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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

This article mentions abusive relationships and unpleasant sexual encounters.

After I finished having sex with my (now ex) boyfriend of four years, I would often roll over to the other side of the bed, no longer wanting to be touched.

I’d shy away from any caring touches he attempted to give me until he stopped trying altogether. I’d get up and pee, fearing the wrath of a UTI, and look in the mirror. The woman in the glass reflection was rarely content or satisfied, but instead a dulled and tired form of a woman who was too devoted to pleasing her partner to even consider her own satisfaction. 

Intimacy throughout our relationship wasn’t non-consensual–in fact, I initiated sex as frequently as he did. And honestly, there were some times it was wonderfully perfect. Once in a blue moon, the stars would align, and I would spend the next months of bad sex fantasizing about the next time a sexual encounter would satisfy me. ​​When I was drunk or high enough, I loved sex. He had known my body for four years, and knew what I liked, what I didn’t. It should have always been good. 

But usually, our sex was bad. Usually, I didn’t like it at all. It’s been over a year since we’ve had sex, and my body still tenses imagining skin-on-skin contact with my ex-boyfriend. I think about our intimacy too in-depth, and I want to turn my body inside out and scrub it with bleach. I start to itch, I get restless, and have to stand up, or sit down, or anything to get a new sensation into my body. 

What went wrong?

You could find the root of my dissatisfaction in any aspect of our relationship. After all, it was an emotionally abusive, life-altering, soul-crushing relationship to its very core. I’ll be unveiling the effects of the fighting, the gaslighting, and the angry texts for years to come. 

It took me over 6 months to even label our relationship as abusive without adding “at least, according to my therapist” to the end of the scary sentence I continuously admitted to friends and family. 

When I was in the relationship, I was in a denial so deep that even though my body rejected him in more ways than I thought possible (rashes, UTIs, sickness, migraines), I still believed we were the picture of a perfect couple. 

My body knew the severe toxicness of our relationship well before my brain did. He could’ve done everything right in bed (not that he did), and it still would have resulted in the same feelings. The minutes I’ve spent watching the ceiling or asking him to keep the TV on while he climbed on top of me are minutes I’ll never get back–but it’s what I had to do to disassociate from my current reality. 

One of the last times I had sex with him, I burst into tears imagining our future–40 years old, children, careers, and still thinking about anything else but him during our intercourse. I couldn’t stand it. He stopped immediately, to give him the little credit he deserves, but how could I say to him what I was thinking? I loved him. This would have crushed him.

One in eight women say they don’t particularly enjoy sex. It’s often brushed off as an unfortunate reality, or comic relief in popular culture. A quick and easy insult towards a man is to joke he’s bad in bed, typically without the consideration of how his inadequacies could make his partner feel. 

Playing bad sex off as a joke also nullifies any prospect of the man taking the feedback seriously, and not just as an unfounded insult. I made the mistake of telling a recent romantic connection that I’ve had bad sex in my past–but all he did was laugh and jokingly flirt that he could imagine what I’d sound like once I finally had a good experience. I laughed along, the image of my flushed and desperately unhappy face in my mirror flashing through my mind. Not yet untethered from my last sexual experience, I was already being used in an imaginary future one. 

But after my own experiences, I’ve found that bad sex can be incredibly harmful. Whether a quick hookup or a long-lasting pattern, bad sex can tear apart your self-confidence, your own sensuality, and your future relationships. 

It can lead to body dysmorphia, anxiety, self-doubt, and can ruin your chances of future emotional connections. And it’s so normalized that we don’t realize how dangerous it is. 

Clinical psychologist and sex and relationship therapist Dr. Amani Zarroug has devoted years of research on this subject and says that bad sex in your formative years can create a self-enforcing pattern if you aren’t careful. It’s not just a man using his tongue or d*ck poorly–it’s psychologically ruinous to stay in a situation that isn’t pleasing for the benefit of another person. 

In her studies, she hears a testimony from a woman who was coerced into losing her virginity at age 13: 

“For years, my survival mechanism was to think that the fact that this boy wanted to do this to me meant that it was OK, and that I had to get over it… It definitely impacted my relationship with my body, in that my sexuality kind of wasn’t my own. I’ve had sex out of politeness and obligation a lot of times. And that is probably largely to do with my first sexual experience.” 

The patriarchal notion that a woman should, at their core, be sexually attractive to men has led thousands of women, myself included, to throw themselves into bed because it’s what we think we’re supposed to do–not because we want to do.

Women are taught if a man wants to have sex with us, we’re doing something right. Never mind that your vagina is too dry for it to feel anything but grating. Never mind that you don’t want to make eye contact with him afterward. You did something right. You’ve embraced womanhood. You’re liberated!

So when my friends expressed excitement about my ability to finally jump into hookup culture after my relationship had ended, I internally recoiled. I know that was not their intention, and I do look forward to having good, pleasurable sex one day. After all, I’ve experienced sexual pleasure before; when my relationship was in a good enough place to connect mind and body, for one night at a time all felt right with the world. Not to mention, I enjoy flirting. Now, I look at some men and, for the first time in five years, feel desire. What a freeing feeling desire can be! 

But now, one of my biggest regrets was sacrificing my own comfort, and my own body, for this man. If there is one thing I know, it’s that granting him access to that part of myself when he didn’t deserve it, and I didn’t want it, will never be a repeat experience. I am not falling into the pattern. Not anymore.

I am not becoming part of an orgasm-gap statistic that is laughed about and used by women to prod the secretive, sexual underbelly of the monster that is the patriarchy. 

When I do have sex again, it will be good. I will look in the mirrored reflection and smile afterward. It won’t be because of my partner’s sexual skill, it will be because I chose them. I wanted them. And if it takes time to find that, I don’t care. Sometimes sexual liberation is not jumping into bed, but jumping out of it. 

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Molly Longest / Her Campus
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