I started my education in 10th grade. My "classroom" had a blacklight -- which is not great for reading, but really awesome if you want to see how much lint is in your boyfriend's bellybutton. Answer: a lot. Seeing the little specks of glowing white bits squished into his umbilical hole would have made me laugh, but in that moment, at 4:15 p.m., still sweaty after cheerleading practice, I couldn't breathe. My boyfriend's long basketball fingers were squeezing my neck as I kicked beneath his weight. This was the "fight" portion of our Tilt-A-Whirl. The "make up" would come next.
As my lungs burned for air and the back of my head pressed further into his newly-cleaned bedroom carpet, I never wondered if my girlfriends from youth group spent time alone in their boyfriends' bedrooms. If they wore scarves to hide hickies. Long pants to hide bruises. I knew they didn't. They wore promise rings and called bad girls "sluts." But so did I. Yet there I was.
His mom knew I was a "good girl" the first time I came over. "Boys can't be expected to control themselves," she said, "But I trust you, Kelly." Then she closed the bedroom door, feeling like a cool, yet, responsible mother. My boyfriend grew up on stories of his older brothers' sexual exploits. I grew up on cautionary tales of Delilah and Bathsheba. Sampson and David couldn't be expected to control themselves either.
My boyfriend finally took his hands off my neck and I choked on the sudden onrush of air that gushed back into my lungs. He spit when he shouted and a drop landed perfectly on the end of my eyelash. Gross. I remembered the abstinence speaker in health class. How she put a strip of duct tape on my arm and yanked it off. I yipped. We all snickered. She did it again. Each time she tore off the strip, it hurt less. "That's like sex. The more you give yourself away, the less meaningful it becomes." When she opened the floor for discussion, we rolled our eyes and shifted uncomfortably in our seats. I wish I had been brave enough to speak, "Can I ask my questions openly without the other members of student government thinking badly? Without my girlfriends whispering and the boys placing bets on me in the locker room? Please, abstinence lady, help a good girl out! Why are girls called 'sluts' while boys who do the same things are called 'studs'? Tell me it's possible to be curious and still be considered a good girl!"
But I already knew the answer. No. Good girls who question become bad girls. Heck, good girls who don't question are always on the edge of being considered bad girls, anyway. The goodness of a girl is devastatingly fragile. So, instead, my education took place in secret. Alone in my boyfriend's room. I owned a lot of scarves and long pants. I was a good girl. I had a reputation to maintain.
At 4:30 p.m. the Tilt-A-Whirl finally moved from "fight" to "make up." Bruises purpled on my neck while the lint in my boyfriend's belly button glowed in the blacklight. Like snowflakes refusing to melt. Battle scars he got to wear with pride.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.