The Price We Pay for Chastity
Content Note: Sexual trauma, explicit language
I got my period on the second day of the seventh grade. I asked my teacher for permission to call my mom so she could bring me pads. She brought me pads and black jeans and clean panties. She included a note of love and support.
So, I’m in the bathroom, changing, nervous—did I even put the pad on properly? I exit the stall and this blonde teacher Ms. Glover was waiting. She asked me if I had everything under control...she started messing with my hair. I begin washing my hands and she comes to stand behind me. She looks at me in the mirror and asks me if my parents have taught me about sex. She wants to know if I know how easy it is to get pregnant. She tells me to be careful—remember my potential. Boys had never spoken a kind word to me and, even at 12, I was already a victim of rape and molestation. I hadn't had positive interactions with any men outside of family members. I wasn't interested in sex. Ms. Glover just assumed because I am black and able to have babies that I must be about to start having some babies. .
I often think back on the way sex was addressed as I was growing up. Not just from my parents but teachers, relatives, family friends—all telling me that men were going to want me and it was my duty to protect myself, not have sex until the right time, and definitely don’t get pregnant. My mom talked to us about masturbation and oral sex. She said, “There are ways to pleasure yourself and others without risking your entire future.” She was always honest with me. Open. Encouraging me to be honest with myself about my own sexuality and find ways to embrace it and my burgeoning womanhood without making the mistake of having careless sex with an idiotic teenage boy, getting pregnant, and ruining my life. I was never afraid to discuss things with her. I even asked her to buy me a vibrator multiple times. She didn’t. But I knew I could ask.
My dad always talked to me about sex when my mom wasn’t around. He would tell me all the things boys and men would say to me to try to convince me to have sex. He’d tell me, “Never swallow because no man will ever respect you after that.” My dad used to say things to me that I’m not even comfortable enough to repeat in writing 17 years later. His message was clear. Sex was for men. If I enjoy it or even act like I want to do it, I’m letting men know I’m a ho and DTF.
One day when I was around 15, my dad took me to lunch. While we were out, my dad went to the bathroom. When he came back, he saw me smiling and talking to this guy standing next to the table. Guy walks away, Dad walks up, and immediately starts whisper yelling at me. What the fuck am I doing talking to a grown ass man like I don’t have any fuckin’ sense? Am I trying to embarrass myself? Why would I disrespect him like that? Talking to a man like I don’t know I’m with my dad? People saw me walk in with him and now they see me talking to this man...don’t I know how that makes me look? I was talking to D, a classmate who just happened to look like a grown ass man because he was 16 and had a full goatee. (He was fine as hell, y’all.) I tried explaining that to my dad. He called me a liar. Reminded me he wasn’t “raising hoes” and that if I got pregnant I’d be on my own. Lunch sucked.
I cried that night. At this point in my life I’d already had numerous sexual encounters, all of them against my will. Most of them, my parents knew nothing about and still don’t. I couldn't tell them anything. At least, it felt like I couldn’t. I felt like any sexual assault I endured was my own doing. I must’ve been too inviting. I didn’t say no forcefully enough. I was too scared to say anything at all. Sometimes, I was terrified and disgusted and also relieved that anyone found me attractive enough to try to force me at all (that’s a whole other conversation). All I knew was I didn’t want people to think I was a ho. I didn’t feel like I had any power over my sexuality. Sex was this: Don’t let anyone touch you until you’re ready and then only let one person touch you, but don’t be excited about it, don’t initiate, don’t discuss, don’t swallow, and DEFINITELY DONT GET PREGNANT.
I lost my virginity six months before I turned 18. Happened on a Sunday, my mom found out Wednesday. She didn’t take it well. I was shocked and deeply hurt by her reaction. The anger caught me completely by surprise. I had done almost everything they taught me. I waited until I was in love. I waited until I was absolutely sure I wanted to do it. I didn’t make a spur of the moment decision. I planned it. Bought Trojan extra strength condoms. The only thing I didn’t do was ask permission. We had sex in a park. On a blanket in a field at night...A Midwestern teenage girls dream, to be honest. I was happy. I was in love. I was being safe. My parents said I was nasty. “Dogs have sex in the park.” I was embarrassed. I was angry. I felt like I’d done everything my parents taught me to do except wait for college. I didn’t understand why my body wasn’t mine. Isn’t this my body? Isn’t this MY vagina? Isn’t this MY heart? Isn’t this MY choice?
Of course it is. Of course it was. It always was. My entire life I’d been told that my body was mine to protect, but I’d never been told that my body was mine to share or withhold as I saw fit. I was never told it’s okay to just be two consenting people having awkward, not-even-that-fun sex.
I think about all the sexual assaults, the groping, the digital penetration, the forced kisses...I hid all of that because I was afraid people would know someone had touched my vagina...This secret, sacred place that I’m supposed to protect even from myself. I was afraid that they’d see me as nasty, fast, tainted. Turns out all I had to do was choose to have sex for myself by myself with a boy I ADORED in order for people to think those things. I was so confused about the anger and the disrespect I encountered after my parents found out I was having sex. Even my boyfriend’s mother, who had completely embraced me up to that point, suddenly started telling me not to come over, and that she wasn’t going to let me ruin her son’s life. She pulled me aside and asked me if I was trying to fuck her husband. Suddenly, because these people knew I decided to open myself up to this avenue of life, I’d lost all of their respect. I was dirty. I was nasty. I was stupid.
I was devastated. It took years of pain and crappy relationships for me to realize that my body is 100% my own—that no one gets to dictate my body choices. That no one gets to shame me and abuse me for what I decide to do with MY body. Once I decided that, I knew I wasn’t going to let anyone make me feel like I had to do ANYTHING with my body. I will share only the parts of me I want to share, when I want to share them. I will ask no one’s permission. I will make no apologies.
For too long women have been taught to view their bodies’ worth through the eyes of a particularly critical machine. A machine designed to shame girls into hiding their sexuality and then backfires by shaming them into hiding sexual trauma. It’s too steep a price to pay for chastity.