The Difference Between Love and Sex
Going beyond the birds and the bees.
My mom taught me all about sex when I was a young girl, but it wasn’t because she sat me down for “the talk.” Instead, I heard the noises coming from her bedroom on nights her boyfriend stayed over. My mother was particularly loud, and it almost seemed like she was showing off for my benefit. Maybe she thought I’d be jealous at the tender age of eleven, but it left me truly horrified.
The way my mother sounded didn’t seem like love but some type of violent struggle. I’d put my fingers in my ears until she came downstairs, usually wearing a long T-shirt and nothing else and sauntering into the kitchen. I did my best to avoid eye contact until she went back upstairs.
My mom’s boyfriend also provided my mother with dirty magazines, and she’d leave them sitting on her bedside table. One day I peeked at them when she wasn’t home. That was my first introduction to “the birds and the bees,” sitting on my mother’s bedroom floor with her porn on my lap. After that, I thought I knew everything, too young to realize that everything between those pages was a false reality.
“I know you looked at my magazines.”
My mother’s accusation was embarrassing, and my face flushed as I turned away. Now that I’m an adult, I wished I would have stood up for myself. My mother shouldn’t have had those magazines sitting out where a kid could see them. What if one of my little friends found them during a playdate? Being eleven made all those things impossible to say, so neither of us brought it up again. We had an unspoken understanding.
When my mom’s boyfriend went back to his wife, she moved us to Florida and found somebody to replace him. We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment, and my mother slept in the living room every night. When her new boyfriend stayed over, she treated me to a repeat performance of her moaning and shrieking. She left her bottle of KY jelly sitting on our kitchen table as if to prove she was sexually active again.
When her boyfriend moved in, I barely spoke to him. He was merely my mother’s latest, and I’d never let him step into any kind of fatherly role. When my friends would come by to pick me up, they giggled at the sight of Mom and her lover laying on a mattress in the middle of the floor with sheets hastily thrown over them. Those friends unlucky enough to see it called my living room the “f**k pit.” I laughed along as if I didn’t live there, too.
After a few years in high school, I had boyfriends of my own. The first one was John. We were in the tenth grade, and John was the most popular kid in the school. He also had a reputation for having sex with girls and dumping them. I felt honored he wanted to go out with me. My eyes were wide open. First, we would have sex, then he would dump me. I spent three months waiting for it to happen, forcing myself to be strong and not let it break my heart when it did.
When he dumped me in front of my school locker one Monday morning, I wondered what I’d done wrong. Wasn’t he supposed to have sex with me before he dumped me? Maybe there was something wrong with me. Did I give off some kind of weird vibe because I was a virgin? I was too afraid to ask John for the answers, thinking he would just laugh at me, anyway.
The first time I fell in love was about six months later. Jimmy was my best friend’s brother who had a lock and key on my heart.
“Gross, how can you like him?” his sister Wendy would say, holding her nose as a joke.
Jimmy made it easy. He was funny and super smart with lazy green eyes I could get lost in for hours. The first time I said “I love you” was to him. I was fifteen years old and head over heels. The two of us were as inseparable as teenagers could be. He towed me on his bicycle all over the city where we made out behind buildings and at parks. I trusted him more than anybody to never break my heart.
After dating for over a year, Jimmy and I never had sex. I’d been waiting for him to suggest it since he was a teenage boy and all. Sometimes we’d joke about it, but it didn’t go further than that. Our friends assumed we were having sex already, but Jimmy wasn’t pressuring me at all. I almost wished he would. My desire to be close to him grew more every day.
Wendy lost her virginity before I did to an older man she worked with.
“Glenna, it was horrible,” she cried the next day. “I hated every minute. Promise me you won’t do it.”
It would have been less uncomfortable to hear if Jimmy and I weren’t sitting at a table with her at that moment. He reached over and swatted his sister and rolled his eyes.
“Ugh,” he groaned. “Wendy, don’t tell her that.”
I could tell Jimmy was getting closer to asking. He pressed against me tighter when we kissed and let his hands roam more freely. At the same time, something about him was different. He’d say things that weren’t so nice anymore. He wasn’t inviting me to hang out anymore or ride with him on his bike. Losing Jimmy scared me to death. I knew it would hurt like hell, and I did everything I could think of to make him be the same Jimmy I’d always known and loved.
During the times we saw each other, Jimmy was more sexually aggressive. He crossed each of my self-imposed boundaries like a conqueror staking a claim on his land. I never complained, happy he was paying attention to me again. Jimmy mentioned an upcoming party one of his “rich” friends was having. He invited me to go, hinting that it might be the perfect place for our “first time.”
Wendy was at the party when we got there. She showed off her boyfriend and pulled me aside into the next room.
“Are you really going through with it?” she asked me with a smirk on her face.
“I guess so,” I answered as I blushed. Part of me couldn’t believe Jimmy told his sister the reason we were there, so I could lose my virginity. Wasn’t that supposed to be a private thing?
There were couples in the other bedrooms, so Jimmy led me into a large bathroom that was pitch black. I felt a thin carpet underneath me as he took me down to the floor. Outside, I heard other kids laughing and yelling, but in the bathroom, we were alone together for the most intimate moment of my life. The whole thing took about twenty minutes before Jimmy was on his feet getting dressed.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” he said as he walked out.
When I was alone, I turned on the bathroom light and looked in the mirror to see if I looked different. The girl I’d been before the party stared right back at me with a sullen expression on her face. Wasn’t I supposed to feel happy or relieved or something? I wasn’t a virgin anymore, but the truth of what I was instead didn’t seem clear. Jimmy cared about me, at least for those fifteen minutes, but I had the face the fact that he didn’t love me anymore. I’d given him my heart forever, and he returned it damaged beyond repair.
I left the bathroom and ran straight into Wendy and her boyfriend coming out of the bedroom next to me. Wendy flashed her eyes at me with a mocking smile.
“Hey Glenna,” she bellowed so everyone could hear. “Why are you walking so funny?”
Ignoring her question, I left the party and went outside to Jimmy’s car at sat on the trunk. Jimmy was somewhere inside partying with our friends. I wondered if he’d be mad at me sitting on his car. Maybe he’d think I was trying to claim my “territory,” but I just wanted to go home. Besides, the two of us had sex a few minutes earlier. Wasn’t it okay if I sat on his car? Did he not want anyone else to know?
Jimmy and Wendy came out about half an hour later. I was silent as we drove home, not knowing the right thing to say. Jimmy fiddled with his radio while Wendy reported all the gossip she’d heard at the party.
“Hey, are you okay?” Jimmy asked when we pulled into my driveway.
“Yeah,” I told him. There was no point in arguing. I couldn’t force Jimmy to be in love with me. He kissed me quickly on the forehead and watched as I went inside.
Jimmy broke up with me almost two weeks later, shredding me into a million pieces even though I saw it coming a mile away. He was my first everything, the person I adored above everyone else. I felt full of love with nowhere to put it. When I tried to get over him, he’d show up out of nowhere when my mother wasn’t home and lead me to my teenage bedroom.
When I was in Jimmy’s arms, everything seemed right with the world again, except for the fact that he had a new girlfriend in my place. I was the other woman now, the one he had to hide away and never mention to his friends.
I didn’t fully understand what making love was until I was in my 40s and met the man I would later marry. Sex until then seemed to be a game that people used to manipulate and hurt each other. Until I met my husband, there always seemed to be another reason to have sex besides love, not all of them honorable.
What I learned was that making love doesn’t involve reason and is the natural expression of the love you share. The kind of love where you respect each other and rise up together instead of bringing each other down. I’m grateful to know the difference.