Amy Rose Spiegel is an editor and freelance writ(h)er. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, NME, BuzzFeed, Dazed & Confused, The FADER, and many other publications. She came up in New Jersey and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. The following is excerpted from Action: A Book About Sex published by Grand Central Publishing. © 2016 by Amy Rose Spiegel. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
I do not believe that the quantity of sexual partners a person has, or the frequency with which a person takes different partners, hollows out the sacral nature of sex. I was nineteen the first time I had sex with three different people in a day. This felt adventuresome in the way of a scavenger hunt: What new experiences could I collect in the given timespan? (1. Make out with a Rolling Stones mouth tattoo on a dude’s bicep. Check!) God, it wasn’t even that deliberate. I just happened to find myself in bed accompanied by three different partners, eyes open to eyes closed. (I just happened to find myself having triple-sex by seeking it out and being wild into it. So funny how these totally serendipitous coincidences work!!)
The first was Ahmed, whose bed was puffed, perfectly white, and unfamiliar, like one at a slightly upscale chain hotel—maybe a Hilton Garden Inn? I woke, turned to kiss him, and then rotated him on top of me as he whispered kind things about my body. We had been seeing each other for a few weeks. I felt like he was impermanent—like a person-shaped continental getaway, just as I did the rest of the cabal of people I had been dating and sleeping with following my first real trial of a breakup, with Chris. Ahmed liked to go to raves, which augmented this feeling. So did the fact that he was a breed of babe with an unclassifiable eye color—Pantone would drool over the challenge. His physicality was all-over compact, save for his aquiline nose, which jutted from him in the way that gorgeous natural landmarks invade their surroundings: a mountain on a plain; that one tree in the neighborhood with the knothole you hold weirdly dear. I ran one hand along his chest and trailed the other across his neck as he came. I didn’t, but I would later. Exchanging the courtesies expected of us in this generic-hospitality setting, I affirmed that we’d had a blast, rescued my T-shirt from where I’d flung it into a corner, and dipped into the June air, feeling mad good.
My own bed belonged more in a dorm room than a Hilton, which was appropriate, as it was, in fact, college-housing-issued. Charlie didn’t mind since he shared my age and unfamiliarity with upper-middle bedding—the first time we had sex was in his basement room at his parents’ house in Park Slope, just after he cooked me a steak with a cherry-balsamic reduction, counted the swans that still lived in Prospect Park’s gummy waters before the city’s animal control murked them out two years later, and showed me his handgun. Besides owning an automatic weapon, another of his classic boasts was that his grandfather was a famous American poet, whose writing I found bland in a patriotic O-the-snow-and-water-fowl-of-this-nation way. Outside of noting the seabirds, Charlie hadn’t taken up the family trade, preferring instead to pursue the bifurcated career of model/Golden Gloves boxing champion/preschool teacher. He sang me Johnny Cash songs, described me as “a piece of candy” (I found this somehow charming?), and daydreamed about chartering a helicopter to show off Manhattan to me from where we could see it all at once. Unfortunately, he was also chokingly vain and sometimes used baby talk, which, against all likelihood, did not dissuade me.
When I called Charlie to come over on Three-D-Day, he was at my building in Brooklyn Heights within twenty minutes. I answered the door naked, hoping it’d expedite one more commonality we could enjoy on our other, aka my lumpen single-wide mattress. He peeled off his black henley. He was my height plus half, and—shocker—built like a Golden Gloves boxing champion. I loved looking at his legs, but avoided eye contact with his inflated biceps, since his fanged 40 Licks tattoo took up most of one of them. He smoothed my legs together over my torso and fucked me seriously and hard, like he was training. I came almost immediately, and he followed my lead there, too.
I told him I had a lot to do and would see him later. He left me grinning and perspiring, sitting cross-legged in the buff on my sheets, snorting the open-window perfume of a fresh day. My roommate, Marni, unlocked our bedroom door not three minutes after he had maneuvered it closed with a combat boot behind him. “Hey?” she asked, used to catching me naked a bit later in the evening. “Hi! Oh. Chris just left,” I explained absently, since she knew I was still seeing my ex and I didn’t feel like telenovela-ing my situation to the person with whom I lived. “Oh, cool,” she said vacantly, lighting a joint—I honestly don’t know why I thought she or ANYONE would look at my sex life with consternation, or any opinion at all. I got dressed and opened a book, whiling away some time before “still seeing my ex” was expressed more honestly a few hours later.
The Bylaws of a Very Noble Political Cause: Skank Advocacy
Bicameral system of legislature? Please. It’s the new times, these days. More like bisexual system. Hell Yea.
We’re bringing back the monarchy. Prince is our ruler now, so everyone stop voting. It’s not like that does anything anyway. God
Pick up a paintbrush because 1600 Pennsylvania is about to get purple as fuck
Affordable school lunches for kids
The national bird is a water bed now
Chris picked me up on the sidewalk and we stole into a diner and ordered hamburgers on English muffins (an ancient aphrodisiac, so I have heard, or would like to pretend I have heard). We hated being broken up almost as much as we hated being a couple, so we agreed to reinstate the mock-casual rituals of preliminary dating, when you don’t know someone yet, so are able to make yourself sick gorging on your crush on them. We dutifully visited parks and photographed each other among their blossoms, plus ate at places with homey linoleum-paved tables, like this one, the location of which made it convenient to hop right back up to the room Marni had vacated some hours earlier. Chris, like Ahmed, was wiry and avian-boned, but tall, and the nice thing about going on these impostor first dates with him was that, after, we got to skip the tentative nametag–style HELLO MY BODY IS introductory sex, since we’d already been fucking for two years. All of the excitement, none of the awkwardness, I’d say if I didn’t think those two things were inextricable. I didn’t think of Charlie or Ahmed while I was with Chris, but I was flimsily aware of their participation in the memory this day would become underneath the moment unfolding, in which Chris had his palms on my lower back.
Until now, I have kept all of this a secret. It’s one-eighth because I wanted this private in-joke stashed where I exclusively could enjoy it, but I know the other majority of my brain concealed it because I didn’t want to feel horrible about it—a realization that, upon having it the day after, totally made me feel horrible about it. Up until that point, I had had some, but not much, casual sex, and even though this seemed totally quotidian as it was happening, the network of other people’s potential reactions kept me clammed up about it. I imagined being told, “YOU’RE BRAGGING,” and, “YOU’RE OUT OF CONTROL,” which are two of the main fears I harbor in all areas of my life, by anyone to whom I might have mentioned the triptych of different bedspread patterns I saw on my bed crawl.
I had had a great time and hadn’t hurt anyone—I was, of course of course, as safe as one can be while having sex, and not one of my partners was in love with me to a point that knowledge of my travails would have thrashed inside their brain or heart with any great agitation. Still, I thought that if anyone found out, I was sunk. I knew that nothing about this weighted or negated my ability to be kind to the people I held close, do well in my academic life or at my job, or think critically and write well (or as well as I can, anyway). I just didn’t think the rest of the world would know it, too and so I felt imperiled by the idea of someone misunderstanding me based on that day’s tally marks in my diary. I thought anyone’s finding out would herald a life-sized crisis.
Maybe it will. Writ large, that has been my fear throughout writing this entire book, but I believe in it too much to care. I hadn’t yet figured out back when, but no one who’s living a fulfilling and generous life (same thing) gives a rat’s ass about what other people want to do in bed. They’d rather not hear it, most of the time. It’s so strange—the twin pinnates of this fear that, by relating my sexual autobiographies honestly, I will be seen as boastful while simultaneously also contemptible. Together, this duo is the great oxymoron comprising how plenty of people categorize those who have a lot of sex. The eternal rule of life is that no one sees you as you see yourself unless you make them. Stop forcing how you feel down their throats. If you think that you’re an undesirable and are intent on letting other people know that, their initial impression of you as a potential font of mutual orgasms is compromised, and you’re sunk.
Not to be totally fucking gross and disgusting, but bonobos, our closest living relatives, are constantly on the move from one partner to the next. They also live in a matriarchal society, which makes me think that bonobos may actually have their shit together better than we do across the board. Like, I’m willing to bet I couldn’t use a twig to fish delectable fire ants out of a log at dinnertime! I don’t even know what wine to serve with fire ants!!!
People can fulfill all different sexual wants or quotas for you. I’m queer, so it’s hard for me to not tomcat around like the blond Don Juan I am. Since I think having sex with people of all genders is kind of where the fuck it’s at, it naturally follows that I prefer to do that! I also accept that it shape-shifts: I am currently seeing a heterosexual man with whom I want to be monogamous, and I allow that to be exactly what it is without bucking my die-hard belief in the nobility of Skank Advocacy. I’m absolutely here for the cause even if I’m disinclined, at the moment, to hopscotch along the campaign trail. Not that this was ever my main motivation, or even a motivation, but my monogamous relationship benefits from my past canvassing, too.
That’s because sleeping around had first improved me, the single person. (This blandishment = present among all relationship advice, I know. But, like most things served plain, it’s better for you than it tastes.) The more people you have sex with, the more fluent you are in all kinds of…tongues…when it comes to sexual communication. (Sex, as we know, is nothing if not communication.) You learn a language better by going to the country, as opposed to doing Rosetta Stone in your room. (Wait, I should have called this book the Rosetta Bone. Fuck.) This isn’t to say that you can’t explore yourself ragged with a single partner—just that it broadens and expedites your education.
Having sex or its related acts with many people allows you to become the sovereign of your own sexuality, in part because you get to know your consistencies. What do you like across the board? I found it illuminating when I noticed that, whether I was in the company of a soft-spoken not-so-straight girl named Katie, my second male ex-fiancé, or that guy in the Hüsker Dü shirt that I picked up at Palace Fried, I adored being eaten out while I lay flat on my stomach. The ways each slept with me were specifically their own, but the basic procedurals were uniform—and uniformly rad.
What you’ll learn extends to finessing your sexual restrictions as much as it does your WYLD FREAQ-KINKS: As all people sexual idiosyncrasies that are worth salivating over, many of these also have not always had sex-related experiences that’ve been kind or respectful. (I call them “sex-related” because rape, assault, and other types of sexual violence are not also “violent sex.” The first ordering of those words is the correct one.)
Perhaps you’re uneasy, like I was, that should it somehow be made public, your affiliation with the Skank Party—or is it Party Skank?—will find you disinvited from the socials you had previously caucused for with other like-minded Sex Americans. That talking about it vanishes it. After thinking hard about this, I am no longer worried that the people I want bone will turn up their noses at my contemptible whore’s flesh. That sleeping with people has rendered me all-too-clearly SO repugnant that no one would EVER want to be with me. That bulldozes itself: People wouldn’t want to fuck me because people want to fuck me? Right…I see, Professor Heinrich J. Philosophy. Hey, do another one of your funny shadow puppets!!
Having an abundance of sexual encounters for a certain period of your life doesn’t make you “easy,” since it’s not like you’ve instated some policy of, “YEP, EVERYONE GETS TO SEX ME UP! THE RUMORS ARE TRUE! SO MANY RUMORS, AND THEY’RE ALL VALID!” It doesn’t have to say ANYTHING about how you think of yourself—unless you’d like it to, despite the shadow-puppetry you might encounter to the contrary.
I’m not pressed about being criticized by would-be bed notches. If a hypothetical bedfellow DOES lose interest in or esteem for me because of my Lifestyle-clad lyfestyle choicezzzz, I am grateful that they have given me the cue to follow suit. (The only times, for me, that I can simultaneously agree and disagree with a person are in moments like these. If anything, rather than getting offended by the few instances when this has happened, I kind of relished them for that teleological weirdness.)
My only anxieties about the people concentric to my partners and me: In what ways could my bad behavior make someone else unhappy? Would the mutual acquaintances my partner also dated resent me? Would they go sullen if I walked into a room or, God forbid, SPOKE to their now-steady boy/girlfriend? Would it mean that my family would be disappointed in me, should they happen to google my name and find either the copse of essays I’ve published about RUTTIN’ ’N’ SLUTTIN’ or the photo series of me ass-naked in a heart-shaped Jacuzzi, covered in McDonald’s cheeseburgers? (As you witnessed in an earlier chapter, I happen to love fine art and totally cotton to what venerated critic John Berger says about the depiction of women in artwork in Ways of Seeing: “Men look at women. Women look at themselves covered in fast food and get totally jazzed that they ever not only had, but executed, that clever, if cheesy, idea.”) Or perhaps they would be disappointed by this very book in your hands? Would they, if not disown me, dispatch throat-clearing noises and half-joke-half-dig comments about my “…er [achhhhacchhhhachh]…free spirit” at family potlucks? (Open letter to each and every one of my uncles: I exhort you to just smile and pass the condiments without any wacky wordplay, however hilarious-seeming it may be, when it comes to this work of prose.) Would my friends decide I was that dreaded combo—boastful; shameful—and leave me if I ever let on how much I loved the D (and V)? God, why did everyone have to care so much about my sex life???
Of course, in reality, they don’t. As with Marni, my gloriously indifferent stoner roommate of yore, I have come to find that no one gives a dollar-menu burger about what I do in the buff. It’s funny to me that I could ever think that the people who love me would perma-seal the doors to their hearts because I take part in an activity that many, if not most, adults enjoy. There are few reasons for your own dear people to have to find out about and/or discuss your love life in the first place, so QUIT FREAKING OUT ABOUT IT, if you are.
In the case of a person’s new partner with whom you’re social: Take heart. I had sex with a friend of mine for a summer. His current long-term girlfriend was pretty out on me at first, as I think they started seeing each other right at the tail end of the sexual part of my friendship with him. I was disappointed by that, but I understood. I had been curt to women who made me feel weird about the people I loved before, and so I also knew how they made me feel better, which was treating me like any other regular stiff whom they were happy to be pleasant to and bro down with. They made themselves people to me instead of sex avatars that were undermining my relationship, and so I follow that same method.
As far as your friends are concerned: Why is it that you’re so much more willing to take their version of THE RIGHT THING TO DO seriously than you are your own? You’ve got more self-possession than that, I hope, whether you’re having an orgy with your whole apartment building or zero people at all. If your friends scoff or condescend to you re: your sex life, either stop talking to them about it or stop talking to them full-stop. There’s a reason Blanche is the best Golden Girl (and if you try to contest that a priori fact, there’s no talking to you in the first place).
The only potential difficulty here is based in how “sluttiness” is gendered—there CAN be real-life consequences, and more harrowing ones at that, for women and queer people to a greater degree than for men (although men are not totally exempt). But that doesn’t have to stop anyone. If it did, we’d be missing out on so much.
As I noted earlier, the best sex I’ve ever had was with a (sort of) one-night stand—Brafe, the longhair I plucked off the sidewalk. We had sex in the darkness of his apartment without talking. As I leaned back into the quiet island of his bed and he fucked me with his feet on the floor and his knees on the sheets, the silence and skill of it redefined what sex was, and could be, in my life. It exemplified another funny and perfect element of sex: Once the cosign has been given, consent-wise, talking can feel like you’re interrupting a conversation in which you’re saying what you intended to speak aloud, but get across more cogently with your body. There are some things you can only learn through touching another person. If I weren’t willing to sleep around, I wouldn’t know that.
Being a slut, or whatever your characterization of being a sexual innovator is, is making a commitment to observe, french, and in all ways, touch as much of life as possible. You can do that alone, or you can do it with a cavalcade of exquisitely strange others. However you invent your sex life, you will find that like all kinds of affection, it’s emulous—it expands. The more of other people’s intimate and nuanced approaches to sexuality that you try to understand, accept, and welcome, the more of that generosity you can then pass on to the rest of the world with respect, bravery, extraordinarily messed-up pillow hair. Most of all: with love. Do with that what you will.