“I haven’t felt at ease with my body for seven years now.”

If I’m perfectly honest with myself, I haven’t felt at ease with my body for seven years now.

I was thirteen when my then-boyfriend asked if we could do sexual things together. I was quite religious then and had very traditional ideas about virginity. But we cared about each other, and I trusted him, so I agreed to do what he wanted. From there I continued to relax my boundaries, and lost my ‘technical’ virginity at 14, before I was emotionally ready: he’d already asked to do this so many times by then, so I thought that I owed it to him.

I don’t blame my ex for what happened – although he was more interested in sex, we were both young and ignorant. However, I definitely suffered because of the things he wanted from me, and I would consistently prioritise his wants over mine without any reciprocation. We hadn’t yet received much sex-ed, so I agreed to many things which I wouldn’t now: sending naked pictures when pressured; vaginal sex without a condom (I was on the pill and condoms were ‘too expensive’); and unlubricated anal sex. This last act once left me bleeding, but I didn’t seek medical attention in case my parents found out and were ashamed. He broke up with me a few days after my fifteenth birthday, and I was distraught. Because of my religious upbringing and initial reluctance to do what I did, I thought I was ‘damaged goods’, and that no one would want someone like me. I started to have suicidal thoughts, and occasionally self-harmed.

In year 10, I started dating a guy in year 13. Because of my previous experience I didn’t understand why this was problematic, but I would later find out that our peers had been calling him a ‘cradle snatcher’ because of our relationship. We dated for over a year. He would tell me he loved me, then later deny it; he hid his Tinder account from me, and gaslighted me when I found out about it. He fought with my older brother and wouldn’t reconcile with him, straining my relationship with my family.

He also took advantage of me sexually. He would grope me in public and not stop when I asked. He ignored me when I said I heard someone nearby and wanted to stop, leaving me ashamed and embarrassed. Although he didn’t have vaginal sex with me before I turned 16, we did a number of other acts, so I now realise the irrelevancy of this fact. Once we were talking over Snapchat after our relationship had ended, and he admitted to masturbating to the pictures of my face that I was sending, only telling me once he’d finished. The notion that I was being exploited didn’t occur to me whilst he was around: I knew he could get into legal trouble, but I thought that this would be my fault, which was only entrenched further when a mutual friend told me off after finding out that we were exchanging naked pictures.

I’ve had healthy relationships since these, and sex is no longer performative for me. But I’m still recovering from my trauma, and every so often I find myself ruminating on these events. My consent was violated on a regular basis at a young age, and even now when I hear about assault cases I feel ‘dirty’ all over again.

For anyone who can relate to my story, I am so sorry. What happened does not define your worth, it is not your fault, and no matter what stage of recovery you are in, I am so proud of you. You have all my love.