I was not a conventionally attractive eighth grader, but luckily I was a slightly more attractive freshman. The first guy who ever had a proper crush on me I considered way out of my league. Especially, though I naively thought this was unimportant, sexually. By freshman year, he already had all kinds of experience (and was really vocal about it– gross.); in eighth grade, when hugging was the way to say hello, I was known for being that girl who waved instead.
The freshman year guy and I danced around each other for the entirety of high school. He claimed he had commitment issues. However, two months after professing his love for me to my friend, he magically had a girlfriend. They had been hooking up for a while, and so he decided to give it a try.
It all came into perspective after that.
I came to the understanding that the willingness to be sexually forward is a prerequisite to relationships in this society. Now, sex is the founding factor of emotional relationships; people hook up first, and date later. Once, sex was “making love”, now everyone’s desperately trying not to “catch feelings”. In a more conservative time, sex was considered sacred. I don’t mourn the conservatism, I simply find myself disappointed that the choice to feel that way about sex seems to have been overridden. That is, abstinence is prudish.
By the time I was a senior, I knew very few women who were virgins. I was one of two girls who hadn’t had their first kiss.
But wait, Jahnavi, you’re telling me you never even kissed the freshman guy? No. I didn’t. But why? My question is, why would I? Somewhere in my childhood (and through genuinely constructive parenting), I came to believe that my body was exclusively for myself; anything done to it should be catered to me exactly how I want it. I was rarely insecure. I don’t do regret; I was definitely not going to kiss some guy who was clearly trifling. But I would be reminded, again and again, that the world does not agree with me.
Maybe it began with my sense from a young age that sexual assault was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me– worse than murder. It was my phobia from the second it was explained to me.
On my way to college, I began to freak out. I can’t throw myself into this hypersexual environment without some experience, I reasoned. Honestly, another part of me was embarrassed that I was so ‘behind’ on the sexual bell curve. So I made the mistake of settling that summer. It was nowhere near sexual assault. I wouldn’t even call it harassment. It deserves a new category; sexual manipulation. Guilt and frustration that made me feel I was doing something wrong, like I owed him something. The summer was ending. I had told him it was clipped once I left for college, so he was in quite the hurry to lose his virginity. I remember one day we were kissing in a park (like kids with strict parents do). He was reluctant to leave our hookup at just kissing and walk home like I wanted, so he said, “you’re a headache sometimes, you know that?”
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized immediately. “That was a messed up thing to say.” He knew it was wrong to be frustrated with me, but the frustration itself was agonizing. Not to mention, it’s not like he changed his behavior. He liked to attempt to rectify these kinds of situations and comments with “I care so much about you” or “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have you (–to be my therapist”, he meant of course)”. If that was true, why can’t you touch me like it? I wanted to scream at him. I began to avoid all situations that could be sexual, and eventually I told him we were taking sexual intimacy out of our relationship altogether. I looked all over the internet to try and understand why sexual intimacy seemed so especially difficult for me. There must be something wrong with me, I reasoned.
For a long time, I believed that. I concluded that I had a type of anxiety called ‘sex aversion’. I brought it to a therapist, who concluded that I probably had some second hand trauma. But I came to realize all of this was irrelevant; ultimately, they were for the purpose of trying to acclimate myself to a casual, transactional kind of sexual activity I didn’t even want. In fact, I didn’t even want to want. When I got into a relationship with mutual respect, where I was being touched the way I wanted to be, I finally understood that, yes, my way is possible. And there was something wrong with everyone else for ever making me feel like I was abnormal.
I tried to understand myself in the common narrative, and no one had an answer for me. Because the common narrative stresses casual sex. But sex is nuanced. I’m not a prude. I’m not insecure about my body, or embarrassed by the thought of sexual activity. I just want to be touched the way I want. I need trust, and I want to be comfortable; someone who understands that I need patience when I’m afraid. Someone who understands that ‘blue balls’ is not cancer (yes, a guy has genuinely tried to convince me he needed to go to the hospital for it). It is important to dispel stigmas around promiscuity, promote body positivity, and it is equally important to applaud abstinence or sexual reservation for any and all reasons. It’s sad that I have to say this, but my body is mine. Until I see the utmost respect for being sexual the way I please, I can damn well please myself.