See, my sex life at that time was not exactly hoppin’. I’d only just broken a year-and-a-half-long dry spell, and the person who’d broken it for me had gone back to the far-away city where he lived. So my sexual future didn’t seem bright. This well-intentioned Twitter warning felt like when I got my wisdom teeth out at age 17. As I drifted out of my anaesthesia cloud and back to earth, the dentist told me, “You should probably avoid drinking, smoking, and exercising for a while.” And 17-year-old me – neither a partier nor an exerciser – burst out laughing, to the mixed embarrassment and amusement of the dentist and my mother.
It felt like a moot suggestion. Just like someone telling me to intentionally avoid sex, when it felt like I’d been unintentionally avoiding sex for a long-ass time.
And yet, the very day after I got that tattoo, I found myself cuddled up with a cute boy on his couch, his face so close to mine that my cheeks glowed red-hot.
“Wanna see my new tattoo?” I asked excitedly, two or three hours deep into one of those intense, confessional conversations that make you want to bang someone real bad. (Or maybe that’s just me.) “Yeah!” he confirmed, and I lit up. I pushed my skirt a little lower on my hips, tucked my thumb into the waistband of my panties, and tugged.
To our mutual horror, the underwear stuck to the healing heart, pulling the mushy top layer of skin along with it. “Eeeeuuuugghhh,“ me and Cute Boy both intoned. (Tattoo enthusiasts, worry not: I went for a free touch-up at my tattoo parlor a month later, so the damage was not permanent.)
It was a gross moment, but apparently not gross enough to scare him off; we had sex less than an hour later, in his cozy basement-apartment bed. After teasing me for long minutes – his hands and lips and tongue all over every part of me but my genitals – he paused and observed, “Normally, at this point, I’d take your underwear off, but I’m gonna ask for your help this time, ’cause I don’t wanna hurt you.” I giggled and obliged.
It was my introduction to an experience I would come to adore: Having Sex While Tattooed.
There are certain phrases that come out of my mouth a lot when I’m having sex. Some pertain to logistics: “Can you go a little deeper?” “I would really like to go down on you…” Others are hallmarks of my anxious brain: “Are you getting tired?” “Do you want to stop?” Still others are just stock phrases I blurt when excited or nervous: “Sorry I’m giggling so much; I do that.” “Aaah, words are hard!” I like to imagine listing these phrases to a room full of my past sexual partners. They’d all laugh and say, “Yep. She says that a lot.”
One such phrase, since I first got inked, is: “Do you like my tattoo?”
Without the benefit of hearing my inflection or seeing my face, you might have read that and assumed I ask this question out of insecurity or a need for validation: “My tattoo is cute, right? Please tell me you think it’s cute.” But that’s not how it feels when I ask it. It usually crosses my lips coquettishly, a sly grin on my face. It’s not really a question. The subtext is: My tattoo’s goddamn excellent, isn’t it.
One such incident happened on a chilly night in March. It was the type of first date I didn’t expect to end in sex: our rapport unfurled leisurely but delightfully over drinks, and I thought, I would like to have sex with this boy, but probably not tonight. But one thing led to another and he ended up in my bed with me – ostensibly just to cuddle and sleep.
“Do you like my tattoo?” I asked as I shed my skirt and tights and climbed into bed beside him, tugging my panties a little lower on my hips so he could see the little red heart.
“Yeah! It’s so cute,” he said, with genuine enchantment in his voice. “Can I kiss it?”
I laughed a little to hide my surprise, and said yes. This sweet, gangly boy slid down the length of my bed til he was eye-level with my pelvis. I felt his warm breath on my lower belly. He pressed a firm kiss to my heart tattoo. All that heat and pressure and careful attention, just inches from my clit. It would be an understatement to say that I swooned.
I hadn’t meant to have sex with him. But like… after that… how could I not?
My boyfriend in the summer of 2016 was covered in tattoos. They each meant something different and magnificent. When I confessed I wanted more ink but worried I’d regret it years later, he told me, “Tattoos are just a snapshot in time. They don’t have to represent who you’ll be forever; they just represent who you were at the time that you got them.”
He was one of the first people I told about the tattoos I wanted to get on the backs of my thighs – two pink bows with the words “good girl” above them. “They’re gonna look so sexy on you!” he declared. Sometimes he’d even talk dirty about my hypothetical tattoos while we fucked. “You’re such a good girl,” he’d grunt against my shoulder while I was pinned beneath him. “Soon it’ll be on your skin so everyone’ll know it.”
Ironically, though that boyfriend was more excited about my “Good Girl” tattoos than anyone I knew, he never got to see them on me; we broke up before I actually got them. But it was fitting: I was not a good girl with him. I was in love with someone else, constantly half-distracted, one foot out the door. He was excited for the good girl I would become, though he’d never get to meet her.
Three days after I got my thighs tattooed, my fave fuckbuddy bent me over in a park at 2AM and fucked me like the world was ending. We were drunk and nothing else mattered. He felt deliciously thick inside me and noises bubbled up from my throat unprompted. All I knew was that I didn’t want him to stop.
But he stopped. “Oh, shit,” he said suddenly, stilling inside me. “Am I hurting your tattoos?”
This possibility had literally not occurred to me. But then, of course, alcohol numbs us to such things.
“No, I’m fine,” I said, but by then we were no longer fucking, and instead, messily kissing, because drunk sex makes one activity blur into the next in a way that feels retrospectively picturesque.
He zipped his pants back up, I smoothed my skirt back down, and we caught a streetcar back to his neighborhood. He bought Subway sandwiches for both of us, because he is a goddamn gentleman. When we arrived at his place, I realized I had forgotten to bring moisturizer, and my flaky, healing tattoos felt dry and achy. “Hang on a minute,” he called from the bathroom, as I whined tipsily, face-down in his bed.
When he returned, he was carrying a bottle of fancy face moisturizer. “Shh, just stay still,” he instructed me, so I kept my face planted in his pillow as he rubbed cool wet lotion on my blistering thighs. His touch was warm and tender, and felt somehow more intimate than his dick had felt buried in me mere minutes earlier. “There. That’s better. That’s good.” That’s a good girl, I whispered in my own ear.
A few days after that, I met a cute boy at a sex club and went home with him. He made me laugh and I felt safe around him; that was all there was to it, and that was all I needed.
When we arrived at his apartment and I flopped face-first on his bed, I heard his voice from behind me: “Oh my god.” I didn’t know what he was reacting to: my curvy and excellent ass, the spanking bruises on my skin from earlier that evening, or my adorable new tattoos. Frankly, I didn’t care. The reason for the reaction mattered less than the reaction itself. It was the reaction I wanted.
Tattoos, I realized, are the only femme trappings I can never take off. My carefully-constructed outfit will be shed, a blowjob might erase my lipstick, my perfume will fade into the atmosphere, but my tattoos are forever. Never again will I be reduced to a blank human canvas, devoid of the markers that make me me. I am perpetually emblazoned with these images: one red heart, two pink bows, and the words “good girl.” No one can take these things from me. They are mine, for always, forever.
“God, your tattoos are so hot,” this cute funny stranger said to me as he laid down beside me and began to kiss me, and I thought, Yes, they fucking are.