Illustration by Kelly

You know that thing when two of your friends get together and they’re madly in love and they’re having sex for the first time, or it feels for them like they’re having sex for the first time, and they’re all over each other and it’s PDA overload and you and the rest of your circle are going, “God, it’s like they think they invented sex”?

Well, actually, they did. And so can you.

You may think that there’s a “right” way to have sex—judging from some of the questions we get for Ask a Grown and Just Wondering, you do, and you’re worried that everyone but you knows what that is—and I can’t say I blame you. If you get most of your ideas about sex from the media, popular culture, and porn, you’ve been taught that there are a handful of scripts that your getting down is supposed to follow—because, hey, this is how everyone does it.

Well, hell no. There is no such thing as “doing it right,” because there is no “right” way to do something that is, after all, a private and recreational activity. Were you nervous the first time you ate ice cream that you might do it wrong?

My point is that there are no formulas. There is no recipe. Really great sex is a new invention every time you have it. You make it all up as you go along.

Every sex partner you will ever have is different. Every body has different sensitive spots (not just the obvious ones). It’s fun finding them on your own—using your fingers, your lips, your tongue, your hair. Everyone reacts to pleasure differently—with different sounds, words, movements, facial expressions. Everyone has different moods, and different ways they feel like having sex during those moods (not to mention different reasons for not wanting to have sex on any given day).

Don’t try to follow anyone else’s narrative. Create your own. All you need is a sense of curiosity and wonder—and a basic understanding of the fundamental workings of your own and your partners’ bodies, which is why sex education is so important. (And no, porn doesn’t count here. Porn is entertainment, not education. If you use it as a source for real information, you will end up with a skewed idea of what sex is, how people’s bodies actually work, and what is actually pleasurable to people you’re touching. Not to mention that you’ll know nothing about protecting yourself from infections, diseases, and unwanted pregnancy. My rant is almost over, but here is a good source for sex information, in case your school is not doing its job of educating you.) Once you have a good grasp of the basics, you can improvise: What would happen if you did…this? Or tried…that? Every great discovery comes from experimentation—putting different things together and seeing what happens. Adding and subtracting ingredients, and gauging how they react to one another. Sex is no different.

Here are some ways to experiment with your sex life, to make it your very own.

Reinvent your bodies.
It’s amazing how sexy a random body part that you’ve never even thought about can be when you’re stroking and admiring it on a loved one. And you may discover new erotic potential in previously unconsidered parts of your own body when someone else focuses on them. It could be an anklebone, a fingertip, an elbow… There’s a great movie by the French director Eric Rohmer called Claire’s Knee, where the protagonist becomes fixated on that part of the title character’s body. In Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient Count Almásy is doing what we all do when we’re crushed out—obsessing about her to a friend—and he says, “What is the name of that hollow at the base of a woman’s neck? At the front. Here. What is it, does it have an official name?” I myself am super into men’s forearms. On the subject of which—can we just take a moment to gaze at this Etsy listing? OMG.

Um—where were we? Making up sex as you go along. Making new maps of each other’s bodies. Your body is a wonderland. So is your partner’s. Explore, discover, feel your way around–literally. Find all the hidden treasures.

Create a new language.
Because we so rarely get to talk frankly about sex in public—especially us girls and women, and especially in the more sexually repressed parts of the world—the language of sex is pushed to the margins, to things like porn and dumb song lyrics and dumber books about how to “pick up women.” So it’s up to you to make up your own language, which is a really fun burden to carry. You and your sex partner get to invent a vocabulary with which to express desire, appreciation, ecstasy, and love. In fact, let’s start with an exercise for all of you reading this: I have been trying for years to come up with a word for giving head to a woman that’s as good as blow job. Cunnilingus, pussy-eating, and muff-diving are just too technical and/or gross and/or unwieldy to catch on. We need a term that’s as succinct and catchy as blow job—because the easier and more fun it is to talk about something, the more people will talk about it, and the more normal it will be to expect it from your partners.

(A tip for those of you just starting out on your sex life and feeling a little shy: every request you make will be much better received when preceded by “You turn me on so much, and you’ll turn me on even more if you….” This is where inventing your own language is useful—give whatever it is you want your partner to do some fabulous-sounding term. And when they say, “What’s that?” you say, “Let me show you…”)

Make up games.
What do you really love doing with your partner? Are there things you never thought you’d do, but now you really want to try them with her/him? Your dynamic is going to be different with every person you’re with, and different with a single person from one romp to another—and your desires, like everything else about you, will shift and change constantly over the course of your life. Sex is a playground, and changing it up is a big part of the fun. I had this friend a while back who would talk to me about her love life, but never mentioned anything about sex. So I was startled and amused when one day, after meeting a new man (whom she’d go on to marry), she said to me out of the blue, in a tone of dreamy wonderment, “Isn’t sex wonderful? It’s like Six Flags, in bed.” Well, she’s English, so she said Alton Towers, which is the UK equivalent of Six Flags, but you get the gist. She was finding out, maybe for the first time, that with the right partner, sex really is the best amusement park there is, and you and your partner get to invent all the rides.

Reinvent each other.
You may have many sexual partners in your life. You may have one. (You also may have none, if you choose, but you have probably already figured out that this article is not for you and stopped reading long ago.) But no matter the number (and a big one is no better or worse than a single-digit one), the ones you’ll treasure most are the ones who taught you things about yourself that you’d never really known before. There’s the partner who gets you to understand why people sometimes describe sex as “mindblowing”—I mean, my wish for all of you is that every time you have sex, including the first, is like this, but in the real world that isn’t necessarily the case. There’s the partner who makes you realize that you like something you had little to no inkling about—like role-playing, dominating someone or being dominated, or something that’s unique to you. The one who flips all your gender expectations around. The one where you thought you were straight, but it turns out you’re not, or not always. The one where you thought you were gay, but turns out you’re not, or not always.


And by the way—sometimes inventions go wrong. Maybe things combust and there’s an explosion in the lab that breaks things. Maybe those sizzling elements touch each other and fizzle out in a damp squib. That’s OK. You learn from mistakes. It’s what experimenting is all about. And when things don’t turn out so great, the best possible thing you can do is laugh about them. When you start having sex and you’re nervous and a bit insecure, it’s easy to freak out and lose your sense of humor. Don’t. Laughing about something together, admitting that that particular position was nowhere near as fun as everyone else seems to think, and coming clean about feeling awkward relaxes both of you and takes the pressure off. So, maybe your last experiment was a bust. The wonderful thing is, there are so many more you can come up with! Never stop discovering. ♦