This post is personal and has no great revelations about life or love. It's not even about gender! Well, I suppose gender comes into it a bit. Sneaky little thing gets everywhere! It's about unwanted intercourse, and me, and an unpleasant episode with a partner. Please be aware it gets a bit brutal, and click past this post right now if you're not up for it. If you are, read on ...
I liked intercourse, once, but I often found it painful. Whether that's due to a physical issue or a mental one, I don't know. It was frustrating for me, of course, and some of my partners found it extremely difficult to deal with. I had a turbulent eight-month relationship with one such person, who made a good show - for the most part - of being accepting and tolerant, and generally acting as though this was reasonable behaviour on my part. He was patient and kind, taking his time with 'foreplay', as I'd told him that this was helpful for me.
Once I suggested that we focus more on the non-penetrative aspects of sex, since I found these parts pleasurable, and would be able to relax into them more if I wasn't worried about how the penetration would feel when we got to it. He wasn't terribly keen on the idea, as for him the most enjoyable part of sex was the intercourse itself, and he didn't really see the point, he told me, of sex which didn't end in intercourse. I couldn't orgasm with him - I never had - and he thought this made foreplay even more pointless. Nevertheless, he wanted to make me happy, and he genuinely wanted me to enjoy sex, so we agreed to shelve penetration for a little while and see how it went.
I was practically living with him at this point. My room on the other side of London was cold, bare and lonely, and it was much nicer to spend time with A in his cosy flat. He had to get up early in the mornings to commute to the opposite corner of London for work, so it was easy for me to go partway with him and be at college for a 9am start. We had settled quickly into a routine - mundane and domestic but cosy and comforting at the same time. We argued about the washing up, but we shopped and cooked and decorated together, and were happy. I was 19.
We 'foreplayed' for a while after that, kissing and touching and stroking and sucking. I tried to enjoy it as I'd said that I would. I tried to relax, like the books said I should. I wanted to make A happy, to let him see me enjoying myself. I wanted to enjoy myself. I started pretended to, hoping to trick myself into feeling pleasure. It didn't work on me, but it worked on A, who read in my responses only what he wanted to read, and moved to penetrate me. I was tense and confused, paralysed with shame and guilt and fear. If there was something wrong with me, this wasn't the way to fix it. What was? How could I find out? Not like this ... a problem for another time, then. I moved to accommodate him and tried to relax my muscles and my mind.
I moved as much as I dared, trying to tread the fine line between stillness and movement that didn't make me an inert lump of meat, but didn't hurt too much either. He pushed his face into my shoulder, kissing my collarbone, his fingers on my nipple. I closed my eyes to stop the tears. I retreated from the pain and my eyes dried, my mind emptied. I watched him from somewhere else, trying to smile at him, thinking maybe this isn't so bad. I can do this. Look how easy it is.
Lying together afterwards, damp and clammy, somewhere between relieved, resigned and resentful, I realised I had to tell him the truth about 'how it was for me'. I apologised a lot. I thanked him for trying the foreplay thing. I apologised again if I'd given him the wrong signals. I told him I hadn't enjoyed it. I asked him if he'd seen my tears. I told him it was my fault for not asking him to stop. I said sorry.
His mouth tightened then, and he pulled away, and shouted into my face that I'd made him rape me. After a while I started crying, and he held me and soothed me, murmuring into my ear and stroking my back. I quieted.
We had dinner.
Later, he cried, and held his face in his hands, and I looked at him as if he was my child, thinking I must protect him from this.
I said at the top that gender didn't come into this one. It doesn't, really, except that as I wrote that I thought about all the ways that gender had influenced this particular incident, as well as sex more generally. Had I not been socialised as a woman, would I have been more vocal about what I wanted and didn't want, like A was? Perhaps I wouldn't have internalised so many damaging 'truths' about sex: intercourse is the only bit that matters; I should want intercourse because if I didn't I was a prude, I was broken; foreplay is something that happens before intercourse, as a warmup, and if I wanted it to last longer than it did I was selfish and immature and not doing it right; intercourse is something that I owed my partner. Perhaps if A and I had had different sex education (not just formal education but social education, a casual on-the-job learning with our peers and partners) he wouldn't have set so much store by intercourse, and nor would I, and both of us would have thought that there was value in exploring other aspects of sex. That one isn't so much about gender, but so much of it comes down to gender in the end, at a root level. A was older than I, but he probably had the same experience of being separated from 'the other' gender at school to learn about sex, to gigglingly observe condoms and bananas and cold line drawings of female anatomy. He was probably taught, as I was, that I was the possessor of untold riches and that he would get them if he only behaved in the right way, and that this was normal. He was probably taught, as I was, that if the carefully applied formula didn't work, it meant that one or other of us must be broken, and since he wasn't broken, it must be me. And he probably would have agreed with me that he needed to be protected from my brokenness. I think, in the end, he would rather not have known at all.