My boyfriend and I have a ritual after we have sex. Right after he finishes, he gets up while I start screaming for a towel, urging him toward the bathroom closet (or the laundry bag) to retrieve one that I then use to wipe myself down. If a towel is not handy, I'll reach between my legs and gleefully reveal the fruits of his labor to him. "What is this — oooooh," I'll say, wide-eyed, like a magician plucking a quarter from a kid's ear at his birthday party. I think it's hilarious. He thinks it's repulsive.
This ritual has been going on for years, as long as we've been having regular, condom-free sex. If it sounds strange, that's only because we so rarely discuss what is one of the most common problems facing sexual partners:
After a guy comes inside you, how do you dispose of the semen?
The post-sex problem we rarely discuss: What to do after a guy comes? It's a question that comes up woefully infrequently during even the most candid conversations about sex. Do you shake it off, like a cat coming out of the bath or a Taylor Swift backup dancer? Or do you stand up and force it to seep out by jiggling around, like a preschooler at Gymboree? Do you wipe it down? And if so, who retrieves the towel? Do you do it in a house? Do you do it with a mouse?
I found myself asking these questions this week, after writer Maureen O'Connor published an article in New York magazine discussing the politics of where to come. "A successful sexual encounter will require many negotiations," she wrote. "And while many negotiations are more fraught than where to come, few occur with such speed and urgency."
While O'Connor addressed the etiquette of where a male disposes of his semen, it didn't quite touch the perspective of the person into (or onto) whom the semen is disposed.
It's a perspective that theoretically encompasses a good portion of the population, straight women and gay men included. And yet the question of what to do after a dude comes inside you is rarely publicly addressed. "Why is this part of sex never shown in movies or TV?" one 27-year-old woman told Mic. "I was taken aback [the first time it happened]."
Amanda*, a 26-year-old woman, also reported being surprised the first time she had sex without a condom, with her husband on their wedding night.
"I didn't know to expect, that cum would literally be falling out of me (even though I'm familiar with the law of gravity)," she told Mic in an email. "I didn't even know if it was normal. In fact, for a while, I assumed there was something wrong with me, and I even asked my gynecologist if what was happening was normal."
The art of spillage-catching: Needless to say, it is totally normal for fluids to be expelled after sex. The female anatomy doesn't function like an Oreck vaccum, diligently sucking up every ounce of baby-making juice, contrary to popular belief.
The same goes for men who have sex with men, if various self-reports from male Mic readers are any indication, though the cleanup seems to require slightly less work, often little more than "a thorough wiping with a tissue," as one 27-year-old man put it. "There are occasions when it generally stays put and is, like, absorbed into my system, I guess."
Many Mic readers (responding via Google form) fall into the "wipe that shit down" school of thought, to quote a 22-year-old female. That often involves Kleenex or toilet paper, perhaps wadded up "as a tampon of sorts to catch residual junk," one 28-year-old woman reported. A 24-year-old woman had a similar, albeit crueler, system: "I use closest fabric or object to wipe it off. Usually try for the guy's boxers because I'm a dick."
Other millennials opt to flush the semen out, the way Mother Nature intended, by peeing, "which we all know serves as a sort of shower for your vagina after sex," a 28-year-old woman wrote. "I always run to the bathroom to pee after sex anyway — UTIs are no joke — so I kind of push it out with my vag muscles when I pee," one 26-year-old woman reported. (Her instincts aren't wrong: Peeing after sex can prevent contracting UTIs.)
Others take a live-and-let-live approach, letting gravity take its course. "I honestly am pretty turned on by guys coming inside of me (only when I'm on birth control obviously, otherwise it is a nightmare)," a 26-year-old woman wrote to Mic. "Usually, I will use the bathroom after sex, and wipe it down there. But sometimes, I just let it do whatever it wants to do, which I guess is just be inside of me?"
A 31-year-old woman echoed that sentiment, albeit more graphically: "Much like cocaine, the drip is the best part."
Why don't we talk about post-sex spillage? One reason may be the simple "ick" factor of the topic, which is exacerbated by the lack of realistic depictions of sex in pop culture, especially where female pleasure is concerned. "We all know, whether from real life or TV, that when a guy jerks off, he does it into a tissue, a rag, or a la American Pie, into a tube sock, but no one talks about what happens when that shit gets all up in a girl's hoo haa," Amanda told Mic.
The cultural silence around post-sex spillage may stem from sexism, specifically the sexual expectations for women versus those of men. "I feel like it likely has more to do with the fact that it's very 'un-sexy' and women are supposed to be sexy. We hide our 'grossness' from men in order to maintain our feminine mystique," Amanda suggested.
Moreover, to acknowledge that a vagina doesn't function like a vacuum for semen is to acknowledge that the vagina doesn't exist for the sole purpose of conception, a concept that has terrified men since long before Freud started ranting about the evils of the clitoris.
But there's another reason we rarely talk about post-sex spillage: the stigma around unprotected sex. In an age in which we can buy condoms from vending machines, it's assumed that millennials are savvy enough to take necessary "safe sex" precautions. But that's far from reality; according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 60% of sexually active high schoolers reported regularly using condoms. A survey from Trojan Condoms found that while 80% of respondents said condom use was important, only 35% reported using a condom the last time they had sex.
Given what we know about pregnancy and STIs, why are we not using condoms? It often comes down to being with a long-term partner. As a Dutch study in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections found, couples in serious relationships are only having sex with condoms 14% of the time, while partners in casual relationships use them 33% of the time. People in committed relationships tend to stop using condoms as early as the two-month mark, which Nerve referred to as the "condom cliff."
Once you pass that cliff, you're in spillage territory.
Owning the spills, mess and all: My boyfriend and I reached the condom cliff around the four-year mark, while both getting tested and using hormonal birth control. And yet, even as we and other partners have taken these precautions, the spillage that comes from condom-free sex still isn't an accepted topic of sex talk conversation. The truth is, from a very early age, we're taught to be ashamed about our bodies and our pleasure, to the point where we completely gloss over the reality of what it's like to have sex — the good and the gross.
This deafening silence can be harmful to women like Amanda, who have been made to feel like their bodies were abnormal. But there's no need to feel ashamed, gross or even confused. If we were more open and honest about sex, our sexual egos would be spared a lot of damage (not to mention countless pairs of underwear and sheets).
Next time you have sex, be it gay or straight, bad or good, protected or condom-free, don't worry about dabbing up the evidence daintily like you're Grace Kelly having four o'clock tea with the Queen. Proudly let the splooge spill where it may, and don't apologize. Because it's not only evidence of the pleasure you just shared with someone else, it's evidence of your humanity in all its sloppy, imperfect glory. You are not an Oreck. And that's OK.
* Name has been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.