By Sophie Hutchison
Sex is something we all have a strange relationship with. Sometimes we’re estranged from it and sometimes we’re obsessed with it, but it’s an ever-evolving presence in our lives. Now I’ve been on Tinder, I’ve had friends with benefits, and honestly it did give me an ego boost, until it didn’t. I used to think I was desperate for it, but that may have been the endorphins I was chasing. Then lockdown happened and I wasn’t as pent up as I had been about it. I wanted love, sure, but it wasn’t high on my priorities. Although that might have been the sertraline kicking in.
Now I’ve been the one thinking sex meant love before. Back when I was a naïve fifteen-year-old and thought I needed to have sex in order to be like my other friends. When it happened though, I felt no different. The high came and went, and so did the boys I slept with. So, by the time I was a twenty-something-year-old I had had my fill of casual sex. I wanted intimacy from it, in a way that my right hand a battery-operated object couldn’t achieve. By the time of the third lockdown though, I got my wish: I got a boyfriend. Except our problems merely began with our sex life.
When lockdown lifted and we tried having sex, it didn’t work. After two years of no sex at all, I was far too tight, and it hurt like hell trying to put him in. It got to the point where we ended up having a row over it. The fact that we weren’t having sex was a big problem for him and made me feel all the more anxious. I suddenly felt like I did as a teenager, thinking that sex would solve the problem and there was something wrong with me if I didn’t give it up. On our third attempt, with the aid of a bottle of lube and a vibrator, it worked.
Since then, I’ve seen TikToks and Instagram reels of women who admit to having a similar problem. They call it vaginismus: an involuntary tightening of vaginal muscles due to a fear of sex. It made me think though. Was I scared of being intimate with somebody new? How many times had I done so only to be treated like crap afterwards? Perhaps that was why I felt so tight down there. As if my vagina had a will of its own like I’ve often thought it did. Even though I was ecstatic that we’d finally done it, a small part of me wondered: was sex such an important factor in a relationship? It certainly felt like it at the time. I know it isn’t in most relationships.
There are couples out there whose relationships aren’t so heavily reliant on the existence of sex. There are asexual partners who have no desire for sex but still manage to have happy, healthy relationships. Victims of assault and abuse sometimes can’t stand the thought of being touched like that, understandably so. Yet many find love and happiness in a sex-free relationship. Some religions do not allow sex before marriage, and the courtship beforehand manages to work. Obviously, that’s up to personal preference and your own cultural beliefs. Similarly, people in long-distance relationships might not have sex for months, even years, before seeing each other and still cope with it’s absence with the occasional sext and a genuine longing to be with their somebody again. That’s beautiful to me. Yet in some cases, sex can be a big issue.
Why is that though? Do we put such a price on sex that it must be demanded from one partner who deems the lack of it an undermining of your love? Women have spent the past decade trying to drill into men’s heads that no means no, but in a relationship, it seems a lot harder to say the words. At least in my experience. It’s a lot easier to say yes than have an argument over a no. Shouldn’t you be with someone who respects your decision not to have sex if it’s making you uncomfortable, or if its medically advised not to? Or was he right? Was I the problem here, or did I subconsciously no longer want him like that?
The whole experience made me think. I think maybe we have been preconditioned to believe that if we don’t have sex with our partners, they will leave us. But doesn’t that reduce us to nothing more than bed-mates rather than an equal partner? Does putting such a high price on -let’s face it- a ten-to-thirty-minute act, cheapen the relationship itself or are we expecting too much from those willing to be our partners? The fear of being alone probably has something to do with it. Yet I don’t think we should feel obligated to sleep with someone just because they’ll acknowledge us in public and take us on dates.
Sex is meant to be a joyous thing, the meeting of two people. It should make you happy, even if you regret it the morning after. It shouldn’t make you feel guilty or be coerced out of you by an insensitive partner. So if next time I’m with someone I put off having sex right away, I have to wonder- will he leave or will he stay?