Homeschooled in New Zealand: TheLemur’s Story, Part Three

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “TheLemur” is a pseudonym.

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In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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In any situation, my mum excelled in introducing some socially disruptive element. For example, I participated from ages circa 12 – 14 in speech and drama competitions. All the other competitors were dressed in mufti, but she insisted I wear formal black pants and white shirt.

They were ‘sloppy’, and ‘we are not going to be dragged down to their standards’.

Conforming to a dress code which mum arbitrarily deemed ‘decent’ was far more important than my feeling like a fish out of water. Mum was totally oblivious to that anyway, as, you see, I was not ‘peer dependent’. And because I was not peer dependent, I could only frame my opposition to the clothes in terms of stylistic preference (to no avail, of course). For a competitive class known as ‘reading at sight’, in which each participant expressively read a passage from a book they had not seen before, all involved had to be taken together out of ear shot so no one heard the passage before their turn. For some reason, the demographics favoured girls in speech and drama at a ratio of 5:1. You can imagine my predicament. Firstly, it took me a while even in homeschool situation to leave behind self-consciousness. Second, I related very poorly to socialized school children. They knew how to strike up interactions between each other, so the child with poor social skills is always in an out group among his more gregarious peers. Third, being all dressed up impressed itself as another me vs. them barrier. Lastly, I had no idea at all how to even platonically talk to girls. It turned out I and a rather competitively prominent girl were penultimate and last in the competitor order, in the particular instance I’m channelling. We spent an awkward few minutes alone together. I didn’t know what to say, and given my anti-social body language, nor did she probably. Later, my mum had the nerve to ask what happened. That really pissed me off inside. Why the hell would you ask that, when you should know I have no concept of how to navigate that sort of social terrain? Some voyeuristic desire to know every detail of my inadequacy? Describing my internal state like this seems rather solipsistic. Sometimes I wonder if I have the right to single out events like these after reading through what some of you in America went through.

Naturally, mum found fault with the other families who attended.

Their children performed unbiblical pieces (about witches or wizards, or worse, dictatorial parents). The girls wore ‘disgusting’ clothing. I recall in crystal clear quality after one competitions ended, we went to Subway. Across from where I was sitting, in my line of site, sat the same girl I mentioned earlier. Leaning forward to eat her subway, her top rode up, exposing her lower back. Mum then insisted I swap places with her so my back was to this 14 year old hussy.

This is the kind of sexually repressive culture endemic in fundamentalism, and fundamentalist homeschooling. Teenagers can be granted no sexual agency. It’s not just they abide by the teaching of abstinence before marriage. The unwritten rules consider the idea a post-pubescent male would like to insert (consensually) his organ into the female, and that she would like to receive it, to be thoroughly improper. That would be part of the Marxist plot to destroy families by ‘teaching the kids about sex when they’re young’. The point of allowing someone to be a sexual being relates to socialization, because the repressive approach perpetuates a self-enforcing segregation. If boys and girls wanting to fuck each other silly is ‘dirty’ according to the unwritten norms, then the cognitive dissonance of the unconditioned response (sexual desire) clashing with an internalized mindset that completely gaslights the desire’s legitimacy, demands eschewing any sustained contact with a member of the opposite gender.

So during their sexually formative years, fundamentalist Christian youth subconsciously ascribe each other the role of toxic triggers.

Cultish, homeschooling conventions run by the likes of ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) confirm the behaviour by insisting on the ‘six inch rule’. All male female haptic interaction is sexually fetishized. You can never make a fundamentalist understand an argument, as their dogmatic modernism cannot really grasp post-modern deconstruction. That the statement ‘Sex is God’s gift to married couple, and we see no problem with it in that context’ does not decisively plant them in the garden of healthy sexual attitudes is an anathema to them.

Anyway, handling myself around girls was something I had to consciously learn mechanically at (a secular) university. I’m sure some female readers can attest to their version of that experience too.

Another dysfunction of isolation derives from the concomitant dynamics of habitualized isolation and the perception interactional partners are scarce. By habitualized isolation I mean the point at which the negative interactional outcomes owing to substandard social skills, overcome the desire to socialize.

You learn to do without social interaction, and thus lose any desire for it.

You become, effectively, asocial in a tightening, downward spiral. Only now do I have the objectivity and critical tool kit to see what happened; at the time I drifted aimlessly on a sea of calm, functional depression. It’s like moving in suspended animation. I couldn’t stand being on Facebook and seeing group oriented behaviour. A wall of unmotivated inability stood between me and pro-social activities. Now from time to time, for a variety of reasons, certain people will break through your bubble of isolation. Since the mind perceives them as scarce, you become emotionally fixated on them, a sure recipe to destruct a relationship. You obsess over the slightest signal of non-reciprocation. You need them more than they need you. You feel small, and constantly unwanted. And you must constantly deal with a power imbalance. He who cares least about a relationship controls it. In a way, it’s an objective scarcity too. Few people understand the unique personal histories of homeschoolers.

There’s often an outsized intellect compensating for a bereft emotional state.

Adults laud your academic achievements. Children feel jealous and push you away in spite. You condescendingly look at the ‘ignorant fools’ around you, trying to pretend you’re not envious of their social capital. To this day, I still struggle with these two dynamics. In quiet moments, I feel quite fucked up. Sometimes, a wave of intense loneliness sweeps over me, and in one of them I wrote these two poems/songs:

Lifestream

I feel the reservoir press against my spirit
A weight of water unmarked by morning light
Or cheerful souls drifting on the edge of my ken.
This mortal current sweeps my soul within it
And against the firmament I wage an unceasing fight.
I want to go beyond the 12 mile limit
Join two streams into one
But you are lost and never found
Beyond the horizon to which I tend.
Let me stretch out my hand away from the sirens in my mind
And live in hope I’ll feel your grasp before we sink in sorrowful seas.

Guides

In my sleep I found it
Found the glow that lights our path
Took the meteor to bits with my bare hands
Strew my dreams through the aftermath
[chorus]
Yeah they don’t know what I want to know
They don’t know where I wanna go
down the river in my mind, down the the river in my mind
I’ll flow, I’ll flow, through grains of time
I stretched out my heart
Touched the cheek of the girl next door
Her candle light eyes lit up my face
But I let the fire fall apart
If you want to see me
Before the man comes around
See the shooting stars in the north
Then turn the other way round
[chorus]
Embers scattered in the snow
Red white red white red white glow
Melting heat melting flakes
ceaseless fusion, silent sound
[chorus]

If there’s any good news, it’s that my mother realized her mistake when my brother, around 12 or 13, exhibited all the signs of a nervous breakdown – obsessively checking switches were turned off, checking under beds for interlopers, and general neurotic manifestations. He’s had a vastly more natural social life.

Josh Duggar and The Tale of Two Boxes

CC image “Magnifying Glass” courtesy of Flickr, Auntie P.

by Libby Anne. The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love Joy Feminism.
It was originally published on Patheos on May 24th, 2015.

In the wake of revelations that Josh Duggar sexually molested five girls in two families as a teenager, I’ve seen some Duggar supporters argue that progressives and liberals don’t have any room to criticize Josh given that . . . well, let me just show you:

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Text as follows:

If this boy had been experimenting with girls in a non-Christian family, then he would have been encouraged. I know a family that were proudly showing photos of the their teenage son on a trip to Disneyland unchaperoned with his girlfriend. It’s “normal.”

Sexually molesting prepubescent girls is wrong whether the family is Christian or not. I know an awful lot of non-Christian families, and none of them are okay with preteen girls being sexually molested. Also, sexual molestation is not the same thing as two teens playing around. Yes, there are boys and girls who start dating and experimenting sexually as young very teens (though this is rare—a full 70% of high school students are virgins), but that is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a teenage boy sexually molesting prepubescent girls while they are sleeping.

This isn’t the only place we’ve seen this, either:

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Text as follows:

Case you hadn’t noticed there are a few articles on the subject today. Hit pieces masquerading as “I want you to have reliable information” pieces is another. It’s astonishing how promptly and completely the whole Progressive cannon gets discarded when the perp is a Christian White Man—even if that man is child.

This “progressive cannon,” presumably, is progressives’ acceptance of sex outside of marriage. In other words, this commenter appears to believe progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex but hold white Christian men to a different standard. The assumption here is that progressives wouldn’t have a problem with, say, an atheist sexually molesting children—but that could not be further from the truth.

What is going on here, exactly?

In short, there seems to be an assumption among some social conservatives that because progressives do not see premarital sex as sinful and wrong, they aren’t in any position to criticize Josh Duggar’s actions. In other words, because (in their view) progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex, they argue, progressives are being hypocrites when they condemn Josh Duggar. This assumption is based in a serious misunderstanding of progressive sexual ethics.

This goes back to my “tale of two boxes.”

Social conservatives tend to divide sexual acts into “marital sex” and “non-marital sex.” For social conservatives, child sexual molestation is in the same category as gay sex or consensual premarital sex. When divided in this way, sexual molestation doesn’t look all that different from consensual premarital sex—though both are considered sin. This is why the Duggars can talk about Josh’s “mistakes” the way they do—as though it were simply him going too far with a girlfriend, or viewing pornography. Because for them, they’re in the same category—sexual contact before marriage.

Progressives do not have ethical or moral problems with premarital sexual intercourse—but they very much have a problem with child molesting. To conservatives this can look like an inconsistency—even hypocrisy—but it’s not. Progressive sexual ethics center around consent. Sexual contact that is consensual is okay. Sexual contact that isn’t consensual is not okay. And because children below a certain age do not have the necessary understanding and lived experience to be able to consent, child molestation is de facto nonconsensual.

There are all sorts of problems with putting any sexual contact outside of marriage in the same category. For one thing, victims of sexual assault, including children, may end of feeling that they are in some way guilty of what happened—after all, sexual contact outside of marriage is considered sin. For another thing, a teenager sexually molesting children may be treated as a similar offense to a teenager having consensual sex with his girlfriend.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen numerous Duggar fans—primarily social conservatives—defending Josh Duggar. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” “We all make mistakes sometimes.” “His sisters forgave him, so we should forgive him too.” “Christ’s blood covers a multitude of sins.” “This should have remained a private matter.” “Who are we to judge.” “But for the grace of God go I.” “We all have a past.”

It seems it’s social conservatives who are quick to make excuses when children are sexually molested—and yet somehow they think it’s progressives who don’t have a problem with child molesting.

Hurts Me More Than You: Lynn’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional trigger warning for Lynn’s story: descriptions of sexual arousal due to corporal punishment.

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Lynn’s Story

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son” Proverbs 13:24

 “For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:6

From my earliest memories, love and pain have been inter-mingled.  Hugs, kisses, painful blows, and stinging words blur one into the other.  As a child I was taught both explicitly and implicitly that love and pain are opposite sides of a single coin.

One cannot exist without the other, because, children are so very, very bad.

In our Christian, homeschool family, multiple spankings a day were a normal part of life for me and my four siblings.  Dowels, wooden spoons, belts and those slender, flexible, rods used to open and close mini blinds were all instruments of punishment.  Our pastor taught a lot about “biblical discipline”: the spanking should hurt (a lot); you should never hit your child in anger; you should not hit them anywhere but the buttocks; your child should feel loved and reconciled afterward.

He also taught that “biblical discipline” sometimes leaves “little marks” even hours after the punishment is inflicted.  He assured his congregation that this does not amount to abuse.

However, even these harsh teachings failed to line up with what I experienced at home.

My dad almost always spanked us in anger, often smacked us in the face (giving me a bloody lip on a few occasions) and occasionally used his large carpenter’s fingers to flick us repeatedly on the head until we screamed.  Sometimes the spankings would go on for what seemed like forever.  The one time my mom tried to intervene, my dad screamed at her to leave.  She later apologized to the whole family for being an unsubmissive wife.

The worst part of the abuse was not the physical pain, but the constant anxiety.  I couldn’t protect my siblings, and I couldn’t be perfect enough to avoid deserving punishment, so I lived in fear of the next mistake.  My dad loved the fact that he could produce such fear.  He would sometimes stomp up the stairs shouting, “Let the beatings begin!” carrying a heavy wooden mallet from my great grandfather’s farm.  He never hit us with it, but he enjoyed seeing the terror in our eyes. He delighted in telling stories of how he had hurt or scared other children. I believe my father is a sadist.[i]  Perhaps it shouldn’t be at all surprising that he raised a masochist.

It’s hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t aroused by images, descriptions or fantasies of being spanked, hit, or beaten.  However, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the physical sensations I had been experiencing since I was a small child had anything to do with sex.

I was very young when the fantasies began—no older than six or seven.  I lived in a world full of pain (but not pain worthy of anyone’s attention), so I dreamed of the only different worlds I could imagine.  In one, I was in an orphanage, or had been kidnapped, or was a slave.  I was terribly mistreated.  Unlike what I experienced at home, the abuse in my fantasies was obviously bad enough to justifying running away or someone else coming to my rescue.  I wanted desperately to be rescued.

In the other fantasies, there was finally someone who punished me out of love, the way my pastor said they should—someone who genuinely hated causing me pain, but did it because they loved me so very deeply.  This was always a man whom I admired, trusted, and desired to please (unlike my father).  I always felt deeply ashamed of my need to be punished, but willingly subjected myself to his loving blows.  In these fantasies I felt safer, happier, and more loved than I ever did in real life.  This was the closest thing to emotional intimacy that fit into my worldview.

I thought I was imagining the way my father was supposed to treat me.

When I entertained these fantasies, my body always reacted to the images of being beaten or shamed.  I thought this is how everyone’s body responded to fear and shame.  Both of my fantasy worlds seemed so much better than my reality that I loved them.  But I also felt guilty for experiencing pleasure from scenarios that were so similar to what I hated most about my own life.  Real life spankings were terrifying, painful and humiliating.  Why did I willingly relive them over and over and over again? Still, it never entered my mind to think that my physical reaction was not a normal response to fear, guilt and shame.  My family never talked about sex.  My mom gave me the barest of details when I was 14, but I had never even heard of sexual arousal, much less had any idea of what it might feel like.

My first clue that my reaction was abnormal came when I was a sophomore in college.  The first time my boyfriend put his arm around my shoulders, I felt the same physical sensation I had always experienced when thinking about being punished.  I was surprised, but I chalked it up to being slightly afraid and feeling incredibly guilty for letting him “go too far.”

Later, I experienced my first orgasm while having a nightmare about being spanked.  I wasn’t entirely sure that what I had felt was sexual, since I was still almost completely clueless about sex, and there was nothing overtly sexual about my dream as far as I understood at the time. However, I began to suspect that something was wrong.

After I got married and became sexually active, my suspicions were confirmed.  I became incredibly conflicted about sex.  I loved the physical sensations and feeling so close to my husband, but the only way to climax was to allow the images of abuse to flood through my mind whenever I started to feel aroused.  I could fight them off, but doing so took so much mental energy that it distracted me.  When I did allow them to come, the enjoyment was always mixed with revulsion at the imagines in my head.  By this time, I had come to believe that my parents’ “discipline” was actually abusive and that the idea that someone must hurt me to truly love me was a lie.

I hated feeling aroused by those images.  I had no idea how to maintain a healthy sex life. 

Today, six years into marriage, I still struggle.  I already deal with nightmares about not being able to protect myself and my siblings from my dad.  I don’t want to have daydreams of the same.  However, I have been in therapy for the past nine months, and I hold on to hope that perhaps one day I will be free of the chains.

I strongly believe that frequent spankings and the message that love requires causing pain to the object of one’s love—both of which are so prevalent in conservative homeschooling circles—played a significant role in the development of this disorder.[ii]  After all, who could ever think that repeatedly hitting a child on an erogenous zone of the body would not have a sexual impact?

I cannot be sure that I would have had the same reaction if the spanking in my family had not been as abusive as it was, or if I had not tried to imagine the “loving spanking” that my pastor promised.  Personally, I don’t think any of the supposed benefits of are worth the risk.[iii]  However, even if it isn’t interpreted sexually, the message that “someone who doesn’t hurt me doesn’t love me” is an extremely toxic.

It prepares young victims who already believe the lies that every abuser is waiting to tell them.

Notes:

[i] I am using the term “sadist” loosely.  I know that my dad enjoys causing fear and pain to children, but I don’t know the nature of that pleasure.  While I suspect that it is sexual, I have no direct proof of this.

[ii] When arousal from physical pain or humiliation, or fantasies of such things, causes significant distress to the individual, it is considered a paraphilic disorder.

[iii] I personally think that hitting any person of any age on any part of their body is wrong unless it is in self-defense or the defense of someone else.

Hurts Me More Than You: Jerusha’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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The Mask of Modesty: Jerusha’s Story

HA note: Jerusha’s story originally appeared on her blog on October 8, 2014 and is reprinted with permission.

When I was a girl, my mother made modesty a top priority. She discarded all my shorts, all my pants. God had made me female, so I needed to look like the woman on the restroom sign. Dresses it would be from then on.

I was never quite sure if Mom reached this conclusion on her own, or if it was Dad’s decision for us, or if they worked it out together. I wasn’t happy about it, but then, I wasn’t consulted.

There were no more pajama outfits, only nightgowns. The sunsuit that had replaced my swimsuit was not replaced with a calico dress. Yes, I wore a dress in the lake. A dress on my bike. A dress in the sandbox and on the swings. I wore a dress in the garden, to the orchard, on a hike. When I went sledding, I wore a long flared wool coat over my snowpants. Later, I wore snowpants or sweatpants under a long, loose, flapping skirt. After a few runs down the hill, the snowy skirt would stiffen around me like a bell.

IMG_3831For warmth, I wore cable tights.

For modesty, I wore homemade knee-length bloomers over the tights.

They were usually white, longer than shorts, and they had eyelet ruffles below the elastic cuffs. The woman who first showed my mom how to make them called them “pettipants“. We quickly shortened that to petties. The petties were so modest that I would often strut around my bedroom in them.

“I could go out like this and most people would think I was already fully dressed,” I must have said to my sister a hundred times as a teen–before pulling a skirt or jumper over my loose-fitting shirt. No way would I leave my room in just my petties. They were a secondary undergarment, like a camisole. They should never be missing, but they weren’t meant to be seen.

If Mom told it once, she told it a hundred times–the story about an evil man who had tried to molest a young girl in her neighborhood.“He asked if he could see her underwear!” The girl had refused him, she said, but the situation had been traumatizing. Knowing that such predators existed was motivation for us to stay covered.

Once at a hotel, Mom was anxious that we close the drapes because some of the girls were already in their nightgowns. “Bad men might see me?” my little sister inquired sweetly.

Over the years, I spent many hours sewing dresses and petties. Mom bought elastic by the yard and I fished it through the casings with a safety pin. Those little girls’ diapers and underpants must never show, no matter how hard they played. My brothers must never see how their sisters’ bodies were different. (We girls could change diapers of either sex, a privilege not permitted to the boys.)

By two years old, my sisters were no longer dressed in rompers–they wore dresses and jumpers and pinafores. When they went outside in the snow, we shoved the handfuls of fabric down the legs until the girls looked like pink or green marshmallow people. But the downside of dresses was the risk of accidental exposure. So petties were ubiquitous. Rarely visible, but ubiquitous, nevertheless.

My sex education was spotty at best, but one message I got loud and clear was, “Keep men away from your underwear.” 

Whether playing outdoors or sitting on church pews, our bodies were kept hidden under layers of cotton. At IBLP training centers, we joked about boys not knowing that girls’ legs separated before the knee. When I started wearing shorts on occasion as an adult, I felt a twinge of betrayal, pondering whether God intended for my thighs to be displayed in public. Would they, as my friend’s grandma warned her, “make men think bad thoughts”?

Even when I married, I took my petties with me, accustomed to the secure and familiar feeling of soft cotton wrapped around my legs. And as Mom and I sewed dresses for the four sisters who were flower girls in my wedding, I never questioned that coordinating petties were an essential part of the ensemble.

And yet…

What I didn’t realize then was that there was one glaring exception to the inviolable rule of modesty:

Spankings.

I have many memories of being spread across Dad’s lap and struck with a belt or stick of wood. But my memories are always fully clothed. It was bad enough (and much more painful) when Mom hit me, but as the modesty rules tightened, something felt increasingly dissonant about a part of my body that was never supposed to be seen or talked about suddenly becoming a man’s target. (The last time he hit me, I was about 13. I had the body of a young woman and was wearing a long wool skirt. Being ordered to lie across his legs, I felt violated. Since it never happened again, I assumed it made him uncomfortable, too.)

However… when my father took one of his younger daughters into a bedroom and closed the bedroom or bathroom door, many times he would lift that modest dress. He would pull down her petties, exposing her panties. (I am uncertain when my parents adopted this invasive approach to “discipline”, but their pastor, also an ATI dad and a certified character coach, taught it in detail during a Sunday service years ago.) Sometimes Dad would pray aloud for “Satan to be bound”.

Only then would he raise the wooden spoon that was the implement of choice, bringing it down hard against her thinly-clad flesh again and again. I heard the cries of anger and pain, and later saw the dark bruise lines when I bathed the girls and helped wash their hair. I didn’t like the reminder of my own younger experiences, but I believed it was necessary. I had survived spanking, and now I was a responsible young lady. It never once occurred to me that our patriarch, the “priest of our home”, might be looking at his little girls’ backsides in their knickers.

The petties protected us all, didn’t they? They were a kind of magical garment, shielding us from prurient men and guarding men from lustful thoughts. Allowed too close to the natural shape of our bodies, any male might be overwhelmed with desire sufficient to become a pedophile. That was what we feared.

Though Dad slowly relented on parts of the family dress code, permitting his daughters to wear slacks, pajamas, and modified swimsuits, I had already absorbed the modesty mantra into the warp and woof of my being. So much so that it took a decade to silence my mother’s voice in my head every time I went shopping or opened my closet door.

But these days, I think very differently about those who would dictate how females dress.

I also think differently about inflicting intentional pain on children’s bodies to root evil out of their hearts.

And I feel more strongly than ever that if parent-teachers, in the sanctity of a child’s home, are permitted to remove her clothing at their whim for the purpose of making her good, they put a hurdle in the way of her learning self-respect.

Let me take a moment to unpack all the harm I see in this scenario.

1) Our parents rigidly defined our roles as females. We were subject to rules and dangers that didn’t apply to our brothers.

2) In our home, everything was sexualized. Books, from our encyclopedia set to our Bible storybooks, had white stickers covering illustrations that were deemed indecent. We left the beach if a bikini showed up. The dining room seating was arranged so that the boys would not see the teen girls across the street washing their car.

3) Threats of physical violence by adults against young children were normalized in our home. We called it “spanking”. It involved a weapon, and it left marks.

4) As if being painfully punished on the bottom with a stick was not enough, having one’s required covering forcibly removed was a special humiliation.

5) We were told constantly to be “modest”, but as soon as we were perceived as “independent”, “rebellious” or “talking back”, our modesty was no longer valued. Indeed, our value as females was directly linked to our obedient, submissive, and chaste spirits.

6)  That my father, in our insular world, had the privilege of exposing his own daughter’s panties underscored his tremendous authority. He was the top dog. The rules that applied to others did not apply to him, at least not when we had been defiant or lazy, or had spoken out of turn.

7) On occasion, my parents also spanked their daughters on bare buttocks. When Mom was particularly upset (she was often very cool while she beat us), she threatened to call Dad in to spank a girl’s already-bare bottom. That girl still remembers the horrible threat.

So tell me,

If a young child is made to feel dirty when she says “no”,

Or if her resistance to pain is met with threats of something worse, 

How can she be expected to enforce healthy boundaries in relationships when she is grown?

In Mom’s story, the would-be molester asked a young girl to show herself to him. But our parents made this sound shameful, and then demanded it of their own daughters.

Sorry, Mom and Dad, you can’t have it both ways. You abused the “blessings” that filled your quiver. And you wonder why we struggle to respect ourselves now.

How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Dinah” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

I’m going to be honest—growing up in the Christian homeschooling world is hard.

People in the community that I grew up in were picture perfect families, with all their perfect children all in a perfect row, making perfect grades, milling their own wheat and making their own bread.  They were highly esteemed Christians who (of course) have a home church and serve their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These people sound like they’d be lovely to be around, however, that was not the vibe I got at all. There is a heavy feeling that comes with being around those families—judgment:

You don’t mill your own wheat? Shame on you! Don’t you know store bought bread has chemicals? You don’t pastor your own church? Shame on you! Don’t you know about all the horrible mistakes large churches make? You don’t use the same curriculum as me? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you’re going to be dumb? 

Every homeschooler I talk to tends to make me feel self conscious and guilty for not being the same as them. But there’s one thing that I can not stand. You don’t have a purity ring? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you are dirty if you even think of having sex or kissing before your wedding day?!

You. Are. Dirty.

This is the message I got every single time I listened to anyone who spoke on purity. That’s what I was being told every time I went to a “purity seminar” or read a book on purity. People were going around telling girls that “God doesn’t want you having sex before you’re married. It’s a horrible sin, and if you do it, you won’t be pure anymore. You won’t have a gift to give your husband on your wedding. You’ll be used goods.”

I didn’t want people to think I was dirty—so that’s why I didn’t speak about my sexual abuse for 7 years after it stopped.

I didn’t tell anyone. I put on a façade. I am a quick learner, and always have been. I learned all the answers. I knew all the Christian responses to many situations, I knew what purity was and what was required of girls who wore a purity ring. So that’s what I fed anyone who wanted to talk. I put on this mask. I pretended that I had never had a sexual encounter, that I was oblivious to sexual desires, that I would never kiss a boy until my wedding day. Every time I lied, or just fed people answers, I was digging a deeper, and deeper hole for myself. That hole is what became a dark depression.

Every girl struggles during puberty. It’s exciting, but often times it’s hard to accept your new curves and all the changes that are taking place. You notice that boys look at you differently. You hear about purity, and how you should dress modestly so that men and boys don’t think about you in a sexual way. That’s what made puberty a living hell for me—a living hell that I could tell no one about.

“You must dress modestly so boys don’t think sexual things about you” translated to “Your new body is going to attract more men and boys, and if you mess up or dress wrong they’re just waiting to rape you.” There’s no way in hell that I wanted to attract anyone. I didn’t want these curves. I didn’t want to look like a woman. I didn’t want to enter this world of boys and sex and marriage because of what I had experienced for 5 years. When I was 4 years old a family member molested me and sexually abused me– forcing me to do things, and forcing himself on me. This went on until I was 9 years old.

By the time the abuse had ended, I knew much more than any 9 year old should know about sex. I knew so much, but I also knew that if I told anyone, I’d be in a lot of trouble. My abuser made me believe that what he was doing was okay, but if I told anyone he would hurt me. Because I was only 4, he was able to scare me so badly that I didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. I listened to him and kept quiet.

Well, when puberty hit me when I was 11, I was introduced to the concept of purity. This scared me because I knew that I had already had sex, and already kissed, and already did everything that I was being told not to do. That’s when the depression set in. I was so depressed that I became suicidal, started cutting and started struggling with an eating disorder. I didn’t want to be attractive. I didn’t want attention from boys. I was afraid that my abuse was going to happen all over again. I didn’t want anyone to find out about my abuse.  I just wanted to get away from this guilt and shame. This feeling that I was used goods, and that I’d never find a man who will love me.  I wanted to die because that was the only way to escape the pain.

Never ever make purity such a priority that it makes a girl want to commit suicide.

Looking back, I know that if someone had said that sex is a wonderful thing that is supposed to be enjoyed, I would have told someone about my sexual abuse a lot sooner. If I knew that sex was good, I would have known that what was happening to me was wrong. It was not good, it was not enjoyable. Because people were telling me that sex wasn’t good, that I would be dirty if I had sex, I didn’t tell anyone because I was full of shame. I didn’t want to be the girl with a scarlet letter. I didn’t want to be dirty. So I didn’t tell.

I’m still coming to terms with my abuse. I still struggle. But I no longer hold myself to the standard of purity. I’m not going to wear a purity ring, because that doesn’t mean anything to me. I am going to obey my heavenly Father and I’m going to honor Him with my body. That’s really all that matters.

I want people in Christian homeschool circles to talk about sex in a positive way. I want parents telling their kids that sex is amazing and enjoyable, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I want people to stop shaming girl’s bodies, or boy’s sexual desires. I want people to be careful about what they talk about when they talk about purity. Talk about sex in a way that is positive, because if someone is being abused they’ll know that something is wrong with what is being done to them! Never ever tell someone that they’re dirty. Never encourage the shame that is already abundant.

I’m not “pure” by society’s standards, but I’m pure by God’s standards. That’s all that matters.

If You Meet a Homeschoooler

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 3, 2012.

If you meet a homeschooler, be patient. If you meet a homeschooler, be a trusted friend. Help her. Don’t gossip.

I remember, when I was in college, a homeschool graduate girl was taking a human sexuality class. She  asked her  roommate what “ejaculation” meant.  The roommate told one friend about the conversation, who told another friend, who told another friend until the whole campus knew. (Small college.) The gossip? “Sheltered girl doesn’t know anything about sex.”

When the gossip reached me, it hurt me at a personal level because I had been clueless about human sexuality when I first started college, too. But as an introvert, I just educated myself privately. When friends brought up stuff I had no clue about, I withdrew inwardly and would go home and look it up online and feel like screaming.

And I hid the fact that I had been homeschooled. Because I didn’t want that kind of gossip against me.

I speak of patience, not sex education. Of course, some homeschoolers were given a sex education. (Though on a forum for homeschool graduates, the overwhelming majority of females had the same experience as me.) But if we take  “sex education” and replace it with any number of things a homeschooler might not know, well, then have a good idea of what I mean when I say be patient, and don’t gossip.

Homeschooling is a sub-culture. If you’ve never been homeschooled yourself (that includes homeschool parents who weren’t homeschooled themselves), it’s difficult to understand what it’s like to step into the world, and have no clue about American pop culture or all kinds of jokes and American-isms. In fact, it’s so hard for some homeschoolers to ever belong in the “real world” that some just stay at home until they get married because doing the whole college — working in the real world as I did — sucked.

Listen, it sucked.

Because no one ever understood.

If a homeschooler doesn’t know the name of a popular TV show, popular movie, or the works of evolution or a joke or anything else under the sun? Answer the question, and then keep it to yourself.

You don’t need to tell anyone. It’s not going to help.

The Deliberate Spread of Misinformation

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on August 14, 2013.

When my siblings and I were children, my parents deliberately misinformed us about the world.

I am still not sure what the overall goal was. Some of it makes sense. The ideological nonsense that contributed to psychological control makes sense, such as the misinformation about lust, reproduction, and consequences, but some of it really doesn’t make sense.

Why were we misinformed about the healthiness of foods? Why were we misinformed about women’s periods? Why were we misinformed about the lactose content of butter? My parents also gave us this information in a way that made us afraid to double check, and there was certainly no ability to find out correct information and take it back to our parents. As isolated as we already were, there was always the fear that we could be isolated further if our lifestyle allowed for too much knowledge seeking.

My parents taught us some strange theories about food, which I believe contributed to a lot of food and weight issues in our family. They told us that calories were a lie, and that potatoes and rice were vegetables. They didn’t teach us to have a treat or two and then healthy food, to make choices. They didn’t teach us that you could have a certain amount and maintain, lose or gain weight. They taught us that when food was available to eat it. There was always food, but sometimes it was just rice, for breakfast lunch and supper. So when there was tasty food available, we really wanted it. We weren’t taught moderation and we were taught that there was only ever starvation or overindulgence.

For the purpose of this writing I finally did some quick googling about lactose in milk. It doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then, no one in my family is lactose intolerant. But my parents told us that butter didn’t have any lactose but margarine does. This, as I learned today, is very outdated (50 years or more), because margarine is now normally prepared to be lactose free, and butter is often ‘enhanced’ with other dairy products. Pure butterfat is lactose free, but that is very difficult to achieve.

My mother had the female reproductive talk with me when I was younger than nine years old. I think I was eight, but she denies this, but I remember the house. I then promptly forgot until I thought I was bleeding to death when I was 11. She then reminded me what it was but didn’t give any more information so I thought I would bleed forever. Miraculously it stopped, so I thought I was gone forever. Then it came back and I had to ask again, and she was annoyed and made fun of me. I decided then not to ask any more questions. I learned about human anatomy from a health textbook, which my parents provided on the grounds that I wouldn’t look at that section. I did.

My parents taught us that everyone outside our circle wanted to harm us.

They taught us that foster parents are bad people and that social workers want to hurt children. They taught us that non-religious children are mean and selfish and would steal our stuff. It was only after going to high school that I learned that non-fundamentalist teens are great people. Sure they aren’t perfect, but they really don’t judge other non-perfect teens either.

My parents taught us that strangers are dangerous. Not like most parents do, but to the extent that I have to catch myself to not view all other drivers on the road as evil people who will hit me if they want to, for example. They taught us that if there is a way for other people to hurt us, they will.

They taught us that we were a lower tier of person than others. This is a complex issue, because they also taught that we were better than others because of the fundamental beliefs. I think this was more about guiding us to have low self-esteems. They taught us to let others walk first and butt ahead of us and choose last and give in, in all areas of life. It was hard to change this mindset and take my right of way and walk boldly through a grocery store.

They taught us that spending money on something that you do not need to the point of failing health or death is wrong. This extended from food to shoes to glasses. I was given a pair of glasses when I was nine, at which point I learned that stars are real (I thought people were lying about seeing stars in the sky) and stores in the mall have signs above them so you know which store it is – I thought people guessed and I couldn’t see in, and I never had the courage to ask what I was missing. My next pair of glasses came when I was 15. After there were about six of us I don’t think my parents ever bought shoes or clothes, not even from second hand, instead depending on other families to give us their cast off underwear and shoes and other items.

These are just some of the ways we were misled about daily life, not to mention the religion-based untruths. Further to the idea of not buying items that weren’t life preserving, we were taught that desiring things was wrong, and that god would judge us for jealousy if we wished for more of anything or asked for what we saw other children receive.

My parents taught us that girls were able to evoke some kind of sinful feeling in men, and so we needed to be very careful about how we dressed, stood, walked, and sat, or we would answer before god one day about what thoughts went through the minds of men in our lives.

My parents taught us that girls weren’t as valuable to parents as boys were, because boys could grow up to be powerful successful people one day, unlike girls. They taught us that the women’s role was to support the men in whatever the men wanted to do, and we weren’t supposed to have any dreams of our own because it would hinder the goals of our future husbands.

I know that at this point I have been able to gather knowledge and counteract the misinformation I received, but I still have siblings in that home that are receiving a similar level of false information.

I took it upon myself to give some information to my siblings, especially regarding female health, because there was a real worry that misinformation could cause harm. And I thought my sisters should know that tampons didn’t take your virginity. Lying to your children like this should be criminal.

Homeschooling Made Education Sexy. Like… TOO Sexy: Ephraim’s Story

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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. “Ephraim” is a pseudonym.

*****

I first discovered porn in the library.

By “porn,” though I don’t mean porn porn. I mean porn like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart meant porn: “you know it when you see it.”

Well, I saw it, and I knew it.

How did I know it? Well, I was 15 and got a boner in the library.

That’s how I knew it.

“How on earth did a 15-year-old kid find porn in a public library in the early 90’s?” you might ask. Well, see, it wasn’t really porn that gave me a boner. Education gave me a boner.

I got a boner from a book about sex education.

That’s the funny part of the story. Now let’s go back to the beginning.

I was taught nothing about sex or human anatomy up until that fateful day. My parents were fundamentalist Christians, they homeschooled me to shield me from the corrupting influences of the world (read: sex education in public schools), and they emphasized modesty and purity on a regular basis. Everyone I interacted with, from homeschool park days to homeschool co-op meetings to homeschool Shakespeare productions, was similarly into modesty and purity. Josh Harris was our patron saint… and probably our holy pin-up boy, since I got the feeling most of the girls I knew thought he was hot but never dared to say so.

Consequently, everything about sex and sexuality and hormones and puberty was shrouded in a veil of mystery and taboo. Like, why was I growing hair in odd places? Why did the girls always speak in hushed tones once a month? No one would talk about these things. They were off-limits. They were dirty.

Taboo.

My family often went to the library to find free literature to read for homeschooling. We’d get history books, historical fiction, etc. Anything our mom approved of. Sometimes I’d be allowed to check out some Hardy Boys books or a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

During one visit at the library, however, I stumbled across the Sex Ed for Children section.

Oops.

I don’t remember the title of the book. But the book was about sex. And bodies. And…

…and omg it had pictures.

Cartoonish pictures, of course. But oh wow there were pictures of naked bodies. Like there was a penis. And a vagina. And a diagram explaining menstruation. And something about an “egg.”

I… I felt like I had stumbled across the dirtiest thing I had ever read (apart from certain Bible verses, of course, because we all know there are some really X-rated Bible verses out there. Emissions like donkeys, anyone?).

Anyways. I found this book. And everything I ever wanted to know as a kid about sex and bodies was there. Out in the open.

And I got hard.

It’s kinda embarrassing to think about to this day. (Ok, it’s really embarrassing.) It’s weird and uncomfortable. But I wanted to tell it today because I’ve thought long and hard (no pun intended) about what happened and something struck me the other day:

The reason why something so non-sexual like education about the human body and natural changes it undergoes was interpreted as sexual by me was because that very education was treated as taboo.

My family and homeschooling community literally turned education into something dirty. Into a fetish. They unintentionally fetishized knowledge.

So when I had to (secretly, mind you, so I wouldn’t get caught) educate myself, I felt like it was something bad, something naughty. Seriously, how messed up is that? I was raised in such a way that educating myself about my body felt naughty.

Sometimes I think about that fact and it puts me in a rage. Other times it just makes me laugh. Really, most of the times it makes me laugh.

I was homeschooled and homeschooling made education sexy. But not in a good way. In a too sexy way.

Here’s to growing up?

True Love Waits?: Lilith’s Story

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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. “Lilith” is a pseudonym.

*****

I had the bare minimum sex education growing up—my mom gave me one brief, frank talk about sex, I read some Christian children and teen books on the subject, and I went to a  teen dating class at my church that emphasized, of course, abstinence. In high school, I dated the pastor’s kid for a year, and he waited patiently until my 16th birthday to give me my first kiss (my mom’s mandate). My boyfriend and I only alluded to sex once the whole time we dated.

It wasn’t until college that I began to truly understand the mechanics of sex and sexual anatomy.

At age 18, a psychology textbook introduced me to the word clitoris, and I immediately proceeded to look for mine. At 21, I discovered I had been using tampons incorrectly for nine years (no wonder they were so uncomfortable and didn’t always work!). Shortly after, one of my male friends asked me if I had ever had an orgasm, to which I replied “I don’t know.” I was even more embarrassed when one of my male classmates commented abruptly over lunch, “You’re a virgin, aren’t you?” I finally started looking for answers to my sex questions through Google so I wouldn’t feel so ignorant.

Through these searches I realized that my notions of sex positions and the “motions” of sex – for lack of a better word – were utterly wrong.

At age 22, I started dating my future husband, Matt (HA note: name changed). Even though we were both Christians who valued abstinence, we talked about sex openly. Other guys had humiliated me by pointing out my ignorance, but Matt never made me feel stupid – perhaps because he was a virgin, too. As Christians, we were always told that having sex before marriage would ruin our sex lives once we got married. So, when Matt and I finally gave in to our sexual urges three years later, we felt immense guilt. Before this incident, we had already talked about getting married, but now we wanted to bump up the date so we wouldn’t be “sinning.” We confessed our sexual sins to our pastor and told him our idea of getting married soon, and he told us that was a viable option.

My parents, however, were resistant to the idea, because they wanted me to finish my master’s degree first.

I was confused and angry, because they seemed to be contradicting what they had always taught me: by telling me to postpone marriage, it was as if they were telling me that my education was more important than my morality. (To be fair to my parents, this is how I was feeling, and not necessarily what they believed.)

What I just described is an unfortunate dilemma that I imagine many young Christian adults and their parents face. Because of the demands of college, parents and their children rationalize that marriage should occur after college. At the same time, delaying marriage means delaying sex. Although many young Christian adults earnestly want to wait, their biological urges make it very difficult for them to do so. Our bodies are not designed to postpone sex until we are in our mid- to late-twenties.

Because of my parent’s wishes, Matt and I delayed our wedding until after graduation. In the meantime, we continued to have sex, though we no longer confessed this to our pastor nor our parents. Eventually, we lost feelings of guilt and began to question how ‘sinful’ our actions really were. Matt and I truly loved each other, and we were figuring out sex together. Months later, when we finally got married, our wedding night wasn’t any less special because we had already had sex. In fact, it was satisfying because we knew what we were doing. That same year, for many reasons, we left the church and are no longer Christians.

In closing, I was poorly informed about sex while growing up. This didn’t hurt me much when I was a teenager, because I was homeschooled and not around many other teens or “temptations” anyway. Once I started college, though, I was ridiculed for my ignorance and unknowingly put myself in risky situations. Early on, I should have been taught not only about sexual organs, STDs and contraceptives, but also about the risks of sexual predators and date rape – which, fortunately, I never experienced but could easily have.

I have conflicting feelings about the “True Love Waits” doctrine that homeschooled Christian teens are taught.

On one hand, I’m glad that it encouraged Matt and I to postpone sex for as long as we did –  we were both mature enough to experience it safely and thoughtfully, and we couldn’t judge each other because neither of us had “done it” before. However, in some ways the abstinence doctrine did do some emotional damage: when Matt and I were expressing love to each other before we were married, our Christian consciences were telling us that we were doing something bad and harmful. Because of these convictions, we were really hard on ourselves and experienced a lot of unnecessary guilt – so much so that we broke up for a few months in order not to “sin.”

Ironically, the guilt and the breakup were actually more harmful to our relationship than the premarital sex was.

A Good Girl’s Sex Education: Eden’s Story

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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.