When I was 20 (and a sexually active young adult), I was once again living at home with my parents. Because of this, my mother was blatantly aware of my involvement in activities that she deemed risky. Cue The Talk. End result? She didn’t want me doing anything that I would end up regretting. To my knowledge she never had this talk, or any similar, with my brother. This left me with the unspoken conclusion that somehow the idea of promiscuity (with the obvious negative connotation) was okay for a male in our society but not a female-bodied individual. I later brought up this conversation with my mom to confirm my conclusion, and to my surprise, she told me that she and my father had decided to go with the “divide and conquer” approach early on. She had never actually talked to my brother about sex; my dad had struggled through “the talk” (and every talk following) with my brother.
Though it was not their intention, because of this approach, I was left with one message: Sex was shameful—and my body was shameful. And naturally, by the time I hit 18, I knew this was nothing to be open about with my mother. This was the woman who was brought up with the belief that looking at yourself naked is a sin. I don’t think she fully realizes, even to this day, that she was left with an unconscious bias.
I dealt with a lot of shame in high school when it came to sex, or really anything involving my reproductive health. Shame when I confided my interest in going on birth control to regulate my painful cramping and heavy flow. Shame when I decided to have a sexual experience with a partner of over a year, after plenty of kissing and cuddling. Shame when after this experience, my partner informed me that prior to our relationship they had been potentially unsafe with someone else. Shame when I decided that in my ignorance it was probably best to see a doctor to confirm that everything was okay. Shame when my mom learned of my illicit activities, although by this point I was more than ashamed – I was mortified.
What did I take away from this? Apparently only dirty girls with no self-respect, self-worth, or concept of value become physically involved with someone they cared about, and it took me almost three years to approach the subject again.
The question I would like to pose is this – why in this society is it deemed unacceptable for a woman to be curious about her body and her sexual health? I am advocating for you to find what works for you (whatever that may be, as long as no one is harmed); no one should be afraid of judgment. As for me, I needed a few years in my late teens to truly learn what my desires were, accept myself as I was, and feel comfortable advocating for myself – whether this is regarding my reproductive health, my professional life or my sex life. I had to learn to love myself, to let go of the shame of my body (in more ways than one) and explore my interest in it.
I leave you with two questions – what do you consider to be sex positive behavior? And how do you encourage sex positivity in your life?
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.