Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.
Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sherah” is a pseudonym.
When I was 26, I learned something that changed my life.
I am a sexual being.
I have sexual energy available to me to help me grow up. There is hope right inside me that I won’t always feel like a mere child, that I will be able to grow up and be an adult. I learned that every culture has ways of communicating about sexuality and that I can use the choices I make about dress, makeup, hairstyle, jewelry and accessories to communicate about where I am in my growing up process and who I see myself to be.
This may sound really basic and you might wonder how on earth I had missed these ideas. To give you some background, I am the second oldest of twelve children, homeschooled K-12, and I never had any sex education. This is not to say that my parents hid the facts about reproduction from me. With ten younger siblings, my experience of family life was constantly shaped by pregnancy and birth. Plus, I got the facts about things at the cellular level from my biology textbook.
But what I just didn’t get was the distinction between sexuality and sexual behavior.
Because I was taught that sex was for married people only, and because I was trying so hard to be a good little Christian and perfectly follow all the rules, I thought I had to be a non-sexual person. It never occurred to me that I was trying to be something that doesn’t exist. It never occurred to me that I had to split off a part of myself and numb it into oblivion to achieve my unrealistic goal. I’m not at all sorry that I failed in this endeavor. What scares me to this day is how much I succeeded in suppressing my normal impulses to explore and learn and grow and express myself and how much I succeeded in freezing up my own energy until I literally felt dead inside and wondered if I would ever feel alive again.
Knock, knock, is there anybody home in my own body?
Back when I thought I had to reject and separate myself from everything sexual, I carried a lot of tension in my body, flattening my chest, holding in my tummy and keeping my legs together because I didn’t think it was okay for me to grow up and be a woman and have all the parts and feelings that other women have. I used to feel that sex was some kind of monster that would attack me if I ever left the house with my hair down. I used to be paranoid about avoiding any expression of sexuality by anyone around me for fear of contamination.
Now that I own my own sexuality, I know that I have the right to set my own boundaries and make my own choices about what to do with my body and my energy. I can dress, and fix my hair and even carry my body in ways that express who I am and how I see myself as a woman. I can breathe deeply without worrying that my tummy will stick out and I will look like a pregnant lady.
Owning my sexuality doesn’t mean that I have to engage in any sexual behavior. I actually feel much stronger now about my right to make my own choices and say no to anything I don’t want.
But I don’t have to control or avoid anyone else’s sexuality.
It is okay for other people to dress in ways that express who they are or want to be. I don’t have to judge others’ decisions to engage in sexual behavior if they want to do that. Because I have my own boundaries, it doesn’t have to affect me. Plus, I feel more reverence and respect for everyone’s sexuality, including my own, and I feel more hopeful about the possibilities of using my sexuality as a creative, life-giving and life-enhancing force, whether I choose to be in a relationship, to have children and/or to put my energy into some project to improve the world for future generations.
P.S. Now that I’ve undertaken the task of giving myself a real sex education and getting all of my questions answered, I’m realizing the multiple ways that a simplistic rule such as ‘just wait until you’re married to deal with the whole category of sex’, can be damaging. First, it can cause a person to disown their sexuality, leave their personality drastically underdeveloped and repress their instincts and desire to become an adult. But secondly, sexual behavior includes such a broad range of behaviors that for two people to commit to a lifelong sexual relationship with each other without taking the time to find out something about each other’s unique and individual sexual preferences seems very imprudent to me.
Would I commit to a career as a pilot if I had never flown in an aircraft? Certainly not!
So why should I be expected to commit to a lifelong sexual relationship with someone without first trying at least a few sexual behaviors such as kissing and making out.
I take marriage seriously, which is why I want to know what I’m getting into.
I’m so glad your’e getting through this! I can totally relate!
Since a lot of the messages I got as a child involved either purity rules or slated males as “dangerous” beings I grew into a young woman who was terrified to be around guys – especially alone with guys or in groups of guys. Through my musical interests, I often found myself in groups comprised disproportionately of males -especially in college. By that point I had revolted against most of the messages I’d received growing up but you can’t undo years of programing. I found that to feel comfortable around the guys i had to desexualize them or myself. I found myself constantly either being “like a sibling” or “one of the guys.” I tressed in totally unflattering ways (went through a pants-3 -sizes-to-big phase) and then felt bad when no guys showed interest in me. I was basically self sabotaging (if I actually wanted to date anyone) for years. I had decided that it was okay for me to form deep friendships with males but that it was only safe if I wasn’t seen or acting as a sexual being.
When I finally did break out of this phase, I found that I had no skills for setting boundaries. A guy found me attractive, asked me on a date, and I had no vocabulary for setting boundaries because I had heard all my life that engaging in acts with a man (like holding hands) are bound to lead to other acts…..in my mind, if I let him hold my hand I had forfeited my control over what happened next.
It took a long to feel comfortable leaving the house in apparel that might let someone see me as attractive, took a longer time, and experimentation, to realize that I do have power and rights to set boundaries, and it will take still longer to feel fully comfortable expressing myself a sexual being.
Thanks for sharing your story Sherah!