Controversial sex columnist Nadia Bokody reveals an uncomfortable truth about female sexuality.
“What’s wrong with me?”
That was the question posed to me by an anonymous female reader when I first started writing about sex.
Little did I know, it would go on to be one of the most common inquiries I’d hear from women, second only to “Why can’t I orgasm?” and “Why don’t I ever feel like having sex with my husband?”
It would also become the reason I’d dedicate the next decade of my career to demystifying conversations around sex.
In truth, there’s nothing “wrong” with any of the women who read my columns, watch my sex education videos on YouTube, or tune in to listen to me on the radio. There is, however, a glaring issue with the way our culture treats female sexuality – namely, as something that exists exclusively for the enjoyment of men.
This message was so deeply coded into the landscape I grew up in, I spent the first two decades of my adult life having sex I didn’t like with men I wasn’t even attracted to, ignoring the increasingly conspicuous truth – which was that I was a lesbian.
I was so skilful at convincing myself and the men I slept with that I enjoyed getting it on, I made a literal job of it; documenting my sex stories online to viral success.
It didn’t matter that, deep down, a whirlpool of emptiness and self-hate was brewing inside me. It didn’t even matter I often dissociated during sex, mentally transporting myself to a bedroom in which the person I was being intimate with was another woman. Or that sex routinely left me feeling emotionally depleted and dehumanised.
None of this mattered, because all my friends hated sex with their boyfriends and husbands, too! Women detesting sex with their male partners was the punchline to every TV comedy I watched. It was normal.
“Not tonight, honey. I’ve got a headache,” the naggy wife character would moan.
“But I did the dishes today..” the loveable husband would plead.
Cue laugh track!
This was part of the unspoken agreement of womanhood; women pretending to enjoy sex with men in exchange for love and commitment.
It wasn’t until the breakdown of my marriage in my early thirties, when I bought my first vibrator, it struck me my body was capable of experiencing life-changing pleasure.
And though I wouldn’t go on to make the connection between my sexual apathy around men and my queerness for another few years, that vibrator ultimately sparked a journey of exploring what felt good on my own terms.
Like a room slowly coming into focus in the morning light, my world began to take shape as I spoke up in the bedroom. The more I asked for what I wanted while I was stripped bare with someone, the easier it became to demand my worth with my clothes on, too.
At work, I petitioned to my boss for a promotion (and got it), and at home, I began cutting off friendships that had become toxic and draining. I was more assertive in business meetings and more confident in dating, too. It was no longer possible to ignore the fact what I wanted mattered, and was well within my reach, when I gave it a voice.
Years on, I still reflect on that first reader question. Not just because it went on to highlight an issue with the way women are conditioned to think about our bodies and our sexuality, but because I was that reader myself.
Instead of worrying whether my partner could do more to please me, I worried I’d let my partner down by not being pleased enough, searching externally for solutions to fix what felt fractured inside of me.
And that’s the real consequence of treating sexuality as something that doesn’t belong to women – it erodes our sense of identity and teaches us to bury our desires as deeply as we learn to bury our sexual disappointments.
Admittedly, most women who don’t enjoy sex with their husbands aren’t closeted lesbians like I was; but the majority of us do live huge chunks of our lives in the dark, convincing ourselves our desires aren’t worthy of being illuminated.
The good news is, it’s never too late to step out of the shadows and bring the things we want into focus. From someone who’s done it, let me tell you, sex is a whole lot better when you do it with the lights on.