I shouldn’t have had the whole pizza. That’s the thought my body tells my brain as I sit in the aftermath of a hungry decision. You know how it goes: you’re super hungry so you get more than you need because it all sounds so good. Now you’ve demolished everything you ordered simply because it’s in front of you and the feedback from your insides is not friendly.

Speaking of friends: the reason for my descent into mozzarella-based madness is a letter to a good friend. My friends have always been better at keeping in touch with me than I have at keeping in touch with them, but a stalwart few have called and written until their hands cramp and their lungs run dry. Thanks to those constant companions I have fodder for thought and also an excuse to go to my neighborhood pizza place and eat an entire medium white-sauce pizza.

In this case, the fodder for thought is love and sex, as usual, but in a slightly different context. Most of you know I grew up surrounded by conservative, Republican, Christian soldiers, raising up the next little army in a small town in Montana. There are several wonderful benefits to growing up in a small, remote town in rural Montana, but social development and cultural exposure are not among them. As a child of the creek bed and a horse riding, gun toting, bible quoting, evolution denying, Jesus freak, my exposure to sexual relationships was unusually broad among my peers. My parents regularly kissed and fondled each other in the hallways, I was 13 when I first learned of my father’s, then my mother’s indiscretions, I hid around the corner to listen in on Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’, we watched a british TV show about sex and relationships as a family when my peers were being carefully sheltered from any mention of sex, sexuality, or sex’s role in romantic relationships. The way my mother talked to me, frankly, without shame or sensationalism, about her sexual history, her opinions about when its appropriate, and many other topics, shaped my view of sex as something that is fun, normal, healthy, useful, and interesting. To me, frequent and gratuitous physical affection was normal, even in relationships where fidelity isn’t always present and love and like sometimes don’t agree with each other.

Upon my ‘maturity’ around age fifteen, I had been masturbating for three years so I knew what was possible given the right circumstances, and I had latched onto a phrase my mother shared with me that made sex ok as long as it was with the right person. She even went so far as to say it’s ‘usually your husband’ which didn’t make sense until later. Given this ‘license’ and my natural curiosity and inclination, it is no surprise to me that by the age of sixteen I was sexually active and loving it. Of course that’s where things went, not exactly south, but definitely not ‘north’. During one of my many uneventful encounters with my long term high school lover, I began stimulating myself. I hadn’t done either of us any favors months before when I told him he had given me multiple orgasms when in fact there had been none, not even close to one, but this sudden change from only needing him to climax (so he thought) to needing extra stimulation was so emasculating he stopped his thrusting and began pouting. I never again attempted to actually have an orgasm with him involved and simply continued masturbating in the privacy of my bathroom all throughout high school and college. I accepted that it was my lot in life to have orgasmless sex and I would simply do my wifely duty and take care of myself on my own. It wasn’t until a later sexual partner encouraged me to do whatever I needed (partly so he could figure it out and help, partly just to get me where I would be happier), that I discovered a fleeting ability to share climax with a partner.

I am among the fortunate. Many of my peers feel into early marriages, children too soon, and regrets. The idea that sex, love, and friendship are all separate is foreign, unlike the idea that some deity can end all woes and right all bedroom wrongs. The congregation I spent most of my time listening to espoused the notion that a god fearing couple who waits until marriage to consummate their relationship will find the sexual fulfillment of their dreams and everyone will live happily ever after. This becomes a problem under most circumstances but the two I have seen most often are the married bad sex and the unmarried bad sex. In the married relationship, if sex isn’t magical and perfect right away, that puts their devotion to god in question. Instead of seeing it as trouble in communication or a natural discrepancy in the sexual appetites of two people, any incompatibility undermines everything their world is based on. Bad sex is bad enough, but bad sex that means you’re not a good Christian is worse. The other scenario has the extra special sauce of shame and guilt before sexual activity even happens. Unmarried christian kids having sex for the first time can easily misinterpret natural awkwardness, discomfort, or dissatisfaction as punishment, reinforcing the negative attitude towards sex that they brought to the table in the first place, and further crippling future relationships. In circumstances where the sex is ok to good, the aftermath is less crippling, regardless of whether the sex is married or unmarried.

Some of these thoughts and scenarios may be familiar to you but perhaps, hopefully, you haven’t had to go through something like this or watch a close friend go through it. First experiences are formative and due to their import as firsts, what might be mediocre can feel traumatic and influence future experiences. A fleck of one of the conversations I had today involved this concept of formative firsts. We were talking about his experiences with several local providers. None were negative, but all but one lacked the liveliness and connection he was looking for. That one whom he felt a connection with happened to be his first. Had his first been any of the others, there likely would not have been a second foray into the hobby. I wish for everyone who makes their way in the world that their firsts are fabulous, and if those firsts aren’t amazing that they have the courage to try again, within reason. I, for one, will do my part to make all my firsts the best they can be, as I have for many years.