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Writing by Ella Mitchell // illustration by Nea Valdivia

‘Firsts’ is a series of stories that delve into the transformative power of life-changing, first-time experiences, offering insights into the complex emotions they evoke. This story by Ella Mitchell explores a teen’s first sex experience motivated by a desire to take control and change one’s destiny.

As I walked up the driveway, I had no idea how the night would end.

Knock, knock, knocking on the front door I could hear loud music and laughter coming from the backyard and I wondered who else was at home.

“Hello” he said, grinning as he opened the door.

Grinning back, I noticed again how tall he had become.

We’d known each other since primary school and had been friends for almost as long. He made me laugh, conspired with me, and defended me with a passion that relaxed me, and made me lean in towards him.

It was a time pre-internet, when teens met up through a memorised web of train lines, milk-bars and skate-parks. I remember the joy of walking new streets alone, of passing through other people’s homes and seeing other ways of living.

At friends’ houses and friends’-of-friend’s homes, we’d laze in pools, play backyard cricket, sing along to rock ‘n’ roll and tantalise each other reading our tarot cards.

In the evenings we’d hunt for a house party or lounge on couches watching cult-movies, SBS and Rage, deriving ways to be better admired in the world.

I remember feeling restless, curious and impatient; wanting to be grown up and free to make big decisions. I wanted to experience what was good and what was bad; the full and textured lives of all the characters I saw on screen.

Following him into the large lounge room, a loud crashing noise echoed down the hallway, followed by an anthem of catcalls and laughter.

I arched an eyebrow at him in question.

“It’s just my sister Ana and a bunch of her friends,” he said, “they’re building a bonfire. They’ll stay outside and party… forget that they’re here.”

He turned and stalked across the room to the mantel, reaching for our drinks. I watched his teenage body move, graceful and strong, like a wild animal.

I remember taking the drink and feeling a slight apprehension as I watched the end of the evening news. Sipping it slowly I listened to the Saturday night movie start, a brassy soundtrack announcing its arrival.

Suddenly a familiar desire to become a different person rose up in me.

“Let’s go to your room,” I said.

Turning, he looked at me, with an expression I couldn’t name.

“But it’s not late,” he said.

“Well, I’m not tired.” I responded.

He stood and slowly held out his hand, a small smile played on his lips.

“Well, are you sure?”

I was impressed. Conversations about consent were not a common part of teenage life back then. I knew from books, films, and from playground gossip, that girls’ affections were not prizes to be given, but to be scored.

I knew that girls should be nice and smile, but they should not be too inviting. That they best be watchful of boys, and men, of their physical interests and appetites, and that it was best to always be cautious and always in control. But I also knew that beyond learned behaviours and gender norms that we were all animals with our own unique rhythms and instincts.

“Yes” I said more firmly, “but…do you have a…” my voice trailed off, remembering a promise I’d made to my mother.

He disappeared, returning with a small shiny shape tucked in his palm. I recognised it from movies and schoolyard pranks but I had never touched a condom outside of science class. I wondered where he’d got it and if he had used one before.

“Are you sure?” he said again, this time with heat in his tone.

Nervous and not entirely sure, I nodded before I could change my mind.

I remember his mattress was on the bedroom floor. His parents had recently separated and relocated, as had mine, and his room was new to us both.

He didn’t speak much about his family, but I knew him well enough to know that his world was changing all too quickly around him, and that he craved comfort and connection, just like I did.

I remember feeling his lips and his weight; feeling parts of my body anew. I remember my cry from the sudden pain and my internal voice confused, both wanting the experience and wanting it to stop. I remember his eyes searching for mine, concerned and caring. I remember smiling back at him.

And when it was done, I felt between two worlds, more knowing, but not yet knowing enough. I recalled a friend’s sister telling me that your first time is never quite what you expect – not like the movies.

I remember asking him not to tell anyone, knowing that my request was unfair and that he would, like I would, share this rite of passage with friends. But I felt I had to say the words, to show care for my reputation, concerned that being relaxed about the encounter would serve as an invitation to others.

Lying in the dark I listened to his breathing and to backyard party chatter. As I watched the slow moon rise, I wondered what other changes this experience would bring me; for better, or for worse.

Postscript: Many years later I saw his photo in the paper, he had won a prestigious award. I looked up his organisation and emailed him a congratulatory note. He responded warmly. A few months later we met for a lunch that lasted hours, one for each decade since we had last met.

Ella Mitchell

Ella Mitchell is a Melbourne-based Australian communications producer. She is a writer and photographer, and works with multi-disciplinary teams to produce marketing materials and campaigns for national clients predominantly in the arts, education, and not-for-profit sectors. Find Ella on Instagram @ellamitchell

Andrea (Nea) Valdivia

Andrea, also known as Nea Valdivia, is a Peruvian illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. She’s passionate about using her art to make different statements and especially loves creating colorful characters that tell a story in an aesthetically pleasing way. You can find her on Instagram as or on her website,

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