It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment I became strange about physical intimacy, but easy to recognize the results. I am currently eyeing the couple in front of me with a mixture of intrigue and disgust. Dressed in plaid, swigging twin beers, and wrapping themselves around each other as they play Pacman, the couple’s behavior is making my insides revolt.
The friend who has accompanied me to the bar finds the PDA amusing at first, but quickly becomes bored. “Let’s go,” she whispers, and rubs my ear suggestively, laughing. I can’t help a fitful glance around the bar. Did anyone see that? I tear myself away.
As a four year old child, I became suddenly and wholly aware of nudity as a private sort of thing. Having the previous day paraded around naked, demanding my photo be taken, I became deathly afraid of someone seeing me without underpants. I no longer allowed family members to be around while I changed clothes. “I’ve seen you naked a hundred times,” my sister screamed through the bathroom door, knees tightly crossed, pounding for a necessary pee. “No you haven’t!” I barked back, aware that she most certainly had. Somehow, I felt, I needed that lie.
My hyperawareness (and accompanying fear) of sexual intimacy came with just as much volatility. In seventh grade, I jumped into the local, filthy river with my exclusively blonde, lacrosse playing, female friends. All was good and well until the neighborhood boys decided to join in on the fun. Brown-haired and boisterous, eager to touch some girls in bathing suits, they began pushing us under water. My friends giggled and squealed, exhilarated by the closeness, coyly batting away wandering hands. A boy who lived two doors down from me had barely touched my shoulders before I started screaming, nothing coy about it. He swims away, truly put off, exchanging what the fuck glances with his mates. This is the incident that deems my seventh grade sexual life unworthy of the neighborhood boys attention. I suppose there are worse things.
By Junior year of high school I have been out of the game, as I figure, for far too long. People are doing nasty things in basements, beds, and car garages. I acquire an idiot boyfriend the year below me, imagining the age gap will allow me some control in the sexual onslaught that is surely about to occur. I am unaware, at the time, that all of my fears of intimacy, both public and private, will prove entirely apt.
While other couples suck face against locker banks and finger fuck at Homecoming, the mere approach of my boyfriend’s hand in public is enough to warrant revulsion. He has tiny hands with fat fingers, hidden (but not enough) by the zip up hoodies he wears. It feels like holding hands with the Pillsbury Doughboy and I avoid it like the plague.
I am aware of, and extremely troubled, by the notion that I may live a sex-less life. If I cannot handle public hand-holding, it is doubtful anyone will date me in college. (Oh, the irrational fears of a seventeen year old virgin).
My worries lead to my greatest concession: I allow the boyfriend to go down on me. It is something I demand out of a faulty understanding of feminism. If I will do strange things to his body, he must return the favor. Let the record show, however, this was hardly a favor. A fifteen year old boy performing cunnilingus is akin to a dog licking your face. Wet, and maybe sort of funny, but hardly orgasm-inducing.
I took various approaches to ignoring or pretending to enjoy these attacks on my vagina. Sometimes I imagined I was Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions, experiencing sexual intimacy for the first time. On another occasion I counted backwards from 100. Usually, however, I just watched something on television.
It is during one of these mindless encounters that it happens. The queef heard round the world.
He is maneuvering down there, while I crane my neck to watchGrandma’s Boy on the TV behind him. Something happens in the movie. Something funny. In my desperate attempt to ignore the boyfriend, my mind has synced to my lady parts. I laugh at the screen, and a matching sound comes out from below. A queef. A queef? A mother-fucking queef?
There was a period during childhood when I would roll around in my towel after showers and jolt my butt up and down until this noise came out, but now is not the time, vagina. The bathroom was a safe space. The boyfriend’s parents basement is not.
His head draws up, cinematically slow. “What was that?” I have drawn a pillow over my head rather than speak to him, a clear sign that we are not meant to be. Presumably, we should not be on such intimate terms that he feels comfortable mashing his face against my clitoris, or what he believes is such.
After I have calmed down enough to remove the pillow from my face, I demand of him, “you cannot tell anyone. ANYONE.” I beg until he accedes and I assume the matter is finished. I am so mortified that my body betrayed me in such a snorting, un-funny way, that things cannot possibly get worse.
It only takes six months. The ex-boyfriend tells everyone.
Upon our September return to school, I am granted the unbecoming title of “the girl who queefed on her boyfriend.”
Annapolis High School is rich with narratives like these, stories that never die. The previous Spring everyone loved “that girl who pooped on her boyfriend’s chest. On purpose!” Another favorite is, “that girl who poops her pants when she gets drunk. It’s happened twice !” My school was full of the simple-minded and easily entertained.
My tale spread with unsurprising swiftness. It is made more humorous by my previous prudish behavior and the boyfriend with fat fingers. The story follows me down hallways and into bathrooms, is whispered quickly at the start of each class. The response is consistently raucous. I would laugh, too, if I wasn’t the vagina of the joke. At one point, a peer lacking comic creativity simply yells QUEEF at me across a soccer field. It is the highlight of my Senior Year.
My relationship to sexual intimacy hit a deep and profound valley following “the queef.”
At this point in time, however, I would like to think that I have recovered from my most shameful public moment. I, not infrequently, hold my boyfriend’s human-sized hands. I no longer seek refuge in shitty Adam Sandler movies during moments of sexual intimacy.
However, my revulsion of public affection, has, if anything, intensified with time. Men snuggling on the subway. A woman lovingly rubbing another’s shoulders. Teens intertwined on a park bench. My stomach shudders and I feel compelled to look away.
I’d like you to know, then, if you see me with a pursed mouth and hands in fists, that it is not judgement that twisted my body from you and your partner, but rather, an instinctive onset of nausea. My deepest apologies to you both.
Lily Sloss is a 23 year old writer. She loves dancing, Michael, and her new home in Brooklyn. She's currently working as a literary assistant and life coach (nanny) for two wonderful little women.