[Guest Post] “Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage” by Ari Potter

Today’s post is a continuation of my sharing awesome pieces by new voices to sex writing! When I put out my call for pitches I was overwhelmed with the response and the extraordinary quality of so many of the ideas. What I loved about this piece was Ari’s honesty around the trials and tribulations of getting past the problematic ideas around sex that come from a conservative upbringing, and the way she’s told it with a straightforward and humorous tone. Definitely a writer we need to see more of! 

Heads up: this post uses the p-word that is sometimes used to refer to sex workers. It is used in the context of quoting something that was said many years ago, and not in a derogatory way by either the author or myself.

Now, over to Ari…

Amy x

“Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage”

I am in bed with a recent partner. We are taking a pause to hydrate and I’m supposed to be
thinking about how I want to be fucked: this DJ takes requests. Our conversation turns to sex and childhood and, with a delicious situational irony, it transpires that we have both shaken off prudish attitudes conferred by quasi-religious upbringings. My own were inherited from relatively liberal Bengali parents. It’s not that sex was wrong, per se, but the constraints under which it could be enjoyed were strictly limited: within marriage, to one person, of the opposite sex to you, for life.

Of course, they never sat me down to convey this diktat. Indeed, the sex talk that I got from
my parents was clinical and secondhand. When watching a subtitled Les Miserables aged eight or nine, I asked my parents what a ‘prostitute’ was. They told me to look it up, which led me to asking what this ‘sex’ thing was that you could be paid for. Again, they delegated their responsibility to a book, and a Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedia with an illustrated cross section of two torsos missionarily-connected provided me with a scientifically functional but practically useless understanding.

Over the years, no more is said about the matter, but it becomes understood from their general reticence about me hanging out with boys that All Boys Want Is Sex and Sex Outside Of Marriage Is Very Bad. There’s more than a pinch of It’s Especially Bad For Girls! too, but they reassure me that’s not because they think that, but more because everyone else will.

Predictably, they learn through my adolescence that ‘you can read anything but you can’t do anything’ is a recipe for parental disaster. I have decided to ignore much of their advice on anything, considering everything from ‘don’t drink’ to ‘get home by 4pm’ under the same broad category of “too strict and reasonable to ignore”. So when the first peers start copping off with each other, I join them. Yet, unlike with the other rules that I have wholesale dismissed, the one about sex has some sticking power in my mind. Aged 15, it’s not that I think my parents are wrong, it’s that I think they don’t understand that it’s OK for me to sleep with my first boyfriend, because we’re in love and will one day marry. Obviously. (Editor’s note – I laughed so hard at this because I had EXACTLY the same train of thought at nearly the same age. Spoiler: reader, I did not marry him.)

The gradual dismantling of these archaic views on sex were a demonstration of hypocritical insistence on conservatism – constantly making exceptions to exempt your own behaviour while trying to maintain an increasingly unsustainable dogma. When I sleep with my next boyfriend (I’m 17 or thereabouts now), it’s okay… as long as you’re in love. After that it becomes fine if you’re in a relationship. Which is amended to add the exception of ‘and on holiday’ (?!) and then finally disappears entirely by the time I’m 21 and in theory, a fully fledged adult. Oh, with the now hilarious exception of ‘I don’t let people go down on me because I’m holding something back for The One’. (Ingenious spin for ‘I don’t have the patience to let inexperienced partners practise on me!’)

My parents don’t realise how far they have own-goaled. By my mid twenties, armed with the view that safe, consensual sex that doesn’t harm anyone is to be celebrated and recently out of a long term relationship, I am keen to make up for lost time. What becomes clear to me is that my introspection doesn’t match my enthusiasm. While I want to explore my desires, the conservative hang ups from my past leave me too ashamed or bewildered to interrogate what I want. The result is a peculiar mix of willingness to try things that means I go along with others’ kinks without knowing my own.

It leads me to question how much I enjoy sexual experiences on a purely physical level. A
public, group encounter with a masked man at a party was certainly anecdote-worthy, but
was it hot? Being decorated in various constellations of latex and rope makes me smile to
recall, but out of context feels faintly ridiculous. Pegging makes me feel as though I am able to confidently take a lead, but does it turn me on? More importantly: does it matter?

Dan Savage’s sex podcast describes a good lover as someone who’s GGG: good, giving
and game. And, rightly, the model assumes reciprocity. Yet, I find that my conditioning
around sex and shame leaves me unable to be frank with willing partners. I don’t want to
only be a participant in someone else’s fantasies without indulging my own, but they are
buried and when one surfaces I second-guess how much it is mine.

‘So what do you want me to do?’ asks my bedfellow, again. Good question.

Ari Potter is a Bengali-British writer who’s particulary interested in gender, mental health and cultural identity. She’s previously appeared in gal-dem, Orlando and Litro. By day, she works for a health and social care charity, and, separately, has recently launched her own campaign on consent and sex education. 

Six Things I Wish My Parents Had Told Me About Sex

Today’s 30 Days of D/s is all about being parents while being kinky. I’m stumped here, to be honest. I am lifelong childfree by choice. I made this decision at twenty and I’ve never wavered for even a moment.

Scrabble style letters on a desk spelling out "Teach." For a post on what I wish my parents had taught me about sex.

For this one, I nearly wrote a post on why I choose not to be a parent. “My writing career is more important to me and I like freedom to go where I want, sleep until noon and fuck whenever I feel like it” would be a pretty short post, though. (But, um, there you go. That’s my answer.) So instead I thought I’d share with you a few things I wish my parents had told me about sex, in the hopes that it maybe helps some of the kinky parents among my readers.

To be abundantly clear: I have AMAZING parents. I love them to death and they’ve always loved and supported me unconditionally, even when they didn’t agree with my choices. We didn’t really talk much about sex in our house. When I was about fifteen and started going out with boys, I got the “don’t do it until you’re ready and not until you’re 16” talk. Which, to be fair, is solid advice. It’s also tremendously limited.

Here’s some knowledge I wish had been imparted to me when I was growing up. I wish this stuff got taught in sex ed, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As it is, I think parents really need to be the ones to give their kids accurate information.

Girls desire sex just as much as boys

Seriously, why did NO-ONE tell me this? It wasn’t mentioned at home, and all I got at school was “boys want sex, girls should say no”. Not even a second of airtime for “sex is great and it’s totally normal for ANYONE to want it!”

Everyone masturbates

I knew boys masturbated by the time I was 11 or 12. But I had no idea it was a thing girls did too until I read about it in a magazine. (Though, for some reason, it was framed as “a thing girls sometimes do it the shower.”) I have literally never wanked in the shower in my life. I thought I was weird for doing it, then I thought I was weird for doing it in bed.

Most people watch porn, regardless of gender

I found some porn on my boyfriend’s computer when I was 15. I confided in my mum because I was so freaked out. Much respect to her, she basically said “did it involve children or animals? No? Then you’re good, it’s normal, all men do it”. While this is basically true (#notALLmen, obviously) I wish someone had told me that loads of women watch porn and read erotica and that’s normal too. When I discovered internet smut (FictionPress was my gateway drug, check it out, there’s some damn good porn on there if you look for it,) I felt like a freak.

It’s important to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t matter if the first person you have sex with isn’t the love of your life

I justified having sex when I was a teenager by telling myself, well, we’re not married yet but I’m obviously going to marry him! (I have no idea where I got the “wait until marriage” value from, as my parents certainly didn’t preach this and we didn’t go to church). What I was told, though, was to make sure I loved the first person I had sex with. Which is fine advice in so far as it goes, (uh, kind of – doing it casually is fine too as long as it’s freely chosen)! But I took this to mean I had to be absolutely sure he was the one and only person I would ever fuck.

If you’re doing hand-sex and oral sex, you ARE having sex

Can everyone please start teaching teenagers that “sex” is not synonymous with “P in V”? Seriously? I got so hung up on we’re not having SEX until I’m legal (we did it on my 16th birthday, FYI) that I didn’t realise I’d already been having actual, real, honest-to-Goddess sex for over a year.

If you’re having sex, you should expect and demand pleasure

I didn’t realise for ages that sex was a thing people did for mutual pleasure. All the toxic messaging from school had me convinced it was a thing girls put up with in order to make boys stay in relationships with them. I wish I’d been told that sex was as much for my pleasure as his. I wish I’d been told that my pleasure mattered -and that I should expect my lover to care about it as much as he did his own.

What do YOU wish you’d been taught about sex?

Kinky item of the day: feather ticklers! I’m all about sensation play. These can also be used for tickle-torture play if you’re into that.

The image featured in this post was reproduced here under Creative Commons Licensing.