With the modestly titillating essay below that you are, I assume, about to read, Nerve and I begin collaborating on a new monthly column. It's called "Bad Sex," which requires some explanation. These won't be stories about the times the condom broke, or the partners who accidentally drew blood while giving me hickeys, or ejaculations premature and unwanted. There may be elements of that stuff in the column, but they won't be the primary focus. What I'm trying to do here, with as much humor as I can muster, is to make sense of my erotic history, to draw a sexual map of my life. I have a thesis. Most people's sex lives aren't particularly spectacular, or particularly traumatic. Instead, we all slog through petty humiliations and minor triumphs, punctuated by occasional bursts of passion and long periods of dull inactivity. We all blow opportunities and we all screw up perfectly good friendships because of sex. When I say "Bad Sex," that's what I mean. These are tales of bumbling, of discomfort, of emotional disconnection. They're not about the physical mechanics of sex; I'm hardly one to act as an authority in that regard. Instead, I'm trying to make sense, as honestly as possible, of the minor and major episodes that comprise my sad little life of romance. I hope that you see some of yourselves in these stories. If not, then I invite you to point and laugh, or possibly jeer. I'm used to it. — Neal Pollack
In 1993-94, I started hanging out regularly with a certain woman I knew. She and I both really liked watching basketball on television. It was the first Michael Jordan era, the most exciting period in basketball history, if not in the history of all organized sports. If you were in Chicago then, like I was, you'd know what I'm saying; the games carried an undeniable electric charge. When the Bulls played, the city practically throbbed with energy.
I started going over to her apartment the nights of big games. With Jordan at the height of his glory, and the Bulls gunning for their first "Three-peat," an argument could be made for every game as a big one; the drama surrounding the Bulls, while not at the fever pitch of the late-Jordan plus Dennis Rodman years, was almost endless. So I was at her house a lot.
One night, at halftime of a particularly exciting battle with the Knicks, she and I looked at each other. We were sitting on the floor in front of the TV, pretty close together, along with six empty beer bottles. I grabbed her by the shoulders, and pulled her to me, hard. She responded immediately, with an adrenaline rush of ardor. Our tongues desperately flapped together, like freshly caught fish flopping on the dock. Within seconds, I had her pinned to the ground. I was tearing off her clothes. A moment before, we'd been buddies, but we'd immediately devolved into raw, grunting animals.
"Before we go any farther," she said, "I have to tell you something."
I took a second off biting her nipples.
"Okay," I said.
"I have herpes," she said.
"Wow," I said. "That sucks."
"It's in remission right now," she said. "So we should be fine if we use a condom."
I stroked her hair.
If my sex life were a basketball game, I only got to take the game-winning shot occasionally.
"Sure," I said. "I understand."
This may be hard to believe, but I didn't hesitate. I really wanted to fuck her right there. Halftime was running out. So damn the herpes! I plunged in. The sex was rough, fast, but incredibly pleasurable. She shrieked. Though I can only speak for myself for certain, I think we both came. I lay panting on top of her for a few seconds. But we quickly unclenched and put clothes back on. For some reason, we tacitly understood that we shouldn't watch the game naked.
When I got home later that night, I thought, as you might be thinking right now, "What kind of an idiot has casual sex with someone with herpes, whether or not it's in remission?" But it never really occurred to me at the time that I might contract it, condom use or no. I was young enough to believe I wasn't the kind of person who gets a venereal disease; it simply didn't have a place on my schedule. Somehow, I was right. She never had an outbreak the whole time we were hoopin' it up. It's been more than a decade, and I'm still among the uninfected, though I don't encourage the impressionable among you to take similar risks.
I priapically barged ahead, unconcerned. This was a rare experience for me. Getting to have sex had always been such an effort. If I were a player, and my sex life really were a basketball game, I only got to take the game-winning shot occasionally. Even then, I missed it most of the time, and then I got booed, or traded. Let's just say that things often ended badly.
From June through October, we hardly saw each other, much less fucked. Then came another basketball season along with Jordan's first retirement. But if anything, the season-and-a-half without Jordan was more sexually exciting than the championship years. This isn't to say that Toni Kukoc was more erotically stimulating than Michael Jordan — that would be a fool's claim — but the unpredictability of that team, the fact that they might win or that they might screw up royally, seemed much closer to the reality of my romantic life. As the season progressed, the games only got more exciting, as did our sex. At the second quarter buzzer, we were on each other, pulling hair, spanking, cursing, pushing each other against the wall, trying all kinds of experimental positions, trying to be the sexual equivalent of, oh, why not say it? Trying to be like Mike. Damn, it was hot. And it always ended concurrent with halftime.
One night, in a rare meeting outside of her home, she and I went to dinner and then went browsing in a bookstore. I was acting depressed, or sullen, or standoffish, or exhibiting some other stereotypically male behavior. She put her arms around my neck, kissed me gently, without tongue, and said, "What's the matter? Are you okay?"
It was the first sign of real affection we'd ever exchanged. I wasn't pleased; in my mind, we hadn't come together to care about each other, and there it was, staring me in the face. Caring. So even though Jordan had come back by then, I knew that the sex would have to stop. The Bulls lumbered to a 47-35 season and second-round playoff elimination. Our twenty-minute three-time-a-week hump-o-rama made an early exit along with them. But, again, I wasn't anything like Mike. This retirement was permanent.
A few years later, I ran into her best friend at a party.
"Hey!" I said. "Great news! I'm getting married!"
"She certainly won't be glad to hear that," said her friend.
At no moment before then did I realize that she must have actually had romantic feelings for me all along. Maybe, I thought, I should have approached it differently. Maybe I should have been a real lover, and not just a drop-by three-point fuck buddy. Doing it once would have been fine, but I kept it going for a year and a half. I'd seriously wasted her time, and, I guess, toyed with her heart as well. My gut felt hollow. I put on my phoniest smile.
"Please," I said. "Give her my best." n°
©2004 Neal Pollack and Nerve.com