Cosmopolitan (UK)

How sex taught us to LOVE our bodies

Body confidence is a tricky and ongoing lesson. But who you choose to sleep with can make a big difference to how you feel, as these three writers learned…

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it was a lazy afternoon and my boyfriend Joe* and I were lying in bed, having just had sex. He’d been idly stroking my leg, but suddenly sat bolt upright and leaned over to the bedside table to grab a pen. Resuming his original position, he started scribbling on my leg. Across my calf, he drew a razor, and beside it were the words “SHAVE ME”. I looked up to see him beaming. “Now you won’t forget to shave your legs again,” he said. He thought he was being funny, but his words wounded me, cementing everything I had thought about myself and my body since I started having sex, eight years before.

That was with Alex*, an older stoner guy who would take me back to his mum’s, where his bedroom walls were covered in posters of big-breasted, tiny-waisted women. They would look down on me while we had sex, their hairless, slender legs spread to reveal perfectly pruned, tucked-in vulvas. I’d lie there, counting the ways in which I wasn’t them. My boobs were barely-there tiny. My labia didn’t look anything like theirs. Even when I did shave my legs or armpits, the thick, dark stubble was back within hours. My thighs were athletic and muscular. I couldn’t even begin to compete with those women and Alex did nothing to reassure me – he didn’t compliment me, and we never talked about sex and whether I got any pleasure from it. So I made sure we did it at night, or with the lights off. If it was during daylight hours, I’d keep my bra or T-shirt on. I’d hoped with Joe it would be different. We’d been best friends for years before we got together. But he only reinforced how I felt: that my body was wrong, and either needed some serious attention or to be hidden indefinite­ly so as not to cause any further distress and alarm. I carried my hairy, small-boobed, chunky-thighed shame with me long after Joe and I split. It seeped into the fabric of my sexual relationsh­ips with men and had me doing the handsover-the-tits shuffle to the bathroom after sex on countless occasions. And then, aged 29, after years of covering up and fumbling around in the dark, I slept with a woman. While I’d spent my early to midtwentie­s thinking I probably wasn’t straight, I’d never really explored it. I’d casually dated women between long-term boyfriends, but nothing serious. So, when I got a girlfriend and we started having sex, I was again consumed by awkwardnes­s and uncertaint­y. But, unlike my first time with a boy, with Megan* it was all about communicat­ion. We talked constantly about the sex we were having; what felt good, what felt even better. And with that came a closeness and intimacy I’d never had with a man.

From day one, without fear of appearing too keen, she told me all the things she loved about my body. I’d stopped shaving my legs and armpits, and, to her, my body hair was a turn-on. After sex, she’d gently run her fingers over my hairy calves and say they looked so good it had inspired her to grow hers out. She’d grab my thighs, saying she liked how toned and strong they were. When I wore a top with no bra, a cheeky smile would spread across her face as she compliment­ed the way my nipples poked through the cotton. When I undressed, she’d unashamedl­y look at my body in a way no one ever had, with affection and warmth.

A straight female friend once said to me that she couldn’t have sex with a woman because she’d be too quick to compare her body with theirs, that it would make her too jealous. That thought never once entered my head. Megan had always hated her body, too, from her wide hips to the soft, stretchmar­ked skin of her breasts. To me, she was delusional. I loved every inch of her. It was during these moments when we’d lie naked in bed, talking about our innermost insecuriti­es, that I realised just what it meant to admire the parts of her that she wanted to hide. If I could look at those bits and feel only fondness, maybe the things I hated about myself were worthy of love, too.

Now it pains me to think about all the time I spent covering up, being cruel to myself and holding my body to account, using the standards thrust upon me. The parts I used to conceal are now the ones that my partners are most aroused by. And to Joe, who drew that razor on my calf years ago, please know that I didn’t “forget” to shave my legs. I chose, and continue to choose, not to. And they look hot.

“Sex with a woman made me love myself more” BY PAISLEY GILMOUR

“Sleeping with other fat people makes me appreciate my body” BY GINA TONIC

for the first few f*cks of my life, I would only shag while fully dressed. I was 16, a size 14, and though I hated my body back then, I loved sex. But my early partners all had thin body shapes. One told me that while I wasn’t overweight, my belly hung over in a way other people’s didn’t. From that moment on, I only had sex with him while wearing an oversized hoodie.

During another one-night stand, after the guy pulled me into a reverse cowgirl position and I spotted myself in the mirror, I didn’t eat for a week. Beyond their microaggre­ssions, these people still wanted to have sex with me, so they must have found me attractive but, at the time, I wasn’t quite capable of connecting those dots.

At university, my relationsh­ip with sex – and my body – changed. I was no longer an inhabitant of a tiny Welsh town but metropolit­an Manchester, and the city’s diversity and my course’s focus on feminism dismantled my own misconcept­ions. I had two yearlong relationsh­ips – plus a number of one-night stands, threesomes and foursomes. Each helped unlock a new layer of self-love. Pulling in pubs and clubs led to lovers with a wide variety of body types. And I was more drawn to those that looked like me.

With one ex, whose body resembled mine, we settled into a regular routine of eating a takeaway and shagging all night. It didn’t matter that the fried rice made me bloat, because we were both already big. Afterwards we would press our bellies together and it was the best, because we were the same. This secret ceremony was ours, and it changed the way I felt about myself – forever.

In my twenties, a pattern emerged. Dating-wise, I would seek out fat bodies that reflected mine – girls with globe-sized tits and tummies to match, guys with guts that strained against their belt buckles.

There is a difference between having sex with thin people who want to do it with fat people, and having sex with fat people who want to do it with fat people. When a skinny man grabs my belly and begs me to sit on his face, he is seeking that which is alien to him and getting off on it. With a fat person, it is them looking for themselves. It’s all in the intent.

When I sleep with fellow fatties, I’m finding desire in bodies that look like my own. In short, I’m finding desire in myself. The physical joy I receive from a fat body means not only that mine must have worth to others, but that my body can give me a delight I previously thought was only available to thinner people. And that is the best feeling of all.

inever thought I could feel so damn good with my legs pinned to my ears, lying back on an office chair, after hours. The guy I was dating at the time really had a way with his tongue, unlike anything I had experience­d before. He was working late that night, so I dropped in after work to keep him company. As soon as he had clocked off, he wasted no time in taking me to his office lounge area and, next thing I knew, I had soaked the chair and his beard.

I wasn’t concerned about how my vulva looked up close to another human being; my mind wasn’t preoccupie­d with

paranoid thoughts while someone’s head was between my thighs. All that mattered just then was my pleasure and comfort. Yet it hadn’t always been this way.

There used to be a spiral of thoughts going around my head whenever I was with a sexual partner. Why weren’t they going down on me for long enough? Did I smell funny? Was there too much hair? I couldn’t enjoy myself properly as I wasn’t in the moment or relaxing at all.

I simply thought that my vulva wasn’t “acceptable” – I felt it should include neat outer labia, with no pubic hair, that it should smell “good”, and then, on top of that, as a Black woman, that my vulva shouldn’t be “too dark”. But I didn’t come to these conclusion­s all on my own – they’d been inflicted on me by society, as well as those I was dating.

My insecuriti­es about my vulva began when I first let men go down on me. We would often start foreplay with me performing oral sex first. But when it was my turn to receive, it would often last less than a minute.

Throughout my late-teens and early twenties, I kept meeting men who either weren’t enthusiast­ic about giving oral sex or didn’t do it at all. I was the common denominato­r, so I thought it must be me and just accepted it. Once, I went over to a new casual partner’s house and we started a game of Truth Or Dare. The wine was flowing, I was comfortabl­e, barely clothed, and the mood was just right… up until I dared him to kiss my pussy. “What? With all that hair?” was his response. I didn’t “prep” for sex by shaving or waxing, so she was a little grown-out down there, but I didn’t expect that reaction, especially from someone who wasn’t completely hairless themselves. His comment finally confirmed my paranoia. But instead of changing the men I dated, I stopped guys from going down on me. The pressure society inflicts on women to look flawless at all times, while not pushing these standards on men, knocked the confidence out of my sex life.

It got to a point where I realised I couldn’t keep having such negative experience­s. Without oral, foreplay was heavily centred on my partner and penetratio­n was painful. What was the point in any sexual activity if I was overthinki­ng everything and not enjoying myself? I then refused to take things further with anyone who wasn’t making me 100% comfortabl­e. I stopped seeing people who told me they didn’t do oral sex at all, and this would tend to come to light through simple and direct communicat­ion. It became a lot easier to weed out the men I wasn’t compatible with.

If I didn’t experience enthusiasm, passion or initiation from them, then it wasn’t for me.

In the years that followed, my vulva was not a problem for the partner who always encouraged me to ride his face. Nor was it too dark for the partner who asked me to FaceTime him, compliment­ing me while I touched myself and instructin­g me to position the camera to face it.

My partners’ positive attitudes began to improve my own, and I started to allow myself to feel good. I realised that every vulva is unique, and there definitely isn’t a “right” way for one to look. Yet we’re constantly told that we’re only desirable if we look a certain way. I could never have been as adventurou­s as I am today without unlearning this toxic narrative. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way that my – or anyone’s – vulva looks. Once we stop pushing the idea of perfection onto ourselves and one another, we will all feel a little freer and definitely a lot better. ◆

“I now know my vulva is perfect just the way it is” BY JASMINE LEE-ZOGBESSOU “I started to allow myself to feel good”

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