Once upon a time there was an outgoing, energetic little girl. She grew up in a lovely home with adoring parents and a close knit family. This girl was filled with sugar and spice and everything nice. But when the girl began growing older, physical and emotional transformations started to occur to her body, both inside and out. She was growing taller as well as fuller. She made that pivotal first trip to the store with the help of her mother to select her first bra. Oh, the pride she had waltzing into school in her brand new “Teenform” training bra!
Not long after this symbolic garment was purchased, the girl watched her first sex education film in the school library surrounded by dozens of other girls who vacillated between shock and uncontrolled giggling at the images they saw on the screen.
This girl was me, and I remember this time like it was yesterday. What I don’t remember, however, is any honest interchange about my sexuality as a woman. Sure, we were versed in what was waiting for us once we hit puberty—our breasts would enlarge, we would begin to grow hair in the most unlikely of places and mother nature would soon be presenting us with a gift that we could look forward to receiving for at least the next 40 years! We were taught that our bodies would one day carry a baby deep within our womb and were shown in fairly graphic detail the nine month journey into motherhood. Motherhood, of course, was to follow marriage, which was when we could finally have sex.
“Sex-ed taught me that all of us girls were supposed to be sitting eagerly at home in anticipation of our Prince Charming.”
So even though I sat in sex-ed class, enthralled and highly impressed that the school thought I was mature enough to be given a peek inside the world of adults, I didn’t really feel as though the majority of what they were revealing to me was of much use. After all, I wasn’t allowed to have sex until marriage. Sure, I thought it was cool to find out about periods and immediately went home to critique my own bush, but I didn’t see the relevance of the rest of this “education.” Girls were virgins, and everyone knew that there was an alternate set of rules for the boys. While the girls stayed home, the boys were out sowing their wild oats, but with whom the boys were sowing, I wasn’t really sure, especially as all of us girls were supposed to be sitting eagerly at home in anticipation of our Prince Charming.
I guess the details weren’t important, all I knew was that I had to use the all important word every girl is taught… “No!” There was no discussion about experimenting with my sexuality, hell, I didn’t have a sexuality according to what I was taught. I was to ignore whatever sexual feelings that I did feel and sweep them quietly under the rug. After all, if you gave into your desires, the results would end in any number of horrible, life-changing events like losing your virginity and your reputation or even worse, you could become pregnant before marriage, producing a bastard offspring who would carry your sin with him or her the rest of its life. These were pretty compelling deterrents for my generation.
But these fear-based tactics couldn’t rival our raging hormones. I know these teachers and religious instructors felt as though they were protecting young girls by discouraging us from engaging in any number of sexual escapades, but in doing so, they neglected to prepare us for the onslaught of this very physical and very real sexually magnetic pull we would naturally have towards one another. I believe it’s this lack of conversation and encouragement about sexual exploration that snared women in a kind of trap, one which I didn’t escape until my late 40s and didn’t even know I was in until I became a swinger.
Choosing to be sexual has been a recent change in my life, one that was initially very difficult. A woman wanting to have sex! Wow, what a concept! The thing was, I had a hard time being okay with feeling like it was okay that I wanted to have sex, and maybe with more than one partner! Coming of age in the ‘70s was invigorating. I was exposed to the Women’s Lib movement by some of my older female relatives and heard a lot about the sexual freedom movement.
“I didn't escape the sexual exploration shame until my late 40s, and until I became a swinger.”
However, my upbringing was centered around the wholesome image of a virgin woman finding her Prince Charming. The fairy tale involved a white picket fence and cherub-faced babies, all revolving around the man’s sexual appetite. I cannot remember anyone talking to me about my own sexuality. No one came up to me and said, “Sex is going to be such an important part of your life, whether or not you have a partner, so not only should you experiment with sex, you should also embrace the process.” Wow! The lives of so many women would be much different today if we’d only been told it was perfectly normal for us to engage in and embrace our sexuality.
Although I believe we’ve made great strides in our quest for equality, women are still being taught the virgin story. So, even in today’s society, we’re still being instructed to save ourselves for our “soulmate” and ignore the hormones raging within us.
So, what happens? What happens when we want to act on the messages our bodies are sending? How can we be okay in participating in something we desire but are told is only acceptable within strict limitations and under certain circumstances? This is where the topic of consent becomes like glue; when the years of repressive instruction get in the way of our sexual freedom. How can we as women feel okay about saying “yes” to sex if we’re being taught we should say “no”?
If women are being taught that sex is wrong under circumstances outside of what society deems moral but yet is something we want to engage in, then a slippery slope emerges. How is a woman supposed to battle against these opposing forces? The first step for me was to own my decision. The first time I agreed to engage in a threesome with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about what was on the other side of my choice because I was prepared to accept the consequences, good or bad. This may sound like an insignificant step, but for me, it was about power, resilience and confidence.
I remember sitting up straight and tall and telling John that, yes, I did want to meet up with our play partner, and, yes, I did want to explore this fantasy. I wanted to see for myself what I would think and how I would feel. I had cancelled some previous threesome dates with John because of fear—maybe John was testing my loyalty to him; maybe if I said yes he would leave me or vice versa. Regardless, something happened on that particular night. Something snapped within me and I changed my thinking pattern. If John left me, then John left me. All I knew at that moment was that I wanted to do this! I WANTED to say yes! I not only owned my decision, I embraced it.
“I remember sitting up straight and tall and telling John that, yes, I did want to meet up with our play partner. I not only owned my decision, I embraced it.”
It was this moment that I realized I had been in a trap that had encased my entire adult life. I had been snared into a place where my sexual exploration was a bad thing. I now knew this doctrine to be false, and not just false but dangerous. How many other women were and still are afraid to own their sexuality? How many refrain from sex when their bodies feel a natural instinctive response? Here I was having sex with someone outside the confines of what I had been taught all my life because I wanted to. I wanted to. I wanted to have sex with a guy I had just met. There, I said it!
Here’s the lesson: Whether you love the result of your choice or don’t, learn from the action either way. Take joy in knowing that if you learned something, you’re growing! As women, it’s our responsibility to own ourselves, especially when it comes to our sexuality. It’s up to us to begin a new version of the story we’ve been told, one in which we’re the masters of our own universe and own each and every sexual encounter. We’re only victims if we relinquish our power.
We have to change the narrative that we’re “damaged goods” simply because we have sex with someone. We have to teach the next generation to be secure in who they are sexually. It’s up to each and every one of us as women to stand tall and entwine ourselves in the power we have. It’s okay if we have sex! It’s okay if we have lots of sex! We don’t have to be ashamed anymore. We’re beautiful and incredible and powerful, not just because of our sexuality but also because we allow ourselves to live authentically.