Growing up, I always felt different.  Watching my friends begin to experience attraction towards each other, and proceed to explore that attraction with other kids, made me feel separate from the group.  I had the same curiosities but no outlet to express them.  That sense of “other” continued into high school as those around me began to crush, flirt, hook up, date, and all the while talked about who crushed, flirted, hooked up and dated with whom.  Within the realm of sexuality I felt separate from my community.  In fact I felt completely alone.  I turned to TV, movies and the internet for solace.  Sometimes I sought solidarity, but more often I sought escape.  I escaped into the TV lives of high school characters, whose lives seemed glamorous and fun when compared to my own.  Television and movies provided the space for me to turn away from my often times annoying sense of difference. 

            Though I escaped into other worlds often, I also knew not to let my own high school experience pass me by.  I went to parties, and for the most they were enjoyable.  Enjoyable, though also exhausting.  They constantly reminded me of the differences I felt so strongly in myself yet worked to hide from others.  I would always scan the room for possible issues that may arise.  Which girls could be looking my way, whose looks I might have to deflect?  What excuse would I use if someone told me a friend of theirs thought I was cute?  How would my dancing be perceived by the people around me?  How highly pitched could my laugh resonate around a room without it sounding too gay?  All of this running through my head while attempting to maintain an appropriate external expression of pleasure, no matter the anxiety I may have felt internally. 

            Like many people I know, I didn’t have penetrative sex in high school.  But I also didn’t give or receive oral sex, kiss, hold hands with or touch someone I felt attraction towards, or made it known that I thought someone was cute.  None of this happened until I was 18, the summer after graduation.  And when it happened, it all happened at once.  The first person I ever openly admitted attraction towards was also the first I had sex with.  He also happened to be a man I met through a dating app and had known for only a brief time.  For a while this caused me a lot of shame, for it seemed like my first encounter story differed so greatly from those of my peers, the ones I had spent hours debriefing about in high school.  However, despite any shame I felt, the worst part about my first time was how amazing it was.  Amazing, yet to be kept to myself.  I was not out to my friends at the time, and so this wonderful experience had to remain within the confines of my own mind. 

            Far from a fairytale story, my first sexual experience was overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable.  I met the guy the week before at coffee. I felt comfortable with him. We hit it off, and decided to meet up at my house.  I was upfront with him about my inexperience, which he neither fetishized nor shamed me for.  I was slightly nervous in the moment because of how my first time was unfolding so unlike any movie I’d seen or story I’d heard in the past.  But I soon came to appreciate the differences between the facade of first times and my own first time.  Whereas most teen movies show the character’s first time happening in a setting like a party, I was in an environment in which I felt completely comfortable.  Unlike many of my friends, I was totally sober at the time and felt clear-headed.  Rather than put pressure on me to know what I was doing, my partner guided me gently and consensually.  The person I chose to first have sex with may have not known me well as a person outside of a sexual context, but because of my high school health class I went into it confidently that at the very least it would be safe and consensual because those were the priorities I communicated.  The sex we ended up having was communicative, mutually pleasurable, respectful, intimate and fun.  And to this day that is exactly the sex that I seek.  I have never had sex drunk, unsafely, or with someone I felt uncomfortable communicating with. 

            I feel lucky to be able to say that my sexual experiences so far have all been positive, and that I now can talk openly and honestly about them.  I finally let go of the shame I felt for hooking up with people I met through apps because I knew I had the tools to ensure that I stayed safe and have mutual comfort prioritized.  Just like how an experience that mimics social standards doesn’t translate directly to enjoyment, an experience that differs from the norm doesn’t have to result in disaster.  The context within which I meet my partners is not what matters.  What matters is being an advocate for myself and my safety, never shying away from saying no to anything or anyone that feels wrong, asking for and giving consent, and allowing myself to enjoy whatever feels right to both my partner and I.  For a long time I felt left out of the world of sex, and wished that I had gotten the chance to explore more in high school.  Now looking back, I appreciate the time I got to spend maturing and growing outside of the hookup culture, because I know I will never take the privilege of sex for granted.