My sex education came long after the required middle-school course where my science teacher showed us photographs of sexually transmitted diseases and a video of a woman giving birth, which he rewound and replayed enough times to convince anyone that contraception was a good idea. It came after elementary school, when we sat in the library and learned that “sex” meant that the penis went inside the vagina; that was back when I thought my urethra and vagina were one and the same, and my only experience with penises was when Kevin told us to look under the table in second grade, and his pants were down. Maybe it started when my family was watching “Monty Python” in the living room, and a cute blonde girl invites one of the characters to stay over, “so we can all have oral sex!”
“What’s oral sex?” I asked my mom, and she said, “It’s when you have sex using your mouth,” which didn’t really clear anything up for me, to be honest.
My schools didn’t preach abstinence and tried their best to prepare us all for the world of sex and love, but my real sex education didn’t start until boarding school. In 10th grade I turned up at Andover on scholarship wearing a choker necklace and ripped denim shorts. There were no parents, and the guys all seemed, by the crisp folds of their shorts and the way they boldly introduced themselves to me and my new roommate, already older.
They placed me into a dorm with the girls who would soon become my closest friends. At first, I was the jaded, experienced one after a summer of pool parties with home friends I knew I’d be leaving; I told my dormmates what it felt like to get high, what oral sex was. But before long the others surpassed me. Boys from their classes would follow them on Instagram or get their friends to set them up. When somebody came back to the dorm at sign-in at 10 p.m. with red lips and messy hair, we’d pile into her room and order a pizza, then listen to a detailed play-by-play.
“We went back to his room, then started kissing pretty much straight away,” Holly said one night that first year, combing out her blonde hair with her fingers. “He got my clothes off pretty quickly, but we were still standing up. I opened my eyes, and I realized his were still open and kind of looking behind me, so I turned around and saw that we were kissing in front of a mirror. He was watching himself kiss me.” She paused. “It was kinda hot.” We laughed at this perversion, then stopped laughing when she described how when they were lying down he flipped her on her stomach and propped her pelvis up on pillows, massaging her lower back. “I haven’t even had sex yet, and he was trying to put it in the butt!” Later that week, Holly burst into my room at sign-in with tears in her eyes. “He said we were over,” she said. “He said he wanted a relationship, but that I didn’t. Which isn’t true! It doesn’t even make sense! And why am I crying! I didn’t even like him!”
I came back to the dorm one night to a text from Sophie ordering me to her and Emma’s room. They and Holly were sitting around a half-eaten pizza. “So, um, I swiped my v-card,” Sophie said with a mouthful. I stood in the doorway with my dance bag on my shoulder going, what? what? She was dating a guy the year above on the lacrosse team who grew a mustache every November and, at the start of the year, saw my Sophie and her older sister running out onto the field for soccer practice and said to his teammates, “I call the younger one.”
Later, we walked Sophie down to CVS and waited in the bathroom for her to take a pregnancy test, which came back negative; then we went to the health center where she spoke in hypotheticals about her need for birth control because, in Massachusetts, it’s illegal for people under 16 to consent to sex. She told us scary and wonderful things about sex: different positions she liked, how sweaty it got, what his face looked like when he came. We found it funny but also deadly serious.
Holly lost it next, then Emma. That summer I was 16, and I almost did it, too, with a golden-eyed 18-year-old over a summer abroad in Madrid. We spent the four weeks flirting, then kissed at a party, where he told me I was unlike any other girl he’d met before; it was heady and fluttery and picture-perfect. There was a final goodbye party the next night, and I decided that would be it; I shaved and perfumed and looked at myself in the mirror thinking, You won’t be a virgin anymore, but he didn’t show. That, too, was part of my education.
That fall, the senior girls ordered vibrators. My friends and I found this terribly awkward to talk about. We sat eating Oreos from the sleeve while the seniors said, “Women need pleasure, too! It’s not awkward! We’re proud to pleasure ourselves!” The next year, when my friends were the proctors, we gathered the underclassmen into our room.
“Sex isn’t really a big deal,” Holly said. “I mean, it is, and it isn’t. Losing your virginity doesn’t change anything about you.”
“Virginity is a construct,” I piped in.
“Right,” Holly continued. “It’s not about a moment of becoming someone else. It’s about entering a time in your life that you start to engage with other people sexually. It should be fun.”
In the dorm, we had to fend for ourselves; we learned from each other’s experiences; we talked frankly and graphically about sex, love, pleasure and consent. I kissed some boys here and there, but was no longer the drowsy rebel I’d been before Andover; by graduation, I was yearning to start my “real life,” whatever that would prove to mean.
After graduation, Fay and I travelled through Europe together, and I ended up finally having sex in Vienna with a guy from Texas who I met in a bar. If there was one thing I learned from the movies, it was to dramatically say, Wait — I’m a virgin right before the crucial moment; he passed the test, saying, Okay — are you sure? We don’t have to. So we did it, and it kind of hurt but not too badly. Afterwards, we slow-danced in his room, then I called an Uber while he was in the bathroom. Are you okay? he asked when he opened the door and saw me pulling my dress back on. And I was okay — I was perfect. I left without giving him my number or my last name.
Before boarding school, I never could’ve pictured it happening like this; all the movies and the middle school teachers and my mom told me I should wait for someone special, that it would hurt unbearably, that I would bleed, that it wouldn’t be fun, that afterward, I’d no longer be pure. And yes, it meant something. It meant that I’d made a choice, I’d been assertive about what I wanted, and I’d had a good time. On the Uber back to the hostel, I messaged the group chat with my dorm friends: I swiped my v-card.
Sara Luzuriaga | email@example.com .