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The Frisky Feminist

A Learning Experience

Q: Is it bad to have friends with benefits? I am new to sex as of a year or so ago and I’ve only had sex with 2 people many times. I am only 18, but the two people I’ve had sex with were/are (I’m having sex with someone presently) not my boyfriends. Is it bad if I’m just trying to learn, and should the guy always be the one to teach the girl?

A: You’ve touched on a lot of different things with your question, so we’re going to try to break it down and address one thing at a time.

It’s interesting – your question is fairly short, but you asked “is it bad?” two separate times over the course of it. We would say that there tend to be very few objective good and bad things about sex (with exceptions being things like, “consent is good!”), but rather things that are good and bad for the individual, or that work well or don’t work well for the individual (and also for the couple or the involved group of people). For instance, future Mr. Paperispatient and I both really enjoy being slapped during certain kinds of sex, so we’d describe slapping as good or good for us, but if someone were to just haul off and slap their partner with no warning and no prior discussion, and the receiving person was not interested in being slapped at all, we’d feel pretty comfortable calling that bad. The distinction we’re making here might be subtle, but in a social context in which people (and especially women) are frequently shamed for their sexual desires and practices and made to feel bad for a whole host of sex-related things, we think it’s an important one.

So, friends with benefits can be great, as long as it’s what both people want and they’re clear with each other about their expectations for the arrangement. Most of my sexual experiences have been with FWBs, and it was awesome; I wasn’t interested in having a relationship for most of college, so I got to have sexy fun on a regular basis and in a way that I personally found more satisfying than one-time hookups but without having to dedicate time and energy to a romantic relationship. So if what you want is to have sex with somebody you know and are friendly with but not dating, and that’s what they want too, I don’t see anything bad about that at all.

It can be important, though, to reflect a bit about why you want what you want. (And that goes for anything – friends with benefits, casual hookups, committed relationships, and so on.) You mentioned that you’re trying to learn – now, this may just be me projecting eighteen-year-old paperispatient onto you, but stick with me for a second. When I first went to college, I felt extremely insecure about my lack of sexual experience. Besides a few extremely awkward makeout sessions with a boy who later made himself a tinfoil hat that looked like a dick and wore it to study hall every day, I didn’t do anything sexual in high school (though not for lack of horniness!). So when I first got to college, I felt like I was “behind” everybody else and needed to catch up. I eventually realized that it’s much more complex than that and that sex isn’t a game of Chutes and Ladders where I could get left behind everyone else.

So, what that ramble is meant to say is, if you’re having sex because you feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do or you’re worried about being more inexperienced than other people, it might be good to reflect on those feelings and why you feel the way you do. But if you’re simply having sex because you’re curious and it’s fun and you’re horny and you like discovering new things, I say have at it.

Now, you asked, “Should the guy always be the one to teach the girl?” Our answer to that would be no, for two reasons: 1. “always” seems like an awfully long time, and 2. “should” is kind of like “good” and “bad” in that how sex “should” be or what a partner “should” do is going to differ widely from person to person.

That’s not to say that it’s a problem for you to feel like you’re learning things from the guys you’re having sex with (not at all), but it might be less them teaching you and more both of you learning together. You can fuck one person or you can fuck a hundred, and any time you have a new partner, it’s probably going to be a learning experience for you (and for them too). It likely won’t feel like you’re starting completely from scratch with every new partner, since you’ll have some past experiences to draw from and tricks to try, but what gets you a “OH GOD YES MORE!” from one person might get you a “OH GOD STOP IT WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT” from another. And the kinds of things you learn can vary too; it might be something small, like, “I should not try to give head after smoking that much weed,” or it might be something big, like “Dominating my partner is one of the most intimate and satisfying experiences I can have.”

You can learn things about your partner and you can learn things about yourself – and with the latter in particular, it’s not really about somebody teaching you so much as it is about the discovery process that can take place between people during sex; we prefer to think about it that way because that seems more mutual than the idea of there being a teacher and a student. (Unless, you know, you like some good role playing now and then.) It can be easy to feel like someone with more experience than you just plain knows more than you and thus must have things to teach you, but that’s often not really the case. (It’s also not always the case that having more experience means that you’re better at sex than someone who has less experience. Personally, I’ve had some really fantastic sex with people who had never done those things before and extremely mediocre sex with people who’d had far more partners than I had and had been having sex for longer than I had.)

In short, as future Mr. put it, there’s nothing wrong with having sex “just” to learn, any more than there’s anything wrong with taking a part-time job that you don’t plan on turning into a career. Either way, you’re gaining new knowledge and skills (communication, an understanding of your body, etc.) that you can apply to other situations further down the road, and that’s pretty unlikely to be a bad thing.

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Keep the great ques­tions com­ing! (Hee.) Got a ques­tion to ask, sub­ject you’d like us to dis­cuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com or send us an anony­mous mes­sage via the spiffy new Ask Us! fea­ture here.

By paperispatient

I recently earned my MA in women’s studies. I enjoy reading, working out, playing Scrabble, watching cheesy movies, and cooking yummy vegetarian meals with my partner and Frisky Feminist co-author, Future Mr. paperispatient.

7 replies on “A Learning Experience”

I’m almost never comfortable judging people’s private indoor lives in political terms.  If you’re a hetero woman who just started having sex, you’re obviously going to be learning from men.  That is in no way a statement about this young woman’s sense of self or claims to sexual autonomy and authority.

Something that rarely gets talked about in the slut-shaming/FWB discourse is the value in not having gone through something alone.  I’ve only ever had sex with FWBs and one of my sexual …regrets isn’t the right word because it’s not as if it was my choice, but I feel like I missed out on having the emotional support other girls get when they have sex with someone they’re dating.  I feel like modern feminism isn’t okay with women who think that it’s important to be in a relationship at some point where sex is concerned.

I had some great FWB situations in my past. My problem with a couple (a few. several.) was that we didn’t always clearly establish our deal and then my feelings got hurt when they wanted to actually date someone instead of just hook up with me and I realized, “I’m a dateable person and you are implying that I’m only good for boning and not for like, taking to dinner!” So that is a potential drawback if you’re not a good talker-outer/you’re not clear on your feelings for someone. So. Communicate. That’s usually the answer to things.

Also, I agree with PiP about thinking about what’s good for you. I didn’t have any sex for a couple of years in college (no PIV sex I mean–I engaged in other kinds of sexual activity) because I wasn’t comfortable with casual sex in that way at that time, even though I’d had sex previously. Just because you’re not “a virgin” doesn’t mean you suddenly have no reason to ever say no to sex or that you have to bone everyone you make out with. You can decide every day how you feel about your sex life and your sexuality! You get to be in charge! No “shoulds” about it except for making sure the other participants are also being in charge of themselves in healthy and happy ways.

I am young, too, but I wanted to share how I was feeling with you, I think it might help(:
I, too, have had FWB in my lifetime. The thing that got me every time I had one, was I would really like the guy/girl I was FWB with and they would know it but I wouldn’t want them with anyone else but me. This ended up being a problem because I would get jealous or upset when I saw the other with someone else (I.E. I kept thinking either what’s so good about her/him that I can’t do? Or I would feel cheated on, so every person the FWB would hang out with, I would think what are they doing? Are they also FWB?) So you really need to share how you feel to the person(s) involved so these feelings don’t happen so much.

Awesome answer. Very Heather Corinna style (total compliment).

Also, I’d like to reiterate that the number of sexual partners a person has had doesn’t mean all that much about how ‘good at sex’ they’ll be: how communicative, how responsive, how interested and engaged in you and what you’re doing together, as well as skilful. I’d be inclined to say that people who’ve had a lot of once-off sexual experience, but never spent much time building a sexual (not necessarily emotional) relationship with at least one person, would be less skilful because they haven’t put in the time to get to know another person’s sexual world. I am aware that’s a generalisation, though…

Thank you! That made me squeal a bit. :)

It’s interesting, I’d definitely say that I developed the skills that help you be “good at sex” after having a couple longer-term friends with benefits relationships as opposed to one-time hookups, but when I think about the partners I’ve had that I’d call good at sex and the ones with whom I did not enjoy myself, there isn’t really any pattern. The first guy I had PIV sex with had had a few longish relationships and didn’t display any of those qualities (communicativeness, engagement, investment in my pleasure), while one of the partners I’d rank quite highly hadn’t done much more than make out with a few other girls when we started hooking up but was very open and very invested in making sure I enjoyed myself from the very beginning. So I wonder how much of it is the kind of experiences/relationships people have had and how much has to do with the person’s personality (I’d imagine that, like everything, varies from person to person).

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