Sex, all six parts

Part One

I’m ten years old, at a private all girls’ primary school, and I’m bringing a letter home for my mum that informs her that her daughter will be learning about sexual reproduction, and that the school needs her permission for this learning to take place.

A few weeks later, my best friend Cat and I are waiting outside the classroom for our awakening to begin. Neither of us can say the word without fits of laughter. We can only spell it. Even then, I think I spelt it C-E-X just to be safe.

We sit down. Some of the other girls aren’t there. Our teacher comes out, a notorious bully in the school, uses the term “making love” and then proceeds to explain that the word “sex” (she uses air quotes for this word) is “common” (as in uncouth).

She then opens the dusty closet in the corner of the room before wheeling out a television and thrusting a video inside.

Lights off. Play. It’s a cartoon of a woman and a man, in bed. The video displays the couple lying side by side, facing each other, their legs straight, his penis perpendicular to his body, inserting itself inside her. There’s no foreplay. There’s very little contact at all, aside from the exact implements necessary. In fact, the videocassette and my teacher had a longer sexual journey than this couple did.

The cartoon shows her cheeks flush bright red. She looks embarrassed.
Then he pulls out again. I wish I was kidding when I said that up until a very dangerous age, I literally thought sex was a man putting his penis inside you, then pulling it back out again. Like a fish depositing eggs. No vigorous movement in between. Just static. And shame.

I’m at an all girls’ high school. I’m laughing with my friend Natalie at our desks.

A girl who wears her new found sexuality equipped like a weapon approaches us. I want to be her a lot.

“Are you two giggling about sex?” She sneers.

We feel silly and small.

The other girls are afraid to use tampons.

I hover over the toilet, reading the instruction manual that came with my mum’s box of Tampax.

It hurts when I put one inside.

“You should definitely try it”.

My more sexually active friend instructs me. I shake my head, embarrassed.

“Just try it”.

I don’t want to. I don’t want to touch anything down there. It’s gross.

I get into bed. I shut the door.

I Google “how to masturbate”. Press enter.

Then quickly go back and add: “if you’re a girl”.

There are a billion websites telling me that it’s okay to do it. Yelling at me that it’s okay to do it, it’s definitely okay for me to do it. And – don’t feel embarrassed, really; it’s a normal part of life.

I didn’t know I should be embarrassed, but I start thinking maybe I should be now. It takes at least three clicks of the “next” button to find a website showing me how.

I finally find a website that gives you step-by-step instructions.

My mind is blown.

Leading up to it, I’d probably only touched his actual penis once or twice. Both of those times I’d expected it to shrivel up like when you poke a slug

Part Two

I’m about to lose my virginity at a house party, on a sofa cushion.

I’d convinced myself I was ready. Looking back now, I handled sex the way Amanda Bynes handled fame; I was way too young when it started, and the repercussions have been, subsequently, messy.

I’m 18 and about to willingly let a boy pierce a very underworked part of myself with a probably overworked part of himself. At the time, I was just relieved that I didn’t have pay £15 for this piercing in a grotty studio in the back alley of a Spar. Or have to wait for six weeks before I could go swimming again.

Eighteen isn’t young in the grand scheme of things to lose your virginity, but this was also the year I had my first kiss. So, if we’re on a scale of evolution, my sexuality went from dinosaurs to humans discovering fire, to being able to press a couple of things on a phone and get a pizza delivered to your door, in a matter of weeks.

Leading up to it, I’d probably only touched his actual penis once or twice. Both of those times I’d expected it to shrivel up like when you poke a slug; the salty sweat from my hands forcing it into a deathly osmosis that burns up any moisture inside its slimy form, leaving it to writhe around in acidic agony, fizzing and excreting mucous, before finally curling up to accept the cool release of death.

He pauses, hovering above me.

I hated myself for being inexperienced, but also wanted desperately to seem like I totally knew what I was doing. There is a real shame felt amongst girls for not having experienced anything, but there is also real shame amongst girls for having done everything, and nobody knows what the medium is, so instead none of us talk about it.

“Do you want to do it?”

I think for a second, and nod, before swatting his hands away because I don’t want him to finger me. I had a real fear of fingering because I had recently read The Pact by Jodi Picoult, in which there is this vivid moment where a little girl gets molested by an older man, and ever since reading about it, I had been thoroughly repulsed by the idea of someone putting their fingers inside me.

I was ready. I watched that scene in Bella’s bedroom where Edward comes in through the window and they kiss a bit before he runs away because he can’t handle commitment about ten times on my laptop, as research.

I did want it. I wanted more than anything to feel the touch of a man’s hands on my pale, lumpy body, but then the pain started.

Part Three

I am no more familiar with my body than I was at 16, and deep down, still secretly harbouring the belief that you pee out of your clitoris

2011 (still)
The amount of massive pain I felt during sex at that time was unreal. Sex hurt so much I had to run to the bathroom afterwards to sit in the bath and cool down. My boyfriend was terrified to have sex with me. I hated myself, and any moment it looked like it was about to be initiated. So, we went to hospital.

Sexual Health Clinic 1

“Open your legs”.

A really old man with a moustache that was spread across half of his face puts on a pair of rubber gloves, and I lie back on the clinic bed and wait for him to do something. I’m probably the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. There’s a nurse standing at the end of the bed too. I shaved my entire vagina, because I didn’t know if that was what you had to do, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone. I peel apart my legs. They stare back the innermost part of me like two disappointed pirates at an empty treasure chest.

I feel a cold finger go inside me. He furrows his brows and mutters to himself that perhaps I left a tampon inside there, before forcing his fingers a little more inside to check.

Finally, he prods bits with a swab, and then concludes that it is something called vaginitis- soreness of the vagina. No shit.

He gives me a bunch of greasy cream to use and a paper bag full of KY jelly.

“If that doesn’t work, surgery’s an option”.

I put my legs back together and I pull my pants back on. I look twice to check that he’s kidding. He’s not. I wince at the notion. The surgery would be to remove the tissue that’s particularly raw. I’ve only just discovered I’ve had an actual vagina, albeit a malfunctioning one. And now I’ve got to consider dismembering it.

I thank him for his time, feeling slightly better about having a name for it.

Sexual Health Clinic 2

Three months later and things aren’t better. In fact, they are worse. Much worse. Sex feels like sandpaper. I go back to the clinic, my legs splayed and a speculum inside my vagina. A middle-aged woman is prodding at different spots around it with a swab, not saying anything. Then, suddenly:

“You’ve got herpes.”

I don’t have herpes. I’m certain, because I’ve always used a condom. I tell her.

“I can do a test, but I’m pretty sure you’ve got herpes”.

This is the first time I have ever seen a woman look physically disgusted at me. I feel terrible, the whole of my body is displayed in front of this angry woman who is looking at me like I am something she picked out of her ear. I am no more familiar with my body than I was at 16, and deep down, still secretly harbouring the belief that you pee out of your clitoris.

I leave there feeling physically sick at myself and I get into my mother’s car and burst into tears. I didn’t have herpes.

Sexual Health Clinic 3

Back to the clinic. This time I am braver, and by that I mean I’ve brought my mother with me so she can punch the shit out of any woman who wants to look at me twice.

We’re sat outside the doors.

“Katie, what’s felching?” Mum asks, innocently.
I don’t want to tell her myself so I Google it on Urban Dictionary for her. I hand her my phone.
“Oh, I thought it had something to do with gerbils”, she says.

Part Four

I’m single. I’m back at the clinic. The doctor is a jolly woman who emphasises this by wearing Christmas socks all year round. I tell her about the vaginitis diagnosis, and then the herpes diagnosis.

Legs prised apart again, she peers inside with a speculum and a smile.

“What did they prescribe you with at the clinic?”, she asks. I say about the greasy creams. She tells me that they’ve probably actually made it worse.

“There’s nothing anatomically wrong with you”.

I’m not relieved, I’m frustrated. I wanted her to tell me that there was something she could see that was wrong and that she could fix it.

“It’s called vaginismus”.

It sounds like a character from the GCSE Cambridge Latin Course textbooks.
Vaginismus is basically the contraction of the vagina when any contact comes near it. It mostly happens as a coping mechanism from previous trauma.

To combat this, she then hands to me what is possibly the most embarrassing collection of objects that I own. She sets them on the desk in front of me in size order. They’re meant to “prepare” me for the next time I have sex. I can’t really express how ridiculous these things are, but I’ve put my unicorn for scale so you can see how they look.

Is it a dildo? Is it a cone of shame? Regardless, the couple on the leaflet are truly ecstatic that she can now accommodate his penis.

Hmm, okay, but it looks a little bit scary now. This is about the size of my hand.


She suggested that I might need to warm them up first and had I heard of KY Jelly. Mum and I sit open mouthed, not really listening to her talk, gawping at the largest one.

Part Five

I’d been so desperate to maintain relationships and to not be bad at sex that I hadn’t stopped to think that maybe I should actually wait for myself to be interested in it first

I’m in my final year of university. I’ve woken up in someone else’s bed. My face is disgusting. I had showed up to the club last night dressed as a cat, and now I look like roadkill. I don’t have a change of clothes.

“Morning, slut.”

I know now that I slept with an arse. This was my first ever one-night-stand. It happened with a guy on my course who I was fairly certain I had been in love with for the past two years. Due to one bad haircut, I had a history of being labelled as same sex inclined throughout my adolescence. I subsequently felt he was entirely out of my league. He had come up to me in the club and asked me if I wanted to “talk outside”, which as it turns out, is definitely not code for “I will still be interested in you tomorrow”.

When I got up, he said he only had enough food in his kitchen for one person. I steal his t-shirt and run home to Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’.

October 27, 11am.

“Hey, great night last night. Do you want your t-shirt back? Haha lol”
Seen 12.41am.

October 29th, 9.42am
“Can you post it?”

I take a vow of celibacy.

Part Six

Three relationships later and the realisation hits me.

I wasn’t ready. And because I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t into it.

It took three different doctors, several trips to the doctors, toys, wrongly prescribed medication, an STD scare and three break ups to realise. You need to be turned on for sex to be good. I’d been so desperate to maintain relationships and to not be bad at sex that I hadn’t stopped to think that maybe I should actually wait for myself to be interested in it first.

At 21, I am still cautious. I still get an instinctual pang of dread when I realise things are leading that way, and it takes a long time before I’m ready for it to happen. But I’m getting better. I like sex.

So, here’s some advice I wish I’d given to myself at 18:

    Sex is a great feature of a relationship, but don’t let it become a burden.

    Sex isn’t, and should never be, a chore. It should be something you want to do.

    Don’t ever go into it because you think you should. Only ever do it because you want to.

    Don’t feel guilt because you don’t want to do it.

    Saying you don’t want to isn’t a sign of weakness. Any person that becomes frustrated with you for not wanting to do it can go into my bedroom, get one of those white plastic things I got prescribed from the hospital and fuck themselves.

    Sex is something worth waiting for, and it’s not a prerequisite of a relationship.

    If you’re not into it, it’s definitely, absolutely, going to be bad. Only you can make it better for yourself. If you’re at a point where you’re making yourself do it because you feel as though the fate of your relationship rests upon it, get out of that relationship. No-one should ever make you feel like that.

More important than that, masturbate, explore your body, talk to other girls, listen to experiences, talk to an adult about it and know what you’re getting into. I cannot emphasise this point enough. You don’t want to end up lying on a hospital bed with an elderly doctor prodding a speculum between your legs. Unless you’re into that.

Images are the author’s own. They depict the “embarrassing collection of objects” prescribed by her doctor.

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