I was what they call a “late bloomer.” As a young girl, I went unnoticed by boys – and labelled ugly by the exceptions to that rule. In high school, I often felt lonely and isolated for not receiving the male attention my group of friends seemed to be getting. My friends got to experiment with their partners and learn about themselves and their sexualities, but I didn’t. I was the only one to not have a boyfriend, the only one who still hadn’t been kissed. I felt left out, like I was missing something life-changing and spectacular.
Hearing stories of my friends having sex and doing things with boys both excited me and made me feel jealous. I felt immense pressure to start doing those things too, otherwise I feared I'd be shunned by my peers, which would worsen my already low self-esteem and heighten some other pre-existing insecurities. I internalised it all. I remember constantly thinking to myself: “Why can’t I just get it over with?” and “Why doesn’t anyone want me?” I swore that after having sex, I would be a changed girl – a real woman. I believed that if one person would have sex with me, then anyone would; that having sex would make me pretty and wanted, especially in the eyes of men. Thinking about all this now saddens me. I wish I could go back and tell myself to slow down, that no one expected me to do anything and that sex isn’t all it’s hyped up to be.
I had my first kiss at 17 and “lost my virginity” four months after. This corporeal act was nothing like I had imagined. It wasn’t with someone I loved, or even someone I knew. It was with a stranger who didn’t care much for me. It was bloody and hurt and was non-consensual. It was rape.
Since then, the act of penetrative sex has been painful and consistently re-traumatised me. I’ve come to learn in my young adult life that there are many ways to love someone; it doesn’t always need to be physical. I think there is so much beauty in sex and the intimacy it requires and generates, and I’ve had positive and negative experiences with it, but nonetheless, I know now that the act of penetrative sex is not something that I like, or want – and that’s OK.
Maybe sometimes I want to have sex and do have it. That’s fine too. I’m a complex woman working through my past and figuring myself out. Some days I may want it, and some days I may not. Regardless, this societal pressure to perform for others without consideration or understanding of what an individual wants or likes or even considers sex needs to change. The prude/hoe dichotomy must be deconstructed. No one is entitled to anyone’s body but their own, and so we must respect what it is someone feels comfortable doing and not doing, without shaming them. In terms of the specific act of penetrative sex, saying no and communicating that there is a certain limit to what I can and can’t do – and accepting that there’s nothing wrong with that – has taken me years. Being open about my limits is something that I continue to struggle with expressing today, especially with partners. Vocalising my wants and needs and boundaries is especially hard when I feel myself constantly pressured to please the men I’m seeing, regardless of my sense of comfort – as if I have to engage in certain acts otherwise they will no longer want me. The need to constantly perform within the rigid boundaries of my gender and sexuality (especially under the dominant heteronormative and post-feminist media climate) has been socialised and conditioned in me since childhood. No wonder I felt fucked up before having sex, and no wonder I feel fucked up after having it.
The pressure on both young boys and girls to conform (especially sexually) is dangerous and threatening and comes with serious repercussions – ones I’ve experienced first hand. I wish there was someone to tell me after my assault that I didn’t need to keep seeing men, or to please them in that way and that, in all honesty, it isn’t something that I want or have ever really wanted. It took me too long to realise that this perpetual quest for validation through sex would not be the solution to my self-esteem issues, and most importantly, that I don’t owe anyone but myself anything. I wish I could’ve figured this out sooner in order to recover from, and get help for, my trauma, rather than expose myself to even more of it.
I’m not shaming anyone for having sex, I’m a pro-sex woman, but I had to go to great lengths to accept that it isn’t something I want, and I want people like me to feel comfortable doing the same. I have to respect myself, and situations I feel are best for me, in order to perform the self-care I need in order to feel safe. It took time, it took lots of emotional labour, but I can say now that I’m the healthiest and happiest version of myself that I can be.
I wish more people could feel more comfortable doing things for themselves and prioritising their mental health and well-being over the desires of others. I wish we, as a society, could have a more open dialogue about sex and those that aren't necessarily inclined, and create safer spaces for women by dispelling the “she’s just selfish” rhetoric. I felt lost and fucked up all the time for not wanting something I was told I needed. Cultural gaslighting resulted in me being called “crazy,” and “abnormal.” No one else should have to go through that.
I look back at my young, vulnerable 18-year-old self and feel so sorry that she ever felt the need to prioritise a man’s sexual desires over protecting and taking care of herself. I hope this changes. I hope we can work on communication and consent in order to create a more respectful, less coercive and less violent sexual climate. Being open and honest with communication with my partners and making sure they understand and respect me is important. It’s also important to note that not all the work has to be placed on me, respect is a two-way street. Being more open with myself and others in order to respect notions of boundaries and create relationships based on trust, rather than ones that blur the line between coercion and comfortability. Figuring out my body under my terms is what’s most important to me, and I will not let anyone guilt me into thinking or acting otherwise.