Gregory Jaquet tells how he thought he was supposed to “ride” his first sexual partner. And how he was wrong.
I was late. I made love for the first time at 17. I know.
Making love with a woman had been in my conversations with fellow boys for years by the time it actually happened. It was the topic for jokes, dreams, battles, fantastic stories from dominant males in my classroom about their victories on girls’ battlefields and, yes, it was an item of competition between all boys I knew.
It frightened me to death.
Having sex is often a boy’s biggest fear. But the powerful cultural patriarchy makes us express these fears in unhealthy ways.
Just Do It
Before I had sex for the first time, I had learned that having sex with a girl would be a boy’s most important life achievement. And the sexual oppression of girls was included in this constructed masculinity-sexuality tale. These are some of the lessons I received from the adult men around me. And because they were my teachers in this arena, their advice was all I had when it came to embarking upon my sexual life:
– Be tough in bed. Love being tough in bed.
– Women are targets. Joke about their probable sexual activity/skills.
– Women are weak. Note: This is fodder for jokes.
– Acceptable: the commercial use of women’s bodies (prostitution, objectification, etc).
– Acceptable, Cool: sighing loudly for all to hear at a woman’s naked body.
– Encouraged: Man’s undeniable need for many sexual partners.
Locker room stories from my childhood were a sad demonstration of what hegemonic masculinity had made of us. I know, the other boys were probably just as afraid as I was. Those who were shouting their victories were often lying or telling their brother’s stories (which may have been lies as well). But I didn’t know any of this at that time.
I was intrigued but terrified of my first sexual experience. But patriarchy made me unable to talk about that fear. Instead, fathers, uncles and friends urging me on — verbally and non-verbally — to prove my manhood made me participate in a competition I did not subscribe to. I was attracted to girls, sure. But as I look back through the years I can’t help but imagine how hard it must be for a boy wondering about his sexual preferences to face this pre-defined mission.
A Cowboy is a Man with Guts and a Horse
I am not familiar with the intimate life of animal herders. And I should apologize to those well-behaving cowboys out there. But they were, in my imagination, the men all men should be. The ideal. They illustrated the real manhood as it was taught to me.
In my teenager’s imagination, being “a cowboy in bed” was the goal that was seared into my mind.
I was more or less figuring that my first assaults (that’s how it was defined, yes – sharing was not in the lexical field of those talks) on a girl would look like something between a bull ride and a mustang running.
I can still feel that fear, being 17 and considering that kissing a girl may drive me to my first rodeo in no time. The whole mess of it deeply scared me.
There was another goal in my sexual education: somehow managing to have girls or fellows (or anyone) tell the world how thick, long, hard and — most of all — enduring I was in bed. That was the Graal!
Beside the necessity to be a cowboy, I was also supposed to be a medieval knight. My penis was a spade, supposed to be erected and ready to face the enemy in any intimate battlefield.
A girl’s essential purpose during several months of my adolescence was their ability to suck my penis. I didn’t know how that could feel or if I even wanted to put it in someone’s mouth but the environment around me understood this action to be part of their role.
All this cultural “heritage” made me feel an enormous pressure to have my first sexual experience be some kind of award-winning sexual performance. I personally pretended to have had successful sexual intercourse for months long before I actually had. I told my friends. Even girls. I constructed stories about the orgasms I gave to several partners that did not exist. To avoid exclusion. To stay part of that group of dominant males diving into adult life who were convinced that sexual life was a cowboy thing: kill first, think afterwards.
Physically Disabled, Emotionally Reinforced
This violent conception of what sex was about lasted until a special moment.
That was after I had made love ten times or so. I realized I was not only very late compared to my mates, but also probably sexually disabled. I quickly discovered that I was physically unable to perform like an elite cowboy.
My spade did not want to stay long and hard through “the battle.” I wasn’t able to drive a sexual assault on my girlfriend, the way a boy should. I was sad. So sad and disappointed. I felt like a failure.
And like I needed a serious medical procedure so that I could perform according to the “normal” standards that everybody talked about. I realized I was wrong about all of this, thanks to her understanding my concern, thanks to how she had the words and the silences to hear my doubts and my fears. Through her I learned that having sex was actually something to be shared.
Eventually I discovered that sexual intercourse was meant to be an act of love. A magical moment where two people are close enough to engage in a curious, sensual act where nothing’s defined, where surprises may occur and where you are allowed to feel emotions. It was not about combat, the penis as a weapon against a female’s genitals. It was about love.
I wonder now what kind of violent behavior boys who aren’t given the chance to move forward might engage in? Either on their partner or to themselves. How do boys manage the frustrating expectations — to be a dynamo, macho man in bed — from the first time and every time thereafter? Does this fantasy about cowboys lead to gender violence? I’m not sure, but I certainly see links.
What I’ve learned
We’re getting older, having kids. And I think it essential that we make our boys stop thinking that girls are our Guadalcanal, a flag we are to fight, conquer, dominate and master through violent behaviors. If we can address this earlier in their development we may be able to avoid contributing to the construction of the harmful social pressures they’ll undoubtedly feel regarding their sexual experiences/performances.
We could try to teach boys what we wish we would have known back in the day: That making love is an exchange where men are not in a more controlling position than women, where men are not supposed to dominate anybody, nor to choose alone how, when, how long, or how wild sexual intercourse must be.
The idea of sex as a battle, a competition or unilateral action, may cause severe disturbances in an adult’s sexual life. Depression and suicides of emotionally fragile kids and/or gay boys and sexual violence may be caused by the common idea that the only way to live is through a man-managed sexuality towards women. We must change this, and the only way to do so is to reflect back to where we were and share the words we desperately needed to hear.