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. “Gracie” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of sexual harassment and emotional abuse relating to sexuality.
“Will you have sex with me?”
So much hung on that question. I was in love with him. I wanted to be with him more than I could put into words. I said yes before I could allow myself to really look at the situation.
My sex education was never given to me. My mother gave me “The Big Sex Talk” without ever explaining sex. It wasn’t till I was sixteen or seventeen, and had started going to public school, that I figured out was sex was and how women get pregnant. Seventeen. I would hear things from the kids at school, words or phrases I knew were vulgar, and I would slowly piece together their meanings. I didn’t know what birth control was or why you would ever need it. I spent my high school years hiding my lack of knowledge, discreetly looking up definitions online, trying not to look like the freak I felt I so obviously was.
I entered my first year of college as an emotionally and sexually repressed woman who felt nothing but shame from her body, a body that she knew little to nothing about. The results proved to be detrimental.
The first rude awakening came during a football game, in a busy stadium crowded by over 60,000 people. I was cornered by two large men who made sexual comments at me, tried to get me to sit with them, and groped and grabbed at me. It was all over in just a few moments and they disappeared into the crowd. I spent the next several days terrified that they would walk into the restaurant I worked in or run into me on campus. I had no one I could talk to about it. I was afraid to call my parents, afraid they’d make me come home.
So I bottled it up and labeled it with more shame.
I don’t know how many panics attacks I had that week.
Then came the boy. He was attractive, funny, adventurous, and had a way of making me drop everything for him. But he didn’t love me. In fact, he was verbally and emotionally manipulative and abusive. He would dangle his “love” over my head and after 9 months of following him around, I would have done anything to hear that he loved me.
I come from a large and chaotic household where emotions were never expressed. I can’t remember ever feeling loved or welcome at home. My high school boyfriend was so wrapped up in being the “good godly young man” and staying “pure-minded” that he broke up with me because he was afraid to find me attractive, lest I ruin his relationship with the Lord. Sex was never discussed. Sexuality might as well have been a curse word. The only thing I had ever felt sexually was shame.
But here he was, asking me to have sex with him. As my abuser so clearly explained, over a text message, he would be delighted to be my boyfriend, to love me, if I only agree to have sex with him.
And I said yes.
Then came that night; that horrible, horrific night. He looked at my undressed self and he turned away with disgust. Suddenly I was cheap he said. It was too easy to get me to sleep with him. Had I gained weight? Was I not taking care of myself?
I still hear his violent words running on a loop through my mind. Even though I walked away from everything that was connected to him or that year, I have found that walking away from those memories is almost impossible.
Therapy was the first time I was told that my having a desire to share an intimate and sexual relationship with the man I loved wasn’t a bad or shameful thing. It’s called having sexuality. Being a human. Every human has sexuality and I can’t fault myself for wanting to explore mine.
I wish that abstinence wasn’t taught so aggressively to me. I was trained to hide away my sexuality and never let anyone know it’s there. I was told that I was responsible if a boy around me “stumbled” and had an “impure thought.” That’s a lot of pressure and shame to put on a child. Now, as an adult, I’m having to teach myself to celebrate my sexuality and not shame myself in it. It’s a slow learning process.
Telling my story is helpful. Therapy is helpful. Naming my abuser for what he was is helpful. All of this is very painful, stressful, difficult, but very helpful.
And very hopeful.