You are eight and your step-cousin sleeps over. She goes down on you and maybe you go down on her too. Afterward she rushes into the bathroom crying, repeatedly wiping her tongue, washing her mouth. She is upset, and twelve — older than you — so you think you should be upset too. You never talk about it.
You sit at the top of the stairs with your friend, Roman, and watch your parents’ friends watch porn in the basement. You like it, but you just watch. Later that year you become friends with Anya and you watch more porn and touch each other. You think she is ugly, but you like doing this anyway. One day you want it so bad you do it in the living room with her grandmother in the kitchen. You hang two aprons in the doorway between the rooms to try and keep her out. It seems to work.
There are other girl friends you do this with. How many? Do you do it with Emily? With Liz? Britni? You and Alanna watch your dad’s porn and touch yourselves, but you never touch each other. There is one porn that you particularly like called The Erotic Adventures of Marco Polo. The first scene, the one that really did it for you, was a queen with her ladies-in-waiting serving her. You become obsessed with masturbating. You try and watch porn on the TV in your bedroom, but those channels don’t come in.
Sometimes at night on channel 1, though the screen is full of gray and white lines, you can make out the shapes of bodies and you can hear moans. And this is enough. You stick different things inside of you — the remote control especially — which has a rounded bottom. You feel guilty later and worry your parents will touch the remote and somehow find out. You promise yourself not to do it, but you break your promises.
You meet Nora, who becomes your best friend. One night on the dark floor of her bedroom, while another friend sleeps in the bed, Nora slips her hand over to your thigh and into your underwear. She massages your clit for a long time and after a while your body convulses and shivers, and you feel a release you’ve never felt before. It is like a fistful of rubber bands twisted together, snapping loose all at once. She shows you how to make her shiver like that too. You do this together for years, but you never look at each other while you do it. Eventually you kiss her breasts, put them in your mouth. You want to do this often, and you do.
You make yourself come all the time. You can lie in bed and do it 12 times in a row. You talk to your cousin about how much you love to masturbate. When she’s in the shower one summer day, you read her diary. She writes about how gross you are for doing it all the time, and especially for talking about it.
You go to parties at a friend’s house. Her mom, Fran, lets anything happen there. Boys and girls sleep over together, and in the basement boys get blowjobs from different girls. Nick asks you to do it and you do, but only for a little bit. He smells good, like candy, but shoves himself into your mouth too hard making you gag. Later that night he gets a blowjob from another girl and you feel hurt and jealous.
You start high school, and you wear a lot of zebra prints. You have a plush zebra print bedspread, a zebra print skirt with a fringe that bounces when you walk, and a zebra print purse. You somehow meet Sam, who is much older and dropped out of high school, and who says he will kill himself one day. You care for him, and want to make him ok.
You talk all night, get off the phone in the morning and go to school. One night when you are talking he decides to come over, to talk in person. You sit together in the cool night air. Eventually, and you don’t quite know how this happened, you have anal sex on the back porch of your parents’ house. You can’t remember if it hurt or where he came or much about it except your repeated prayers that your mother wouldn’t wake up and come to the kitchen for a glass of water or a sleeping pill, look out the screen doors and find you on your knees like this.
You still consider yourself a virgin. There are other boys: the one you give a hand job to in the movie theater, the one you go to homecoming with, make out with, go down on, whatever. They blur together. You don’t realize this until later, but you don’t remember ever being turned on with these boys. You’re just moving your hands or your mouth the way you’re supposed to, rushing through it so it would come to its inevitable end.
At one sleep over, an older boy who you have never spoken to reaches over in the middle of the night and puts his hands in your pants. You freeze. He guides your hand into his pants and you stroke until he’s done. You do it mechanically, your back to him. In the morning you go home and take a long shower where you bleed and bleed and bleed. After this your period doesn’t come on its own anymore.
Your mother’s gynecologist says you have to take birth control pills and you do for seven years. The older boy’s girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, finds out about what happened, and she comes for you. She pulls your hair and slaps you in the front hallway of your school. You can’t remember what happens next. Did you punch her? Why didn’t either of you get in trouble? For the rest of the year, she and her friends spit on you, call you trash. One day a teacher approaches you asking why it says you’re a slut in the girls’ bathroom.
Later that year, a friend of yours tries to slip his hand in your pants. You freeze like all the other times, but you are friends so it feels a little more possible to utter the word you want to say: no. He gets mad at you, says it’s unfair, you did it with other guys.
You change most of your friends, change your style — no more zebra print. Instead there are flowing skirts, no more make-up, your hair frizzy. Your mother is very concerned. She thinks you look ugly and sad.
You get a boyfriend, Ryan. You have what you call real sex. Sex with him is like a bath just a few degrees colder than you would like it. It’s pleasant but not particularly satisfying. You’re comfortable enough with Ryan to lay beside him and get yourself off. You were always good at that, the rubber bands snapping loose like Nora taught you. You and Nora stop doing that thing that you don’t consider sex. She writes you a letter. She says what you two did for all those years made her worry that she might be gay. Somehow the thought had never occurred to you.
You get another boyfriend, Tom, and it’s the same as Ryan, a lukewarm bath. Though you learn that you like wielding your power in sex, his cock in your control, you decide if he comes and when. Once you videotape yourselves having sex and you like that. You and your future partner watch it regularly until the computer it’s on gets stolen.
You move to New York. You have lots of sex with different people. It’s sometimes fun, but often drunk and a few times you can’t remember it at all. You do remember Jessica, though, whose soft lips you kissed on the dance floor, her thigh pushed up between your legs, making you wet.
When you have sex with Kevin, who you meet in Montreal, you keep asking him if he’s going to come. He asks you why you are in such a hurry. You realize most of your sex has been like this, waiting for these guys to finish so you can be done.
Rae. You’re obsessed with her voice and the massages she gives, which make you remember things you haven’t thought of since they happened. You go to concerts together, you smile a lot, squeezing each others’ thighs and hands. You sing together and her lips are so soft and smooth. She asks, are you bisexual? before you ever kiss.
You laugh and say you don’t like that word, but yes. She smiles, relieved. How many straight girls have broken her heart? She fingers you in bed, on the couch, in the car. She fucks you with a strap-on. You fuck her with the strap-on. You realize you like to be the one with the cock too.
Billie. On New Year’s Day they ask if they can kiss you. You say sure. No one has ever asked you this question. You barely feel the kiss, though, too lost in thought. You go on a few more dates, another kiss. You feel confused. You break up.
Six months later you start dreaming about Billie. You see them in a new light. You get back together and it is summer and you feel free. The first time you have sex you’re both wearing purple underwear, the same shade. They seem to know what you like before you do. They hold down your wrists, press on your chest, squeeze your neck. You like this so much, and it occurs to you that you’ve barely thought about what you want in sex. Somehow you didn’t realize that what happens and how it happens is actually in your control. You’ve never told anyone what you want them to do to you, what you want to do to them.
You tell Billie, blindfold me and tie my hands together. Pretend we are both boys having a sleepover. Lie on your back so I can slide my fingers inside you. Act like we just met each other. Talk about other people fucking us while we fuck each other. Pay me to fuck you. Get close to coming and then stop and put your clothes on, and start at the beginning.
Do that again and again.