Quantify the effects of the experiment.
Virgins have always held a lot of sexual cachet. For centuries, certain sects of Islam have promised their followers seventy-two wallflowers as a heavenly reward. But over the past few years, virginity’s sexual appeal has been magnified. Britney Spears wore her virginity — actual or otherwise — like the world’s skankiest prom dress, inspiring the whole world to ruminate on whether she was/is or wasn’t/isn’t. Whether you’re an Islamic fundamentalist, an avid reader of Us Weekly, or both, there’s a lot of stock placed in virginity. So I have to admit that the idea of being the first notch on Catherine’s bedpost was appealing.
Unlike most human beings, I’m unable to foresee how something might make me feel until I’ve actually done it. This means two things: First, I’m an excellent choice to write this column. The flipside is that I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Luckily, what I lack in introspection I more than make up for with a cast of friends who are eager to dole out advice. Here are two phone conversations I had with two guy friends:
Friend: “What did you just say?”
Me: “She’s a virgin.”
Friend: “Duuuude! You can’t go there, man.”
Me: “I can’t?”
Friend: “Not unless you want to be her boyfriend.”
Me: “She’s really cool.”
Friend: “You could end up with a crazy person on your hands.”
Me: “Can’t I just ask her if she thinks she might go crazy first?”
Friend: "Yeah, good luck with that."
Friend: “Really? And she’s hot? That’s awesome!”
Me: “Yeah? You think I should?”
Friend: “Totally. I just can’t believe she’d want to do it with you.”
Friend: “Does she know what you do?”
Me: “Yes and well . . . she didn’t tell me that she wants to do it with me, she just . . .told me.”
Friend: “Maybe she wants to get it out of the way before she gets to an age where it might seem strange. That’s really the only way I can rationalize it.”
So I was back to square one and had a bruised ego to boot. Catherine and I met up again for drinks two nights later. Afterward, we decided to go back to her place and watch a euphemistic movie. Her place was cluttered, the movie forgettable. She smoked a bowl and offered me some. I declined. Soon, we were fooling around on the couch in our underwear as her cat looked on, molting vindictively.
We started kissing again, and I relieved Catherine of her bra.
“I have condoms,” she said.
“Oh, do you now?” I replied in a comedy accent that was confounding even to me.”Look,” I said, trying to get some perspective on the situation.” Are you sure that you want to do this?”
She looked thoughtful, then nodded as if to say”fuck it.”
“Why me?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, taking a deep breath.”Most guys are jerks, but you seem really nice. And, uh, I’m almost twenty-four.”
I looked around the room and back at Catherine. I tried to think of a nice way to voice the concerns that had been implanted by my friends. I couldn’t.”You’re not going to go crazy, are you?” I asked her.
“I think I’ll manage,” she replied.”Besides, haven’t you decided to move back to New York?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I’ve just kind of wondered why you haven’t done it yet.”
“Well, tell me about your first time,” she said, folding her arms. I explained the mentally scarring situation with Sticky Vicki. “Exactly!” she laughed. “That’s what I wanted to avoid in high school. Some drunken fuck or something I’d want to forget. Back then I was holding out for a really amazing person. But there are very few amazing people in high school, and I was a total nerd.”
“Me too!” I said, glad that we were finding common ground.
“Then college was a lot of hard work, and I never really jibed with anyone. And L.A. can be a difficult place to meet people.” She looked down at my underpants and playfully snapped the waistband with her finger. I looked around the room. The movie was building up to its Hollywood ending.
“Tonight?” I asked, incredulous.
“Why not?” she parried.
Well, I’m house-sitting for a friend all week. They have a really cool place and a hot tub. You could come over, and I could make dinner.”
A couple I knew was letting me stay in their amazing house in the Hollywood Hills while they were away in Aruba.”Okay,” she sighed, sounding about seventy-five percent less enthused than I was.
It was Catherine’s cherry, but I was the one making a big deal about it. I asked some female friends what I should do to make the experience worth remembering. The answers I received made me think about getting new friends. “Candles, massage oil and soft music” seriously. Other nuggets of wisdom included, “Kiss her face a lot while you do it,” “Take it slow” and “Don’t do anything gross.”
I ended up compiling some special playlists on my iPod. The “funny” list included “Like a Virgin,” “Do You Remember the First Time” and “Hollywood Nights.” The “serious list” was mostly downbeat French 1960’s pop.
Catherine was due at eight. I started boiling water for linguini I knew I’d have no appetite to eat, then called a friend who had been “the first” for a few girls in his time.
“You gotta take it slow, man,” he offered. “It’s gonna be real snug, and it might hurt.”
” Me or her?”
” Maybe both of you.”
” Oh no! Do you think there might be a mess?”
“There could be.”
I know this won’t endear me to women, but I have to be honest. I don’t like blood. I’m squeamish enough when I see it in movies, but being the person who makes it come out of someone is way outside of my comfort zone. In addition to the pressure I was putting on myself to make the evening magical — as magical as sex with the likes of me could ever be — I now worried about the pain I could cause Catherine and the havoc I might wreak on my host’s linens. By the time Catherine turned up, I was so nervous you’d think I was about to be penetrated for the first time.
I opened a dusty bottle of red wine I found in my host’s cupboard, and after dinner — which turned out not as well as I’d hoped but still perfectly edible — we went upstairs to finish it off on the balcony, which has a beautiful view of L.A. This probably all sounds a bit more disco than it was. To clarify: we were having a kind of normal, low-key conversation. It just so happened that we were in this fantastic setting, getting drunk on what was probably wildly expensive wine. I motioned to the hot tub. Catherine said that she didn’t really feel like it, but if I wanted to get in, she would hang out and talk. That kind of defeated the purpose. I was annoyed.
In retrospect, I realize that I was trying to enact the lyrics to Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex U Up." We ended up looking at the city lights below us and kissing. After a while, we went inside. I took a swig of wine to douse the butterflies. By the looks of things, I was more nervous than Catherine. Clumsily, we yanked each other’s clothes off. I tried to go down on her, but she kept yanking me up to kiss her. Oral sex is a little porno in the context of a first time. I grabbed one of the rubbers I had strategically placed in the end-table drawer and rolled it on.
And there I was, poised to enter and nervous as all hell. All the self-doubt engendered from my years as the muskrat and the metal-head made me wonder if I really ought to be the one doing this. I’ve never seriously thought about getting a tattoo, getting married or even signing a lease, because I’ve never really done anything that can’t instantly be undone. Yet this was something that was absolutely irreversible.
However, Catherine had had years to ruminate upon this moment and seemed to be dealing with it fine. After all, she was as responsible as I for making this happen, if not more so. I repeated this a few times in my head to make me feel better. She was actually growing impatient with me and used her legs like pincers to pull me into her.
As soon as I was at the gates, Catherine scrunched her eyes up tight, furrowed her brow, made a small O-shape with her mouth and exhaled long and hard enough to fill an airbed. I was terrified by the thought of hurting her. “Are you okay?” I asked, and she nodded yes with her eyes still closed, draping her arms around my neck and pulling my head down into the crook of hers. I eased in as slowly as possible and lo, it was good. I mean really good. Super-tight, almost to the point of being uncomfortable. In fact, it was so tight that all of the prep work I had put into the evening — the wine, the meal, the locale, the transcontinental phone consultations, the extra ten minutes in the shower — was in danger of becoming a long run for an embarrassingly small jump. But just before the impending moment, Catherine wrapped me up tight in her slender arms and legs, forcing absolute stillness. The moment gradually passed.
After a stoic two minutes or so she released me from her grip and very, very slowly we rocked back and forth. Other than saying “slower” a couple of times, Catherine didn’t talk, just made little moany noises that had me wondering whether it was painful or not. I hesitantly looked down to see if there was blood but there wasn’t. Phew! Every couple of minutes the tension in her face would soften, the muscles inside her relaxed slightly, and she widened her legs slightly, ushering me in further. She kissed me and smiled. I was relieved that things were going well. We didn’t really move out of the missionary position, but I figured that tonight was not about acrobatics. After a little while, her brow began to furrow again and she said that she wanted to stop. No problem. We were done. Neither of us came, but that wasn’t unsatisfying.
We spooned each other silently. This is the part I hadn’t prepared for. My mind raced for an appropriate speech, but it’s hard when you know that “appropriate” is traditionally not your strong suit. “Wanna get ice cream?” she said with a giggle. I thought about it longer than I usually would have. “Fuck yeah!” I said and jumped into my pants.
We drove into Hollywood, where we immediately saw someone rear-end another car right next to ours. Thank God. It gave us something to talk about other than the evening’s big event. We came back to the house, opened another bottle of wine and watched the first half of a movie before falling asleep. When I woke up, Catherine was already in the shower. She had an appointment with a fairly renowned curator. I made some coffee, which we drank on the deck, watching the haze try to pull itself out of the city below.
“How do you feel?” I asked her, recalling how I felt the morning after my V-card was stamped. Colors seemed brighter and food tasted better as I bathed in the realization that I wasn’t going to die a virgin, which had seemed a real possibility at the time.
“Um . . . a little cracked out,” she replied. It wasn’t the answer I was looking for. “I think the wine and ice cream wasn’t the best combination.” We sat there on the deck, and I had almost fallen asleep again when Catherine woke me with a kiss on the forehead. “I think I’m going to have to make a move,” she said, looking at her watch.
” I’ll walk you down,” I said. In the palm-flanked street, everything was bleached white in the mid-morning sunlight.
Catherine opened her car door and grinned back at me. “Thanks for last night. I had a really fun time.” For a second, I thought that calling it “fun” didn’t really do justice to the majesty of the event. We kissed for a while as a parade of chai-swigging Los Angelenos dressed in sweatpants and baseball caps trekked around us. “See you later,” she said, as she closed her car door and wound her way down the street and out of the hills.
On the face of it, I went into this wanting to make somebody’s first time good or at the very least “fun”. But I think that I went a ways to making it more dramatic than it needed to be. It’s like when somebody throws you a surprise birthday party when all you wanted to do was get drunk with your friends and forget about being a year closer to thirty. I thought I’d feel guilty afterward — as if I was coercing her into something she didn’t want to do — but it really was just as much her decision. In addition, she was willing to do it in the midst of a Blockbuster movie, a cloud of weed smoke and her bad-tempered, alopecic cat who was taking a zesty crap not three yards away. Making a big song and dance about it was all my doing. I started to think about exactly why that was. I guess the occasion just brought out the Dawson in me.
From my perspective, however, it turned out well. Great, in fact. I think I might have even corrected some of my own trauma. I certainly know that being someone’s first was a lot more memorable than my own loss of innocence.
Oh, and Catherine didn’t go crazy. In fact, we hung out a few times after. In fact, I probably called her more than she called me. We even hooked up a few times after that. It was all very laid-back and in the moment. She was just as much fun, but I started to get the notion that I was just an arbitrary guy who came along at the right moment. I guess that’s what I was supposed to be.