ol' sexuality thing was all about. Touching each other and taking off clothes and mock-kissing while the TV played on in another room. I asked the internet and people I know to voluntarily tell me these stories in confidence for anonymous publishing. Here they are:
Warning: these stories are about very young people experiencing things they consider sexual. For obvious reasons, this might be difficult reading for some.
"When I was seven I used to let my friend Georgia, who was 10, french kiss me in exchange for minutes on her gameboy. Our mums were friends so it was a forced friendship on a few levels. She was a very sexual kid who used to pretend she had boobs by putting two tennis balls in her crop top. She only had Tetris but my mum had a strict 'no video games' policy, so it seemed like a good deal. We're not in touch anymore but the last I heard she's happily married with like six kids." - Alice*, 30
"When we were maybe seven or eight, my childhood best friend and I would frequently have sleepovers. When we were put to bed we would play this game where we'd pretend to use our own penises as joysticks, and whoever got hard first lost..." - Mark, 31
"I used to kiss my cousin! I have honestly never told anybody that. We were only five so we weren't totally aware of what we were doing, but we knew it wasn't allowed. Weird to think about now." - Ryan, 24
"One of my friends primary school was really into playing with those Lego horses. Well, "playing" might not be the right word. Essentially the game was just making the horses fuck each other for extended periods of time, and making increasingly weird horse sex noises. I wasn't really into it per se but I didn't own Lego horses and she did—you've got to do what you've got to do. What can I say? I was a horse girl." - Ella, 24
"A girl who was about two years older than me and lived right across the street when I was a kid, and we used to do stuff together. I used to go over to her place on weekends because she had cable and we didn't. She also had this Pippy Longstockings VHS that we were obsessed with. Maybe like five or six times we ended up in bed in our underwear like simulating sex but hardly even touching, just being weird and playing make-believe. We ended up going to the same high school four years later and she was really mean to me—she was in a kind of group of terrifying (at the time) bad girls who smoked in the bathroom and stole people's shit—and I think it was always about that experience. I think she was scared I was going to tell people." Kate, 28
"When I was four or five years old I had a human size teddy bear that I used to get naked with and rub against me." Laura, 24
"I went to primary school with a girl and we used to touch each other consensually—as consensually as two pre-teens can touch each other—after school in my bedroom. It only happened a few times before we almost got caught by my sister and that scared us enough to never do it again. We don't talk much anymore and I definitely think it is a contributing factor. We're still embarrassed about it twenty years later. Isn't that nuts?" - Petra, 28
"My friends and I used to masturbate in the same room when we were 13, having LAN parties. I didn't realise until years later that not everyone our age did that. I think we all kind of assumed it was a thing because we saw it in pornos and read about it on forums and heard stories about it. Some of us are still friends and we laugh about it now, but it's still a bit awkward." - David, 31
"My parents' closest couple friends had a son who I used to roll around with naked when we were home alone. I have really weird, sudden memories about it these days. Like, I can feel the feeling in my stomach. It was always quite seedy but not because we were abusing each other. I'm pretty sure we were just two little kids who had no idea what they were doing—trying to emulate this sex thing we'd heard so much about but were never allowed to talk about. Even thinking about it now I can remember the smell in the room, the colour of the light coming in the window. We're both out and gay now. Maybe we helped each other figure it out!" - Nina, 27
"Wow, I haven't thought about this in ages. Our street used to have a Christmas street party, and all the boys would go biking around the neighbourhood, and all the girls would hang out in a bedroom and play with toys and stuff. Very fucking boring yes, but that was how it went. A couple of times the girls just ended up kissing or sitting around making each other kiss and watching. Such little freaks." - Charlie, 29
"I think this is more curious than sexual but my neighbours and I used to get naked and just stare at each other's bodies. It started when we used to swim in a paddle pool in my backyard but then kind of became a ritual." - Francis, 26
*All names have been changed to preserve anonymity.