F was my most attentive lover. He was my best lover. It was no coincidence.
We met in a Berlin night club. We talked then we kissed. He looked at me with a steadiness, an unshakeability. He
didn’t pull silly faces or try to undress me with his eyes. He just held me in his focus in a way that felt
disarmingly secure, certain. We danced for hours, holding that look, went home together and spent the next 24
hours in bed. Touching, coming close to each other, not yet having sex. On Tuesday, reality came for us and in the
S-bahn he asked when we could see each other again. Tonight, perhaps?
There was a hunger to us. Not a flailing passion of a hunger, but one that was quiet and private and earnest. It
was a hunger to be near, to know the other’s body, how to make it respond in shivers and moans and sighs.
He lay on top of me, his hands holding my head, his face resting in my neck. He moved slow. The kind of slowness
that requires more strength than any speed. Pushing in deeper. Deeper. Slowly. Until, in the middle of me, he
stopped moving altogether. We lay, wrapped in one another, totally still. Concentrated as we were, I could feel
the smallest muscles move, the slightest sways. We did it to find each other, to hear one another. We did it feel
each other, what it was to be in each other, to be with each other.
When we started moving again it was millimetres at a time. I arched my back, he readjusted his weight, together we
delicately shifted the pressure. Tiny, rhythmic, unrushed movements. So tiny they became grand. Like zooming in
close enough to reveal new plains. The control, the minuscule scale, gave each movement a profound intensity that
grew and grew and grew.
When I came, it was ecstasy. An orgasm so clear and shiny it remained with me in a way that physical sensations
F was attentive to me in sex in a way no other man has ever been. He listened to how I spoke with my body. He
heard what I said when I moaned, when I leaned in, when I gasped, when I pulled away. He didn’t just want to know
which positions I liked, but exactly where he should put which fingers and when. He sought out my clit and set
about to find out how much pressure he should apply, which direction he should move, and with what speeds. And
from my cove of wetness, he slid his fingers down to my arse, inserting them gently, playing around the rim,
following each of my body’s articulations.
He never came before I did, never prioritised his own pleasure to mine. Nor did he rush me or grow impatient. When
he couldn’t hold back any longer, he’d pull out and touch me until he’d settled himself enough to keep going.
Sex was a game we played, practiced, every day. Not some throw away thrill, but an earnest, mutual undertaking.
There was a corporeality to our relationship, an ardent commitment to touch.
His willingness to learn my body gave me this space, the eagerness, to learn his. To listen to what his body was
asking for when his back arched, when his legs tensed, when his stomach contracted.
I asked F a little while ago what he thought makes good sex. To feel the other person, he said, and to feel that
they feel you.
Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate great sex from the greatness of falling in love. I did fall in love with F.
But I don’t think our sex was powerful because it was done in love. It was powerful because his body attended to
mine, because he relished in attending. It was powerful because of its fierce attention, its devotion to feeling
another body, and listening to the ways it feels you.
I’m leaving soon, leaving him, leaving the country. Going to the other side of the world. F is still my lover, but
we rarely have sex like that anymore. There is distance in our closest moments. I can feel him folding himself up.
And I get it. This kind of intimacy requires touch, constant exploration, constant energy. It requires presence
and closeness, two bodies willing to be bared. As the gap to my departure shrinks, the gap between our bodies
When it comes to sex, Asian women – especially Chinese women – can often be too embarrassed to say what’s really
on their mind. To this day, there are still many women who follow the patriarchal traditions of “carrying on the
ancestral line” and “serving one’s husband.” Among my female friends, there are even a few who have been with
their boyfriends for three or four years, have never had a sexual experience, yet are ready to step into marriage.
Others have long regarded sex life as a routine formula between husband and wife – and have not enjoyed the
process for a long time. For these women, being “faithful” is far more important than being loyal to oneself or
being happy. Having a sex life signifies licentiousness, shame, and taboo.
For me, sex is enjoyment, a kind of psychological and physiological double pleasure. Happy, successful sex brings
me and my partner a feeling of subtle intimacy, as well as spiritual connection. This is not only not shameful,
but is even a kind of emotional glue!
My first recommendation in terms of enjoying sex is to have a clearly-defined purpose: We are here for enjoyment,
enjoying the thrill of fusing two bodies and reaching liberation. It serves no one to be bashful about expressing
your own desires and needs, or to believe your body isn’t perfect enough. Be candid about your own experience.
Tell the other person if you experience physical discomfort: this is crucial to overcoming the mental barrier of
blind obedience, of single-minded, whole-body-and-soul devotion.
When it comes to sexual behavior, it’s very important to know one’s own inclinations. I personally think that
everyone has (and perhaps seldom speaks about) a slant towards “dom” or “sub” (S/M), or both. Is it a sense of
shame that comforts the mind while in bed and heightens desire, or a sense of conquest? But this usually has
nothing to do with male-female gender differences. For instance, my boyfriend really enjoys the feeling of being
dominated. If we can try to communicate well with our partner and understand each other’s inclinations, then we
will unexpectedly realize that we will be even more sexually compatible, and that the experience of joy will be
even more intense.
When it comes to skill, I feel that because every person’s pleasure points differ, there’s no need to hold too
much superstition in experience; rather, you have to seek out your pleasure points yourself. I personally think
that many women ought to experience clitoral and vaginal orgasms and be able to control it by themselves. Since
there are few every time, it’s important to try different postures. It’s very important to clarify which positions
help you get in the mood. Don’t let needless psychological shame, or an attitude that men should always dominate,
prevent you from pursuing your own pleasure.
For me personally, being on top can make me reach climax every time. Previously, I made many attempts. At the
beginning it was always man-on-top, in the middle there was a possibility to try different things such as entering
from behind, and at the end, when I felt myself almost at orgasm, we’d switch to girl-on-top.
I often ask the other person to adjust their rhythm and speed to satisfy my own needs. I understand that many
female friends are afraid to express some of their own needs, especially regarding their own erogenous zones – so
much so that they are embarrassed to mention the topic to their own partners. However, this must be overcome,
because this might be the biggest obstacle in the process of reaching orgasm and achieving sexual joy!
Finally, what I want to share is that, if during sex you feel barriers or the inability to reach comfort and
orgasm, don’t be dismayed and give up. Rather, patiently seek out the root cause. What is it that prevents you
from getting in the mood? What makes you feel out-of-sorts? I previously had several bad experiences, and
afterwards I would look for reasons and try to resolve them. For example, I’m a germaphobe. On hotel beds I feel a
little worried and lose concentration; the general experience is not very good. (Improvement plan: From then on
I’ve always brought my own bedsheets).
I personally also care a lot about health and hygiene. If my partner doesn’t want to wear a condom, it makes me
anxious, and during sex I lose my concentration. Because I know this about myself, I simply don’t let this kind of
situation arise. I also take issue with the cleanliness of my partner. In light of my germaphobia, before sex I’ll
softly ask my partner to shower.
I deeply understand that the widespread pressures and moral constraints of being a woman in society, coupled with
oppressive, male-dominance ideology, make us less capable of expressing our needs honestly during sex – and unable
to uncover our loyalty to ourselves. I sincerely hope that modern Chinese women can gradually break away from the
societal idea of being a man’s accessory, and can genuinely let their individuality and independence come forth,
doing justice to their body and feelings. Enjoy being loved, enjoy tenderness, enjoy life!
“I want to know what you taste like.” At 16, having an emotional and sexual maturity where this statement may
have felt so distant, so alien to me, in that moment, felt right. In that moment, it was everything I had ever
A large portion of my past relationships and sexual encounters have been middle-of-the-road. Were they
enjoyable? Not entirely. Maybe I had my bar too high, maybe the best one could expect from a teenager is a
fingering experience not unlike a carpenter sanding down a piece of wood. I didn’t gain my hips until I was
seventeen and my breasts later still. I identified as an athletic, tall spider. Thin long legs and arms, flat
back and front. I didn’t have the capacity for seduction nor did I entice the sexually driven mind. I certainly
didn’t feel as though I held any allure. So my experiences with sexual partners were usually awkward and
uninspired. Partly due to my own insecurities and also due to the young persons’ disinterest in anything other
than their own sexual satisfaction. I left feeling uncomfortable and undesirable, a mere outlet for others to
achieve sexual fulfilment.
My own fulfilment would eventually be given to me by an unexpected acquaintance. We would chat between classes
on occasion. Our social circles had never overlapped. Nonetheless, the interactions we had were easy, banterful
and casually flirty. I would catch the occasional stolen glance and question what it meant.
At a friend of a friend’s party, whom I barely knew, I was surprised when we caught eyes from across the room.
She was cool, funny and had a quiet confidence. She was beautiful in a way that was untouched by vanity. The
stolen glances had progressed to our eyes locking for a time that seemed like forever. It wasn’t until later,
when I was reapplying my plum red lipstick in the upstairs bedroom, that the meaning of the glances and looks
became clear to me. “You look so sexy putting on that lipstick,” she said as she leaned closer and closer to
me, watching every stroke. She wanted me. Still cautious though. Unsure of her own thoughts as I was with mine.
Having only ever been with men prior to this, I should have felt more confused about what followed. The
opposite however, was true. Such softness and care with every touch. Consideration of every part, regardless of
how long or flat. Equally excited to be experiencing something new, unfamiliar but so familiar, so right.
Moving with ease, not much being said but existing on the same wavelength. Feeling each curve and edge with
growing curiosity. Exponential admiration. There was no race we competed for, it was a journey taken together,
We never spoke of that night again, we never really spoke much after that, just the occasional stolen glance. I
don’t think there was a need to speak of it, we both understood what happened and what it meant to each of us.
We were more than just outlets for the other’s enjoyment. We were adored, loved and considered. We were
Water is just open space
Settling into any type of relationship is sort of like being in a boat, shifting about trying to find a balance.
Learning how far you can tip without falling in. James is the type who loves that game, or rather, loves
it. Dislikes closing doors through expectations and works in fluidity. He wants to make you forget about the boat
and end up in the water.
One of his favourite games, other than sex, is language. Pulling the carpet of meaning out from under
preconceptions with a bored nonchalance and side of arrogance.
There was an apartment in Berlin, not his, but borrowed for a slice of the summer. Every wall was white, and the
minimalism gave way to the possibility of painting a narrative onto the blank spaces. He liked narratives. Enjoyed
describing exactly what he wanted to do to me, watching my responses and weighing up how wet it made me,
teasingly, he could seem almost detached from our physical reality, until he was completely sure that I wanted the
narrative to become more than a fantasy.
I don’t really like minimalism, but it fitted there, a background to the borrowed handcuffs and faux leather, long
ropes and BDSM beds. Being asked why I wasn’t on my knees, because an order to get on my knees wouldn’t leave me
with the option to say no. He taught me to balance underwater, how to communicate in a different environment where
the normal rules of movement don’t always apply.
Water’s just open space. There’s no sense of possession or ownership, you’re just there, or you’re not. You can go
where you like, have who you like, on the one condition that you’re playing the same game and have agreed to get
the water. On the roof of a house in Germany, he saw a woman in her underwear standing in the open on her balcony,
smoking in that nonchalant way of unconditional confidence in black lace and falling contours. She couldn’t see
hadn’t agreed to be seen by us, so he turned his back to her.
We didn’t fall into bed together, we had a discussion, mixed with touches and teasing, tongues and torture. I
relied on his creativity because I wasn’t used to how open the conversation was. I heard ‘dom’ and assumed the
would only tip one way. He snapped at me one morning that he didn’t like how I initiated sex. That my style was:
‘making yourself available’ and that it assumed that he was always horny. Forcing him to create something and make
decisions about what I might want, without even opening my mouth.
He read books called ‘Cunnilingus’ and ‘How to Make Me Come’ and asked what it felt like when he tapped my clit or
licked me in a particular way. We had gentle sex and rough sex and kinky sex, and he’d always check in with me
we were done that I was okay; I thought it was sweet, but not really necessary. After one encounter, lying side by
side after he’d finished over me, my face stinging from being slapped and made to feel like his slut - he asked if
I was okay. I was great. He told me he wanted me to check in with him too, saying that, you can come out of a
and see someone you love lying bruised and beaten on the floor and you know you did that… and I felt suddenly
stupid, a little lost, like I was just barely treading water, and hadn’t looked around to see if anyone else had
their head under.
He complained to me the other day about ‘incompetent subs.’ Or rather women who identify as submissive because
a default position and they don’t feel comfortable expressing what they want, like, or dislike. It’s easier to
a passive role, to lie and wait and let the currents of other peoples’ fantasies and fingers take you as an
rather than watching for shifts in current and colours and picking and choosing how you want to play.
This experience laid the boundaries for how I want the power game, so intrinsic to BDSM, to be played. Being
how conversations about consent and checking in can be incredibly sexy and a great part of foreplay. I am still
as confident as I’d like to be taking a dominant role, something inherently tied to residual preconceptions about
what men want and how women ‘should’ behave in sex. What I’ve realised is the level of my own complicity in that
and the importance of not giving into that inhibition but actively working against it.
We met at a party; a friend of a friend. We barely touched. We never kissed. He left the country a couple days
after, before I had a chance to...
I had a perpetual fear of missing out, residual from my teenage years, it gave me impulses — I made a move over
A move to achieve what? He was gone...
I asked him something vaguely sexual. The question mark was my way of signalling it was an invitation to talk
like this; but the sentence was not a question. I was telling him: Talk to me.
And I was lucky. He knew how to play this game. He didn't just like it, he was a pro. We began a strange
friendship almost entirely online: two people that met twice in person, and wrote a Snapchat erotic novel in real
time.Whenever I felt lonely, I wrote him. Whenever I missed him, I wrote him. And I always felt a gush of warm
attention from his side. We wrote sex that would have needed a budget and a production team to stage. But words
are free. (And so are video and pics).
And most importantly, his words were kind. I was amazed at his civility. He enjoyed it, same as me, and he
understood that I enjoyed it. And that was it. There was no control, no power that was not in the context of
the play we wrote together. We were co-playwrights, we admired each other's work. Our textual relations were
often, for me, more enjoyable, more pleasurable than the physical sex I was having at the time.
A couple years later, we met in person again. We barely touched, and never kissed. Not a word about our
ethereal erotic friendship. We sprouted a new friendship that was chaste, and just as good.
The second time we had sex, he asked if I’d like him to trim. I laughed.
I had been taught not to compromise my body, not even a hair of it, for anyone. This culminated in the shaving off
of all the hair on my head when I was twenty-two, which was an action that, upon reflection, was still a reaction
against something. The widening of my woman’s hips? The loss of control, as my thighs thickened? The inability to
maintain the outer perfection that I had almost driven myself insane cultivating? My hairstyle, in its extremity,
must have been a rejection, and as such, it had meaning. Didn’t it?
Strip my face of makeup. Grow out the hair beneath my arms and on my vagina, even though I thought it itched like
bitch, and I actually never particularly liked it. Never being sure if I were really, truly doing it for me.
Needing to do it for me. Because compromise felt like a failure.
My ex did not like my bald head or my hairy body. He told me so in a kitchen in Berlin. At the time, we slept on
his friend’s floor, a bookcase as the only means of privacy, stealing sex in the interim when his friend nipped to
the shop for cigarettes. Always a bit on edge, a bit too aware of the sounds in the hall, in wait for the click of
the lock. Racing to climax. Rocking beneath the hot duvet. Covering our bodies even in the empty room because to
knock the duvet away felt too revealing. Almost disrespectful.
In the kitchen, my ex ate from the glass tub of yogurt we had bought together, going to the grocery store earlier
in the week and combining our meagre funds. Had I asked for too much? Been too frivolous? He did not say, except
get anxious about it long after the money had changed hands. Walking down a sidewalk littered with felled leaves,
laid belly-up like shrivelled beetles, we fought in the way we always fought, inside-out with the nerves exposed
and the words shooting off in the wrong directions. All because we had split the cost of the groceries two ways,
but I had just thought of it as together, loading up the cart, and he had felt too nervous to stop me until the
sidewalk, the air, the light wallet, and the heavy arms emboldened him. Only ending the fight when we both felt
sufficiently stupid. Then, at a home that was not our home, unloading the groceries from the paper bags, with him
trying the yogurt, a peace offering in the form of a small lie, “This is actually quite nice. I really like this.”
Each breakfast, he ate the yogurt he had not meant to buy and we tried not to tread on the acquiescences littered
across the linoleum. In this stance, with a hip against the kitchen counter and a small spoon in his hand, he said
how he missed the long hair on my head, how he did not like the long hair between my legs. He would not have
normally said something, but we were so honest with each other (stated emphatically) and it had been bothering him
in spite of himself.
He trimmed. All his hair, pubes and armpit, stood straight and on end, one uniformed half-inch long. I had told
before I did not care about his trimming. In reality I did not much like it. If I had to choose, I’d say I prefer
my lovers to have something to collect the musk on. But in his mind, he assumed he took care for me.
Why had I not corrected him? I suppose I had not needed to. It was his body, after all. I had never felt I had the
right to say.
It’s the innocence with which my friend asked me. As if it were the most natural thing. Laid out on his dirty
mattress, placed directly on the floor. Trying to ignore the accumulation of filth and brackish smells in the
of sheet. Post-sex, but also new sex. The kind of sex that did not find release yet. That was awkward. Disjointed.
Not even lubricated by laughter, because it still felt too serious to be funny. Unused to seeing each other’s
bodies. Wanting to look. Kind of looking. Looking away. What did he say?
“Would you like it if I trimmed?”
I told him of course I didn’t want him to trim, surprised that he had thought to ask.
Romance Without Regrets
When I was 14, they made us watch a really long video during Sunday school about how to do relationships the
Christian way. At that age, I thought that I would meet one boy, fall madly in love with him, and he would be the
only boy I ever date. Reality turned out to be very different. I’m not religious myself, but something in that
video I watched all those years ago caught my attention—and informed every romantic and sexual relationship I’ve
This seed was the idea that the person we are with at any given moment, may or may not be who you are meant to be
with for the rest of your life. Your future spouse may be with someone else right now and as you would want their
current partner to treat them with respect, you too have the responsibility to care for your partners in the same
way. It was sold as the key to having romance without regrets, and I never fully understood it—until I met a man
who showed me what it meant seven years later.
This is the story of how I met one of the sweetest men I’ve had the pleasure of being with, once upon a time.
So here I am in the crazy city of Berlin for the first time, sitting on the lower bunk in my hostel room and
writing, when a beautiful male specimen enters the room. He pauses beside me, looks around and introduces himself.
“Hi, my name’s Tin.”
I don’t know if I’m looking at him, or visibly glancing away because I’ve never seen someone so handsome this
to my face.
Later that evening, the guys from the room persuade me to join them for drinks. They really want to go to a club,
and insist that they need a girl in the group or they won’t get in. Tin is going, and he’s the calmest and warmest
guy of the group so I feel somewhat at ease. He’s also incredibly good looking and I would like to be able to
pretend I can’t see too well in dim club lighting.
The club has an outdoor rooftop area looking towards Alexanderplatz. As much as I would love to savour the view,
it’s my first real winter and my teeth are chattering loudly within five seconds of stepping outside. After a
whirl I go back in, but climb up the stairs to sit at the top, squeezing the beer bottle in my hands and willing
body to warm up again.
“Come here.” I scoot into Tin’s open hug.
“Can I kiss you?” Fervent nodding. Warmth.
A few hours later, we go back to the hostel, and by the time I’m out of the bathroom, he looks likes he’s already
asleep on the upper bunk. I’m about to crawl into bed when he asks me to come up and lie with him. I hesitate, but
climb up, fully clothed.
“Are you comfortable in that?” I wasn’t, and it was starting to get too hot so I eventually wriggle out of my
clothes. I feel his lips on mine, trailing past my chest, and over my stomach.
I don’t remember coming, but I do remember wanting to return the favour, and him telling me not to worry about it
and go to sleep. It’s the first time I’m given pleasure without anything expected in return.
On my last day in Berlin, we add each other on Facebook, and two days later he convinces me to hang out with him
Dublin. I’m never one to spontaneously change plans, especially not to spend time alone with someone I had only
just met. I would never go to Dublin otherwise, I rationalised.
We spend the weekend dancing to pop music, cuddling, eating chips in bed, and singing in a very jolly Irish pub.
takes me to do some touristy sightseeing so I will have stories to tell, makes peanut butter and jelly bagels for
breakfast, and tells me we’ll stay in touch.
That was four years ago. I haven’t seen him, and we haven’t spoken since then. He has a girlfriend now, and
whenever I think about him, all I can think about is how extremely lucky she is to be with a man like him. A man
who has needs, but considers others. A man who is capable of great care and concern, even towards a girl he just
met, and may never see again. A man who knows how to do romance, without regrets.
Things that Made Me Feel Good
Hot conversation topic on Valentine’s Day: What is the most romantic thing someone has ever done for you?
Candle-lit dinner, staycation on a resort island, weekend getaway, the answers got more and more expensive as we
went around the table. When it was my turn, I blurted without thinking, "Left the tails of my prawns on."
I don’t care if you think it’s weird, because I was really impressed by his attention to detail. I had asked him
prepare prawns for a soup I was making, but in a move that was absurdly out of character, he removed the tails
some, left the rest on, and tossed the whole lot into the pot. I later found out that he left them on because he
remembered how happy I was munching on the prawn tails of the shrimp pad thai we had six months ago.
I spent the rest of the day thinking if that was indeed the most romantic thing someone has ever done for me, and
to my delight, unearthed many other gestures made in the name of romance. Here are other romantic things people
have done for me—a list I look forward to growing:
Made me tea when I was sick
Massaged my tummy like a baby when I was feeling bloated
Walked 1.5 hours to pick me up at the airport
Surprised me at the airport with roses wrapped in brown paper
Made me a peanut butter and jelly bagel for breakfast
Let me eat Doritos in their bed (I love Doritos)
Hugged me when I said I was freezing even though they didn't have as warm a jacket as I did
Brought me outdoor ice-skating and held my hand while they whizzed around pulling me along
Let me make my own Christmas present (I love DIY crafts)
Read me poetry
Let me read their poetry
Listened to me cry while I was in the middle of an anxiety attack
Let me finish a pastry they liked because I thought it was absolutely delicious
Brought me to their favourite restaurant to eat their favourite dish (it was moules frites, and I am not a fan
of seafood, but it was very lovely)
To be continued…
Step by Step
For most of my life I have been adamant that straight sex and relationships could never live up to gay sex. The
kind of connection that I had found seemed to come so much more naturally between two women. My straight
‘virginity’ was not something I was in any hurry to lose, and, not that I was particularly against the idea, my
expectations were low, to say the least. I’d mainly put this down to physical preference for women, but after
having straight sex for the first time, I realised that it was nothing to do with my sexual preferences. The
actual preference was for being treated like I was more than a means to an end, and up until that point, men had
tended to fall far behind women in that area.
I met Eli on the second day after an early morning arrival at an alternative, communal house in Germany. The day
had been filled with alien faces and ways of life. A mixture of friendliness and the detached disinterest of
people used to a constant sea of new faces, waiting for us to make ourselves worthy of notice. I had gone for a
walk around the city, carefully following the tram lines as a solid safe line in what otherwise felt like a fluid
and shifting environment. As I came back to the house and was struggling with my keys, the door swung open and a
wheelbarrow was being pushed through the slightly too narrow gap. The guy pushing the wheelbarrow saw me and
stopped, smiled, and introduced himself as Eli. I complimented the tattoos tucked into his inner forearm and he
grinned, pulled the wheelbarrow through the door and disappeared down the street. I shut the door behind me and
some part of my brain said, “yep, I want that one.”
I'm normally full of confidence and am very open about exactly what I want, who I want it from, and how I want it,
but with Eli I felt vulnerable. I was so used to men making it explicitly clear that they wanted to fuck me and
that defining the way that they interacted with me. Usually leaving me with the impression that they wouldn’t have
bothered with me if they didn’t want me—an approach I don’t have much patience with. But I realised with Eli, that
because he wasn’t behaving as I’d typically come to expect, I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, or what he
expected from me in this strange new grey area.
Our stays in the house only overlapped by a week but we ended up spending quite a lot of that time together. He
was spontaneous and unpredictable and I felt that if anyone tried to hold onto him, he’d slip through their
fingers like sand. That might sound like a negative thing, but it worked for me because there was no sense of
planning or premeditation. Everything happened moment by moment. We might stay up together talking and laughing,
or maybe we wouldn’t. Or in the morning if we ran into each other he’d pull me into the kitchen to bake
spontaneous cakes with him, or show me news articles, or songs, or something he’d found interesting. He was
unpredictable and unreliable, which I found attractive because I knew that he never had an agenda when he spent
time with me. He spent time with me because he wanted to in that moment and there were no expectations or thoughts
One night a group of us were sitting on the roof of the house, four floors from ground level and looking down at
the street. Reality melted away and the ground looked like it would sink into itself at a gentle touch. The cars
looked like wrapped candies and the light bounced down the street, illuminating windows of other lives playing out
in houses on the other side of our lives in that moment. He said that where he came from people had not learned to
use their kindness. The phrase resonated as the opposite of what he seemed to me: someone so tuned into responding
to other’s needs and so much more eager to give than to take.
I went into his room a couple of times to wake him up from naps under very flimsy pretences, and ended up staying
and lying in bed with him and just talking. At one point I mentioned I wanted thigh tattoos to cover the scars on
my legs. He pushed the trousers I was wearing up my leg a little and said “can I?” I gave a little shrug and
smiled at him, as if it was something that really didn’t bother me. Normally, having anyone looking at my scars
makes me feel uncomfortable, but not with Eli. He pushed the thin material away and ran his fingers gently over
the scarred skin. Nothing changed in the way he looked at me or talked to me, which might not seem like much, but
that is not the way that people often respond. I felt completely comfortable with him looking at a part of me that
normally makes me feel insecure and defensive, sending lines of anxiety running through me when I can feel people
looking. I think that had also been a particular anxiety I’d had because I’d often felt that men were only
superficially interested in me. That if they saw me naked they would automatically find me unattractive and
undesirable because they would see my scars. Admittedly that is something I haven’t personally experience, but I
know it is a reality from friends who have been rejected with disgust in just that way.
The day Eli made it clear that he wanted me, I didn’t decide to have sex with him until much later in the day. We
spent the day kissing on and off, stealing moments in the kitchen, on the side, against walls or wherever there
was no one else there. We both ended up in a distracted haze of want, and he lightly joked about me breaking his
dick; something which could often be used as a guilt trip but in this case felt affectionate, and more like an
acknowledgement of how much he wanted me. He didn’t make me feel like I owed it to him to make him come and he
didn’t push the idea of us having sex.
We did have sex, but that wasn’t what was important in this story. I’m sure anyone reading this will notice that
there was nothing particularly special in the way that he behaved and that this was mainly just a case of mutual
attraction. Except that it is not the normal behaviour that I have experienced or would have expected.
I was surprised when he didn’t take advantage of the fact that I was clearly into him, and I was surprised that he
looked at me without the underlying glaze of want when he was with me. I was surprised that when I walked into his
room and invited myself into his bed that he didn’t take as permission to fuck me, and I was surprised that when
he had an erection, he didn’t make me feel like I was obligated to go any further than I wanted to.
The thing I was most surprised by with Eli, was how safe and comfortable I felt around him. I would normally feel
somewhere between low-level discomfort and high anxiety when around most men, even ones that I trusted or liked,
because I have often been made to feel that if I flirt or give the impression of flirting, I owe them more. This
expectation has made me wary of flirting with men just in case they won’t let me say ‘no’ later, which so far is
not a problem I’ve ever had with a woman.
I wasn’t surprised by any of these things because I expected less of him specifically, I was surprised because his
approach to me, and therefore to women, in my experience, is not so common and is not what I have come to expect
I don’t want the next generation of women growing up being taught, or learning from experience that they should be
wary of men. Having such low expectations from men had become so engrained in me, that something as simple as
being asked for a yes instead of forced to say ‘no’, and that ‘no’ being accepted without guilt tripping or
resentment came as a shock, in a way that I don’t want it to for future generations of women.
The Perfect One-Liner
This is a story about sex and shyness, and it begins with Tinder. My first ever Tinder date to be precise.
So I was late to the Tinder game. Having spent basically all of my adult life in the cocoon of monogamy, Tinder’s
popularity had already peaked and fizzled before I ever got a chance to play. Naturally, I was intrigued. It felt
like a seminal millennial dating experience, albeit an ambivalent one. Also, FOMO.
Not yet accustomed to the sheer volume of fish in the sea, I was a generous swiper my first night on Tinder. One
of the lucky boys that caught me in my wide-eyed mood was Sam. His bio had some kind of joke about being a fan of
salad. The clumsy, poking-fun-at-the-absurdity-of-explaining-yourself-in-500-characters-or-less appealed to me.
Plus, he was cute enough. Tall, dark, and slightly nerdy. Two years younger than me, only 23. But like I said, I
was in a generous mood. I swiped right.
Equally disinterested in attempting to distill my essence in a Tinder bio, I had just written “basic bitch” and
left it at that. Sam opened our conversation with a little pun on my basic bitch joke and shorthanded himself as
Salad Boy. It was teasing and light-hearted and, most importantly, it wasn’t one of those lines he’d spent an
embarrassing amount of time perfecting.
We kept up our playful banter for about a week until one night I found myself at one of those
neither–here–nor–there house parties.
“What are you up to?” I wrote him, lazily hoping for better prospects in the form of romantic intrigue. I
convinced him to take a train across town at three in the morning and we met as the sky was already lightening in
a bar near the party.
Because I’m the kind of person who chronically doubles up social engagements (sorry not sorry), I had somewhat
foolhardily invited another friend to the bar. Sam didn’t skip a beat when he arrived, unperturbed my male friend
was crashing our first ever Tinder date. The conversation was easy and amusing, we sat for hours as the bartender
dozed in a chair. And when our third-wheel got up to go to the bathroom, Sam lent across the couch we shared and
gently kissed me on the lips.
We emerged from the bar the time responsible people emerge for work. After my friend said goodbye and Sam turned
to me, “Breakfast?”
So that’s I found myself eating eggs Benedict at 7.30 in the morning on my first ever Tinder date. Perhaps it was
the lack of sleep, but the breakfast conversation got real deep, real fast. Somehow we wound up discussing the
dysfunctionality of our families at the hands of mentally unstable step-parents. Fantastic first date stuff,
Anyway, after that little pearl of a conversation mixed with a belly of hollandaise sauce and exactly no sleep, we
made our way to the underground to assess the labyrinth that is Berlin’s railway system. My journey home way
undeniably monstrous: three changes and at least 50 minutes in the sticky Sunday morning train.
“You’re welcome to come to my place, if you’d prefer,” Sam told me.
The implication of going home with this guy was not lost on me, but the prospect of spending almost an hour
trekking to my house in the cruel morning light honestly seemed unbearable. So I agreed.
Back at his apartment, Sam and I got self-consciously into bed. We kissed for a while as, in my head, I rolled
through ways to tell him I didn’t want to have sex before it got too handsy. Perhaps it’s my aversion to
awkwardness, but I’ve always been skittish talking about sex. I know I shouldn’t be. I get that communication is
key and all that. But when penis comes to vagina, words always feel too clumsy, like trying use a threadbare tool
to secure a delicate join.
So anyway, we’re in bed making out and my internal monologue is becoming more and more panicked believing that
with every passing minute it will become harder for me to stop what I’ve put in motion. And then, with a needle of
clarity, Sam broke the silence:
“How far do you want this to go?”
The question came from his mouth so naturally and easily, I felt embarrassed at myself for thinking words would
require an unfathomable amount of delicacy. His neat phrasing was beautifully simple, beautifully easy. It gave me
the power to set my boundaries without the pressure or shame of rejecting someone.
“Not very far.”
“Okay,” he said, kissing me without the slightest undertone of coercion or disappointment.
Writing this now, it seems pretty basic. But I also know that in my experience, it hasn’t been. So often as women
we are put in the position of having to refuse male advances. Instead of putting me in that place, Sam simply
asked me if and how he should advance. Instead of pushing the door open and making me to shut it, he simply
After a few hours of sleep and a bit more making out, I decided that afternoon I was, indeed, ready to have sex. I
crawled on top of Sam while he held my hips and stared at me with my favourite wonderstruck look. Somewhere
between the instant it became unquestionably clear I wanted to have sex, but before actual penetration, he asked
me if he should get a condom.
Again, basic stuff. But meaningful. Instead of me having to take the burden of initiating uncomfortable but
necessary conversations simply by virtue being a women, Sam did it himself.
The sex was great. It was playful and pleasurable and just really, really comfortable. Sam was
self-assured and confident enough to let me lead the way; I was the star player, not because he didn’t know how to
play, but because he did.
Since then I’ve carried this beautifully simple question “How far do you want this to go?” in my proverbial
pocket, gifting the one-liner to male daters who cross my path. This is how to do it, fellas. This is how easy it
I eat love for breakfast
In college, we had breakfast in the dining hall six days a week. Monday to Saturday. Not everyone makes it down
for breakfast, but people know a lot about you based on the people you’re seen having breakfast with. There were
the people who ate early to avoid the crowd, and there were the people who came in just before the kitchen closes
because they can never wake up. But most people just ate before rushing off to class. People often eat with their
neighbours, folk from other social groups within the treehouse, or guests visiting for a free meal.
Breakfast is the silent status update. I used to have breakfast with my neighbours, before taking the shuttle bus
to class. But that changed at the end of my second year. That semester, there were a lot of ridiculously
good-looking exchange students living in the treehouse, and it was fun to watch girls slide up to some of them,
only to be unsuccessful in their quest for an exotic boyfriend for the semester. It was clearly a game for some of
them, and fascinating to watch for those who were too shy and socially awkward to extend even friendship.
One boy caught my eye during supper in the first week of school. He was rather quiet, unassuming, and I remembered
him as the one with the German accent who said he was from Luxembourg. Who knows what a Luxembourgish accent is
supposed to sound like on this side of the world anyway?
We were painfully slow friends, but very fast lovers.
He always had breakfast by the big glass windows, but I hated it. There were too many people looking and walking
by, and I knew what they were whispering about me.
It was all true.
But it was also true that they did not know our relationship the way we did. In his company, I learned to calm my
frantic gaze, and fully enjoy being in his company. I began to take greater pleasure in the little things,
savouring the food we were eating (however average it was to me), or surrendering to refreshingly cool iced tea
after a long hike.
For the first time, I was happy being with someone. A fellow human being who wanted to be with me—not because he
thought I was beautiful, or because he thought I was intelligent, or because I filled silences with song—but
simply because we enjoyed being together.
When we moved out of the tropical treehouse, our morning ritual changed. No more breakfast buns and coffee by the
window. Breakfast was now a small spread of juice, milk, muesli, toast, jams and cheese. No more whispering
I found my next love in the tropics. Except I might not allow myself to call it love, because he wouldn’t call it
Stripped of the grandeur of a hearty nutritious breakfast, the simplicity of the whole affair was stunning. We
were staying on a street where food was in abundance. Yet our mornings were mostly spent indoors, in bed, with hot
That changed when I was sent out one morning with $8 to buy snacks for breakfast. Snacks! For breakfast! Armed
with his trust, I bounced out the door. Half an hour later, we were feasting on butter biscuits, flaky pastries,
fried dough balls with assorted savoury fillings, banana chips with pineapple jam, and fresh fruit, with green tea
on the side.
I’d never met anyone who made me feel more at ease. Maybe it was the persistent memory of his lips, slipping
through my waking hours, or the nights I spent crying while he soothed me with his favourite poetry. I didn’t
fully understand the nature of our relationship for a long time. But it was simple—trust. I trusted him a lot more
than I thought I was comfortable with, but he took great care of it, as he took care of me even from miles away.
We had our own morning ritual: we wake up, sip tea, cross-legged on the couch. Sometimes we have brownies, most
times we have biscuits, and always each other.
Simple, sweet, and just the way mornings should be.
Person and Frame
A friend meets me in a bar and we have burgers and spiked milkshakes, chatting in our small blue booth about all
the men she’s met while travelling and locally. They all seem to be a puzzle nobody has figured out — not even
themselves — and she’s tired of thought experiments on how they might react to any weird, outrageous thing she
does. Here is attention that she stopped wanting, if only because it had become tiring to be in the same, endless
cycle that ate into itself. There’s a new one though, and she says he seems like a safe place to land.
We grew up together. She used to play with dolls, putting them into narratives we saw in the movies that finally
came on TV. Our favourite was The Parent Trap — and even that had a very typical romance. We never knew of any
other narratives; it was always either the grand gesture and undying romance, or the sad ending where it just
didn’t work and we couldn’t figure out why. On the radio, there were all these songs about the bright loves of
people’s lives that fill them up until they’re about to burst like a silly balloon. In this bar, she decided once
that she didn’t want it for herself, and told me she was tired. Now, cautiously hoping again, she says it feels
right with him. I’m wondering if either of us has any capacity to tell what feels right.
When she says it feels right, she means he sometimes pushes too hard until she says stop, though he hasn’t yet
broken any important boundaries. She means he tries to communicate. She means he once told her that he couldn’t
commit to a relationship, and then, one New Year’s Eve, asked her if she wanted to be together with him. (She said
yes because it felt like they had already been in one months ago.) She means when he asked, there were fairy
lights and he had cooked her dinner from a Jamie Oliver recipe online and dressed the table up, pretty with
candles, and it felt too much like something she always dreamed, for her not to agree. She means that, most
importantly, he meant it. Even if she had to wait. For all these overtures, and for all the circles she’s tired of
turning, she thinks she’ll spin it again with him; see what the dance feels like.
She admits it’s difficult not to romanticise because she’s always been prone to it — and it’s not wrong, but right
there and then I come to a realisation that there are all different things we would tolerate for a chance to
finally be given what feels like enough.
Right for me feels like calm rain. Like being indoors when it’s thundering outside, with my windows open, but only
because I quite like thunder. Like choosing something that only I understand the nuances of — tattooing a rose
along my spine because that’s the way I choose to be pretty. Like driving down an endless road, the sky and sights
morphing around our car windows in patterns that converge and diverge as I sieve through things I can and cannot
say. If I stare hard enough at the clouds passing us by, I can see a flicker of lightning that shoots a thrill
through me, too surreal to believe but present enough to excite. Right for me feels like a man who sometimes says
strange things but listens to what I have to say, and then asks me to unpack it when he doesn’t really, fully
I am writing rather prosaically about a dialogue — of course we laugh self-deprecatingly at the gestures we always
fall for and the ways we imagine human connection will happen to us. But if we think of our many girl friends who
have each had an experience with men they hated, then we also work through a subconscious process of elimination
to arrive at our personal philosophy. We round-robin through the types men might fall into, picking the parts we
can live with and the parts we can’t, as though choosing a house, endlessly meandering through this process. Ours
is not a path that I am seeking to illuminate for other girls, if only because I’m outlining a thought process
most of us are already familiar with. It’s a discussion I’ve had many times.
It is also the one I think of when I walk into a bar on a weekday night, sit down across him for the first time
and begin a new conversation. The thought process I am all too aware that I am losing clear sight of because it
feels less necessary to be so wary when he’s in front of me effortlessly ticking all the boxes I laid out in my
head, even though he misses a few. This is the same bar I sat in with you, talking about all the men who we grew
connections with, except now I feel like through no effort on my part, he sees who I am and is honest about who he
is. I think about how one of my most important friends told me once, “Don’t confuse anxiety with the butterflies.”
and how I finally know what that means because I suddenly know that it is possible to feel excited and safe all at
once; like we’ve already stepped into something solid and are just waiting to discover the turns in this path.
Here where what feels right looks so startlingly vivid, I stop measuring a person by the frames of thought I’ve
always capitulated to and fix my eyes on what is real and in front of me. It is almost as unremarkable as it
sounds, and for all my poetry, I find myself unable to romanticise this one moment. I haven’t figured out yet how
to say exactly what this feels like. I only have the images for it: I am spinning a top on a mirror and its
reflection shows me everything I have ever only imagined, and right here in this booth the things I have come to
understand in theory pirouette effortlessly into real shapes — simultaneous security and affection, anticipation
apprehension, a man who flirts as seamlessly as he stops to listen and have a conversation in which he is intent
on understanding something he might never experience. Sometimes in meeting new people, we crystallise exactly what
it is that matters the most to us. I text him after to thank him for a great night, say I want to see him again,
and for everything all the criteria I used to list for myself as though it were a foolproof way to guard my heart,
I confess that it feels like all I have ever wanted is something honest and true.