I’ve had sex only once, 20 years ago. It was reading week at university, so I went to London to stay with my boyfriend. We’d been dating long distance for 10 months, and it had taken me that long to feel ready. That Wednesday, after he left for work, I walked to the pharmacy to buy condoms and lube. Then I tidied and made the bed, twitching with nerves.
I expected it to be painful and awkward the first time, but it wasn’t. We kept whispering to each other about how good it felt and how we should have done it sooner. But when we tried to have sex again, we couldn’t: it was as if my vagina had slammed shut.
I was too embarrassed to see a doctor, but I diagnosed myself with vaginismus, an involuntary clenching of the vaginal muscles that can make it impossible to have penetrative sex. Apparently, it’s linked to anxiety, but I’m not sure what I was so anxious about – the possibility of getting pregnant, perhaps, or the fact that, deep down, I knew my boyfriend wasn’t right for me. (He later proved it by joining the Conservative party.)
He was understanding, though, and we stayed together for another five years. Perhaps he was secretly frustrated, and perhaps I should have seen a doctor, but we were both having regular orgasms through non-penetrative sex, so it wasn’t a priority.
I thought I’d meet someone else eventually, and work my way up to a full sexual relationship, but I’m almost 40 and it hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t sought out a relationship because I feel as if penetrative sex is expected, very quickly, in modern dating. I don’t mind too much: being single means no one ever asks me to sit through an episode of Star Trek. And I still have regular orgasms.
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