Disclaimer: This post is very personal, I hope it will be honored and respected. Trigger warning for references to sexual assault.
“Women are enculturated to be uncomfortable most of the time. And to ignore their discomfort.”
I consider this post to be a part II to my Me Too post, if you haven’t read that one yet it will give my current thoughts and writings more context.
In the past few weeks I have read Like a Mother by Angela Garbes, listened to the Podcast episode of Bodies called “Sex Hurts”, read “The Female Price of Male Pleasure” and talked with countless women through Instagram message, text and phone about how comfortable the world is with women being uncomfortable.
We, as a culture, do not consider women’s bodies. We do not think about, study, understand or consider biological realities of women. To exemplify and personalize this reality, here’s my story.
I grew up with a strong mama. A mama that taught me self love, waiting for sex until I was old enough to understand it, and honoring myself and other women always.
What my mama was unable to teach me about was pleasure. Taking time to discover what is pleasurable, what feels good and right physically, is not granted to women. My mama was not taught. She like all the other women before her was taught that sex is shameful, and then when you’re in a marriage it’s not shameful because you’re giving something to your partner. We’re always giving of ourselves aren’t we?
This isn’t what the world tells little boys. Boys are encouraged to explore their pleasure. Male masturbation is a part of our culture. It’s normal, it’s exemplified, it’s in every movie or TV show I’ve ever seen. Women’s masturbation? Oh no no we don’t talk about that, how could we?
Back to my story. Even though my mama wasn’t taught about healthy sex or women’s pleasure (because so few women are) she did a wonderful job teaching me about my body and to love it. But my mama’s words and love couldn’t overtake the patriarchy. Our world, our taboos, our gender “norms”- they were too strong. High school and boys and friends told me I was nothing if I didn’t have a boyfriend. How could I be worth anything if I didn’t have a crush or wasn’t attached to a man?
And so I made them up. I pretended I had attractions to various boys in my school. I “dated” the same boy from kindergarten to about 6th grade and I hated it. Nothing tied me to him except the pressure to like someone, to have a boyfriend. Boyfriends kept you safe. They legitimized you and made you popular. I have a visceral memory of everyday after school when my then boyfriend would expect a kiss before I went home. We would stand there for almost an hour with me moving away from him and trying to get out of it but I wasn’t allowed. I was his girlfriend after all, he was owed this.
I felt sick after. I didn’t want to kiss boys. I wanted to read and write and be the weird, awkward 13 year old I was at home, where I was safe. I fantasized about a different life out in some distant countryside where I wouldn’t have to wear makeup or bras or talk to anyone. I could live an Emily Dickinson style life where I wore white floaty dresses and didn’t have to pretend. I could just write and read and breathe and live, but that was not an option for me. The world didn’t like that.
Eventually, puberty hit and I did have some interest in boys. I also had the biggest crush on a girl a year ahead of me. I didn’t know it was a crush at the time, I wasn’t comfortable with my bisexuality. I was interested in boys too so how could I like girls? Sexuality wasn’t seen as fluid then, it was one or the other and I picked the more socially acceptable one.
Then started the succession of boys not listening to me. Boys that weren’t okay with just kissing. Boys that demanded more and if I gave less they took it anyway. My pleasure was derived from being desired. I did not consider what I wanted, I only thought about how much pleasure I could give them. And they accepted this because the world told us both that this was the only way. I thought it was okay to always put myself second, and so did they.
This pattern repeated itself through high school, through college, through grad school. Then I met my now husband. Before we were intimate together for the first time he asked a simple, “Are we doing this?” He asked for my consent. I had never been asked before, I nodded vigorously and proceeded to have the first mutually pleasurable sexual experience of my life.
As our relationship continued and the honeymoon phase of our relationship passed, I became angry. My partner no longer desired me every waking moment, so what did he want? How could he want me for anything other than my body? If I wasn’t physically desirable then what was I?
I was a self-proclaimed feminist and strong willed woman, but the patriarchy was louder than I was. I listened to the world when it told me I was an object. Thankfully, Chase combated this notion at every turn. It almost broke us. Daily he had to remind me that I wasn’t just a body to him, I was so much more. I was funny, and weird, intelligent, and kind- I was everything he ever wanted.
I finally listened, and then I fell pregnant with Miles. My body went and did something so big and beautiful and wonderful that I could no longer deny it’s beauty, it’s worth, it’s biological needs and wants. It took an amazing, patient, loving partner and the most beautiful little boy to teach me that my body was mine. That I am not supposed to ignore my thoughts, my feelings. My wants and my discomforts.
Just a few days ago my wonderful husband hugged me as I wept and said, “I didn’t know sex was supposed to be for me too. I didn’t know I was supposed to listen to it, to myself.”
“I wish we lived in a world that encouraged women to attend to their bodies’ pain signals instead of powering through like endurance champs. It would be grand if women (and men) were taught to consider a woman’s pain abnormal; better still if we understood a woman’s discomfort to be reason enough to cut a man’s pleasure short.”
“Talking details is hard, and it’s good we’re finally starting to. But next time we’re inclined to wonder why a woman didn’t immediately register and fix her own discomfort, we might wonder why we spent the preceding decades instructing her to override the signals we now blame her for not recognizing.”
And don’t even get me started on what our society does to mothers, I’ll save that for next time.