Life

Are You Getting Any? How I Learned to Have Sex for Myself, Not Validation

When struggling with an eating disorder and depression, 21-year-old Grace found that sex provided a confidence boost.

by Nana Baah; photos by Tristan Bejawn
12 November 2019, 9:00am

All photos by Tristan Bejawn.

Content warning: Eating disorders.

GRACE, 21

Quality of sex overall: 7/10
Frequency of sex: 6/10
Intimacy levels: 8/10
How do you feel generally about the people you fuck: 7/10
How happy are you with the amount of time you have for sex: 6/10

VICE: Hi Grace! When was the last time you had sex?
Grace: This morning, with my boyfriend.

What do you think of the British Medical Journal research? Would you say young people are having less sex?
Well, it's hard to say, isn’t it? I don’t know how much sex people were having before.

What about if you’re thinking about you and your friends? Are they having sex?
Well, my friends are definitely having sex. [Laughs.] We talk about it all the time, like, the girls or guys they’ve slept with after meeting them at a party or something.

Portrait of Grace by Tristan Bejawn
Grace in her bedroom.

Do you think social media plays a role in how people have sex?
If you mean things like Instagram, then I guess it could play a part. I don’t think it’s a big problem, and there’s not enough evidence to support it, there's no direct correlation. But I guess the body image problems Instagram causes might stop people.

How do you think body image plays into how we have sex?
Well, it wasn’t because of social media, but I was really insecure about my body. It started when I was really young, with my fear of being photographed, it always made me really nervous. That then kind of developed into an eating disorder. At a point, about three years ago, I was kind of afraid of eating in front of people and I was trying to control everything I ate.

How has having an eating disorder affected your sex life?
When it came to sex, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my clothes off. If the lights were on, it just felt like the people I was sleeping with were staring at me. It extended to how I always wanted to feel normal.

Grace by Tristan Bejawn
Grace says she isn't sure whether she enjoyed the sex she had for validation.

What do you mean by ‘normal’?
Well, if I knew other people were shaving, I wanted to keep up with that and make sure that I looked 'normal' too. Even though I know it’s okay not to do things like that, in my mind there was a voice telling me I that I had to look like that. When I was really insecure, I was constantly seeking validation, so I would just sleep with people. I went a bit crazy, just so someone would give me that kind of validation.

So, having sex became more about seeking validation than the act itself?
Well, when people want to sleep with you, they will give you compliments and everything. That was the kind of thing I really needed about two years ago, and it’s something I gained from the experience.

Were you enjoying sex during that time?
I’m not sure now. At that point, I was enjoying it, but I don’t know if I was actually enjoying it or if I was just telling myself that I was – if you know what I mean? It’s hard for me to tell the difference now.

So, at the time, you thought it was the only option?
Well, really I was telling myself that I’m this independent person and I’m doing this because I want to. But looking back, that’s not the case really. I was probably lying to myself the whole time, to make myself feel better and like it had a purpose.

Was there a time that you didn’t link sex to validation?
Well, when I was 15, in high school, if you had sex and did other things that you’re not supposed to be doing, you were part of a small group who seemed 'cool'. Or at least, you view yourself as cool people, but I I don’t think it’s the same as validation.

Grace by Tristan Bejawn
Grace's mental health and eating disorder are now 'getting better and better.' She met her boyfriend on Hinge just over a year ago.

Was there one specific encounter that changed your view?
One day, I was going on a date and walking down the street. I thought to myself, 'Why am I rushing everything just to go on these dates?' I just stopped and said to myself, 'Why am I doing this?'

What conclusion did you come to?
I just thought, 'I don’t need that validation anymore, it’s really fake.' Also, I think other parts of my life are getting better. My depression and the eating disorder are getting better and better, so that’s helping me build that kind of security. Your mental health really influences every aspect of your life.

How have things improved for you?
I met my boyfriend on Hinge just over a year ago and at that point I was still meeting and sleeping with other people because we weren’t exclusive. But I think I just started to realise my own value, so now I don’t try to go out to seek that validation anymore.

And what’s your view of sex like now?
I just see it as something I can enjoy. I don’t see sex as a means to gain the validation anymore. I know that the amount of sex you have isn’t equal to your value as a person.

Thanks Grace!

If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, contact Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity on 0808 801 0677 or visit their website.


@nanasbaah / @tristan.bejawn

If you’re 18-30 years old and want to be featured in the Are You Getting Any? series, send an email to nana.baah@vice.com with the subject Are You Getting Any?

Tagged:
mental health
Milennials
sex and relationships
Are You Getting Any?