“There is joy in exploring bodies together.”

I’m twenty-six, and I’ve had sex with around thirty people, maybe more depending what you feel counts as sex. I was only in relationships with a handful of them, many of them one night stands, occasional things with friends, or short (often very short) flings. And I’ve never felt like a “slut”, or like I’m doing something wrong.

Just over a month after I turned sixteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I’d met that same night at a party. He was also sixteen, and a virgin too, and we got along, flirted, and had sex. (Funnily enough, I had sex again with this same boy once more, three years later.) It had never been important to me that sex be “special”, although if that’s your thing, great! I don’t remember feeling especially nervous or like something especially momentous was happening, although of course I texted my friends immediately afterwards.

In retrospect, I was lucky to have a group of quite sex-positive friends, although of course we were a mess of hormones and had our share of poor decisions and fights. We didn’t slut-shame each other, we swapped masturbation tips and passed around dirty books (how retro is that?) I also benefited from access to very comprehensive sex education, and we were generally, from the start, aware and diligent about contraception and STI prevention.

Sex for me has always been something I’ve entered into easily. Funnily enough, I find the whole process of flirting supremely awkward and have major anxiety about rejection, so I tend to never make the first move, but if things are going nicely and I’m open to kissing them, I’m probably open to having sex with them.

I find it’s a good ice breaker. The moments after you have sex, especially good sex, there’s no more awkwardness. You lie there all sweaty and just look at each other and laugh. Sudden your bodies feel like they live easily together, because they’ve worked together. Sex when you’re in love is different and wonderful, but that doesn’t make casual sex worthless. It can be life-affirming and joyful and, most importantly, pleasurable. I’ve had wonderful sex with people I barely knew, or casually and intermittently with a friend I feel a sexual connection to. There is joy in exploring bodies together.

I feel no shame of my body when I’m having sex, not that I normally do otherwise. I don’t feel exposed or afraid. They think I look beautiful, or they wouldn’t be there. Your partner doesn’t care, whether it’s for a night or a lifetime. All bodies are beautiful as you explore them and make them moan at your touch.

Of course I’ve had bad casual sex. Not everyone is good at sex, and even those who are can’t be good all the time. Maybe your bodies just aren’t a good fit, or it’s just boring or unsatisfying. But most of the time, the experience as a whole is still fun. There is still joy in kissing someone, in holding someone, in admiring and being admired. You relate on a different level when you’re naked together. Sex should be laughter and pleasure and joy. It doesn’t have rules, except to respect everyone’s consent. It’s revealing and intimate even with a stranger. It can be full of beauty.

Perhaps I am promiscuous by the standards of society, but I can honestly say I don’t regret a single one of the people I’ve slept with. I would probably have been with many more if I was capable of being more forward. Of course there are people I wouldn’t go with now, but they’ve all been a part of who I am. I wouldn’t change it, I wouldn’t take it back, and I will never, ever allow anyone to shame me for it. I had sex with those people because I wanted to in that moment. That’s what matters. Have sex how you want to, on your terms. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you need to be with more or fewer people, or enjoy a certain kind of sex. It’s not boring to have vanilla sex, any more than it’s wrong to consensually explore the dirtiest kinks you can imagine. Sex is a different experience with every new person, and that is wonderful.

There is no such thing as a slut. Have all the funny, sweaty, joyful sex you like. Use a condom, get tested, and be safe. Respect other people’s boundaries, and your own. Explore and enjoy.

“I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence.”

Like anybody, I have my insecurities. Neurotically speaking, out of the top ten things that I worry about or that annoy me, about 7 or 8 out of ten are related to my body. (The exceptions are failing my degree or family problems). From sweating too much, to the point where I am the only person who I know with clammy fingertips, or having a little too much hair everywhere (emphasis on ev-er-y-where) and worrying about the fact if I were to go get my first professional wax, I’d be laughed out of the room. Include into this my anxiety that I’m not skinny enough and the general angst-y rubbish which clouds my thinking as I head out of my teens and into my twenties. But mainly, I have enough good humour to accept them as just an unfortunate combination and that most people have much worse.

I’m still a virgin. Partly through choice and partly through utter fear. Since being at university, I’ve had two relationships. Both of which were short-lived and riddled with doubt about the best way to act or what new sexual experience I’m about to have, and, partly, a lack of confidence in my body. The reason is as follows:

I have to make a decision in the coming months about my body and it will be with me for the rest of my life, as the ‘problem’ has been since I started puberty. As much as I can cope with bleaching my top lip and occasionally using stronger deodorant (even on my fingertips) and home waxes – until I become eventually brave enough to finally take a visit – the size and asymmetry of my breasts is number one on my angst list. (Sometimes replaced by the shade of my slight lady-lip moustache that I’m currently rocking and whether it’s noticeable to people who aren’t as aware of it as myself).

Since the age of 13, I have been seeing a specialist about the asymmetry of my breasts in their development. The memory of medical photographs at the age of 14, one of which carefully captures a bead of nervous sweat running from my armpit down and around the curve of my non-existent breasts, still stings. Although my breasts have developed seven years on from this, my breasts themselves haven’t grown much. As a size 12 to 14, I wear a 36A-B bra, where one of the cups is amply filled and the other is more of an AA-cup and disguised by my choice of slightly padded bra.

I’ve chosen to wait until my early 20s to ensure that my breasts are properly developed and that one is not just a ‘slow grower’. Unfortunately, it seems not to be the case. And in three months’ time I have potentially my final discussion with the NHS consultant plastic surgeon. I am not normally at a loss for words to say, but when it comes to this decision I am. My breasts are small but well-formed; I have very good nipples; however, as my breasts are so small the half a size cup difference is quite noticeable. If my breasts were to be slightly larger then the difference would not bother me so much and the thought of wearing a thin non-padded bra and occasionally allowing a cheeky hint of nipple to rise underneath my top is something that I would like to do – though it wouldn’t be a regular occurrence but is something that I would currently never dream of doing. It would leave me too vulnerable.

The options available to me are the following: an implant in the smaller breast, two implants to ensure that the shaping of both breasts is similar as my body ages over time, a breast reduction on the slightly larger breast (either in the traditional form or potentially by using a liposuction technique) or to not have surgery at all. I do not want miniscule breasts but more than that, I do not want something alien inside my body. I feel as though I want the next sentence to begin with “Unfortunately, both of my breasts will be smaller as I have a reduction on the slightly larger one…” but the honest truth is that, after feeling so uncomfortable, I’m not too sure whether it will be unfortunate. I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence. And always the potential to finally let my permanent nip-on be welcomed to the world via a non-padded bra.

The chances are that as I’ve been in the NHS system for so long and have considered my decision for so long that there would be follow-up care and any ‘damaging’ psychological effects could potentially be solved by another breast operation; an enlargement. Though I really think it won’t be necessary. Strangely, writing this has shown me that the confidence I lack can be solved by a bit of effort to keep in shape, do my hair and a wee bit of make-up. The fear of taking my bra off and having sex (I considered writing “intimate relations” then, apologies) is not from my breasts alone, but they remain a contributory factor. I was not brought up in a prudish family and was taught to respect myself and my body. The idea is that so long as I am comfortable with my decisions and how I act (and I don’t cause harm to others), then it’s fine. Partly, the longer I wait, the more that I want it to be with someone that I trust and feel comfortable with. It isn’t a decision which is rooted in romantic ideals of being in love but it still means something to me. Frankly, the ‘issue’ with my breasts has been something that I hide behind and occasionally excuse laziness or gluttony by. The “well, it won’t change things anyway” attitude which really has not helped me so far. With a summer ahead of me (and after just emailing my consultant as I am finishing this piece), it’s made me realise that the time is now. I’ll still wait a year until I’ve finished university until I have the operation by which time I will be 22. But the decision has been finally made and the plans can finally be set in motion. Just the fact that I have made my decision makes me more confident and really, that’s all that matters when anyone has to very personally think about their insecurities and their bodies.

by an anonymous woman in her early twenties