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. “Holly” is a pseudonym. Also by Holly on HA: “Memories of EXCEL” and “Seeing Shades of Blue.”
As I reflect on my experience with sex education, there are probably 5 or 6 stories I could write, but they don’t all fit together into one narrative. I learned about sex in little bits and pieces, and got strange mixed messages that never taught me about consent or the possibility of pleasure. I knew some things I shouldn’t have, but didn’t connect them to sex, and other things I should have known I didn’t know, and found out too late. But that isn’t my story today.
Today I am going to tell you about how I decided to teach myself about sex.
When I was about 9 or 10, my mom told me the basics of how babies were made. In retrospect it was very basic. I remember laughing nervously afterwards and saying “Is that all? You did that four times?” Since we were immersed in purity culture, sex was not discussed in a positive light in our home. The topic was generally avoided or discussed as something dirty, so I didn’t get any more information other than “avoid sex,” “stay pure,” and “dress modestly to help keep boys from having lust problems.”
The older I became the more I was expected to keep myself away from any discernible discussion about or perception of sexuality. However, since I did not understand what sexuality was, it became difficult for me. I knew the basics, but what was I supposed to do about all of it? My family kept me away from boys, covered me in modest clothing, and allowed me only “appropriate” books and videos. None of my friends seemed to know any more than I did, and in the homeschool world it would have been taboo to ask them anyway. When, at 17 years old, I realized that, in order to go on a certain trip, it would be best if I bought tampons, my mother could not explain to me how they worked, nor could my friends. I had to read the package instructions in detail and figure it out.
I was shocked to find out exactly what was going on. The vagina was a totally separate thing?!
Things changed when I went to college. Even though I was at a very conservative school, where young women were expected to be good Christian virgins, I was a real standout. It was obvious I had no clue what was going on with the opposite sex. I could talk to men just fine as long as the topic was neutral, and once I got to a store and bought normal clothes I looked pretty good, but if someone asked me out… well, that is where things went downhill. My suitemates, who were a pretty naïve bunch in their own right, had to quickly school me in the ways of the world, and in the process had to chase off a few creepy seniors whom I thought were just being “friendly.” The general impression was that I was completely clueless, and here I was, in a college environment, with men actually noticing me. I had only a faint idea what men wanted to do.
My project became taking charge of my own sexuality.
I didn’t really know what that supposed sexuality was, but after a couple of years of confusion, I needed to do something different. I made an appointment on my own for the gynecologist, went by myself, and she even told me I didn’t have to have an exam for another year. She explained a lot. I got birth control just for the heck of it. I started nursing school, and decided to read the part of my books on women’s health ahead of time, because I was tired of not knowing about the health of my reproductive system.
This is when my life started changing fast.
All the things I had been taught started falling away, because I was in school with real people. I was in nursing school now, not at a Christian school, either, and people didn’t fit into tidy little boxes. My closest friend in nursing school was gay, and I didn’t spend any time thinking about the things my homeschool group taught me about that. The one fundamentalist woman in nursing school was deceitful and mean, and she claimed to be having sex with the guy in our class who claimed to be supporting himself by dating several wealthy women. He claimed to be having sex with the fundamentalist also, but said he didn’t charge her; he just did it because he liked to make her lose her religion. The guy in our class who was openly Christian was scornful of the “professional boyfriend” and tried to witness to my friend who was gay. I found myself looking at the class as people who could either be defined by the ways they had sex or by their other attributes as well.
I decided that I saw so much more to my classmates than just their sexual identities.
I cared about them as people. I still didn’t understand sex personally, but I was getting the picture from my textbooks, from hearing my classmates’ conversations, and from lectures. It was a big deal, but it wasn’t the only deal.
As the years went on, I wish I could say that I figured things out in a healthy progression and met someone who was understanding and allowed me to experience sex in a positive way. I cannot. That is a different story.
What I can say is that now I know a lot about sex. I ended up working at a series of jobs in which I learned a lot about sex, and eventually took extra training for a job in public health in which I talked about sex quite a lot. At this point in my life I’ve also had plenty of sex, some bad, and a lot of it very good. More information would not have hurt me. I’m certain that it would have helped me very much. Even with everything I’ve read, even with everything I’ve heard, no one told me what certain words meant, what consent was, how to negotiate a situation in which two people might have different sexual expectations, what things could happen besides “baby-making” sex.
I figured it out, but I really, really wish I had figured it out earlier.
I thought about writing a more strictly informative post, but for many reasons I was unable to at this time. If anyone who has been raised in homeschool purity culture has any serious questions about sex, I would be happy to help point you in the right direction.
Something I find interesting about all of this ATI stuff. Isn’t the number one commandment to not have any other idols before Him? It seems to me that these people are putting Gothard up on a pedestal. That rather than listen to God they listen to Gothard. I understand if you want to dress modestly but uhm aren’t pants modest? I have never understood the reasoning behind that.
My mother was raised in the 60’s by a crazy family. She went to one of those fire and brimstone churches. She said that until she started going to the church I was raised in she had never heard of God spoken as a loving God. I’m so glad you got out Holly!