When it comes to sex and sexuality, I was a very, very, very late bloomer.
Raised in a Pentecostal Christian home where sex and sexuality were rarely discussed beyond, "No sex until you are married," as a teen I assumed I would not have sex until my early- to mid-twenties, after I had finished undergrad.
I assumed any boys/men I met would share my religious beliefs about sex. I assumed my values would never change. And I assumed my husband and I would know how to sexually please one another, in spite of having no sexual experience before our wedding night (which, of course, would be a night of unbridled passion and ecstasy).
Sacrificing a little sexual pleasure in my teens and early twenties would be a small price to pay to have a church-sanctioned outlet for my sex drive before I was past 25, 30 at the latest. Besides, I had heard so many stories about the pain and bleeding of first intercourse, and the mere thought of being an unwed mother (does anyone even use that term anymore?) filled me with so much shame that I was afraid to have sex. (Because, you know, good girls don’t need contraceptives; getting contraceptives was planning to sin, after all. But that’s a commentary for another essay.)
I was in no way prepared for reality: unhappily single in my mid-thirties, haunted by memories of mild sexual activity (mutual masturbation shrouded in guilt and shame) with my two or three past boyfriends, and agnostic. To add insult to injury, at that time in my life I didn't have any viable possibilities for sexual partners anywhere on my radar, unless I was willing to have one-night stands or be some married man's "other woman." (I wasn't willing.)
But I still had a sex drive, and I was thoroughly tired of being ashamed of it, trying to ignore it, or being in agony over it.
Now that I was free of the stigma against sex and sexuality that had been indoctrinated in me from my religious past, I was determined to learn about, accept, and take good care of my sexuality.
I made up my mind that if I ever had another committed relationship, I would not hold my sexuality hostage to a wedding ring (which, to be frank, would make me more likely to rush into an incompatible union, because I would have been blinded by the thought of all of the sex I could FINALLY have). I would have sex for love, marriage or no marriage. But before that could happen, I had to be comfortable with vaginal entry. Previous exploration with my fingers had proven uncomfortable, to say the least. I thought perhaps surgical intervention would be necessary and mustered up the courage to mention the possibility of a hymenectomy to an OB/GYN I went to for the first time after relocating to NYC. He waved off my concerns and swiftly opened me wide with a speculum to prove a hymenectomy would not be necessary.
Ouch, and no. I never went back to his office.
It became clear to me it was time to consult a REAL expert on sex and sexuality, if I was going to get anywhere. On the recommendation of some friends, I gathered up my courage and visited Babeland in SoHo, where I sought out a friendly, female staff member. I explained my hymen was intact, I wanted to get comfortable with entry, I hadn't had any pleasure out of inserting my fingers, and I worried using a dildo was out of the question.
To my relief, she listened without laughing and then asked me a very simple question, "What kind of lube are you using?"
"Lube?" I said, giving her a blank stare of utter incomprehension.
She took my arm and gently steered me to the lube display, where she explained the difference between such products as Astroglide and Sylk, and how they would provide a cleaner, more pleasurable experience than something like K-Y. I had heard of lube, but had never thought about using it, because my body naturally provided enough lubrication, right? Well, not necessarily, and even if my body did, what would be the harm in using the slickness of lube to add to the pleasurable sensations?
She opened a whole new world to me with that conversation.