On Chesil Beach: What NOT To Do Your First Time
I just read the beautifully written (but also mortifying) novella by Ian McKewan, On Chesil Beach. It’s a lovely little book, with well-drawn characters, but I think the main reason it’s been pretty famous this year is because of its infamous sex scene, a scene in which two inexperienced virgins get just about everything wrong.
Without giving it away, I couldn’t help laughing even as I blushed. At the same time, I learned a lot about what NOT to do when the realities of our bodies inevitably trip us up.
1. You must talk about sex. On Chesil Beach is set in the early sixties, a time when it was “simply impossible” for anyone to discuss sex. It’s the ultimate taboo subject even when people are married, and as a result, couples who get together barely know what to do with each other or even what to expect.
In the book, Florence is given a brief pamphlet about the bare bones of sex, but she still doesn’t have the first clue of what to do or what will happen on the man’s side of things. Because of this huge taboo of talking about sex, neither of them can talk healthily about it when things go wrong. Times have changed a lot since then, but I still think the taboo stands in a lot of situations. We’re not supposed to say certain words, protest if something hurts, or talk about what we want. But without having these difficult and embarrassing conversations, people will end up being disappointed, hurt, or just plain confused.
2. Don’t feel ashamed. A powerful sense of shame is another reason why Florence and Edward feel paralyzed in McKewan’s book. When things go wrong, Florence immediately assumes it’s her fault, she has done something wrong. Edward similarly feels ashamed for having “failed.” In reality, sex the first time is harder than TV and movies make it out to be. It takes a little finagling to get the jigsaw pieces together, so to speak, and if either girl or guy feels shame about this, it will taint the whole experience.
3.The girl’s gotta feel good too! In the world of On Chesil Beach, women were expected to be entirely passive. In fact, a woman who enjoyed sex too much was regarded with suspicion. Sex is supposed to be something that women just bear or tolerate, and not much side stuff was done for the woman’s pleasure. Thankfully, in this modern day and age we know that it’s just as important for women to have fun as men! If your partner is neglecting your pleasure, you’ve got to speak up and say so. Sex shouldn’t have to be something to be borne for anyone.
4. Be supportive, and be able to laugh. First times are awkward. They just…are. The worst thing would be losing your sense of humor if things get a bit silly. As long as you’re not laughing at your partner, of course! You’ve both got to be there for each other, and be able to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. If you’re too serious, and are expecting a home run on the first try, then everyone is just going to end up disappointed. So relax! There’s gotta be a first time, and as long as you are communicative, you can survive the awkwardness with your sense of humor intact.