In my first year of drama school a classmate and I were partnered to do a small group acting scene together. He was a year older than me and more experienced, so when he mentioned that he had a scene in mind for us to perform I was happy to follow his lead.
He had been a good friend up to this point and had introduced me to the burgeoning gay scene in Cape Town at the time, as well as many of his friends.
He changed my life. I was a late bloomer, freshly out of the closet and I remain grateful for his generosity and these introductions.
He would fetch me from the men’s residence I was staying in, in his car and we would hit Greenpoint almost every weekend. His experience with men, street smarts and confidence left me in awe.
No, I can’t… sorry
In our first rehearsal doing a readthrough of the scene he had selected, I was shocked to discover that the characters share a single bed and that the scene ended with ‘French kissing’ and a love scene.
It wasn’t all that raunchy, but I was horrified and refused to do it. Up to that point, I had only ever kissed one guy and I had a knot in my stomach about rehearsing it over and over with someone who I saw as a platonic friend. He was understandably livid, and it essentially created a rift between us that has never been repaired.
Guilt and shame
For years I felt guilty about not being ready to do that scene, but the intimacy seemed insurmountable to me at the time. Kissing felt so personal then, it still does but it would be a piece of cake for me now.
I mean, I was studying drama because I wanted to be an actor, didn’t I?
How could I have so many inhibitions if that was to be my intended profession? Actors make out all the time! This trend continued for years. I wasn’t exactly a prude, but I had already graduated from university before I felt ready to try “whole enchilada” sex for the first time.
The gay sex guy
It’s amusing to think about this now because these days I consider myself to be very open-minded about sex. In fact, one of my favourite roles during my career thus far has been as head of content for various sexual health awareness platforms and projects.
That said, I consider my personal sexual coming of age to be a very recent development, and I’m 44. I’m lucky that pressure, manipulation and fear rarely forced me to do things I didn’t want to do. Flowers bloom in their own time and shouldn’t be forced to do so before they are ready. Yes, I’m calling myself a flower. Perhaps a pansy even. 😉
What ‘ready’ might look like
Sexual readiness will be different for everyone, but a good guide would be the following definition of what it is to be sexually healthy, according to The World Health Organization:
“… a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
There may be unexpected benefits to waiting until you feel ready.
“I think the value in waiting to have sex until you feel ready can help with honouring your boundaries and allows you to assess your partner’s intentions and interests in the relationship over time, and whether they are focusing on knowing you in a deeper way,” suggests Australian clinical psychologist and relationship counsellor Phoebe Rogers.
This raises the whole, ‘if it’s worth it, it’s worth waiting for’ argument. That said, I’m the last person to judge a one-night stand or once-off sexual encounter if that’s what you want to do. I’d be a hypocrite if I did.
Everyone is different
Many of my school friends were ready to jump onto the sexual experience wagon from a young age but I just wasn’t. I suspect it had something to do with the fact that I looked 12 in matric. It’s not so much about age for people who are over 18 years old, though. I think, if you’re fifty and still not ready to do something sexually then you shouldn’t have to feel pressurised to do it. It’s up to you to decide when you are ready.
Those videos and children’s theatre shows we were forced to watch as kids were right – it’s your body, so it should be your choice. Look, I’m not 100% sexually liberated yet either and am still wrestling with a few hang-ups but I plan to continue to take things in my stride. Hell, there are several things that I doubt I will ever feel ready to try and that’s okay. Sex can be a beautiful thing but like anything worthwhile, it requires boundaries and only you can decide what those should be.
Waiting until it felt right has been one of the best self-care practices I have ever put into motion, it’s been a wonderful privilege I know not everyone is afforded. If you can, it might inspire you to do the same, regardless of your age or past sexual experiences. It’s never too late to take your time. Even if it does mean losing a friend or two in the process.
Bruce J. Little is a playwright, health journalist, corporate ghost-writer and currently a creative group head copywriter in advertising.