Her eyes are now rolled all the way around and staring intently inward into some void where I, who sent them, can’t follow. — Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

I never considered an orgasm to be something I deserved, though I loved them dearly. I remember my first, accidentally discovered while making out with a high school boyfriend. The delirious bright burst seemed impossibly incongruent with his muscle-bound baseball player insecurity. No, this wave of euphoria definitely came from me. So I quietly said good night and went home to see if I could rediscover it alone. I could.

I assume every woman remembers her first orgasm, but mine shook me to the core. Two thoughts in quick succession: This is what sex is about! and How soon can I have that again? Close on the heels of those, a third: How could God possibly not want me to have that? My strict religious upbringing taught me that sex was something evil and dangerous, reserved only for man and wife within the confines of marriage. My orgasm was none of those things. If I could get to it without sex… was it still a sin? At 16, the guilt of this new practice weighed more heavily on my pious heart than any of my other sins so far–more than stealing candy from the movie theater I worked at, more than occasionally copying a friend’s chapter outline for AP US History, and more than whatever second base fumbling my boyfriend accomplished.

Sex was the final, forbidden frontier, and I was not to have it–or think about it, really–until I was safely married to a good Christian boy. His qualities aside from religion didn’t matter much, only the assumption of a bright and shiny matching virginity pledge. My parents were adamant about this plan. But whatever I was able to achieve with finger and fantasy did not fit anywhere into this timeline, so it stayed mine. My orgasm, myself. But I practiced in secret; a hidden convert. I was devout, and I never considered a whole congregation existed alongside me, silent but faithful.

Several years later, after a series of torturous, hobbled college relationships, I finally decided the sex and marriage package deal wasn’t going to work for me. After watching my brother get divorced from his high school sweetheart the year before, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get married. Ever. But I wanted to expand, to have a partner and grow with someone in sexual intimacy, and that simply wasn’t possible while respecting this ancient wedding principle. I believed in God, but still felt baffled he’d begrudge me this. The more I thought about it, the more I doubted he really would. I decided I would have sex the next time I fell in love–marriage and my parent’s version of Christianity be damned. I’d just moved to New York City from an achingly conservative college campus, and my values were subsequently shifting. I liked feeling them slowly sliding, slippery, settling into something new, something that was my own.

When I did fall in love, I was terrified to tell him about my still-intact virginity. It tended to be the least sexy subject of conversation in my past, one that led more than a handful of interested parties to speedily depart my life. This boy was shocked, yes, but answered with swift assurance: Ok, that will just be one more thing we can share. In that moment, I never loved anyone more. I mirrored him, abandoning all hesitation. On my 25th birthday I let him fuck me for the first time, and assumed, almost out of habit, that this was promise enough of forever. I felt a little guilt, but not much. I wasn’t upset I’d waited, and I definitely wasn’t crushed I decided to stop. What I felt most was relief; it was over. For better or worse, I assumed this would be my sex life from now on. Thankfully, I was wrong. Early gentleness eventually turned hard and wicked, which made for much better sex and a far worse relationship. Making him my first did not make him my person. It was hard for me to let go of the commitment, but when I finally did, I was left with a new quandary: How to have sex now?

Fucking In Brooklyn Vibrator Erased Sexual Guilt

The answer, of course, was however I wanted. But what I wanted, after a quarter century of denying myself, was a lot of regular, good sex that made me come, and I wanted it on my own terms. This is a surprisingly hard thing to find. I was lustful and bold at first, but that quickly dissipated, and a few experiments left me so disillusioned that I returned to practicing abstinence. After all, I was used to it. This time, I wasn’t saving myself for marriage, I was saving myself from bad sex. The intimacy I’d built around my orgasm did not easily accommodate careless hookups, and it was easier and less painful or embarrassing to continue my practice alone than bring a stranger into the holy ritual. Except, I had a much clearer idea of what I was really missing now, and I was finally talking to my peers about sex. My sexual horizons had finally been broadened, and even if I wasn’t into casual sex, or dating anyone at all, my friends were insistent that I attend to my own needs.

One in particular wasn’t satisfied with my setup; I operated au natural and had never even tried to use a vibrator. Somehow, I still balked at the suggestion like a chaste teen. Initially I was too shy to buy one for myself, later too cheap, and finally, too sad; getting a vibrator felt like a symbol of my failed relationship, or worse, my failed quest for purity. If the guilt of my upbringing was rescinding, a device designed to make me come still seemed like an investment in sin. I don’t know the correct age to first use a vibrator, but like losing my virginity at 25, trying one at 27 felt too old, like I’d already missed my chance. Then, divine intervention: with a graceful but firm hand, my friend gifted me one that same week. This was an act of love that rivals those listed in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians.

The first time I used technology to come was a much sweeter, delirious moment than losing my virginity had been. The experience decentered even my own fantasies of pleasing a partner, thrusting my desire front and center. Small, purple and silky, the We-Vibe touch has eight different settings, and though I have used all of them, I have a favorite. Reliably coming to the same setting every night that first week made me think of all the women besides me who are turned on by the same channel, that same rhythm. This was still only for me, but using the device connected me to something totally unexpected: Other women. What was it we shared that made this pulse send us over the edge? I could no longer be ashamed of my desire for an orgasm when so many of them found setting 6 elating, too. My practice was still private, solitary, but I no longer felt alone.

Deeply religious people often cast themselves as forsaken, personally afflicted martyrs who toil uniquely under their sinful desires. Once you’ve been through some shit, though, you wake up and realize that everyone is just as thirsty, horny and lonely as you are. After I’d fallen in love, and out of it, I realized that my sex life belonged only to me. I didn’t need the input of a church, religion, or even a man to decide what I wanted. According to the myth of fragile masculinity, this is what terrifies men about vibrators. But I don’t think I could be with someone who wasn’t happy for the freedom this tool gave me. My vibrator taught me that I wasn’t special, and I wasn’t sinful, I was just like any other woman. I had a need and I was meeting it for myself. There was no more denying the intense, necessary role this kind of release had on my mental and physical health. And, there was no denying the spiritual community it had surprisingly provided for me, as I considered all the other women who were tapped into the same cycle of pleasure, unashamed to put a price on their ecstasy and pay it without a hint of guilt.

It was technology, not love that let me justify this basic instinct to myself and finally banish all guilt from my mind. The urge to fuck, to come, to touch and lick, how are these urges really any different from my desire to learn or read or write? They all come from me, why separate my body and my mind into different realms? Why elevate one and debase the other? I became determined to take as much pleasure in my orgasms as I did my thoughts, my writing or my work. We may praise the lust of the mind and shame the lust of the body, but really, the two are married. This is a union I want to honor more than any certificate a church or state might issue me in the future. Further, it is so often art itself–music, writing, film–that fuels our carnal urges, and much of what appeals to me about art is the easy, visceral intimacy it facilitates; it provides the chance to express beyond logic and reason. Art is the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, and reaching my orgasm became an art I practiced. Like a poem or a painting, this could be interpreted as an act of worship.

To honor my mind and spirit I must also honor my body, this is the guiding value I have adopted for my own. My body isn’t just mine, it’s beholden to a chain of historical impulses that helped propel this entire species forward. I love my Neanderthal bits, they feel truer than the intellectual ones, or at least as valuable, because I don’t have to work for them. They lap up naturally and dissipate at their own pace, languid, selfish or sharp, the way writing does when it gushes forth without warning from somewhere deep.

In the intervening months, instead of surreptitiously sneaking my climax, I kept this vibrator–a tool with clear purpose–in plain sight. One night, an unexpected guest in my bed exclaimed his support that I had one. Sheepishly, I hid it away in the cupboard, unneeded I thought, but adored him for this unsolicited validation. In the end, his encouragement was blissful but his performance left much to be desired. So did his heart. It was late, but I texted my friend the disappointing news. She offered her condolences–and a suggestion. After he left, I came alone, multiple times. I finally felt like I deserved it.

Illustration by Ashley Lukashevsky

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