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After 13 years of bad, awkward and painful straight sex, I finally realised I’m a lesbian

One woman shares her sexual journey in this brave, honest and explicit account

In this honest and emotional account, writer Claire*, 36, from London, shares how she went through 13 years of disastrous and painful sex with men, before finally realising she was a lesbian. Here's her powerful story of learning to accept her true self...

When our writer Claire* first had lesbian sex with a woman, after years of terrible sex with men, she felt 'reborn.' Posed by models. (Getty Images)
When our writer Claire* first had lesbian sex with a woman, after years of terrible sex with men, she felt 'reborn.' Posed by models. (Getty Images)

As I lay in bed, the sheets tangled around me, even the screech of my 6am alarm couldn’t diminish the euphoric, post-sex glow lighting me up like a Christmas tree. I felt ‘reborn’, like I’d been handed the keys to a magical kingdom and was finally ready to explore.

In the space of eight hours, my entire world had flipped. I’d been strolling down the same old grey street for years and suddenly, the pavement flew up, hit me in the head and everything was in glorious technicolour.

I didn’t know sex could be like that – mainly because I’d endured years of frequently boring, painful and disappointing sex. Growing up, I’d expected the kind of gyrating, orgasmic bliss I’d seen in movies, but my adult-life experience couldn’t be further from that. I’d been sold a lie.

I was 34, I’d been sexually active for 13 years, and here I was experiencing earth-shattering sex for the first time. The only difference? It was with a woman…

And that’s when it hit me, there was a reason for all the bad sex I’d had with men… I was a lesbian! In that moment, waking up in bed with the stunning (and very naked) Sarah*, I did the one thing any sane person would do… I threw a ‘sickie’, rolled over and did it all again…

When we finally came up for air, it was four days later (yes, four!), Sarah had orgasmed 11 times the first night alone (you do the maths) and my sex life – no, my entire life – would never be the same again.

Trying to be ‘straight’

I knew I was gay as a child, but ‘buried’ it. Well, I say ‘knew’ but it wasn’t that straightforward (excuse the pun). There was no LGBTQ representation in the 80s and growing up under Section 28 (government legislation banning schools from mentioning anything queer) meant that LGBTQ kids grew-up in a vacuum.

Wanting to play kiss chase with girls, as a child, was fine (to a point), but when adolescence struck, it brought a heavy dose of self-awareness. It wasn’t ok to feel those things. I’d be bullied to within an inch of my life if I dared speak my truth. So, I buried it, decorated my bedroom with Take That posters, and gave heterosexuality a damn good go…

I endured 13 years of boring, painful and generally disappointing sex. Then the reason finally hit me for all the bad sex with men... I was a lesbian.

I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 17 and that only lasted a few weeks. Plus, it’s debatable whether he actually was my boyfriend and the kissing left a lot to be desired. Just 17 magazine said that kissing could make you horny, but the washing machine tongue shenanigans were doing nothing for me.

I was having great sex though… albeit with myself. I was an A-grade masturbator, discovering the ‘forbidden art’ early on. I’d put in a lot of practice, as a kid, and was frequently caught by my mum who threatened to take me to the doctors if I didn’t stop. Nothing could stop me though, it felt too damn good... which set me up for a fall. My adult sex life, with men, couldn’t live up to it. Mainly because, when I masturbated, I thought about women…

I was having great sex though… albeit with myself! I was an A-grade masturbator, discovering the ‘forbidden art’ early on.

Painful sex

When I was 21, I had my first (and only) boyfriend. We met at Uni and I fell head over heels. Sam* was a floppy-haired dream boy, the kind of boyfriend TV shows like Neighbours told us we should have. He was the beautiful boy next-door, and for the first four years, we had an idyllic, bubble-gum romance. He was my world. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else, despite the denial of my queer side.

The first time we had sex I couldn’t believe the pain. I was 21, and a virgin. I knew losing my virginity would hurt. Sam was gentle and loving, the perfect boyfriend to lose my virginity too. But the pain was excruciating, like someone was trying to push their fist through my arm and out the other side. Plus, me being penetrated felt totally wrong. Something screamed inside, "This isn’t the way you’re supposed to have sex!"

The pain our writer Claire* experienced during sex with her long-term boyfriend was so extreme, eventually they had to stop. Posed by model. (Getty Images)
The pain our writer Claire* experienced during sex with her long-term boyfriend was so extreme, eventually they had to stop. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

I ignored that voice, but it never went away. Neither did the pain. We tried again and again. Each time, I thought it would get better, but it didn’t. Sometimes it hurt so much, I’d cry. My body repelled him, like a brick wall was built across my vagina.

It upset him so much to know it was hurting me, so we stopped having sex. He could have walked away, found something easier, but he stood by me. He loved me regardless of whether we could have sex. To this day, I’m so thankful for his love and support. But it brought with it a guilt that made it even harder to admit I was gay. How could I possibly break this man’s heart?

A traumatic diagnosis

I went to see a doctor because I wanted to be’ fixed’. I wanted the kind of sex the media told me I was supposed to be having.

That’s when I was diagnosed with vaginismus, a condition that occurs when penetrative sex can’t be experienced without pain. I spent three years in sex therapy, trying to overcome the psychological barriers barring me from having sex.

The male surgeon even bantered with my boyfriend during appointments saying, 'Don’t you want to have sex? He does!'

My GP referred me via the NHS. I had a camera put inside me to see what was going on. The results came back clear and the less-than-sensitive male surgeon suggested it was all in my head. I needed psychosexual counselling. I felt judged, like he thought there was something mentally wrong with me.

He even bantered with my boyfriend during appointments and said, "Don’t you want to have sex? He does!" He told me to use vaginal dilators to get my body ready for sex. He showed me the smallest size and I burst into tears because to me it was huge and I knew the pain it would bring.

The surgeon couldn’t empathise and point blank asked me, "Well, have you ever been raped?" To which the answer was "no". But I came away thinking problems with sexual pain are complex and don’t only happen if someone has been assaulted. A doctor should know that.

Seeking sexual counselling

If you suspect someone’s been assaulted, you should ask them in a sensitive, empathetic way. I was traumatised from the insensitivity and complained to my GP. She referred me to two lovely women, one who saw me for physio and the other who gave me sexual counselling. These women were kind and motherly, they helped me immensely and Sam and I were finally able to have pain-free sex. For me though, it also remained pleasure-free.

Our writer had three years of therapy to help her overcome her traumatic sexual experiences. Posed by models. (Getty Images)
Our writer had three years of therapy to help her overcome her traumatic sexual experiences. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

I had homework where I’d lay there with a dildo between my legs. It helped me desensitise from the pain and get used to having something there. It was also meant to help my arousal. But it didn’t. Having something phallic between my legs just didn’t do it for me.

It was a great therapy for heterosexual women who wanted penetrative sex. But, throughout all the treatment, no one even asked if I might be gay. It was all about getting my body ready for a penis and that was the one thing I subconsciously didn’t want. To this day, I believe the sexual pain I experienced was largely because I was gay and forcing myself to be heteronormative.

After nine years, I ended things with Sam. We’d got engaged, I’d proposed to him, largely because I thought it would stop the 'inappropriate' thoughts I’d been having about women. It didn’t. Ultimately, I wanted him to have the kind of sex life he wouldn’t have with me. And I wanted a great sex life too, but with women. Only, I pushed that away for four more years, until I slept with Sarah.

Disastrous sex

I gave heterosexuality a good go. I had flings and even dated some guys for a couple of months. Sex with men no longer hurt, but it just didn’t do it for me. Still, I kept opening my legs and hoping for the best because that was what I was supposed to do.

There was a one-night stand with Ash* who clearly missed the lesson on foreplay and pounded away at me like a jack-hammer. All I came away with was a severe case of cystitis.

There was Jay*, the model-esq younger guy, with the body of a Greek god, but still I felt nothing. Later, there was a string of other men (a couple I even had a pleasurable time with) but, when it came to the main event (penis-in-vagina-sex), it just didn't do it for me.

Finding the real me

And then I woke up the day after my 34th birthday, changed my dating app settings from 'men' to 'women' and met Sarah. I couldn’t live a lie any longer. I had to know if I was gay.

Sarah pinged up on the app almost immediately and I was smitten from first glance. She was a gorgeous, golden-haired gazelle – the kind of woman I’d always secretly dreamed of. We chatted for a few days and things got spicy. My head was in a spin before we’d even met. I’d never felt this excitement anticipating meeting a man.

We slept together on our first date because the sexual chemistry was off the charts. Just holding hands sent shivers down my spine. I finally knew what had been missing. This was what lust felt like. I’d never felt it for a man because that wasn’t the way my desire was wired. I fancied women!

I was 34, I’d been sexually active for 13 years, and here I was experiencing earth-shattering sex for the first time. The only difference? It was with a woman…

Falling in love with women

Sarah was just the beginning. The next 10 years brought a plethora of gorgeous women into my bed, some were flings, others became beautiful, committed relationships. All involved the kind of randy bedroom romps I’d dreamt of. Even the good sex I’d occasionally had with men, paled in comparison to even mediocre sex with women. Men just couldn’t measure up because that’s not what I’m into. And after four-day sex marathons with sensually erotic females, how could I ever go back?

Our writer Claire* says her 'sexual chemistry was off the charts' with women, after years of awkward sex with men. Posed by models. (Getty Images)
Our writer Claire* says her 'sexual chemistry was off the charts' with women, after years of awkward sex with men. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

It means more than that though. It’s not just about the sex. It’s about finally being free to be who I truly am, honouring who I was as a child and listening to that voice inside.

After years of sexual pain, feeling like I was broken, it’s a huge relief to come out the other side. Looking back, I know there was a reason for my suffering. I was gay and denying a beautiful part of myself. My body was telling me that, screaming it to me. I just needed to switch the outside world’s expectations off and listen to that.

Friends for life

Sam and I are still friends. We don’t see each other all the time but we are always there for each other. We’re like brother and sister, which is kind of how our relationship has always been.

I’d been so scared of telling him I was gay when we were together, so scared of hurting him and of how our families would react. I finally told him five years after we broke up. I’d been 'out' for a year at this point.

Perhaps the time lapse and 'water under the bridge' made it easier for him than if I’d told him when we were a couple. After coming out to my parents, he was the third person I told. It was important to me that he was one of the first people to know. He’d been a major part of my life and I still cared for him deeply. I felt I owed him that respect.

He was surprised when I told him. It had never occurred to him I might be gay. He responded with giving me one of his squishy bear hugs and saying he was proud of me. After all this time and everything I’ve been through, I’m proud of me too. And I’m proud of us, Sam and I, that we’ve been able to overcome all this and remain such close friends.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.