real life

'I sympathise with Seven Year Switch couples, I was in a sexless relationship too.'

If someone had told me that I would spend the better part of my early 20s in a sexless relationship I would have laughed out loud and spent a great amount of time letting them know just how deluded they were.

‘It’s my 20s!’ I’d say laughing. ‘What else do you think it is I’ll be doing?’

But like Jason and Michelle on the Seven Year Switch, that’s exactly what happened. And almost five years later I’m still not completely sure how or why it did.

What’s it like to be in a sexless relationship in your early 20s? It’s about as confusing, frustrating, hopeless and depressing as you’d imagine.

I guess I should start by saying that I was not prepared for sex.

I got dumped for being “too frigid” more than once, left tongue tied and stuttering when trying to explain why it was I didn’t make any moves on the rare occasions I did find myself in bed with a boyfriend, and trying to explain to my friends why at 21, I was still a virgin.

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“I just don’t want to have sex with someone that’s going to go and tell everyone we know, that’s all,” I would say.

Which was true in part. But inside I was also screaming out for someone to talk me through the logistics of how this was all supposed to happen and what I was supposed to do. ‘What do you do in that awkward moment where they reach for a condom?’ I wanted to ask. ‘Are you really supposed to help him put it on?’

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Halfway through uni and months into my latest stint of singledom I met Will and everything suddenly felt aligned.

He was a virgin! I was a virgin! We were both into indie music and vegetarianism! What could possibly go wrong?

We fell madly and hopelessly in love and did everything together for four amazing years.

Except have sex.

Bed lonely
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Sure, we had foreplay down pat. At one point I thought I was going to give myself carpal tunnel from all of the hand jobs I was dishing out. But penis to vagina encounters that ended successfully? I’m going to generously guess four times.

And one of those times included me staring at the ceiling and crying because of how glaringly hopeless our situation was.

Our first attempt at de-virgining one another ended in stage fright. As did the second, third, fourth and fifth attempts.

After that I grew so self-conscious about it and felt like it was my fault so I began to shut it down before it could get that far.

Eventually we just got into a routine of not having sex. Don’t do it, don’t talk about not doing it, don’t complain. Everything will be fine.

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In theory, there wasn’t anything wrong with either of us. We were both healthy and everything worked. If I were to attempt to put a medical label on what our sexual problem was, I’d say it came down to clinical nervousness with a side of extreme situational discomfort.

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Image via iStock.

And despite the hours we would spend talking about every other minute aspect of our relationship, I can’t remember us ever discussing that.

Neither of us spoke to our friends about it, because we knew they assumed we were having as much sex as they were.

It was this source of shame that was just somehow out of bounds and out of both of our control.

At some point along the way I grew frustrated and decided that it was his fault. I began to think that maybe as a person I just wasn’t that into sex.

Those thoughts were totally unfair and untrue of course, but it’s amazing what four years of sexual deprivation will do to your mental wellbeing.

I began thinking about cheating and making my way dangerously close to the uncrossable line. If I cheat, I thought, there’ll be a clear reason for us to break up, a reason for him to hate me, a reason that others can understand, and a reason that allows us both to get out of this thing without having to address the giant sexual elephant living between us.

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It all seemed so clear. So simple. So easy to avoid that way.  Thankfully I realised how much of a hurtful cop out it would be before it was too late.

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Image via iStock.

As our relationship began to break down I began to realise how much I wanted a sexual partner. Without that we were just glorified best friends that occasionally got drunk and made out.

And while our lack of intimacy wasn’t the cause of our eventual breakup, it definitely didn’t help.

When we did eventually break up, it took me a while to find my feet, so to speak, but gradually, I took to the act like a duck to water.

Eventually it went from okay to good. Then from good to great. Sometimes it’s even been incredible. I became confident. I learnt what to do. I stopped being scared of all the awkward things that might happen and embraced the fact that they almost definitely would at some point, and that that’s okay, because they happen to everyone.

There was a lot of love in that one young relationship, but for me, sex is what brings it all together and sets that relationship apart from the others in my life.

Maybe that will change with time and age, but for now, I’m seeing in my late 20s in a new relationship that’s filled with sex. And as Larry David would say, it’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.