Sex is something people do when they love each other deeply. At least, that's what most of us are taught as children, if we're taught anything about sex. But that's not always how it goes. Sometimes, you have the hottest sex with someone you don't even like. I know, because I've done it.
Her name was Beth* and we met at a Lesbians Of Brooklyn party three years ago. At first, she seemed great. She had a dog (swoon) and spent half the night teaching me how to play pool. But after a week of texting, I realized that we'd never work in a relationship. Our politics and values were wildly mismatched, she said things that made me cringe so hard my eyes felt like they'd pop out of my head, and she was a chronic liar. Still, we had loads of sexual chemistry and I didn't let that go to waste. We had casual sex for five months.
Our friends-with-benefits situationship ended dramatically, with Beth sobbing at that same lesbian bar where we'd met. Since then, my roommate, my friends, and my current girlfriend have all asked me: "Why were you having sex with her? You didn't even like her." The answer is simple: The. Sex. Was. GOOD.
Beth was the first person to whisper, "What do you want me to do to you?" in my ear. With her, I was able to explore positions and ~activities~ I had fantasized about but never acted on. She took me to my first sex party (where I learned that I'm more kinky than I thought). Our connection was always about sex, not personality, so I decided to overlook the parts of her that I didn't like. But most people don't agree with that choice, and they're not shy about letting me know. People who would never intentionally shame anyone's sex life have questioned why I'd keep sleeping with a woman like Beth, who I realized months after we stopped seeing each other was subtly fat shaming me.
Their questions always make me feel momentarily guilty. Why did I keep sleeping with her, even after I heard her make offensive jokes? But every time I question myself, I remember that sex with Beth was exactly what I needed at the time (which was soon after I ended a four-year relationship and didn't feel very desirable). "People have sex for lots of reasons. Sometimes that reason is a deep, loving connection with a partner. Sometimes that reason is stress relief, connection, or it just feels good," says Rena McDaniel, MEd, a clinical sexologist and licensed therapist. "If you feel shame or are getting shamed for sleeping with someone you don't like as a person, it's a good opportunity to do a self-check."
What she means is that feeling shame or guilt is an opportunity to check in about why you feel that way. Ask yourself if your guilty feelings are coming from yourself or from friends or family. And if they are coming from yourself, what's the root of your shame? Maybe you feel guilty about having sex with this person because you've been dishonest with them about the expectations of your relationship, and that indicates that you should have a conversation with your sexual partner. But there's a good chance that the shame you feel is coming from cultural expectations about women's sex lives. And if so, then it's okay to let go of that shame.
"If you are feeling shame, you can be assured there is nothing faulty in you as a human for making the choice to sleep with someone, no matter who that person is," McDaniel says. "Often, we get values about sex and sexuality put onto us from family, friends, and culture." Ultimately, the choice of who you sleep with and for what reasons is yours alone, she says, because everyone has a right have sex purely for fun or pleasure.