Sex on the Beach!

It ain't the romantic vision you think it to be

My college girlfriend and I had been together a few months when I accompanied her to my first—and last—gathering with her extended family in Sunset Beach. The only thing about the family I recall, other than the granny giving me dirty looks, was the way they all huddled around the TV to watch an LA newscast and point to my girlfriend's anchorwoman cousin. Aunties went on and on about what a success the woman was while you could see the not-measuring-up scowls on the faces of nephews and nieces.

"Let's go!" said my perturbed girlfriend, who wanted to bail long before I got the chance to whine about being stuck there. We took a walk along the beach that extended into hours. I think she wanted to make sure everyone in her family had left before returning. The grunion were running when night finally fell, and after scores of people had filled their pails and left the beach, we seemed to be the last two people on Earth.

We eventually snuggled up. Snuggling gave way to nuzzling, which gave way to fondling, which gave way to hot talk and the stripping away of strategic pieces of clothing. But it didn't stay hot for long when sea spray and the cool night air hit our exposed naughty bits. It was so pitch-black out that we got all fumbly trying to complete the act. Right at the moment it seemed we had finally found each other, our mood was spoiled by a voice that couldn't have been more than 20 feet away. Worse yet, after we'd seemingly disconnected, I wasn't sure if I had sex with my girlfriend or a piece of driftwood wrapped in kelp.

Wonder if that driftwood ever thinks of me?

*   *   *

When I was in high school, a co-worker of mine who was in college came in on Monday and said she and her boyfriend had been having sex on the beach when a bunch of gangbangers came up, pulled him off her and beat the shit out of him, and then gang raped her. I've never had sex on the beach.

I was 16 and had sneaked out of the house to go to the beach with my best friend Jane and my boyfriend, Jason—or as my mom called him, "Jason the Ax Murderer." We went to the campground across PCH from Leo Carrillo, and then Jane and Jason started to have sex on a picnic table, so I went and sat at someone's campfire for a while until they started hinting that they were kind of sick of me, so I went and yelled at Jason and Jane that we had to go home. Now. Jason was having sex with my other best friend, Heather, too, but Jane and I didn't find that out for a while. Heather and Jane were both virgins till Jason. I was still a virgin afterward. I guess Jason wasn't actually my boyfriend like I thought.

Sex on the beach is, above all else, a collision of physics and romance, of reality and ideal, of sand and salt (on the one hand) and simple lubrication (on the other). Then there are the waves—on the night of our one-night stand on Waikiki, waves that rose and fell like God's hand slapping at the shore, angry, a rebuke—and, sure, paranoia: while my consort was absolutely switched on by the possibility of being caught in the act, I was terrified into something like impotence. My terror shaped every sound (distant car horns, a disembodied voice, the gentle soughing of the trade wind) into the specter of spies: we were clearly being watched, I believed, and it seemed as if the only force between me and the multitude of intruders was my focused certainty that I would not allow myself to become distracted by anything like passion; my anxiety was like a prism operating in reverse, transforming the colorful, ambient sounds of Waikiki into a single black horror that would manifest itself at the moment of orgasm. But mostly the sand and salt. We were there for a water-polo tournament at the University of Hawaii, and the most natural thing in the world, after slipping out of our clothes, was to race into the hip-deep water and swim until we could no longer touch bottom. Then, the physics lesson: we embraced—and sank. We squirmed a little closer to shore, gasping for air, the waves whipping up a froth of salt water and sand that covered our genitalia; every in and out was like a whip strike across labia and penis, and not in a good way, unless you're a Christian who believes that every act of pleasure must be accompanied by pain, and even then you'd likely admit that it hurt. And then a wave knocked us over, leaving us for a moment like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, until the next one hit us and sent us like a pair of dice cast on a craps table—a couple of dice fucking on a very sandy craps table. We never finished. We were too sore. And by then we were laughing and relaxed. A few minutes later, sitting in a bar, she put her on hand my thigh, and I recoiled as if from a flame.

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