I was scrolling Twitter this week when I cam across this thread by a sex educator discussing the issues that arise for people raised in purity culture. I was surprised at how many of them applied to me.
Lack of connection to own body. Above average terror of STI’s. Misinformation about sex. Vulval pain. Shame about past things that are a healthy part of sexual development. Lack of communication skills re: sex. Grief and anger about time lost.
I have experienced all of these at different times. I was raised in an evangelical context. Not quite purity culture, but the expectation was that sex should be saved for a cis, heteronormative marriage and all of those messages that I imbibed plus a really fucked up experience of assault that occurred in a church context had a huge impact on the way I viewed my own sexuality, my relationship with my body, and my ability to relate to others and their bodies too. I did like my cunt, I think, but I didn’t understand it at first.
I met my husband when I was 19. Without good sex education it took a while for us to figure out what worked for us, and I also didn’t know how to look after my own body. I had repeated thrush and cystitis, which I found incredibly embarrassing at the time, and then just as we were about to start trying for a baby, a bad infection triggered chronic vulval pain. Vulvodynia.
I talk about it on The Second Circle podcast, (episode 4, if you’re interested, and no that is not my real name), but it was a horrific experience for a relatively naive young woman with very little sexual experience. I remember being referred to the GUM clinic – somewhere I had never had to go before – and sitting next to the university students all chatting shame free about their latest experiences whilst getting their testing done and thinking ‘It’s so unfair. I have only ever had sex with one guy. I did everything I was told I was supposed to. And yet I am the one sat here with debilitating pain and soreness that makes and sex virtually impossible, and these kids are fine.’ I hated my cunt. It had absolutely destroyed my life, taken away all pleasure, and made having a baby so much harder.
I struggled through nine pelvic examinations in a single year, all of which felt intrusive and shameful. I remember being referred to see a therapist, the implication being that it was somehow my fault, and while stress may have been a factor it was definitely not the cause. Now, scientists believe that infections can trigger changes in the way cells work, causing inflammation and pain, but it is still a condition that is not well understood.
During those two years, my cunt was not a source of joy, but of pain. It was impossible not to think about it all the time, and it made my life very difficult indeed. I couldn’t even wear jeans, or sit down on a chair. I definitely felt like I had been short changed. I should at least have had some interesting sexual experiences show for it, I thought. I still live with the impact of those two years. I still have to be careful with the ingredients of lubes and creams, avoid bubble baths, wash with aqueous cream instead of soap. I still get sore sometimes, after sex, and I have to jump in the shower afterwards even if I don’t want to. The cost of pleasure is pain.
It took going through all of this, and having two kids to help me lose my shame. Perhaps not completely. I’ve had thrush again recently, and if anything makes me feel shame and disgust it is that. At this moment my cunt is still feeling prickly and uncomfortable, it’s been three weeks, and I am desperate for it to pass, and to know that it won’t stay this time. That I can go back to enjoying it. I don’t know yet whether it will, but taking photos has definitely improved my relationship with my cunt. I love it now, and I really want to be able to use it again.
My body seems determined to make things difficult. Long covid has had a big impact of course, but it was also the trigger for a lot of changes in my understanding of sexuality and the last straw for my old belief system. Suddenly, I was in the position to allow myself those experiences that I’d missed out on. And with that permission, I was able to connect with myself as bisexual, and allow myself to enjoy the wonder that is someone else’s cunt.
It was the highlight of my year, last year. The absolute best and most wonderful thing that happened in the entire year. I will never not be grateful for that, and you’d better believe that I will jump at the chance to do it again. It turns out that I love other people’s cunts just as much, maybe more, than my own.
It’s not been straightforward getting here. It’s not straightforward now, but the upshot is that I am ready, if and when my body allows, to enjoy both my own cunt, and to enjoy yours.