Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don't want to read that, please don't. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
I don't remember where I first heard it -- and Google is coming up short, mostly it's sending me to some country song I never heard of -- but many years back, I read a piece of advice that stuck with me.
It was advice on staying "young at heart." Whatever that means, I hate that phrase… but the advice was interesting and valid anyway. It said, "To stay young at heart, you have to be willing to try anything twice."
Not once. Twice.
I want to talk about how that applies to sex.
The first time I tried anal sex, I hated it. I didn't know what I was doing, the guy didn't know what he was doing, we tried it too fast with no buildup or lube... all with predictable results. It hurt. A lot. I stopped it short after ten seconds. If that long.
And for years, I was convinced that I didn't like anal sex. Anytime anyone suggested it, I'd turn them down flat. And if they asked, "But have you tried it?" I could always shut them down with my reply, "Yes. I've tried it. I didn't like it."
To this day, I'm not sure what made me decide to try again. It may have been that I'd talked with more people who passionately enjoyed it. It may have been that I'd read more about it, had learned what I'd done wrong the first time and how to do it right. It may even have been that my lover let me do him first. (If "let" is the right word. "Enthusiastically proposed" was more like it.) But whatever the reason, I decided to give anal sex a second try.
And the second time, I loved it. Passionately. It quickly became my Number One favorite kind of sex, and it stayed that way for years.
I have similar stories about all kinds of sex. The first time I tried bondage was an embarrassing disaster: we were using tube socks, they were ridiculously easy to escape from, and the whole thing felt awkward and stupid. The first time I got spanked, she spanked way too hard and fast; I gritted my teeth through it for as long as I could before I called my safeword, which was about a minute. You don't want to know what happened the first time I gave a blowjob. The first time someone went down on me; the first time I had sex with another woman; hell, the first time I had sex with a man. Failed experiments, all.
If I hadn't tried these experiments again, I would have had a seriously limited, probably non-existent sex life.
And that would have been a sad, sad thing.
When it comes to sex, first times are, to put it mildly, often not the best indicator of how things are going to turn out. For one thing, first times are often done when we're young, when most of us don't have much information about sex, and aren't that comfortable talking about it, and are kind of just fumbling around in the dark.
Maybe more to the point: We have this idea that sex should be natural and easy... but it isn't. Not good sex, anyway. Good sex takes practice. (Especially the more, shall we say, complicated forms of sex.) The first time doing something sexual is often more about figuring out how to do it than it is about the actual doing. It can take at least one more try -- one time when you're not spending the whole afternoon figuring out what goes where and how hard -- before you can even begin to gauge whether this is something you like, or simply isn't as much fun for you in reality as it is in fantasy.
Now, of course, this is true for a lot of things. Not just sex. The first time I threw a dinner party, the first time I read into a microphone, the first time I got drunk... none of those went well, either. And for many of the same reasons.
But I think the high failure rate of first- time experiences -- and the tendency to treat those failures as a permanent cutting off of options -- may be even higher for sex. We have such great expectations of sex, and the disappointments can feel disproportionately crushing. And because we're brought up to treat sex with fear and contempt, we're more likely to see a unsuccessful first try as proof that it was a bad idea. If you already have a reflex to say "No" to sex, then "I tried that already" can easily become just another reason to revert to that reflex.
And I think that's too bad. I think that when we give up on a sexual variation just because it didn't work the first time, we're cutting ourselves off from a entire erotic world that we might get great pleasure from if we just gave it a second chance.
Now, if you don't care that much about a particular kind of sex -- if you were just trying it from idle curiosity, say, or because it was the favorite thing of someone you were with and now you're not with them anymore -- then I don't think giving up after the first try is a big deal. Life is short, the time we have to spend boffing is even shorter. Too short to try everything in the 500 Things To Do On A Rainy Day playbook -- twice. (I tried getting fisted three or four times, and finally decided that it just wasn't going to work for me… and I was only trying it because it was the '90s and everyone was trying it... and I just didn't care enough to bother.)
But if you've been fantasizing about something for years? Or it hasn't been years, but it's been an intense fantasy for weeks or months and you'd been looking forward to trying it with eager anticipation? If your reaction to an awkward and ineffective first try isn't, "Oh well, no big deal," but "Dammit, dammit, dammit"? Or if it's your partner's very favorite thing… or something they've spent years fantasizing about, something they were really excited about trying?
Then I'd like to encourage you to give it another try.
I'd like to encourage all of us -- myself included, I'm writing this to cheerlead myself as much as anybody -- to remember that first times are often less about getting into the groove, and more about finding your feet. I'd like to encourage all of us to remember that people change, and that just because we didn't like something five or ten years ago doesn't mean we won't like it now. I'd like to encourage all of us to remember all the first times that didn't work out -- not just with sex, but with cooking or dancing or surfing or anything else -- and to remember the second or third or fourth times when everything suddenly fell into place. And I'd like to encourage all of us to think of some sexual experiment from our past that was awkward or messy or embarrassing... and to give it at least one more try.