I vividly remember the first time a naked man cried on me. It was a Thursday night in college, and I had a study date with this dude I'd met in class, a tallish 20-year-old who was funny in a quiet sort of way. Our study dates had been a regular ongoing thing, and as the quarter progressed, the amount of time we spent actually studying declined. Instead, we swapped stories and told jokes. He told me about his strict, conservative Christian upbringing and how he came to identify as an agnostic feminist, while I recounted the time my grandfather tried to teach me how to use a lead-filled blackjack to split a man's head open like a watermelon. Then we'd grope each other for a bit and call it a night.
The school quarter was nearing an end, and on this particular Thursday night, my roommate was in the quad giving out free hugs for peace, so over mugs of mint tea I decided I would have sex with him.
The prelude was great as always—we could've taught a course on deep tongue play and simultaneous high-fiving—and then he stopped, looked deep into my eyes, and asked, "Are we really going to do this?"
At the time, I figured it was a thoughtful question meant to put me, a younger woman, at ease. We'd talked for hours about family, God, politics, and how to get red wine vomit stains out of student-housing carpet, but we'd never talked about sex before.
"Duh," I said, stroking his stubble-roughened cheek.
So we did. Afterward, as we lay there spooning like two pink cocktail shrimp on my jersey-knit bedsheets, I felt them: the tears. On the back of my neck. I turned over to see my study buddy curled up in my twin bed, silently weeping like the sweet baby Jesus.
Oh fuck, I thought.
"I'm sorry," he said, sniffling, "it's not you."
What every girl wants to hear. Sigh.
We got dressed, and over fresh mugs of tea he told me what he should've mentioned before we had sex—he was a virgin. The kind who took a purity pledge when his testicles dropped and had always assumed he'd keep his dick clean until he could dip it into the equally chaste vessel of his blushing bride on their wedding night (my words, not his). But then his faith eroded, all his friends were doing It, and with girls like me wagging their vaginas in his face (again, my words), he thought, What the hell? Let's see what all the fuss is about.
Turns out, despite denouncing his church, a big part of him was still wrapped up in that pledge. He felt a lot of guilt over having premarital sex—so much guilt that he felt the need to discuss the issue with his mentor, a relatively hip priest at the Jesuit university we attended, who also happened to be teaching the course we were both enrolled in. Because that's just my kind of luck.
"I didn't name names," my study buddy told me later, over coffee, because he wanted to hold hands and process what we had done together. "I just needed to talk it over with someone. Maybe you should, too."
The thing was, I didn't feel the urge to talk it over with anyone. I had nothing to process. Aside from his weeping and summoning priests, there was no issue. I was fine. In fact, my gut reaction was to write a five-page essay to our professor detailing all the ways in which our weepy sex was not my fault.
But it partially was. To me, what had transpired was a casual exchange between friends. Because he'd laughed at my jokes and called himself a feminist, I naively assumed we were on the same page. But we didn't talk about sex before actually having sex, and as anyone who isn't an idiot will tell you, a big part of having a safe, healthy, satisfying sex life is constant communication. When you're younger and inexperienced, it can sound more fun and spontaneous to just claw at someone's pants until they come and damn the consequences. It's easy to overlook the sometimes boring technical questions that make sex safe and enjoyable for both partners, questions like: Are we moving too fast? What does consent mean to you? How many drinks have you had? Have you been tested recently? What's your preferred method of contraception? What kind of sex are you into? What are your likes/dislikes? Do you really want to be having sex with me right now? We could just go back to groping each other and drinking tea. Really. I'm good with that.
Discussing these questions with your partners won't guarantee that you have great sex all the time—nothing short of a vibrator strapped to a boat motor can do that. (It's also not foolproof against assholes, liars, rapists, and other people who feel most powerful when taking advantage of others.) But it can help ensure that you're having the sex you signed up for, and not waking up to feel your partner penetrating you without your knowledge/consent while you sleep, or finding yourself with a sexually transmitted infection because your partner assumed the condom you handed him was more of a suggestion, or having sex you don't really remember and regret due to a night of heavy drinking. (My friends and I experienced all of these situations in college.) In other words, it can cut down on some of the traumatic sexual encounters that arise when people start making assumptions about you, your health, and your body.
It should also help keep the bed weeping to a minimum, unless you're into that sort of thing.