Don't Hate Me 'Coz You Can't Penetrate Me
When one thinks about the story of someone losing their virginity, they usually picture heterosexual teenagers awkwardly trying to stick things into other things, reading the instructions on condom packets as if they unlock the key to happiness and an explosion of excitement, nerves and coming of age. But what happens when you find yourself still a virgin at 18? 19? 20? 21? 22? The excitement turns to anxiety. Desire turns to shame; and suddenly, sex doesn’t seem like the wonderful thing it’s meant to be. The biggest question that I’ve had in my adult life is “why haven’t I had sex?” This past year of my life, I have been taking a vow of celibacy until I could work out the answer. But before I can tell you, I’ll need to take you back a couple of years.
For a long time, I viewed my vagina as a separate entity to the rest of me. As I got older, I slowly noticed that boys were more interested in her than my brain; and I hated it. I did whatever I could to disassociate myself with my blossoming sexuality. I put up with an unflattering haircut, I refused to buy a bra, I wore my jeans at an awkward length on purpose; I was a mess and my refusal to grow up really damaged my self-esteem. I had a panic attack the first time I got my period at 15 years old. At that age, I was so uneducated that I thought you inserted tampons to sit in-between your labia; as if the tampon was designed to click into place. When I found out that you actually put them inside of you, I almost had a fit. So I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I had zero action all through high school and then some. Until…
New Year’s Day. 2014. 2am.
I sat in the front garden of my friend's share house, debating whether I was going to vomit or not. A girl I had never met before sat beside me.
“My friend James thinks you're really cute.”
“Really? Which one’s James?”
“The one with the long blonde hair-”
Say no more. My penchant for long haired boys had me sprinting through the house before the rest of her sentence had hit my ears. James and I locked eyes across the backyard and we smiled at each other. Cut to an hour later. We were lying on a tiny couch in a deserted lounge room, eagerly trying to undo each other's pants. This was it. My first real sexual experience was about to occur. He slipped his hand between my thighs to begin a night of drunken love-making. At least, that's what he was aiming for. From the second he made contact, I felt like something wasn’t right. What should've been moans of pleasure were gasps of pain instead. He attempted to slip a finger inside, but my wincing and tear-filled eyes put an end to that. It wasn't all bad though; I got to touch a penis for the first time, I had bagged a guy I actually found attractive rather than just settling like I had done in the past and he almost went down on me! Winner winner, chicken dinner!
A few weeks later, I went on the pill to regularise my (extremely temperamental) period and to prevent babies. That's when I started to notice that the opening of my vagina was very red and irritable. After a few hypochondriacal panic attacks and a very uncomfortable conversation with my mum, I began what would turn out to be a 2 year battle with doctors. At first, they were absolutely baffled with what was wrong with me. I had never had sex, so it couldn't be an STI. I tested negative for all bacterial conditions such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis. So the only other thing it could be was eczema. There is no cure for eczema, only treatments for when it flares up. Therefore, after going to see 3 different female doctors, I was eventually just prescribed nappy rash cream and sent on my way like the giant baby I was made to feel like.
Almost 6 months into this whole ordeal, I fell in love for the first time. His name was Lachie, and he was really sweet. He thought I was cute, funny and smart; so his character judgements were spot on. He would calm my panic attacks by calling me lovely and he was happy to take everything slowly. However, Lachie never knew about my secret; and it wasn’t getting better. I still reeled with pain and discomfort whenever he touched me and I subsequently lost any desire for intimacy because I was plagued with anxious thoughts.
Around 3 months later, and still no sex, I found out that Lachie wasn't the sweetheart that I thought he was. His lack of patience manifested itself in passive aggressive comments and when he gave up on me entirely, his behaviour turned abusive. I lost him because sex wasn’t on the cards, and I have never felt more dehumanised in my life.
A year and a half since I first noticed symptoms; I found myself single, still a virgin and still in as much pain as I ever had been. That's when I decided that enough was enough and I would go to a specialist to gain control over my body. The doctors didn't recommend it because they thought it would be an expensive waste of time, but I insisted and booked an appointment with a dermatologist that specialised in women's health.
I was lying on her examining table as she poked and prodded my vagina when I realised that now more females in the medical profession had seen my vagina than boys I was interested in had. As she removed her gloves and threw disposable instruments into a toxic waste bag, she told me that what I had wasn't a skin condition at all. It was a chronic pain condition called Vulvodynia where my brain had associated vaginal penetration with pain. She followed up that while I can see a physiotherapist to work towards having non-painful sex, there is no cure for this condition and success differs from woman to woman. Regardless of the bleak reality, I was happy to have a diagnosis and treatment possibilities.
Flash forward to winter 2015. I sat in a physiotherapist's office, having female anatomy explained to me with a model pelvis. I was asked about my sexual history; and from some deep-rooted shame about being an adult virgin; I lied straight to her face and told her that I had tried to have sex before. I felt the words coming out of my mouth and yet I couldn't stop them. I even lied to her about having a boyfriend, because I couldn't accept that I would have to go through all of this alone. As she told me about the invasive treatment and that it would be 6-12 months before I would start making real progress, I started to see my dreams of having a loving, supportive boyfriend drift out of the window. I mean, who would want to date a girl that couldn't have sex? That night I went home with a folder of helpful print-outs and a heavy weight on my soul.
The first time I opened up about what was going on was live on a radio show I host with my two best friends. I told them about how I might have to start taking a low dose of antidepressants because they work as muscle relaxants; joking that my brain wasn't depressed but my vagina was. They laughed along with me and promised me their love and support on my journey. In speaking out about it, I got a lot of messages about how brave people found me; but I didn’t see it as brave at all. For the better part of my adult life, I had been bullied for being a virgin. Maybe not in an outright way, but for some reason whenever someone found out, they would think that it was their duty to make a point about it. I once had a good friend of mine spend an entire night telling me that I needed to get it over and done with. Other times, I’d have friends tell me to wait for someone special. It was almost as if I had no say in the matter. My thoughts, feelings and insecurities about sex didn’t matter because how could I have an opinion if I had never tried it out? I just acted as a blank canvas that people could project their own issues surrounding sex on to. So when I finally had a legitimate reason for why I had never had sex, I started shouting it from the rooftops. As if to say “you can’t bully me now! I have a disability!”
The truth is though; this condition isn't the reason that I've never had sex. I've never had sex because I've never wanted to. Plain and simple. I spent the good part of my adult life coming up with excuses for my virginity; but now I realise that it was never because I questioned my motives, it was because everyone else did.
This piece was originally written in 2016