Please note that this letter is to a younger version of myself. At 13, I knew nothing of polyamory, kink, or a host of other things, and the person I was then definitely wasn’t ready for that knowledge. If this is a little simplistic, that’s why. Also, because there was so much I didn’t understand back then, I had a hard time narrowing down the things I wish I’d known, so this is a longer post.
Dear Leah in 2002,
Look, I’m you from the future, and I’m going to give you some information that I dearly wish I’d had when I was your age. I can prove I’m you: I know about the drawings, the stories, and the black and silver handle. (Clean that thing with antibacterial washing-up liquid, dry it, and keep it in a sealed plastic bag between uses, by the way. I can’t believe you don’t do that already. Also, under the bed is a terrible hiding spot. Try a drawer.)
First: wanting sex, thinking about sex, or even having sex before you’re married doesn’t make you a bad person. God will love you regardless, and not with the caveat “even though she really likes sex.” Sex, even premarital sex, is not a sin. Sex is good, and loving your body is good, and masturbating is a positive, happy, 100% normal experience that you have absolutely no good reason to be ashamed of. Yes, it’s private, but that doesn’t make it shameful. Your body is beautiful and exploring it is your right. It’s your body. Learn its secrets. Cherish the time you have for yourself. You will always live in this body, and it will always belong to you. If you get married someday, your body will still be yours, to share with your spouse in love when you want to. It is never anyone else’s job to tell you what you can and cannot, or must and must not, do sexually with your own body.
No one will think anything’s weird about you not having a hymen the first time you have sex if you break it beforehand. Lots of girls either don’t have a hymen or break it one way or another before sex. The hymen is a tiny inconvenience, not a special seal your husband has to break open to prove that you love him enough. Everything people have told you about the importance staying a virgin is stupid, wrong, and dangerous. Your worth does not decrease the more sex you have. Your desirableness does not decrease the more sex you have. Anyone who can’t handle you having had sex with someone else before him has problems on so many levels I can’t really explain it to 13-year-old you. Just understand that anyone who demands your virginity isn’t making a genuinely caring connection with you. When you really, truly believe that you are ready to have sex, don’t be held back by the fear that it will damage you in some way.
Right now you’re struggling with the idea of homosexuality. You don’t understand why it’s considered wrong when it doesn’t hurt anyone, but you also want to be good with God and you have always been told that he’s not cool with it. I remember your struggle. Your curiosity about other girls’ bodies is making it harder, isn’t it? Well, this may be a spoiler, but I wish I had known when I was you that being with someone of the same sex is not a sin. It’s not wrong. It doesn’t damage the soul. It doesn’t hurt you psychologically if your partner has the same sort of privates. The people who say these things are very, very wrong.
There are many good, happy, wonderful people leading meaningful lives that include sex or romance with someone of the same sex or gender as themselves. And it’s really, truly, okay. It doesn’t make them sinful or bad. The problem is, there are way, way more straight people than people who openly share love or sex with someone of the same gender, to lots of people things that are different are scary and dangerous and bad. That’s why people are so against it. Fortunately, by the time 2013 rolls around, almost everyone you know, even the people you know from the church you go to back in your time, has realised that there’s nothing wrong with not being straight. Even your mum eventually comes around! Don’t feel bad about your interest in other girls. It’s normal to be curious, and wherever that curiosity takes you will be okay.
Sex isn’t something a someone else does to you. It’s a collaboration. You and your partners will learn each others’ bodies, each other’s desires, and you will love learning how to move and different fun things you can do for your enjoyment and the enjoyment of your partners. It is better for you and for your partners when you are a proactive participant in sex. Don’t be so afraid to do it wrong that you wait for the other person to decide what will happen. If you don’t know what you want, you can still be assertive about needing some exploration.
Ask lots of questions while you’re doing it about what your partner likes – it’s a playful, fun way to learn about them, and that way you don’t have to be afraid you’re doing anything badly. If things are moving too fast, you do have the ability to slow things down, and a good sex partner will listen to you. If your partner doesn’t listen to your needs, stop what’s happening. You will have many other opportunities to have better sex, and it’s not worth your time if the sex isn’t going to be a good collaboration between both of you.
Sex is a skill that you will learn. Each experience will give you knowledge to make the next time even better. By the time you’re 24, you will have had so many great sexual experiences that even your awesome first time won’t even rank in the top 10.
I know you want to wait until you are in love and hopefully at least engaged or maybe married before you have sex. That’s a valid choice, and you should expect respect for it. But remember that it is a choice. It’s not the only option, not even for good girls. If you find out in a few years that you don’t want to wait, it will not change your essential goodness. Sex itself can never tarnish you.
Here’s what could hurt you, though: not sex without marriage or even sex without commitment, but sex without caring, communication, or compatibility. I want you never to have sex unless it’s with someone you are just happy to be around, whom you know is really happy to be around you. Choose people who care about you and whom you care about, with whom you have things in common. You should talk to someone for at least five hours of real conversation, not including the time you talk about how much you like each other, before you have sex with them. That’s a guideline – sometimes the connection takes longer or shorter. But you should care about them, and they should care about you, if you want the experience to be good. Your needs and feelings should be really important to your partners, and you should give their needs and feelings the same priority. If you’re considering sex with someone you don’t really care about or who doesn’t really care about you, wait. It won’t be the experience that you deserve.
Don’t be too timid to talk about what you want or need. Never tell someone the lie that you think they want to hear when it comes to sex, because while it might patch over an awkward moment, in the long run it will screw things up.
As embarrassing as it might feel, when you want to have sex with someone for the first time, talk about it with them ahead of time. It can actually be a lot of fun to talk about things you want to do and how you want your experience with them to go.
During these conversations, talk about how you are going to protect yourselves and each other. There are lots of different types of condoms and other barriers that actually make the experience better – there are flavoured condoms and flavoured latex sheets (called a dental dam) to go over your pussy when someone wants to lick it, and there are condoms with bumps or ridges or extra goo on to make insertion feel better. If you can’t find a dental dam, you can take scissors to a flavoured condom and that will work. They WILL sell you condoms at the shop you’ve seen them at. No one will look at you funny or ask for ID. No one will laugh. To mature grownups, it’s just another product everybody buys, like razors or cold medicine.
Ask a lot of questions about sex. It will be easier the more questions you ask. Look things up – there are search engines in your time, right? That’s best when you’re looking for definitions, though. If you want to learn other stuff, it’s better to ask real people, because the information on the Internet is dodgy and honestly, I remember you not being very good at telling what’s legit and what’s not on there. (That’s another skill you’ll learn and use a LOT as an adult.)
Every person has different likes and dislikes, too, by the way. You’ve got this assumption that guys come in two or three different varieties with sets of interests that are pretty much the same. It’s not true. Every person you meet is going to have their own weird assortment of likes and dislikes, and with practice you’ll learn how to ask about them and even have fun learning about all the different things there are to enjoy.
Make sure that both you and your partner want the same thing. Right now you think unrequited love is terribly tragic and romantic, and I guess there’s not much you can do to rush through that phase, but do try, because let me tell you, the other side is a million times better. You don’t have to be in love with someone to care about them or want to have sex with them. You don’t have to want to spend the rest of your life with someone to care about them or want to have sex with them. What really matters is that you care about each other and are clear on what each of you wants from the relationship. Sometimes really good friends truly can have sex as part of their really good friendship, and when they can, it’s better than okay.
Don’t be so worried about missing out that you take bad chances as well as good ones. If you and the person you want to be with have totally different ideas of what you want to have happen, you can wait. You will have many, many other chances, I promise you.
When you have good sex, it will feel really good… really, really good. And as you’re lying there feeling really good, your brain is going to automatically flood itself with chemicals to make you feel even better. Even if the person you’re lying next to is a good friend you don’t have romantic feelings for, whom you enjoy sharing sex with but know you wouldn’t want to marry or even date, you are going to feel a surge of something a lot like being in love. It’s okay. Ride that feeling out, and cherish the experience. But recognise it for what it is: a lovely sexual afterglow. If it’s real love, you’ll know about it when you’re not in that afterglow. In that moment, don’t blurt anything out. Tell the person how amazing they are, kiss them, hold them, smile at them, but wait until the feeling is less new to talk about it and what the two of you want to do about it.
Your body is beautiful, and it is yours. Learn to love it, take care of it, and be happy in it, even when it doesn’t look the way you wish it would. Never think that looking like the girls in the magazines is the only way to be beautiful or desirable, because darling, someday you will meet people who think your body type is the most beautiful they’ve ever seen. You never have to be ashamed of looking different to some of the girls you think are beautiful. Seriously, it is not just your grandmother who thinks you’re pretty. Your energy and the way you talk to people and interact with them count for a lot, and on top of that there are many, many people who really like the way you look and even prefer your appearance over the ones you so wish to have. And if you meet someone with different preferences, that’s okay. It’s their preferences, and that’s about them, not you. You are still beautiful and wonderful, even if some other person happens to prefer a different flavour of beautiful and wonderful.
There’s so much more I wish I could tell you, but you’re going to figure out most of it just fine on your own. There will be some bumps and bruises as you learn, just like rollerblading, but you’ll end up happy, loving, loved, and sexually fulfilled, with the agency to make your own choices and stick to them. I can’t think of anything better to ask for, sexually speaking.
Leah from 2013
P.S.: A few years from now a very pretty person with a nice bum and long straight hair will recommend a book about something you’re unsure about. Do not lose the copy this person gives you, or you’ll have to buy a new one when you are ready to read it. And yes, you will really want to read it someday.