Raised within a binary mindset, where everything is supposed to exist in independent blocks rather than a continuum, nothing about my body, sex, love, relationships, urges, and feelings made sense, but everybody other than me seemed confident about their sexuality. I never knew the concept of comprehensive sexuality education; everything about my body, sex, and relationships was learned in a fumbled and unclear manner. There were so many rules to be followed to be a ‘decent human’ but, mostly importantly, to be a ‘good girl,’ ‘honourable daughter,’ and a ‘respectable woman.’
During my teens, sex was a ‘bad’thing, but love was ‘good’; love was ‘good’ to be imagined but ‘bad’ to participate in. The changes in my body were shameful, while boys took pride in being able to grow a moustache. I still remember an incident from when I was 11. I was joking around with my friend when he threw a book at my chest playfully. I felt a strange pain that I had never felt before and reflexively threw it back at him with equal force. He laughed at my face, “We don’t hurt here like you do.” We completely stopped talking after that, but I understood that I wasn’t safe in this body anymore.
In my early 20s, having romantic partners meant being a ‘bad’ daughter, but the inability to secure a boyfriend was seen as being a dud in friend groups. All the boys boasted about how much ‘porn’ they indulged in or how often they masturbated. Having the urge to kiss someone was seen by society as me dishonouring my parents but being unable to narrate a magical ‘first kiss moment’ during ‘truth or dare’ games was even more shameful. I still remember the conversation where one of my female friends shared how she came across some of her ‘brother’s collection’ and a naked lady was touching herself and ENJOYING it. I couldn’t comprehend it but understood not to discuss it again with anyone.
In my mid-20s, being attached to a man was a sign of being ‘pseudo-feminist’ but being in denial about my feelings was a ‘red flag’. Being a ‘virgin’ was looked down on by my friends, while coming home to face my parents after being sexually intimate was guilt-inducing. During one of our random lunch breaks, my office colleague shared about her first sexual experience and how emotionally and physically painful it was. She said that she was really scared but was even more scared of losing the guy. She agreed to go ahead with it anyway, to prove her ‘love’ to him. My other ‘experienced’ friend had shared that it gets better, “girls need to endure some pain for love,” or else it wouldn’t be true love. She only realised in her late 30s that she had vaginismus all these years, but I understood that day that I need to grit my teeth through the pain, invalidate my own body, and let go of my needs ‘for love’.
In my late 20s, being unable to have a steady long-term partner became a thing of pity among friends and a concern for my parents. Everyone started to take liberties to openly discuss and joke about my sexual orientation and romantic interactions.When I told my then-partner that I was uncomfortable with him being vague about his past sexual interactions, he ridiculed me for not being able to ‘get some’. When I insisted on getting STI/STD tests done before we engaged in anything more, he left me, saying my ‘unattractive’ body didn’t work for him anyway. I understood that letting go of my ability to express my desires, fears, and thoughts freely and openly was the price I needed to pay for being unattractive.
In my early 30s, it is a character flaw not to have been married “yet” and an invitation to be a conversation opener at family dinners and college reunion parties. My entire personality, physicality, flaws, and character is listed out over starters, critically discussed over the main course, and potential partners pitched over desserts so that while we wait for the bill, my imaginary married life and kids could become a group fantasy.
It feels like being perpetually trapped in an intricate maze where the rules of the game keep shifting and changing. At what age do bodily autonomy, sexual interactions, and romantic engagements become my own? When will my identity be independent of how everybody perceives my sexual and romantic choices? How can we show up authentically for ourselves without compromising on our familial and platonic relationships?
This lack of sex-positive spaces impacted my self-worth and how I showed up for myself as well as in my relationships. I often imagine if I had been able to access friendly and empowering comprehensive sexuality education from my childhood, how different my life would have turned out to be.
Here’s how I would have wanted my experiences to be altered by everyone around me.
During my teens, when my friend joked about my natural bodily changes, it instilled an unsaid shame about my breasts within me. I should have been made to feel safe and comfortable enough to share this incident with my teacher, parents, or a trusted adult, who could have helped me understand my body better and respect the differences that we adolescents might be experiencing suddenly. My body is my home, to feel comfortable with and within.
During my early 20s, when a friend shared that self-pleasure isn’t just for boys, we should have been able to talk about it without shame. Having reliable and accurate sources of information would have made things so much easier for us to comprehend. We could have avoided feeling ashamed for having a natural urge to the extent that most women have conditioned themselves to not even feel the need to express their desires. Exploring our bodies and understanding how we enjoy ourselves is a healthy expression of our sexuality.
During my mid-20s, when we were learning to explore our bodies with our partners, we learnt untrue and misogynistic ideas from movies and social media about feeling compelled to experience disrespect and pain to prove our ‘true love’. If only we were encouraged to have open and respectful conversations about how we wish to explore our bodies in the company of others, we would have had more fulfilling sexual adventures. Instead of attaching silence to it, we could be celebrating sexuality as a natural expression of body, heart, and mind.
During my late 20s, if only, as a society, we hadn’t declared that being single is the worst possible fate for a woman. If a woman’s entire identity were not tied to her relationship with a man, being accepted, appreciated, and applauded by them wouldn’t have been the driving force of our interactions with them. As women, we need not make ourselves small for love and acceptance. Every phase of life requires us to explore another dimension of our personality, and abiding by heteronormative narratives shouldn’t be central to that process.
In my early 30s, I am still learning to have more enriching and validating conversations about sexual and romantic experiences. I am still learning to view my sexuality as a DIY project. Some aspects of it I need to try out with others, and some aspects of it are going to be personal, as per my requirements. It might look quirky to others or be too eclectic for their taste. It just needs to make sense to me.