Looking back, I can practically pinpoint the moment when what I was taught about sex would either a) need a major overhaul or b) become disastrous. I was home from college, naked and fooling around with my high school sweetheart, begging him to have sex with me. I was literally begging despite the fact that we didn’t have any protection and we had both promised years before to wait until we got married. Once the fog of lust had cleared from my mind, and I got over the pain & embarrassment of having my advances (thankfully) denied, what remained was fear. At that moment, I was terribly afraid of my own sexual desire and I was too ashamed to share that fear with anyone.
I grew up in a rural area, attended a public school that was governed by conservative politics, and went to church every Sunday with my mom. I never remember having a sex talk with either her or my dad. And what I recall of my “sexual education” mostly consists of scare tactics about STIs in 7th grade Home Economics. Somehow, without ever having a real discussion about sex, the expectation was still clear: I should not have sex until I get married. Looking back, there was always something that bothered me about the black & white thinking that I was raised with.
If I’m supposed to be ashamed and afraid of sex now, how do I magically overcome those emotions on my wedding night? Will I be able to find a guy who also wants to wait? Should I expect him to? Are we still abstinent if we have oral sex? What about if we touch each other’s genitals? Where is the line that transforms me from virgin to whore?
Even though I was curious about these things, it was simply easier at the time to ignore the grey areas that nobody else mentioned. I bought and wore a purity ring for the next 7 years of my life, but I never had a serious discussion with my boyfriends (or myself) about what was sexually acceptable and what was not—besides the fact that intercourse was obviously off the table. When we’d become more sexually intimate than we had before, my reaction (after the initial pleasure) was often one of guilt, shame, and tears. I would insist that we needed to “back off,” but it never failed that I’d find myself right back in that pit of self-shaming again and again.
As I entered my 20s I defined my brand of abstinence as simply not engaging in vaginal or anal intercourse, but my devotion to the entire idea was waning. If I only had sex with the man that I knew I was going to marry, would it really matter if we waited until our wedding night? That would hardly make me a “whore” when compared to many other individuals. …But did the fact that I had intense sexual desire mean that I was no longer a “good girl” either? This unclear (and unhealthy) view of sexuality led to the previously mentioned irresponsible and immature begging, as well as several arguments that helped put an end to my relationship.
When I think back on that moment, I cringe at the thought of how badly my ignorance could have affected my life. But I also know that the problem wasn’t that I wanted sex—that was natural. The problem was that I wasn’t educated. I wasn’t educated on how to keep my body safe, how to create a self-image that was independent of my sexual activity, or how to confidently (and respectfully) communicate my desires to my partner.
So how did I go from that confused & naive virgin to the woman I am now, passionate about helping others break down the walls of their sexual repression?! I removed my purity ring as a symbol of removing all past influences and I finally took control of my own sexuality. I started educating myself by reading everything I could get my hands on: sexual anatomy/response, reproduction, contraception, various sexual desires & activities, etc. I was exposed to different views on sex, most importantly those of the sex positive movement. I also entered into a loving relationship that continues to provide me with a safe space for (s)exploration. Slowly and with much continuing effort, I have been able to redefine my beliefs so that my pleasure is no longer something to be feared or ashamed of, but something to own and enjoy.