Taking an Accurate Sexual History
by Madelaine Davis
Step One. Set the stage. Make sure the patient is comfortable. Preface the conversation with the fact that you’re about to ask them some questions about their sexual history.
Step Two. Begin questioning. Ask the following:
Question 1: Have you recently been sexually active?
I ask a lot of question. Most children do, but there’s a surety with which I ask them. They don’t stumble – the saunter out of my mouth with little hesitance, as if I know someone somewhere will answer them. When I ask my mother what sex is, she seems calm, but is slow to respond.
We’ll discuss it later.
Mothers are curious creatures. Harsh and feral and soft and gentle in equal measure. But unlike other mothers – say lionesses or killer whales – human mothers often seek out advice from other members of their kind. Particularly when it comes to child rearing. What type of diapers should we use? Where did you get your crib? Breastfeeding or formula?
I’m brought a book supplied by a neighbor, also a mother. It details the following story: when two people fall in love (male and female, naturally), they get married. Sometimes these married persons decide they want children, at which point they engage in a “special cuddle.” It’s from this immaculate snuggle, this gentle curling together of two, fully clothed bodies that something beautiful is born – a baby.
I ask for a demonstration of the special cuddle.
The book is taken away, and the next day my mother gives me a detailed explanation of the human reproductive system, complete with charts and graphs.
Spermatozoa, I mumble under my breath the next day at school. Spermatozoa spermatozoa spermatozoa.
Question Two: If no, have you ever been sexually active?
I’m crouched on the stairs, toes poking out of my flannel nightgown, while the television illuminates the living room. My father dozes gently on the sofa, soft snores rumbling, head tilted back against the riotous floral fabric, mouth askew. My mother, feet tucked beneath a blanket, remains impassive, eyes glued to the screen.
The Scene: A restaurant. A man and a woman sit across from one another at a table. They’re joined on either side by other people, but it’s clear they have little interest in those around them. Slowly, the woman lifts her stocking clad foot out of her pump, long backseam racing up her calf. Her foot glides along the floor, gently brushing the shining tips of his polished leather brogues. Her toes edge across his ankle before beginning a swift ascent, across his shin, past his knee, up up up up. The shot cuts to the man’s face, a growing look of desire and discomposure breaking across his features.
They seem smitten. Something wanton and sweet strung between them.
The next day, I attempt this with the boy who sits across from me. His name is Brian and his bowl haircut has the 90s-JTT vibes of my prepubescent dreams. Presently, the aforementioned hair is dipping down, brushing the tops of his browbones as he concentrates on a math problem.
I lift my sandal encased foot swiftly, nudging his knees under the table. He looks up, briefly, perturbed, before continuing on with his work.
8 times 8 is…. 64.
6 times 4 is… 24.
This is, obviously, not the reaction one wants. Where was the sheen of dewy anticipation across his brow? The look of adulation? The something that leads to kissing? (And, despite having no practical experience with kissing and only a nebulous understanding of the dynamics of the subject matter – I’ve decided I’m very into it. The suggestive smashing of two faces together.)
I try again, this time moving my foot aggressively past his thigh, one massive shove.
Brian winces, face splitting, and begins to cry.
Why did you kick me in the nuts?
His tone is starkly accusatory as he slips out of his chair, bones suddenly gelatin, and slides gracelessly to the floor.
I get sent to the principal’s office.
Question Three: What is/are the sex and gender of your partner(s)?
Some people are born with mouths made for kissing. I am not one of those people. Thin lipped, more like twin scars slashed across a face than anything inviting or sensual. All the same, I put mine to good use.
Practicing kissing with friends, shirts pushed up under sleeping bags, cluttering each other’s chests with hickies. Boys at parties, men at bars, strangers under bridges and on park benches. Licking my way up thighs and down pants and under skirts. Mouths pressed together for hours in movie theaters, hungry and sucking and whispering like prayers in a church.
There’s something sacred and profane about it. This tug between the sweetly romantic and the sumptuously perverse that I find intoxicating. I want to unlock the door, make myself at home in this space. I create more and more room for it, tucked in between my thighs and close to my heart.
I’m told I’m shameless. Repeatedly.
Shameless. You’re shameless. How can you be so shameless?
As if there is something shameful in my lack of shame.
Question Four: What kind of sexual contact do you have or have you had? Genital (penis in the vagina)? Anal (penis in the anus)? Oral (mouth on penis, vagina, or anus)?
Growing up, I’m told frequently of the dangers of sex. Good girls don’t have sex. It’s painful. It’ll hurt and you’ll bleed. You’ll get pregnant, immediately. Every time, probably. Something is taken, tarnished, forever irretrievable.
I watch high school classmates douche with coke and jump around after fucking their boyfriends in cars, certain this will prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I watch college students slip condoms from the health center, sleight of hand, sticky fingers, as if they’re still ashamed of people knowing.
Like there’s some threshold you cross through the grace of an anointing penis, and once you have tumbled over that precipice you’ll turn into something else.
The first time I have sex sex, as my roommate calls it, is on a beach. I’m supposed to be sad or nervous or wary. I’m supposed to want it but not but maybe but only grudgingly. This is what I’m told. It will be A Big Deal.
He slips in soft and quiet, the sound of the waves lapping gently on the other side of the dune, and the stars sparkling lightly above. There’re a few shoves, the last several made slightly more uncomfortable by the sand. (Because fucking on the beach means sand, and sand really does get everywhere.) A slight stretching and it’s done. The end.
His breath is heavy in my ear, scented like orange soda and vodka. The air smells like sweat and come and the sea.
I don’t come. We part ways.
Back at my room, I throw my jacket on my bed and walk to the bathroom to take a shower. I strip down and look myself over in the mirror, small breasts and skin prickling in the cool air. I lower my hands down, across the planes of my stomach, cupping my mons pubis. I can feel us there, mingled and slick across my skin.
I use his come to rub myself, fingers hot and sticky and wet. It feels wonderful and terrible. I watch myself in the mirror, skin flushed and dusted with sand, hair tangled, makeup smudged. I understand how Narcissus could die looking at his reflection in a pond. There’s something beautiful and monstrous about my face, my eyes, as I make myself come.
When I’m done, I reconsider myself in the mirror.
I look the same.
I lick my fingers.
Spermatozoa, I mumble under my breath as I start the shower, hand outstretched, digits flexing under the spray. Spermatozoa spermatozoa spermatozoa.
About the Author
Madelaine Davis is a 32-year-old writer living in Austin, TX with a cat who, on any given day, is plotting to kill her. Previously, she received an A.S. in Culinary Arts and a B.A. in History and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Anthropology, because why get useful degrees. Madelaine has always hated early mornings, loved caffeine, and generally spends all of her spare time reading. Her dream job would be to travel around the world and eat. So, if you know anyone who is hiring for that kind of position, let her know.