I want to touch on the topic of puritanical bullshit attitudes towards women and sex. Having been born in the 80’s in Canada I grew up with very mixed messaging in regards to sex, and especially female sexuality. Madonna was the first pop star who’s music and personality resonated with me. I remember watching and re-enacting her music videos which were very powerful and sexual in tone, as early as 4 years old,. I thought she was beautiful, and I yearned to understand what it was like to be so desired by men around the world as she was. She owned her sexuality and wore it with pride, and it really shaped my understanding of sexual empowerment.
Now, my mother was practically still a child when she had me (at the mere age of 15). I remember the one and only sex talk we had was the day I got my first period, I was 11 – she 26. She took me to the drugstore to buy pads (I chose the “Incognito” brand because I liked the bright colours on the packaging, for those who remember). We then went out for a “celebration dinner” and on the walk over she had “The Talk” with me. She said “you know you can get pregnant now, so you can’t have sex”. That was it. that was the whole talk. In her defense she really had very little understanding of sex herself, pairing that with the experience of being a teenage mother, she was petrified I might make the same mistake she did. I remember already having a bit of an understanding about pregnancy from the “Changing Me” sexual health program at school, which we began a few years earlier. I think I just hugged her and said “I know Mom”. I didn’t want to continue this conversation and more than she did. We were both off the hook.
The “Changing Me” program was my favourite class (surprise, right). The content was mostly biology based – hormonal changes, pubic hair, pregnancy, STD’s, and rolling a condom on a wooden penis (probably the best day of my 3 years in Jr. high school). **side note, the neigbourhood always wore the evidence when they gave out samples of condoms at the school because you’d find them stretched across car door handles and rolled over fence posts for a 3 block radius for the next two days. For the 90’s, it was a relatively progressive program, but it was void of any information about human connection, desire, emotions, and relationships. We were armed with info on “how” but nothing on “why”. Still, we were at least empowered with some information, which is more than I can say for generations prior to mine.
Conversely, during my brief stint in Catholic school I was taught very little about the biology or physical nature of sex. Instead, I remember sitting through lecture on how immoral premarital sex was. How it ruined you as a woman. I remember the Chaplin drawing two circles and connecting them with a line (the line representing two people being sexually and spiritually connected to one another). She explained that the only way to ensure a strong, clan relationship was to save yourself for your life partner. You should only ever have one line extending from your circle. She then drew another circle, and another, and another, explaining that every time you have sex with someone, you have sex with whoever they’ve had sex with and that this weakens your relationship with each person, and with God. The page ended up looking like a spider web – I remember piecing together my web in my head, and not feeling shame, but being so annoyed with her for teaching us that sex was dirty an immoral. For indirectly saying “I” was dirty and immoral. The cherry on the cake was when she went on to explain chastity and that a woman should never “give away” sex. As though the act of having sex in itself would deplete you of some non-renewable resource. Like our vaginas only have so much sex to give, and we must save them for one person – the man you one day marry! *cue: side eye*.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking isn’t limited to high school chaplains. Many men and women, especially from older generations, subscribe to this way of thinking. This dangerous mindset 100% perpetuates slut shaming culture and robs us of our right to have, and enjoy sex. I remember boys in high school pursuing and courting girls, and shaming them for being sexually active in the practically the same breath. There’s so so so much wrong with this! Boys weren’t being taught about how to respect women as equals, and the women were being taught by the boys that there were less valuable if they were sexually active – yet these same boys were the ones encouraging them to be sexually active in the first place. Confusing isn’t a strong enough word to describe the messageds we receive.
For many years I struggled with sexuality because of slut shaming culture. I knew what I desired (boys and sex) and actively pursued it, but I remember hiding it from my friends. Lying about boys I’d hooked up with, and how how I actually enjoyed casual sex. I sometimes thought there was something wrong with me since I felt like the only girl I knew who actually enjoyed having sex because it felt good, and could totally separate sex and love.
As we approached the Millennium I remember David Duchovny publicly announcing that he was going to rehab for sex addiction. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term and couldn’t quite grasp what it meant. What does a sex addiction even look like? Was he walking around with painful semi’s all the time, yearning for a hit of sweet vagina to take the edge off? Did he find himself waking up to naked women sleeping and strewn about his room like discarded remnants of a crack pipe? I was baffled. And then… I decided I had a sex addiction. It was the only explanation for my sex crazed behaviour! So with my self diagnosis, and next to no knowledge of what an addiction actually was I gave myself permission to have as much or as little sex as I wanted. I was an addict. I had an excuse. A disease. I wasn’t simply “giving it away”. I was taking care of a very real need. And now I had every reason to do so. In a twisted way, it was probably a great thing to happen to me. I finally began to feel like my vagina was mine and I was unapologetic about the decisions I was going to make for it. I was free from the mental grip that society had on me – I wasn’t exactly going public with my sex life, but it was mine and I was feeling far less ashamed (for a little while at least).
As years passed I would cycle back and forth between being a sexually free woman with no inhibitions, to feeling ashamed of myself for being a “slut” and “giving it away”. The problem with me has always been my ability to relate to people in a very empathetic manner. I am a natural chameleon and I often mirror traits of those around me. It’s how I connect and bond with others. This is of course problematic when I’m around people who are quite conservative about sex. It’s always been its worst when I’ve been dating someone who doesn’t approve of my past. The actually peaked and was the worst it had ever been several months ago.
I was in a relationship with an emotional abuser for 5 years (the person I share a son with). I am an open book and am very forward about my sexual past when I’m in a serious relationship with someone (something I have paid for dearly many times). My ex would constantly berate me and call me a slut or a whore when we would get into any kind of argument. These fights were never about my past, but he would always manage to find a way to try to hurt me and make me feel like I was unworthy of love and respect because I was a slut. Around the 4th year we were together, I ended up having an affair on him (the affair will definitely be it’s own blog post one day, you want to read this story). The man I had an affair with made me feel beautiful and amazing and took all my pain away. He was also married, and very Christian. We had the best sex I’ve ever had (which still holds true to this day) and I fell deeply in love with him. Unfortunately, he was just a different version of the same man I was already with. He was so judgmental, but so good at manipulation that he made me feel like the reason he hated my past was because he loved me. He convinced me I should be ashamed of who I was and that I needed to become a different person. I needed to shed myself of my slutty past.
Our relationship went through ups and downs throughout a tumultuous year and eventually I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was trying so hard to be this “Angel” that he wanted me to be. I was lost and confused because I really wasn’t being myself. He broke up with me which absolutely destroyed me, then offered to work things out but with a ton of unfair strings attached. I booked a trip to Cuba with a girlfriend (which I never should have done as I was just not mentally in the right place). Mr Affair was so upset with me for going on this trip even though we weren’t together. He kept me on the phone for hours each day, quizzing me about every second of my trip, looking for holes in my story to see if he could tell if I was “cheating” on him there. I was a mess. I rebelled, and on the third day I hooked up with a super sexy younger guy (a military sniper, no less!), and while I knew it was the definite end to the relationship I had with Mr. Affair, I actually felt free for the first time in years. Free from both men in my life who were wearing me down. I felt sexy, and uninhibited. I was me again! This was the turning point that got me back to the girl i am today. Confident and proud, to “give it away”.