I grew up in an open-minded household. I was fortunate enough to have my parents communicate with me honestly, and I never felt shamed at home for exploring my sexuality.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I should also say that others still made many unwanted and unwarranted remarks about sex in passing. These comments started around middle school.
As we all know, middle school is a battlefield both inside your mind and in the outside world. You have to navigate through the unexplored wilderness that is your inner self and learn when to go with the flow. This includes when to “swerve” when it comes to your peers and their self-discoveries. Middle school was no different for me, and having all of this information as quickly as I did was a wake-up call. Considering my upbringing — even my grandma and I had a candid relationship — I didn’t know that exploring sexuality was “shameful” to some. How could I have known that exploring such an important part of myself was frowned upon?
The fact of the matter is, I didn’t know, so when a teacher questioned me about reading a somewhat indecent book (that I didn’t even take out of my backpack!) All I could do was stare at her like I had no clue what she was talking about. The fact that the book even mentioned sex of any kind was a “negative,” even though it was a contemporary romance novel, not hardcore erotica.
Between middle school and high school, the sex-shaming started piling up more and more. My parents remained strong in their decision to keep communication with us as open and honest as possible — even going as far as to ensure that I was on birth control and buying a box of condoms that were accessible to us.
I remember one instance of sex-shaming vividly. I was talking with my best friend and her mother, and the conversation steered towards sex. I expressed that I wanted to start a sexual relationship with my long-term boyfriend. When I voiced this, though, my best friend’s mother lovingly but curiously asked me why I was so ready to have sex and give my body to someone. She even asked if anyone was pressuring me to make this decision? This shocked me. Even in high school, I thought that everyone had “open” parents like mine. I knew my reasons for wanting to have sex, and I was strong in my belief that I truly wanted a sexual relationship. I was old enough to legally consent (at least here in the Mitten), I had been with my boyfriend for quite a while, and I didn’t want to keep physical intimacy out of our relationship anymore. I was being confronted with someone asking if I knew my own mind and my own body. I was being questioned as if I had no bodily autonomy, no knowledge of how to treat my own body with respect.
My experiences as a young woman as well as a seasoned adult have taught me a lot about how sexuality, my sexual self, and shaming sex has affected my physical, mental, and emotional health. Let me tell you what I’ve learned:
- My body is not my own.
I obviously know that my body is my own, but society constantly questions my sexual experiences. The harm that these comments have caused me — and every other woman on Earth — is reason enough to stop saying these things. It’s as if people tell women,“You don’t know what’s good for you and your own body, so let us make the decision for you.” That’s just not cool.
- If I enjoy sex, I’m a delinquent.
Sex is “bad.” Sex should wait. Sex isn’t enjoyable until you’re married. If you like sex, you’re not a “good person”Guess what — all of that is wrong. Sex is amazing, and we should celebrate it. Sex should happen whenever you feel like it — with consent and within reason, of course. Sex is very enjoyable, even if you’re not married. Women enjoy sex just as much as men, but thanks to our patriarchal society, we believe that only men enjoy sex when that’s simply not the case.
You don’t need to withhold yourself and your sexual desires to be deemed “good,” either. The term “good” is subjective, and your sexual experiences don’t define whether you’re a“good person”— your character does.
- Sex is only acceptable in serious relationships or marriages.
It’s not. Sex is an intimate experience, yes, but that doesn’t mean that society should “box in” when it’s appropriate to have it. If you’re a woman who enjoys sex, why shouldn’t you explore your sexual relationships? Sex should be an experience that you embrace. It doesn’t have to be within the confines of a committed relationship in any way. Pushing the agenda of “waiting until marriage” is extremely harmful in a multitude of ways — least of all the fact that your sexual preferences might conflict with your partner’s or your partner may end up being sexually abusive.
We need to stop shaming women for enjoying sex. “Sleeping around” is a loose, misogynistic term that our patriarchal society uses to uphold itself. But we are not property to be owned. We are individuals with thoughts, ideas, and desires that we can and should express in order to have fulfilling lives.
Having sex doesn’t make women any less valuable. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Owning who we are should be accepted because a woman’s contributions to society should measure her worth. Her presence in the world isn’t solely as a submissive mother and wife — but rather as an individual person who has needs to fulfill. Moving forward as a society also means letting a woman enjoy as much — or as little — sex as she wants and respecting her sexual desires.
So let’s start with ourselves. Stop shaming yourself for that night you had sex without even knowing your hookup’s name. Were you protected? Did you have a great time in bed (or on the counter, in the shower, on the couch, or in the car?) If you had a fantastic time, say it. Embrace it. Accept it. Love it. Stop shaming yourself for holding off from sex when you’re uncomfortable. Stop shaming yourself for talking about having sex with someone only to decide that you don’t want to share yourself. Your body is your own, and you need to celebrate it in any way that you can. Enjoy yourself. Love yourself. That includes having as much — or as little — sex as you want without shame.