What’s it like to have sex with Duncan?
Content warning: the title. While this essay is neither explicit nor vulgar, it talks frankly about the topic at hand in a PG-13 sort of way, and may be NSFW for many instances of W. I secured approval from LW leadership before posting.
What on Earth is this essay?
Well, I started wondering about the above question, and I decided to ask some people. I know a lot about what I want sex with me to be like—what sort of person I want to be in the bedroom, what sort of impact I hope to have on the people I’m intimate with. And of course I get substantial feedback through people’s nonverbals and little bits of pillow talk and so forth.
But I’d never really actually just asked, directly. So I did! I sent a broad, open-ended request for info to thirteen of the twenty-four people I’ve ever had sex with, and got back responses from twelve of them (and a polite “no thanks” from the thirteenth). I left out the ex from my longest relationship (who spent several years after breaking up with me being really quite vicious at unpredictable intervals), and there were a number of people (including a bunch of one-offs) that I had no way of getting in touch with. But represented among the respondents were:
4 AMAB men, 4 AFAB trans/nonbinary folk, and 4 AFAB women
3 partners with 8+ encounters (a person I’ve been having sex with for 20 years, a person I’ve been having sex with for 10 years, and my current fiancé) and 9 partners with 1-7 encounters each
At least five people I hope/expect to sleep with again
More people than you might naively expect for whom I was something like their first sexual partner, or their first male partner, or their first partner since Something Bad in their past (whether recent or distant)
Why this post?
A few reasons. First, I often think by writing, and I wanted to digest and distill and … collate? … the various responses I’d received, and make them all make sense together, and an essay felt like a pretty natural way to do that.
Second, I really liked the idea of there being something for potential future partners to look at, that was rooted in the direct, first-person data of past partners rather than wholly filtered through my own self-report. It seems like good information to have available, for people who are wondering if they would like being physically intimate with me! And I am fond of moves which simultaneously [attract people who are into your whole deal] and [deter people who are not], and both the essay itself and its specific contents seemed likely to do that.
Third: it is my belief that sex and sexuality have too much power in our society, that our mythology and mysticism around them give them even more power than they would naturally have, given human biology and psychology, and that the best path forward for us, as a culture, is to boring-ify and mundane-ify them. Writing this essay publicly rather than privately was a small act of bravery and a baby step toward being the change I want to see in the world.
(I of course told my partners up front that a public essay was one possible outcome of the survey and that I would not-publish anything they flagged as private.)
On completeness, and bias
A lot of the quotes and summaries to follow are nice! My partners and former partners said a lot of nice things (though not only nice things), and a lot of those things made me feel pretty good about myself.
There is a Certain Kind Of Reader who will see someone saying nice things about themselves of any kind (let alone in the fraught domain of sex and sexuality) and try to make that seem bad, somehow. I’ve elected not to try to make this essay proof against that sort of adversarial interpretation, and have spent basically no energy on modeling those readers outside of this paragraph.
Below, for context, is a visual, anonymized representation of the people I reached out to, out of the larger set of everyone I’ve ever had a sexual encounter with. The color of the square represents my prior sense of the-state-of-our-relationship/whether we were “cool” or not.
Note that the above heat map is not strongly correlated with sex in particular—of the four darkest squares, three of them said multiple specifically enthusiastic things about me-in-the-bedroom during the active stages of our relationship, and also never said anything specifically negative to me about sex either during or after.
(Also, my predictions were not perfect; based on the actual responses, I updated my sense of the overall state of those thirteen relationships as shown in the image below.)
I did my genuine best to gather representative data. I did not, for instance, intentionally exclude partners I expected were mad at me for whatever reason (the one notable exception being the aforementioned long-term ex). I also tried, in my summaries below, to accurately represent the data I received—I have not intentionally left out any large, relevant swaths of information, such that the overall picture would be knowingly misleading (though I have been protective of some small details that seemed … precious, either to me or to the respondent or both).
There’s obviously going to be some bias in who I managed to stay in touch with, and in what people are willing to say directly to me. But “thirteen out of thirteen people pinged replied, and twelve were actually willing to answer this weird-ass question” speaks to something I feel pretty justified in being proud of (going in, I expected to get three or four responses total).
INT: OFF-PEAK HOURS AT A SPARSELY POPULATED CAFÉ.
You and your close friend are sitting down for coffee. Your friend blinks in surprise and says “Wait—you had sex with Duncan? Duncan Sabien? …what’s that like??”
Category 1: The Physical
[insert several affectionate jokes about the length of my penis, and a couple of hasty reassurances about the circumference of my penis; overall the consensus is that we are trending more toward Gimli than toward Legolas.]
I’m 36 years old, around 5′8″, around 200lbs/90kg. I’m white, mesomorph, not a lot of body hair. Unsurprisingly, the kind of people who end up in bed with me are also the kind of people who are at least a little bit into my body type.
Your body that night, and they way you embodied it..so fucking beautiful and masculine and strong
I found his hands to be a turn-on. I appreciate their ability to encompass and envelope parts of the body. Large, strong hands are great. I almost disappeared into them.
I felt very supported around Duncan, oh! And he has really good arms and muscles and warmth. I liked cuddling with him a lot because of that. Very sexy.
The placement and design of your tattoos enhanced the whole experience, especially given how dense your muscles are, and that thought still gives me a good shiver when I think of it
Also, I happen to have a habit of—well—
I remember being like, wait, is he giving me a back massage? Right in the middle of-ok I guess.
most noteworthy duncanism is his propensity to massage whatever body part he can reach while other things are going on. nobody else has ever done that and so it was novel to me. i definitely liked it a lot.
… which can be controversial.
Getting kneaded like pizza dough is on the list of things I didn’t enjoy about the sex.
I remember gaining an appreciation for lip size/softness, in that Duncan’s lips aren’t nearly as full as my other partners have been, and that made kissing him somewhat less fun.
scratchy face lol (can’t be avoided)
(It can, I just have to shave)
And one that I’m weirdly proud of:
you always felt so feverishly warm that I would wonder if you ran hot or I ran cold.
Category 2: The Logistical
I enjoy most of the vanilla combinations of mouth, hand, and [other body parts], though I buck the Millennial trend of, um, that one thing that Millennials made weirdly popular (I won’t stop someone doing it to me but I think it means smooches are on hold for the time being, which is sad because I do like smooches). Nobody’s managed to make my secondary erogenous zones reliably erogenous, though there have been glimmers.
I haven’t got basically any experience at all with non-vanilla stuff; I expect I will enjoy it about as much as alcohol (which I don’t like), but I’ve tried alcohol so I’m open to trying that, too. *shrug.*
That means that the below is all in response to pretty straightforward manual, oral, anal, and PIV sex; no BDSM or roleplay, no fetishes, not a lot of technology involved beyond the occasional vibrator or strapon.
(And almost all one-on-one rather than multiplayer; only three threesomes so far, and I haven’t been invited to any orgies yet (alas).)
When it comes to the nuts and bolts, my partners say:
Sex with Duncan is easier to acquire than I expected. I basically just asked and it was like, “request granted.” This is unusual. It was surprising even given what I knew from reading your posts … I guess I thought there would be more negotiation.
There’s a whole host of mildly bad to terrible things people do in sex. I haven’t seen him do them. OK, one mildly bad thing was when he got kind of complain-y about the fact I couldn’t really do intercourse b/c of pain in my vaginal canal once. But there are so many bad moves (hundreds of them), and he mostly avoids them.
Your kisses tasted like garlic (or dill when you’d been on a Chick-fil-A bender)
One thing that doing this survey has really hammered home for me is Different People Are Different:
He cares about skill-building in many things, including sex. He displays competence. This is also very sexy. He cares enough to learn about you and improve over time for you. He utilizes both body and mind.
I felt like we were constantly starting over, so the sex never got better.
He doesn’t seem to understand that females need more than one orgasm to feel satisfied, because he stops completely after he has orgasmed. I’m typically like “uhh, I’m not done yet.” But it’s awkward to say something because he’s already done and rolled over to rest … and sometimes you can tell he’s tired of trying to get me to my orgasm. I know it takes a long time sometimes.
You didn’t make me feel pressure to orgasm, and accepted that I wanted you to go ahead and orgasm without me. Like we’ve discussed before, obviously long-term I would want someone to learn how to make me orgasm, but in a new encounter it’s unlikely to happen and I don’t want someone to be weird about it.
I do, in fact, generally care a lot about my partner’s experience/feel substantially other-oriented, which means that I want to try and learn about my partner’s idiosyncrasies and what they like and dislike and I am often operating with the explicit goal of “help my partner have a good time,” including practicing and getting better at things with feedback.
But there are a lot of people for whom that creates a highly unpleasant self-consciousness, and so in the event that my other-focus seems bad or counterproductive I just … don’t do it.
(More on this in a later section.)
Things don’t always go as planned:
So one time Duncan tried to give me a blowjob, and it ended up not working, because I wanted him to do it a bit differently (my foreskin wasn’t retracted and it’s the inner side and the head that are more responsive to that sort of wet low-pressure stimulation, at least for me) but I didn’t quite have the ability to use words around sex like that, and was feeling pretty self-conscious in that moment.
… communication helps a lot, but as that particular partner noted, there are also a lot of obstacles to making requests or offering nudges, and sometimes it doesn’t occur to me to ask. Other partners had some thoughts that rhymed:
Our communication was terrible. I didn’t feel like I could initiate sex. I didn’t ask for things I wanted (I can think of one exception) or say when things were not feeling good. I also don’t really recall you asking me to do anything in particular – aside from tickles, of course. I was always running my hands all over you because it was one way I was sure I was pleasing you.
Less kinky. Though you did gamely try with the biting and I was very appreciative of the effort. :) Less… exploring all the options? Something like that. Like, I knew you liked butt play. I brought all the things I needed to do that. I felt willing. And yet it never happened. Maybe that’s on me? Certainly I probably could have moved us in that direction with a little more of a nudge on my part. And then I felt the same in the other direction, like it felt almost like a lucky accident that we got to the point where I was using my vibrator. I don’t know exactly how to characterize what was going on with those two things, or what it felt like there was more friction than I’m used to in getting to those areas. I don’t know exactly what my other partners do that gets us exploring more of the sexual space. I don’t know exactly what I could be doing better to get us there. I’m going to pay more attention and try to figure that out, but it was notable, even in the moment.
I might be more on the same wavelength with some partners than with others:
But let me tell you something… He’s really good at the foreplay. He has cute little one-liner flirty, subtle innuendo comments earlier in the evening that gives a clue as to whether the evening is heading towards sex. And then… The tickles and the sensual petting or massaging and rubbing of the body is very very nice. It definitely works.
A lot of people specifically noted that I’m quiet.
He doesn’t really talk during or make any noise, really. He doesn’t give ME feedback so I know if what I’m doing feels good -other than “those are some quality tickles”. Sometimes a moan or “oh yeah” or “that feels so good” would be helpful. But if I recall, this is because he spent his youth masturbating very quietly so his parents/family couldn’t hear him. But I want feedback. Is my oral technique okay or does it need something else? What about the hand job? Feedback would let me know if I’m pleasing him, which in turn pleases me.
Less noisy in general [than other partners I’ve had]. Less talkative. I am curious if you’ve ever tried to make more noise, just to see what would happen?
his orgasms are pretty quiet on the spectrum of all orgasms i’ve witnessed. i can imagine not noticing when they happen even if i’m there and paying attention.
One note that didn’t fit anywhere else:
You were like “maybe needing to think about it this long means we should use a condom” when I was deciding about whether I wanted to use one. The only reason I hadn’t pre-decided about it was that I fully expected you to require one, so I had to re-orient for a second. I liked your approach because the main complaint I have about men wrt sex is making me feel pressure in various ways (including pressure to orgasm). Zero pressure of any kind is what I want!
Category 3: How it feels to be you, with me
I liked it when you touched me. I liked the way every single thing felt. I never felt like you were going to do anything I didn’t want you to do. I never felt like control was being taken away from me. Not like I was in control, that’s not what I’m saying. More like I wasn’t specifically not in control. There was no slippery slope, no runaway freight train.
I felt safe in your arms.
You were so...you were very present and the quality of your attention and presence was like nothing I’ve ever experienced (before or after). I felt so safe, so attended to, and so in awe of you without a shirt (+ aforementioned presence).
I remember our first time vividly. We had our shirts off. We were hugging and he was lying on top of me. I was being gently poked in the lower belly. I felt warm, cozy, safe, wanted, held. When I went over the edge despite both pairs of pants still being on, I lay there holding him, in what felt like sunshine even though we were inside with the curtains drawn. One of Duncan’s biggest draws is integrity/trust-worthiness. Like, despite what they’ve been through, he somehow convinced the more charred bits of my psyche that he wasn’t going to hurt them. I think that’s how I found myself drawn to him after he outed himself. That’s how the warm safety mentioned above, which was critical for the sex to work properly, managed to materialize.
I loved the look of pride you would get when I could barely walk after a good orgasm.
I remember fooling around in the hot-tub at night, looking out over the city lights. I feel light and happy and playful. There’s an excited lightness and carefree kind of Summer-break attitude. Duncan’s playfulness encourages me to be unburdened and just enjoy the moment. It reminds me abstractly (upon remembering) of Duncan’s Nudity and the mood I get from it.
Category 4: On “werewolfing”
I felt seen by a lot of the comments I got back, but this one was particularly resonant:
Sex, for Duncan, is on a spectrum with other human activities to a much greater degree than that’s the case for anyone else. It’s not quite “he wants the same things out of sex when he’s not turned on, that he wants when he is”, and it’s also not quite “he’s unusually inclined to assess the social situation the sex is taking place in as a social situation instead of as a vehicle for his fantasies / doesn’t do motivated cognition driven by libido”; probably if I had sex with him five more times I could figure out what thing near those two claims *is* true.
I would expect Duncan to be turned off by you “turning into an animal” / tuning out / closing your eyes / something narrower than “engaging in a different communication style from the communication style you would use if you weren’t horny”, but along those lines. Earnestly wanting a sex act with him, in an internally aligned way that you can access both turned off and turned on (sort of the way you’re still capable of recognizing that you like your favorite food even when you’re not hungry), and asking him if he wants to do that with you, is the sort of thing I would expect him to have fun with.
Other partners had thoughts on the same vibe:
*introspects* Duncan was, in my memory, very… cool about having sex. Very chill. Un-neurotic.
It felt like sex with Duncan was similar to interacting with Duncan in general. There’s a bunch of really nice, accessible bits of personality: relaxed uncomplicatedness, hedonistic playfulness, warm acceptance.
I remember, I was nervous, since that was my first (and only) time with a guy, and I remember my eyes were closed while you undressed, and I remember opening my eyes and thinking, I don’t know, maybe I even said it out loud, “Oh. It’s just Duncan, with an erection.” Like you weren’t different in the way I guess I was expecting, from the women I’d slept with? It was very clearly Still You. Not even like a different mood.
One long thought, all from one person:
Maybe a lot of what I hate about sex is the hall of mirrors effect. People are like “oh it’s so intimate and close”, and part of what they mean is that all of another person’s attention is on you and your actions and the effects of your actions, and your attention is on them and their actions the effects of their actions, which for me is dizzy and ungrounded and frightening.
I think my favorite thing about the way you approach sex is that it doesn’t seem to be a big deal for you. You don’t really seem all that into it. You seem to enjoy it, and you’re up for it pretty much always, but you seem like you could take it or leave it, like how you’d gladly roll down a grassy hill with me but you’d also pass by the grassy hill to go get burgers. A lot of people aren’t like that. A lot of people are really intense about it in one way or another. Some people seem to like and/or need it more than anything else. Some people care so much about making sure my experience is good that they absolutely insist on me making my experience legible to them, and they kind of freak out if they don’t read just the right things in what I say. Some people seem to fall down a sex hole once they’re horny in a way that makes anything but a standard-ish sex script difficult to instantiate until they’re done.
You’re relaxed about sex. You’re often playful, but not in a way that makes me feel like I have to figure out what game we’re playing or you’ll be sad. It’s pretty clear that when I feel pressure and fear and so on around sex with you, it’s all coming from me, and you’re only ever creating space for fun and freedom and enjoyment.
Another partner on the same wavelength:
Sex with Duncan is incredible, according to my memory. He remains fully himself. Most people do not remain themselves. He is the same person whether he is naked or not. Whether he is engaging in sexual activity or not. He is somehow ‘fully online’ and not partially there. One outcome of this is that transitions into sexual activity feel fluid and not special, like we’re just doing a normal everyday thing. Sex is mundane. And this is good. Shame was much reduced. Communication is easier and can be straightforward. No mind games. This paragraph deserves to take up 75% of the volume of my response, due to its significance and impacts on the question.
This is not a straightforwardly uncomplicated good, though.
There’s a way that he’s so “solid” or “solidified” it can feel like there’s nothing that really affects him. There are pros and cons to this. There is a kind of intimacy that transforms both people by being in it. He doesn’t seem to transform from many forms of contact, including sexual. I have been transformed by Duncan in many ways, but it doesn’t seem to go the other way. This is part of the tragedy. It can feel like he’s locked away.
um you seemed pretty like, un-sensual, like there was some playfulness and stuff but moreso it was like, kinda something about performing acts. like, I would have? do generally? prioritize like sensuous intimacy and that seemed like unavailable with you, which was sorta disappointing. situation was sort of complicated, I haven’t had sex with a cis guy otherwise, which :shrug: anyway yeah like, this sensuality thing feels like most of the point of sex imo, and you seemed to do sex as like, let’s perform sex acts together and I was a little like “wut lol um ok I guess I’m still down” more words along with sensuality, not synonyms but that often could go along with it: energetic exchange, “animalistic”, “surrender” (not in a d/s sense but in a like ~spiritual~ sense), “embodiment” hm maybe like, you felt like “playful” more like a kid, and less like tender and vulnerable and stuff. tho the actual fucking felt somewhat mechanical or something tbh. obv this is massively affected by context, or however you relate to me, or whatever.
Less playful. I mean, it’s not zero playful. But there was somewhat less of a feeling of bouncing erotic energy back and forth, of experimenting, of wondering, of daring, of playing “warmer, warmer” but with turn-ons. I’m not sure I’m making any sense. And this feeling I’m trying to describe, it’s very much something that’s co-created when it happens, and it may be that I’m the one, or one of the ones, who didn’t bring the right energy for it.
Good kiss. Soft touch. Attentive, while somehow also… something like distant/withdrawn/hard-to-read? very pleasant. lots of asking what I want, which is very nice, but also re: the aforementioned hard-to-read, would have liked more of Duncan’s desire for feel of mutual cocreation or something. very safe & gentle. would be physically intimate with again. very chill casual playful. seems to embody the “ya sure why not share sexual intimacy with people I like?” vibe which I really like.
Compared to other encounters, it was towards the lower end in terms of magical sparkly feelings. That is partially because of my meds (in particular I have noticed that kissing is lackluster to me now) and partially a lack of drama (“omg are Duncan and I going to start dating now? is this the start of something big?” would usually be the flavor). And maybe a more subtle lack of something that’s usually present, like more of a conversational chemistry or something? The cute moment I mentioned above made me think “Oh I’d like a little more of that” or something.
… and with at least two partners, something about the way I relate to sex and sexuality overall was actively bad for them (and in at least one case it was quite bad).
As a “hopeless romantic” and rom-com watcher and such, I’d have to say that there’s no feeling of desire or passion. No urgency like in the movies. Yeah, I know; life isn’t a movie. But still… Like, sometimes I can’t even tell if he’s having fun or not. It can feel emotionless. And then that makes me wonder if maybe that’s ME. And it could be. And it could be US. But like, it’s not “making love“ and it’s not “fucking”, it’s simply sex. Coitus. Intercourse. How can I make this so you’d understand? Hmm… It’s a basic land card with very pretty artwork. You need basic lands to play the game of Magic but every now and then you want a special land. Or a creature that is also a land. Or even a land that has full artwork.
To be clear, (not saying this to soften said blows, as I mean it with my whole heart)… you have such incredible integrity and care, and you take ownership/responsibility as hard as you can in all the places you can model....there were a couple things you didn’t model that I felt a really....bizarre and deep neglect in. Emotionally and sexually? And I doubt I was very good at communicating around this?
Some of my best sexual/intimate memories are with you. Like...when your heart was open it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I felt honored to witness it, to receive it, and was so taken aback that I still am.<3 But, those moments were rare, precious flashes. Going slow with intimacy is fine, guarding your heart and letting it peak out in brief flashes to test the waters is fine, BUT the nature of this rarity with you, and its contrasting shell you had around you most of the time did not feel...grounded/well calibrated/healthy. It felt binary and unintegrated. And blind to the sometimes intense negative impact you had on me, on a variety of levels. Like, the shell was so palpable that when we were being physically intimate, the time that you climaxed, you felt so...unloving/not present in those moments that you actually felt a million miles away, and I felt a deep existential loneliness and shame and confusion after. It reverberated for a while. It was rough.
(There is more along these lines from these two partners, but those are the aforementioned quotes that feel precious/sacred, and which I don’t want to chop up and put on display. One of them I was not surprised by, and the other I was, and I am still trying to digest all of that, and my thoughts and feelings around having collided with them in this way/having been upstream of them feeling like that. I’m going to put in a couple of pictures in lieu of a few more direct quotes, so that this part of the story isn’t brushed past or glossed over. So that it … takes up an appropriate amount of space. I tried to choose pictures whose mood closely matches that of the missing quotes.)
It feels like there might be more to say, but if there is, I’m not sure what it is. This is what it’s like to have sex with me (or, in a phrasing that feels righter, somehow: what it’s like for people when we do sex stuff together). I guess the final piece that seems most likely to be of interest to a reader is something like “how do I, Duncan, feel about all of the above?”
And for the most part, I think I feel seen, and fairly described, and … content? There are things I wish had been different, especially for the partners I focused on near the end. But for the most part, the people I’ve been intimate with seem to have picked up on The Thing I Am Trying To Do, and The Way I Am Trying To Be. Not everybody wants that, and even with the people who do, it hasn’t always worked out for the best. But for the most part, I’m coming through loud and clear.
That’s nice to know, rather than just hoping.
(And hopefully this essay will make it even moreso, in the future.)
Appendix: The Questions Asked
Line breaks within the blockquotes represent a shift between different speakers, unless otherwise noted.
“Werewolfing” is local jargon referring to the way that some (many? Most?) people transform in sexual contexts, plausibly especially cishet men. More detail here.