The following essay originated as part of The Secret Lives of Women, an ongoing series of personal essays by Elle UK about the private side of ordinary relationships and sex lives.
My boyfriend hasn’t initiated sex in over two years. I’m 24 and can count the amount of times we’ve ‘done it’ on one hand, in the same period. This is how I got here.
Our relationship started, four years ago, with the typical honeymoon phase of wild sex every day of the week, but as his career as an EDM (electronic dance music) producer took off, we spent months apart as he toured. We got used to not having sex and heated arguments tarnished the mood upon his return – provoked by my growing insecurities over attention from other girls. He could never let go of my accusations and as his fame rocketed, my self-worth plummeted.
Then came the physical problems. He developed a pain during sex and became afraid to try. I didn’t want to hurt him either and could empathize as I’d gone through a similar situation at 19 with vaginismus, a spasm in my pelvic floor muscles which meant sex was excruciating and literally impossible. My boyfriend started to avoid sex and develop performance anxiety even after the physical pain had stopped. It fell to me to initiate intimacy and he’d often refuse.
Society tells us men want sex 24/7 but my boyfriend has truly lost all interest. In our many teary conversations, he’s admitted that if thinks about never having sex again for the rest of his life, it doesn’t bother him. He’s aware this is a deal breaker for me as I’m a sexual, tactile person and is crippled with guilt, but nothing seems to improve the situation. I can’t help but feel that perhaps he just isn’t attracted to me, even though he assures me he is.
We’re too young for this. I need physical touch. But we’re best friends and I love him. I’m too embarrassed to talk it through with my friends, they’d never understand, which is when I first turned to Reddit. I joined a Dead Bedrooms support group for people going through sexual intimacy problems in their relationships and found some solace in speaking to others, though they’re usually all married middle-aged men, which makes me feel frustrated.
I decided that sending nudes could be the answer. I needed my boyfriend to start seeing me as a sexual being. But how can you tell which images look good? I had no faith in my sex appeal at this point and the thought of sending photos that are meant to turn someone on to my friends was mortifying. At any rate, I needed an unbiased opinion.
Perhaps influenced by the various nude-positive Twitter communities I’m part of, where people are constantly posting their Only Fans accounts, I decided to share my naked photos on Reddit – always with my face covered. I deleted the first few within 10 minutes in a blind panic, but within seconds I’d received comments and followers. I couldn’t believe how positive they were. I re-uploaded them and received a hundred notifications at a time telling me how perfect I am. I had intended this to be a one-time thing, but I can’t stop.
‘You have the most perfect body I’ve ever seen.’
‘I’m blown away.’
Those are just the PG messages. The flattery is addictive. I kept posting and in three months gained nearly 3,000 followers. In the last month, it’s doubled. Of course, I receive raunchy messages that leave me queasy, of men telling me what they want to do to me, that they masturbate over me and requests for custom photos, but I never engage. I encourage ‘thoughtful conversations only’ in my bio and don’t consider this cheating. I never flirt.
I still use Reddit to decide which photos to send to my boyfriend but it’s turned into a major source of validation. It’s been an awakening for me. Before, I never viewed myself as hot or sexy because I’m not curvy, but Reddit has helped me understand that little curves are beautiful too. I know that people like the way I look without seeing my face.
I’ve always been told I’m pretty – and before the pandemic, I made a living off it as a promo girl at trade shows and events – but I’m forever haunted by comments from boys in school who compared my boy-ish frame to a brick wall. A combination of this and vaginismus meant I’ve rarely felt like a woman. Every boy I dated left me when they realized I couldn’t f*ck them. I tried everything to get my muscles to relax for sex, from alcohol to illegal drugs like MDMA, weed and prescription pills sourced over the dark web, but nothing worked. Now I can finally have sex and the person I love isn’t interested. It’s hard to shake that feeling of total worthlessness.
I haven’t worked as a promo girl since March 15, 2020 and all the compliments that used to fuel my confidence have vanished. I’m living back at my parents’ house finishing my university degree online, so this new ‘hobby’ is also a much-needed thrill. It’s empowering to feel desired and it’s an outlet for the sexual side I don’t get to express with my boyfriend.
There have been times I’ve wanted to delete the entire account and I worry that it’s a sign of a complete lack of self-respect, but how can I when it alleviates my crippling self-doubt? Of course, I would be horrified if anyone I knew found out, I think about it everyday. But there is an unspoken agreement among the users of subreddits. To see NSFW content you have to alter your account settings; it’s not your average Reddit account, so if you catch me on there, I’m catching you on there too. We’re both participating in this taboo and I think it’s just as embarrassing to be found out as a lurker.
This is the one secret I have from my boyfriend. He once even joked that I probably have a secret Only Fans account, given the sheer volume of nudes I send to him. I could have come clean right then, but the words wouldn’t come out. None of the messages I get are a threat to our relationship and knowing this has helped me gain perspective on the overwhelming attention my boyfriend receives from his fame. I no longer feel insecure. I know that there is no person, no message, no comment that could ever stray me away from him and I now trust him when he tells me the same.
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