“No one can do me like I do me!” That’s my catchphrase. Sometimes it’s a joke, sometimes a challenge, and sometimes a self-love battle cry. I first yelled it at my friends on a trip to the beach, slurring the words triumphantly as I opened a can of Corona and dropped sideways into a vinyl armchair in our crappy motel room. McKenna stared at me, both amused and bemused, while her significant other Taylor and my best friend Daisy let out surprised peals of laughter. “Preach, Liz.”
We love to tell that story now, imitating the sassy tone, the sharp pop of the beer tab, the resolute sink into the chair like punctuation: “No one can do me like I do me!” I’m not shy about masturbation. Granted, my level of sobriety has a bit of an influence on how blunt I am, but it’s never something I’m ashamed of acknowledging. It wasn’t always like that. For three years, I actually thought I was the only girl I knew who did it at all. And even after I figured out it wasn’t true, I still thought we weren’t supposed to talk about it.
The dam burst that day at the shore. I had walked the length of the beach that afternoon, sun searing the back of my neck as I curled my toes in the wet sand and cried over a boy. Tears hung and dripped like dew drops off my chin. Normally I didn’t cry like that, but alcohol and the sound of the sea had opened the floodgates.
I slammed the door of our motel room. McKenna and Taylor looked at me from where they sat on the bed, Taylor’s head leaning against McKenna’s shoulder. Daisy stood up from the other bed, studying me cautiously. “I love you. People are fucking dumb,” she said.
I grabbed one of the half empty beer cans off the mantel and lifted myself onto the windowsill. “I keep trying and it never works out. No one ever wants to stay.”
“That’s cuz they’re fucking dumb,” she repeated emphatically.
“Yeah, I know,” I said reflexively, “but it still feels like shit. Sucks to know that I was just warming the bench till someone else came along.” I took a sip. “I’m sick of being the second choice. What the fuck is with this need to collect people like that? I don’t get how one person isn’t enough for someone.”
My own fumbling, confused rant had started to piss me off, so I stopped talking and drained my drink instead. Daisy, Taylor, and McKenna watched me. “We adore you,” McKenna said finally. “You’re awesome and you deserve better. Fuck him.”
I slammed the empty can down on the windowsill, imagining that the aluminum clink was much louder than it really was. “Yup,” I agreed, “I don’t need him. I don’t need anyone. I can get myself off better than anyone else anyway.”
They all laughed. “Annnddd Liz is drunk.”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“We absolutely believe you,” Taylor chuckled.
I pushed myself off the windowsill and grabbed another beer from the mini fridge, tapping my index finger absentmindedly against the top. “I’m just saying. The idea that I should put up with anything just cuz he’s apparently got something to give me is ridiculous. I know my body better than he ever could. He can’t give me shit.”
“Again, 100% true,” Daisy agreed in amusement.
I popped open the tab and ignored the foam that overflowed onto my hand. “All I’m saying is, no one can do me like I do me.” I held up the can like I was making a toast and fell into the chair.
There’s this perception that if you don’t hook up a lot, you’re either not a very sexual person, or you’re repressed--sitting there, innocent and nervous, both unaware and afraid of your body, its inner workings and the incomprehensible magic of your dormant sexuality. It’s a whole other fantastic world, if you’d only let someone take your hand and show you.
I don’t need anyone to take my hand. I’ve spent the last five years exploring that world by myself, figuring out what I like, what I fantasize about, which parts of my body are particularly sensitive and how to contract and relax my muscles to reach orgasm. I am sexually inexperienced by most people’s standards, and yet I know my body inside and out, the pathways, the kinks, the fears and the soft spots, mapped out across and under my skin.
But apparently none of that counts. My territory remains uncharted and unclaimed until someone else comes in to explore it.
In the summer, I had a thing with a guy I’d liked back in high school. On his last night in town, we sat side by side on a curb in the grocery store parking lot. It was around sunset, but there were too many trees to see more than a faint, golden glow in the sky. The evening was at once oppressive and refreshing, with a cool breeze threading through the hot summer air every once in a while.
I leaned my head against his shoulder, squinting up at the glow beyond the branches. “It was a good summer,” I remarked.
“It was,” he replied. I could hear the smile in his voice. “I hope you enjoyed yourself. I definitely did.”
“Yeah, I mean, I guess it was alright,” I joked.
“And I hope it was a learning experience for you,” he added. “About what you like.” He brushed his fingers against my neck teasingly. “When you go back to school next month you can tell those Dartmouth guys what to do.”
After a pause, I laughed, because I knew he was trying to be cute and I didn’t know what else to say. But his remark hung unpleasantly in my chest. Words rattled in my throat, trying and failing to form an adequate retort.
“I hope it was a learning experience for you. About what you like.”
As if that was a lesson I had to learn from him, like I didn’t know before he came along. As if his expertise was something to be passed on to other people so they could carry on his good work.
We walked back to my neighborhood and he kissed me at the end of my driveway. I knew I would miss him, so I let myself enjoy it, soaking up the last few moments. As I turned around and walked towards my house, though, his words rang in my ears. They were beyond presumptuous. They were paternalistic, messianic – like I was sitting around doe-eyed and ignorant of pleasure until he came around to enlighten me. I knew things he would never know, the secrets lining the contour of my body and embedded in every layer of my skin. But he acted like he was the conquistador who discovered it all.
He thought his fingertips blazed trails across my stomach, went places no man had ever gone before. And maybe that was true, but contrary to everything history books taught us, the footprints of men weren’t the only ones that counted. Did he think I didn’t exist before he came along and claimed me? That I didn’t know how to speak before he came along and taught me to moan in cadence with his touch? I had my own language and I would scream louder in those words than I ever could in his.
I closed the front door behind me and leaned against it. I couldn’t even feel angry. This was what we were all taught to believe, from the beginning. When we learned that having sex for the first time is a momentous rite of passage, something that changes us significantly enough to determine what color we get to wear at our wedding. When we learned that taking someone’s virginity is like winning a trophy. When we failed to learn about the mere existence of female masturbation, let alone that it was something we could acknowledge and discuss and be proud of. I couldn’t be angry because he didn’t know better, and neither had I a few years ago.
Now I did know better. I watched him map me out, a self-proclaimed expert, and decided to let him believe what he wanted. As he claimed discovery and ownership I said nothing; but in my head I raised my drink and proposed a toast:
No one can do me like I do me.