Consent can be given. And consent can be taken away. It doesn’t make you a tease. It doesn’t make you a bad girlfriend. It makes you a person with consistently shifting thoughts and opinions.
I didn’t lose my virginity until college, and even though I was old enough to know the basics about sex, I had no idea how my body worked. I read magazines at the nail salon and dentist’s office but they mostly talked about “How To Pleasure Your Man” and “How To Be The Best Sex He’s Ever Had.”
I knew how to kiss. I knew how to give oral. I knew a dozen different methods for making the other person moan. But I had no idea how to make sex good for me. Without foreplay, with my sole focus on making him happy, sex hurt. Badly.
Once, I asked my ex-boyfriend to stop in the middle of thrusting because I was in an intense amount of pain. I’m the type of person who will pass out from hunger before asking a friend to grab me food from their fridge. I’m the kind of person who will squirm in their seat for three hours before asking someone to pull over so I can use a bathroom. So when I told him how much I was hurting and asked him to stop, I meant it. The pain had already gone well passed the point of tolerable and reached excruciating.
It was an embarrassing thing for me to ask. It made me feel like a disappointment. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I wanted to be the cool girlfriend who loved sex, not the tease who gave him blue balls.
I wouldn’t have asked him to stop unless it felt absolutely necessary, which it did. But he did not listen. I told him twice. He still did not listen. He kept going even though there was blood from the friction. He kept going until I physically shoved him away.
Fast forward to my next relationship. The same thing happened. A repeat in history. He kept going until he finished even though he cuddled me close after and said if you’re ever in pain, let me know, I want us both to enjoy it as if the past few minutes had never happened.
I only told these stories once, to a male friend I trusted with the most intimate details, and he asked me if I considered what happened to me rape. I immediately said no. “Of course not. They were wrong. They shouldn’t have done it. But I wouldn’t use that word.”
I was still picturing rape as a stranger grabbing a woman in a dark alley and forcing her to the ground. I would never use it to describe the guys I had dated. They were good guys. Guys I didn’t regret getting into relationships with, even after the breakups.
But my friend said, “I would consider it rape” like he knew exactly what he was talking about. I moved onto another topic after that. I tried to push the conversation out of my head. I didn’t want to think about it — and I didn’t think about it for a while.
Until I started dating my current boyfriend, my forever boyfriend. Early in our relationship, he stopped during sex and asked, “Are you okay? You feel tense. You seem like something’s wrong.”
I lied about being fine. The pain hadn’t reached excruciating yet and I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to like me. But he knew it was a lie.
Even though I never asked him to stop, he stopped. He didn’t think twice about it. He fell asleep cuddling me. I cried into his chest, softly without him realizing, because no guy had ever treated me that way even after I asked them repeatedly. I cried because I was thankful to have him. Because he was so different to the rest of the guys I dated. I didn’t realize how fucked up it was that such common decency made me happy.
Sex never hurts anymore and it’s because I found someone who was willing to remain patient with me and help me learn the way my body works. Someone who respects the word no even when he is dying to hear a yes.