I’ve had so many awkward hook-ups at Cornell. There was the guy who asked if he could fill a condom with water and put it in my vagina, the young man who, when I couldn’t identify the source of a strange odor in the air, volunteered that he “didn’t believe in deodorant” and the fellow who, after the deed was done, snapped my lacy bra onto his bony chest and left the bed to show his roommate. This is not to mention, of course, the ardent lovers that flop around on top of me, dragging their mouth over my face, before dismounting and lying in sweaty silence on my bed.
I feel so blessed that my current significant other and I have never had such moments. From the moment freshman year we made out in a dirty corner of his fraternity’s annex during a date night pregame, we have been almost ludicrously in sync. When we are both in Ithaca, it’s perfect; the sex is amazing, and the connection is real. Physical intimacy has always come so easily to us. Beyond that, he’s pooped in front of me, I’ve puked into his toilet as he held back my hair and he’s watched me dedicatedly pluck my chin fuzz. Even our silence is comfortable, and there’s very little I’d hesitate to do in front of him.
Or so I thought.
Enter COVID-19. He lives in Wisconsin, I live in Delaware. We FaceTime every night, and what I’ve learned about long distance relationships is … love in the time of coronavirus can be so damn awkward.
I’ve sent nudes before. Hey, 40 percent of my generation has. But somehow, when I stand in my childhood bedroom with Mr. Cuddles the teddy bear watching solemnly from my bed, I just can’t get in the mood. Whatever I do take just feels so cringy. I look possessed. Why is my back arched so unnaturally? Do guys even like pictures of vaginas? What the hell, how did Mr. Cuddles end up positioned eerily in the background? I thought he was on the bed!
Maybe seeing my naked body frozen in a pornstar affectation in my candy pink, polka-dotted bedroom just isn’t it, I decided. Video sex is a thing. And anything has to be better than checking over my nude work of art and finding Mr. Cuddles sitting alert in the background behind my right boob.
So I FaceTimed my Packers Fan who, patient though he be, had definitely been waiting for this moment. Which is fair; I mean, we’re 20. In these times of quarantine, he’d broached the subject of video sex a few times before and I’d instantly redirected the conversation; it was too late, I had to be up in 13 hours, tomorrow was a real busy day — I had big plans to walk outside aimlessly for a couple of hours.
He picked up, eyes bright, hair tousled, smile ready. I took a deep breath, fingered the edge of my t-shirt and we … small talked. With this boy, who I have known and loved for two years, who I have seen in all manners of embarrassing positions, I nervously discussed the weather and our respective pets. When we ran out of subjects, I hurriedly moved on to the time-honored tradition of bashing our philosophy professor. This went on for two hours.
Packers Fan, I could tell, was losing his patience. But he was too shy to broach the subject — video sex foreplay etiquette doesn’t really exist, after all — and I was caught in the throes of extreme nervousness. He sat up on his bed and took off his shirt. “Reciprocity is key,” he urged, smiling worriedly. I obliged, pulling off the shirt that advertised my elementary school’s Fun Run and fighting the urge to cover my chest with my polka-dotted bed sheets. Pants followed (that process also took half an hour), and finally, at three in the morning, we started jerking it to the camera.
All I could think about was my FBI agent. Were they watching this and shaking their head? What if some Russian spy hacked my web feed — would grad schools still take me if I accidentally made the front page of adult sites? How did Mr. Cuddles end up behind the laptop — again??
Packers Fan’s voice cut through my panic. “Babe, could you put the camera between your legs?”
Every part of me screamed, NO. A vagina is a beautiful thing, but that particular view would include my soft belly and my double chin, not to mention a spectacular shot of the bush I neglected to trim. “Oh, wait, I’m coming,” I lied. Blessedly, he rapidly caught up with my faked orgasm and we repositioned the cameras to bring our faces into view — the thought of including my concentrated masturbation face in the perspective had been too much to bear. We chuckled awkwardly.“Thanks, babe,” he said. “Kill me now,” I almost responded.
After a few more minutes of painfully awkward conversation, during which somehow the damned philosophy professor made a reappearance, he said he’d better “hit the hay.” I knew that was a lie, as he was two time zones behind me, but appreciated that he wanted to end the call as badly as I did. “Ok, bye!” I chirped, my heart pounding as he hung up. Awful, awful, awful, I thought. That night, I dreamt of Mr. Cuddles.
That was a week ago. I wish I could say we’ve been getting better at this, that that particular night was just a fluke and now we launch ourselves, virtually, into the throes of passion. I wish this column was written by a confident sex expert, here to tell readers how ‘pandemics can take your relationship to the next level!’ I wish that the perceived awkwardness of this very normal encounter was not a manifestation of my own insecurities. Surprise! It was. And sadly, our virtual sex lives haven’t quite reached the next level. I’m not your friendly neighborhood Cosmo writer, either.
I know no one admits to reading Sex on Thursdays, but to my clandestine audience, no doubt lying on their stomachs on their childhood bed, I say this. As a generation, we’re supposed to be two things: technologically savvy and extremely sexual. And if this pandemic has brought to light that, like me, you are not really either of those things — you are not alone. I figure moments of intense awkwardness will only make our joyous reunion with our significant others in sunny Ithaca that much better.
Virtual Virgin is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sex on Thursday runs alternating weeks this semester.