Jan Zhukov

Sexuality in Conversation

Do Sex Ultimatums Work?

In looking back on my sexual history, it occurs to me that the extremely idyllic way in which I had my first sexual experience completely and irrevocably screwed up my sex life for most of my 20s. In talking with friends and acquaintances about their first times (as a sex writer, the topic comes up often and eagerly in casual conversation), I’ve gathered that most early sexual experiences are straight-up terrible, and involve some combination of shitty men, awkward spaces and alcohol.

My first time happened on my 17th birthday with my high school boyfriend—a man who I loved in that first-time kind of way. He knew I’d never had sex before, so even though he’d already had sex, he was gentle and sweet. Some early ‘00s hip hop played on the radio. When it was over, he cuddled me close to his chest and played with my hair. It was as close to perfect as those situations can get, I’m told, because it happened on my terms in the exact way I wanted it to.

After that fairy tale of a first time, I was convinced that sex was a kind of solidifier in a relationship, and that most people were on board with the idea that once we slipped between the sheets, that things were progressing toward a more serious relationship.

As you can imagine, I learned pretty fucking quickly that I was naive as hell.

I graduated college in May of 2012. Tinder was released the following September. So while I expected relationships to become more serious once I entered the “real world,” things, unfortunately, stayed college-causal. Not only were people sleeping together without titles or commitment, people were sleeping with multiple folks at the same time. Tinder gave us bounty, and we gobbled it right the fuck up.

Now while I don’t care what other people’s sexual preferences are, sex with more than one person at a time has never really sat right with me. (Admittedly, I have fairly vanilla sexual tendencies for someone who writes about boofing for the internet.) I never really took part in the fucking-multiple-partners thing. But, thanks to a dating culture that tends to remove women’s autonomy and urges her to be “cool” in order to win over a dude, I thought that demanding exclusivity before sex would make me seem crazy. So I loosened my morals a bit. I had sex without commitment, hoping that P-in-V would eventually lead to boyfriend-and-girlfriend.

And, admittedly, for a year or so, I had a good time. In fact, I had one of the most fulfilling relationships I’d ever had with a person who I would never call my boyfriend. But there would always be a little gnawing feeling in the back of my mind when I’d sleep with a dude who would balk at any kind of relationship talk I tried to bring up. Don’t I want more? I’d ask myself.

The ultimatum has worked exactly as it’s meant to since then, in that it scares off the men who are too selfish or scared to be respectful of another person’s body or emotions.

The answer, of course, was yes. It ate me up to know that the man I’d slept with might be sleeping with someone else. I am an incredibly jealous person by nature, and I’m an even more jealous lover. The idea of being just one on a list of women to call in any given week was pretty abhorrent to me.

So I decided to make a switch and do the supremely uncool thing. I made myself a sex ultimatum. I decided that I would no longer sleep with someone who was sleeping with other people. That didn’t mean you had to be my boyfriend. It didn’t mean we had to get married. But it did mean that, until we cleared a level of intimacy where we both decided to be exclusive, there was no way I was going to allow a man to penetrate me. I had gotten to a point in my life where sex had taken on new meaning, and I felt ready and willing to participate in more monogamous relationships. This ultimatum aligned everything and allowed me to only give myself over to men who were interested in exploring things a little more seriously.

The first time I implemented the ultimatum, it blew up spectacularly. Eric* and I had gone out on three dates before we slept together, and while he wanted to take things slow, I let him know that I don’t sleep with men who are sleeping with other people. We continued to hang out, although our sex life tapered off over the next few weeks. And then, one day, I walked into his apartment to find him sitting on the couch crying. “I slept with someone else,” he said. I yelled at him, and then packed up my stuff and left.

The ultimatum has worked exactly as it’s meant to since then, in that it scares off the men who are too selfish or scared to be respectful of another person’s body or emotions. It also gives me the time to figure out whether or not I actually want to be with the people I’m dating exclusively. I am a victim of the sex haze. As soon as I sleep with someone, it’s easy for my brain to fog over and ignore the things that might be very obvious red flags. My sex ultimatum gives me time to recognize those flags—and run in the opposite direction if need be.

That’s not to say it’s not without its hardships. I’ve been in a pretty spectacular dry spell for the past few months, not wanting to trade in my values for an orgasm. But these things are easily remedied with the help of battery-operated toys.

All in all, though, having a sex ultimatum allows me to repeat the dynamic of my first sexual experience. Sex now happens on my terms. And, really, that’s the way every sexual encounter should be—two people who are agreeing to engage in a sex act in a way that they’re both comfortable with and consenting to. For some, that could mean a quickie in a bathroom, or a one-night stand. But for me, that means an acknowledgement that my partner and I are both excited to explore a more exclusive partnership. That may not sound very romantic, but it’s my version of a modern-day fairy tale.