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. “Eden” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of grooming for and sexual abuse.
I was eleven, and it was summer, so I had been running around outside with my siblings. I was wearing a loose, bright orange t-shirt. My mother looked intently at my chest with its tiny breast buds and said, “Your nipples are showing through.”
She said it in a hard, cold whisper, so I knew I should be ashamed.
I hadn’t noticed any changes, but I practiced hunching my shoulders so my shirts would hang as straight as possible. A few months later, she ushered me into her bedroom. I rarely went in, so it felt odd to be sitting on the edge of her bed as she closed the door. She brought out two odd little half-shirts that were pink and white with flowers. “These are training bras,” she said, and she seemed excited to be presenting them to me. I was confused. What was a bra, and why must I wear such a weird uncomfortable garment?
I wore them because I was a good girl.
The same year, my mother approached me with another surprise: information about monthly bleedings women experienced with strict instructions not to tell anyone else and to tell her immediately if I experienced it. I had nearly forgotten by the time my menarche appeared in all its resplendent red. I was not excited- I was angry. This was not what I wanted. My mother showed me where she kept the sanitary pads and promised to keep it stocked, and in doing so, revealed that women’s periods seemed to be synced. In that small comment, I had found solace: I would know when my mother was on her period so I could be as sweet as possible during those times.
I was thirteen when my mother came into the restroom while I was taking my bath. This was not unusual as she would often wash my hair and bathe me despite my double-digit age. This time, however, she brought something new with her- a razor. She soaped and shaved my armpits, and when she was done, she said “There, smooth as a baby’s bottom.” Why my armpits must be smooth while my brothers showed off their armpit hair was beyond me.
I was not a stupid child. Adult women seemed to have breasts, and adult men not, but that never seemed like a significant fact to me, and certainly not one that would impact my own body. I rarely saw any girls around my age so I only expected to grow tall like my oldest brothers.
I had no concept of puberty or a future.
I hated this transition I didn’t expect: I hated it when my brothers close to my age would tease me about being a girl; I hated it when my dad would comment that I looked like an older girl in an approving tone; and I hated it when he would hug me so tightly that I was aware that my little breasts pressed against his belly. My mother scolded me for being shy of such contact. “It’s not Sexual,” she said, and the invocation of the powerful word shocked me into silence.
I withdrew more.
I was fourteen when I first realized there was a big secret to be learned. My parents would speak in whispers about people. They would drop their voices when explaining something briefly and mysteriously. They would turn down the volume and stand in front of the TV screen during movie time. Sometimes, a word would appear. It was always significant.
I heard it most on the conservative talk radio shows my parents would listen to in the car. The male hosts would rant about men and women making a Choice, walking into hotel rooms, stripping off their clothing, and getting into bed. Their words burned into my mind, and I catalogued all the facts. Sex was something men and women did in bed together, and it resulted in babies, and it was dirty and filthy and shameful. I regretted learning what I had; just knowing about it corrupted me by association. I pushed it as far from my mind as possible.
“Would you like to talk about sex?” he typed.
Someone with whom to discuss this mystery and to laugh about all the secrecy. Yes. “First I will kiss you.” What was this? It started with just the conversations. I invented persuasive reasons to make it stop. I wrote down notes on the points from Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Good-bye.
It didn’t stop.
It progressed to blurry pictures taken in the dark, one more button undone each month. I hated it; I felt so numb and dirty and defiled. I was a good girl, and this was something only a husband should do, so therefore he must become my husband. Every time a part of me rebelled, he threatened suicide again, and surely it was better to sacrifice oneself than to be responsible for a death. He sent a few pictures of his penis. I only looked once. I had seen artistic representations of male genitalia before in pictures of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s David, and none of it prepared me for that moment of horror.
My education was nearly complete.
I was eighteen and going through Apologia’s The Human Body. I would curl up in corners while reading my textbooks, and the habit had the benefit that I could skip to more interesting sections without worrying about people peering over my shoulder at the diagrams. I had already read the final chapter in secretive snatches when I was informed that it was not required reading. But bless Dr. Jay Wile, I had learned about clitorises and vaginal mucus and male refractory periods.
My sex education may have been complete, but the silence was not.
I experienced debilitating menstrual cramps, yet I had to maintain the charade to my siblings that periods did not exist. My adult brothers could not be allowed to know. If I did not grit my teeth and pretend, there were my mother’s sharp words to keep me from spilling the secret.
I was a good girl: innocent and perpetually clueless. I had repressed anything remotely sexual so that I never had a crush all those years. Not one. I did not dare turn to internet search engines for answers for fear that Porn might come up, and I did not dare turn to my parents because of their shaming silence- a silence I was made complicit in.
I was the perfect victim.