I’m not from the US, but often hearing about how sex is communicated in the US makes me think about how messaging in a powerful and culturally influential country has ripple effects to other countries around the world (even seemingly progressive ones). Either way I would like my story to be a cautionary tale, regardless of which country it happened in.
I grew up in a church, and was sexually abused by a trainee pastor from the age 4-6. This was an incredibly confusing thing to process, and my parents took the path of keeping me in the dark about what happened to me. Even after appearing in a court trial and speaking my testimony it was clear that the event was not to be discussed with them, with friends, or with other family members. I knew what happened was bad, but without context then (and later on through abstinence education) I didn’t know that it was a bad thing that happened to me (rather than a bad thing that I had done). Throughout my schooling due to my parents’ authority to opt me out of puberty education in public schooling, and their decision to send me to a religious high school with abstinence education, my identity in relation to sex was pieced together based on my peers’ attitudes, bible verses, and popular culture. I became convinced that I was not a virgin and thus had no prospects as nobody would want to marry me: growing up in a church environment, this was incredibly important to me and I didn’t feel like I had anything to look forward to. It was incredibly discouraging, and I became convinced that I must have a demon inside me when I felt feelings of arousal during puberty – these feelings were wrongly confirmed by my church community, and there was a many a misguided exorcism attempt in efforts to cure me.
Finally after leaving the church, I had no way of working out what was normal or how to have sex in a safe way because I had no education. Most of my friends that I had known were having sex were waiting till marriage, and anal sex was considered a safe alternative to keep their virgin status. These friends contracted STI’s and had very traumatic early sexual experiences with partners who were not gentle or considerate with basic courtesies like lube, and the whole prospect of sex based on just these horror stories was horrifying. All I had to work with was reddit and porn, and even working out what I wanted and how to feel desire was out of reach.
I cringe to think of my earliest sexual partners – one is now trans, and I had no knowledge of gender diversity and the difference between sex and gender, and I think my behaviour was appalling in helping them navigate their identity journey, even if I was only acting based on my own lack of education. It hurts to think that my lack of knowledge caused someone else psychological harm. Additionally, since I had no blueprint for healthy sex, I ended up in many uncomfortable and incompatible sexual relationships that left me feeling that I must just have a low libido as I just wasn’t enjoying it. It has only been after extensive therapy that I have discovered I have a very high libido, that I truly enjoy sex, and I now feel like a complete person living mostly free from shame. Even though I am in a place where I am now happy with my sexual identity, it shouldn’t have been this hard and this painful, and so many complexes that I have had to address could have been so avoidable if I just had been given a comprehensive education.
When left to fumble with questions about sex in ambiguity with no guidance, you are more than likely to come up with the wrong answers.