As the intrepid author of Nerve's Bad Sex column for more than a year, Neal Pollack presented us with an epic and diverse theatre of sexual disasters. Unfortunately, we learned that he can't be held responsible for all the carnal mishaps in the Nerve demographic. So we decided to open the column up to the general public. Each month, a different writer will bring us a tale of sex that was bad, either at the time or in retrospect. Conversely, we hope the column will be good, and good for you. First up: Porochista Khakpour recounts her year of "outercourse" at liberal-arts college.
You Are Different. So Are We. This was the informal motto of Sarah Lawrence College, where I got a B.A. in nothing (we didn't have majors) after getting no grades (written evaluations only) based on no tests (just essays). They pied-pipered the spectrum of fringe high schoolers with that motto. You were hazed into their differentness before you ever got there.
My freshman dorm was an English Tudor cottage known as "The Virgin Dorms." You're supposed to be able to hear the high-pitched guffaw of generations of spoiled rich girls here. At SLC, virginity was charming, silly, aesthetically irresistible. It was '50s-cat's-eye-glasses, white gloves and mink stoles. It was totally adorable as long as it was totally not real.
This was a school renowned for its impromptu orgies and sex soirees, where the 70/30 ratio of women to men meant that lesbianism was just another "whatever" decision. In all my years there, I encountered not a single virgin female. Everybody was pansexual and/or nymphomaniacal and/or "queer."
I, however, was quite heterosexual. This was a problem, since homosexuality and its various incarnations were the law of the land. If you had the audacity — or backward taste — to be a Straight Gal, you were supposed to avoid Straight Guys, since they were obvious agents of the Conservative White Wonder Bread Patriarchy. But they got plenty of action anyway. They were in demand in a black-market sort of way.
Errol seemed pretty standard for a SLC Straight Guy: Mayflower ancestry, read only obscure French novels, glass half-to-completely empty, vegan except for sushi, fluent in French and Italian, abstract experimental/early punk/Euro lounge only, turtlenecks, no athletics. I first spotted him as the only other wallflower at the school's annual Coming-Out Dance. We made intense eye contact before he was dragged away by a mohawked blonde. After bumping into each other on the train to Manhattan, I invited him to tea in my Virgin Dorm the next day.
As expected, a few hours into our spiked Earl Greys, our clothes came off and I was offering Errol a dish of condoms as if they were candy. Not as expected, he froze. He just stared at the condoms with a mixture of no comprendo and yikes, like they were exotic currency.
"Surely, dude, you don't think we're, like, not going to use protection?" I finally said, in my best Sarah-Lawrence-ese. We all had cultivated voices to channel early Audrey Hepburn with a touch of Riot Grrrl.
"No need," he said with rehearsed confidence.
I put the condoms away, and we continued with a long session of all acts that end in the word "job." Afterward, I asked him what the hell had happened.
"Oh, it's just that," he paused as if thinking just how to put it, "you know, I don't do," pausing again, this time with a devilish grin as if he were about to utter something sexy, "It."
Errol was not celibate, not asexual, not gay. He was just not into It. Why? I had to know. He gave me a long lecture about how biological sex was anti-progress, that it was embarrassing to imagine all simpleton earthlings doing It for the sake of It, that it was commercial,
Sexual intercourse was for fucking babymakers! No sex was the new sex!
pedestrian, perfunctory. "I'll leave it to the one day I really find it imperative to," he said, pausing to wrinkle his nose in deep disgust, "baby-make."
I found myself nodding, mesmerized. Sexual intercourse was for fucking babymakers! It was 1996 in the avant-garde-lite academy of Sarah Lawrence — of course this reasoning would appeal to any grunge-era-matriculated feminist. This was what "experimenting" in college was all about. No sex was the new sex!
Errol and I formed a cult of sexual pioneers he the leader, I the lone disciple. Errol became an evangelist of outercourse, constantly scheming new ways and new places to come: hands, mouth, sheets, toys, the odd piece of fruit, basically anything other than vaginal walls. Every session was a triumphant fist-in-the-air moment for the movement.
News of our anti-activities spread. The Straight Girls and Lesbians worshipped Errol for having the ingenuity to keep penetration out of the equation. Straight Guys and Lesbians adored me for being so open-minded and acquiescent, like a magician's lovely assistant who volunteers to get cut up in a coffin over and over.
We kept the campus rumor mill fed with our loud orgasms in the library video rooms, the artillery of sex toys poking out of our bags, our German porn videos tucked under our armpits in place of theory textbooks. Errol and I would sometimes perform demonstrations of preferred foreplay — for instance, eyeball-licking. Highly erogenous! Errol would proclaim, breaking it down:
Step One: Tilt receiver's head and hold.
Two: Breathe on their face. This is sexy.
Three: Have them open eyes wide — no blinking.
Four: Since that's often not possible, force their eyelids open.
Five: Collect saliva around own tongue, not to soak but to lube.
Six: Withdraw tongue in firm form. No Gene Simmons knife-tongue, but not the soggy-nugget dip, either — a solid, resolute tongue ready for some eyeball. Very sexy.
Seven: Descend lightly upon middle of eyeball. Go forward lightly, then go back in two strokes.
I’d groan ecstatically, mmmmm incredible, hon, before a breathless crowd, and I’d actually feel something like turned on. Well, charged, at least, like static-ridden-laundry. For a semester, we were the future.
And when the immediate future snuck up on us summer break we accepted our separation calmly. Marathon
phone-sextravaganza! Errol offered optimistically. No contact, no problem!
No problem, except when you leave college and go back to the world of normal people — people with jobs and bills and debt who live in suburban wastelands, drive bad American cars, and are related to you — you are forced to come to terms with who you are. You Are Not Different. It's ugly. You remind yourself no rich Daddy paid your way there: you're the sole Virgin Dormee on scholarship. Your parents actually eat meat and potatoes — no macrobiotic options at this cafeteria. They've never heard of croquet or Kierkegaard. All the differences come crashing down, and there you are: ponytailed, in jean shorts and Adidas, eating fries with your primary-school best friend in the local McDonald's parking lot, realizing that no, sexual intercourse is just what your people do.
But summer was not forever. Sophomore year began, and I was back in old form — deconstructed dress shirts, metallic lipstick, gartered fishnets — and picking at cafeteria sashimi with golden chopsticks while chain-smoking Nat Sherman Fantasias. Errol greeted me by making a cluster of artistically arranged hickeys on my neck. He had made some exciting purchases, he wanted me to know: a shiny anal vibrator, not to mention hermaphrodite porn from Prague. It was all back to abnormal!
But the thing was, I felt suddenly rusty about our old ways. The rationale was foggier than before. Our audience was gone. There was a whole new flock of Virgin Dormees for the campus to corrupt. What use were we now?
Mutual Friend groaned. "I think you should know your man is not some genius sex artist. He's a virgin."
Still, it never occurred to me to doubt Errol until a mutual friend approached me and asked me last year's question: why I thought Errol would do everything but It anyway.
I was still a cult member. I beamed dumbly like a TomKat-era Katie Holmes, far too indoctrinated in my partner's
ways for self-consciousness or shame. "That vaginal-intercourse shit is so our parents' generation, so old school, so mainstream, you know?"
Mutual Friend groaned, having heard our shtick too much by now. "I think you should know that your man is not some genius sex artist. He's a virgin."
I laughed. Oh, how I laughed! Too loud, too long, for what felt like hours, days even, weeks, that laughter of delirious, deluded women. The idea drove me nuts. It was so painfully obvious, and yet I had never examined the fine print beneath Errol's preferences. Virginity was one thing when tagged stylishly to a girl's dorm room, but to a guy — the horror! Adult males were just not virgins!
I had to deprogram myself, make a definitive break from Errol. But how? The answer was standing in front of me: cheat on him. With Mutual Friend, who was incredibly average by real-world standards and therefore exotic at SLC.
Once in MF's room, I took the reins and arranged him on top of me. We proceeded to engage in very biologically programmed, traditional sexual intercourse. Like any first sexual encounter, it was slightly off — too fast, too soft, too dry, too quiet, then too loud — but the awkwardness was a beautiful thing to me. In all my time with Errol, I had forgotten that I loved Intercourse the Ritual.
Soon, I became that secretly coveted thing, The Girlfriend. We did it once a day. I got infections. I considered oral contraceptives. Upon the first condom rupture, I skipped to the nurse's office and expressed pregnancy panic like I was collecting a Girl Scout badge. When I downed the morning-after pill with a swig of beer, it was like being home again. I was with a man who did It and had done It before, an It never exceeding anything more than pure, simple, the-way-your-grandparents-did-it, mediocre Intercoursing!
Meanwhile, Errol disappeared. Onward to some new disciple, I'm sure. I always thought of him as my virgin, but I suppose I could never prove it. In an anthropology class that year, I learn that only in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa can tribal leaders determine male virginity through a simple physical exam. Not only can they detect a "male hymen," they can tell by how you pee (projectile stream = virgin; messy spray = done It) and by the shade of your knees versus your legs.
In Errol's case, it's a shame eyeballs don't tell tales.
©2005 Porochista Khakpour and Nerve.com