Even at 15, I was very frightened of having any sexual feelings – it all felt incredibly shameful. I lied to myself about wanting people and locked away any desires that strayed beyond romantic. As an adult I still felt horrified at myself for ever masturbating, embarrassment hanging over me for days afterwards. My main wish throughout my teens was to be above these feelings, so I focused on intellectual pursuits in order to  stay completely pure in both mind and body. I grew up in an atheistic household, but my Dad still had a pocket bible he kept as school memorabilia. I stole it at 17 and had a phase of praying every morning to be better: less sexual. In summary, my relationship to sex has often been accompanied with feelings of self-loathing and, excuse the lack of feminism, a deep fear of losing the purity of my girlhood. 

Although I was not directly taught to be ashamed of sex, I felt whispers of God everywhere. Rule following was everything to me growing up and I earned the title goody-two-shoes impressively quickly. So, when I found out there was a man in the sky who also had rules, I wanted to follow them whether he was real or not. Needless to say, I didn’t actually understand much about him and was more just obsessed with the comfiness of heaven. When my teachers talked about him the room smelt of forgiveness and altruism; it seemed impossible for him to be anything less than perfect. At secondary school his rules defined themselves a little more clearly: no extramarital sex, adultery or stealing were the three I remembered. My extremely parochial understanding of God stuck with me throughout adolescence, and the more I thought about it the more nervous I became of my own horny existence. 

Despite all this, my actions have not matched up to my thoughts, expectations or feelings. I lost my virginity at 17 (yes, unmarried), have strayed a little into BDSM and read enough erotica to know that all purity has left my body. I justified a lot of my actions through a pretence of innocence. I believed myself to be constantly surprised by sex, like I didn’t understand what my body wanted, but trusted it was only a consequence of love. If I had the intention to marry, perhaps sex was still a good thing and I could still fit myself inside the rules. God, I imagine, was not impressed by all this rule-bending and self-deceit, although I doubt he was surprised. 

The truth is I don’t know how I am supposed to feel about my own sexual behaviour. The instinct, now that I’m out of my first relationship, is to regret it. The urge to reverse time and retreat back into my untainted girlhood is very strong at times. At other times I can watch Sex Education and all guilt about sex is lifted, laughed at, and almost understood. However, my main feeling is confusion at how I ended up not sticking to the rules in my head; it intrigues me and disgusts me at the same time. Love and loathing to me can often feel inextricably linked, neither one whole without the other. Like the poet Emily Rose Galvin, I am not trying to draw

any parallel line after line after lines of correlation between

masturbation and self-harm

I also hope that I 

don’t sound too fucked up.

But I am just trying to work out how sex can become something slightly less frightening than this.

Recently, the topic is feeling a little more comfortable. Time always helps. I can remember being held in a way that feels good, I can remember smiling. I am not thinking about God so much and more thinking of what makes me happy. With more time, I can imagine sex becoming something less complicated and being able to rid myself of those dark corners of self-loathing. If God asked me what I wanted from sex, I would say I want to feel cared for, I just want to feel safe with someone. I would also tell God that recently sex is feeling better.