A personal essay in which Diane Shipley confronts her history of sexual dysfunction and wonders who decides what “normal” is, anyway.
Diane Shipley | Longreads | July 2019 | 17 minutes (4,293 words)
In November 1998, I had sex for the first and last time. I was 19, my boyfriend was 21, and we’d been together for 10 months, long-distance. I was at university in Lancaster, a small town in the north west of England, and he lived in Essex, in the south east. I had a week off from classes, so I spent six hours taking two trains to stay in the sporadically-tidied house he shared with friends from work. On Wednesday morning, I walked to the pharmacy down the street to buy condoms and KY Jelly, shaking slightly as I handed over the cash. That night, with Ally McBeal on TV in the background, we lay on his narrow twin bed, kissing and touching each other before we slipped under the covers. I worried it might hurt, or feel awkward, or be over quickly, but it was great. Afterward, we ate chocolates, drank Coke, and swore we’d have sex all the time from then on.
We tried. Later that night; the next day; a couple of months later, on vacation in Florida. Each time, it was as if my vagina had snapped shut and no matter how hard he pushed or how vividly I pictured a tulip’s petals unfurling, nothing could convince it to open. Eventually, we gave up and went back to the heavy petting and blowjobs we’d each enjoyed, respectively, before. We were best friends, we were in love, we both had orgasms. In theory, I knew that penis-in-vagina intercourse wasn’t the only way to define sex. But it seemed like the most important, and I felt like a failure for not being a “proper” girlfriend; for being unfuckable.