Unlearning My Sex Shame & Other Kinks
“Si vienes con una pata más larga que la otra, mejor ni vengas / if you come home knocked up, don’t even bother coming home,”
my mother’s reaction when she found out that I held hands with Coco, my high school boyfriend. He was quiet, white and the first boy to actually ask me out. Naturally, my tomboy dweeb self was over the Coco moon. The one time I actually let him walk me to the public school bus, my Mom picked me up by surprise and caught me Coco-handed. She held her anger the whole drive home back to our immigrant, working-class barrio. The sex-shame volcano exploded once we got home.
a real team effort
a work in progress
She obviously thought the worst: that I’m going to get pregnant, that I’ll drop out of school, that I’ll ruin my whole life if I am in the back of Coco’s Volvo, fogging up the windows. That all their hard work would be trashed if I were to get knocked up. I get it. Statistically, I know I was the candidate for teenage pregnancy: poor, first-generation, working class, brown, Catholic in a red state. Also, being first-generation, I have to learn everything the hard way, trial-by-fire. Clearly, sex was one lesson I couldn’t learn hands on. I could understand the anger but I also was accused of something I didn’t do, much less even knew the mechanics of it.
In reality, I was book-loving dork who read the dictionary and newspaper for fun. I was super shy and only had a handful of friends. I wore wide legged jeans and baggy shirts to hide my lumpy growing body. I made my own jewelry and begged my tired parents to take me to the library every weekend. Pro-Hoe Yeiry wouldn’t even make an appearance until after college!
From that tirade, my mother instilled the fear of pregnancy without explaining sex to me. I was left with so many questions.
- Is my virginity the only significant part of my identity?
- Why does my hymen determine the integrity and honor of my family?
- Does wanting to learn and explore my body make me a Puta?
- Why is being a puta or santa my only options to exist in the world?
There was no Google God to pray to about this issue. All I had was a Catholicism rigidness and a very literal encyclopedia that had medical illustrations under the term “anatomy”. I’m a 16 year old living in Texas, with an abstinence-only education that barely even mentioned a maxi pad. I’m a stranger in my lumpy soft body. I don’t even know the texture of my hair. I have no idea where a tampon goes. But only married women are allowed to wear tampons, right? All I know is that I’m totally alone in this and I’m “supposed” to know things that no one had explained to me.
I internalized and hardened with the sex-loathing lava that exploded all over me. How was I to get pregnant if I didn’t even know what pieces went together? How was I to make sense of things when extreme hypotheticals were thrown at me? It was not a conversation. I had no choice but to obey some archaic belief where my hymen ties the family together. Let’s not break any of it.
Coco broke up with me over the phone during Christmas. He didn’t give a specific reason and just said it was best if we didn’t see each other. I agreed only because I was so confused that he didn’t like me anymore. I never shared with him the shit I got because he was white and he wouldn’t understand. Plus, there is only so much emotional intimacy a 16 year old can hold.
It took 15 years after that explosion to finally make peace with my body. There was not one road but a series of steps and tumbles that led to my sexual education. I learned more about myself through every relationship and one-night-stands. I healed from the emotional abuse I endured in my 20’s. I learned the cavernous chambers of sexual identity and pleasure. Finally, hands-on learning I can understand!
Unlearning is a real team effort. My older sister’s sex-positive attitude was a light at the end of the cervix. Years of therapy has given me the voice to speak up. A community of feminist peers with their support and communal learning, provided the space to learn and exchange. I have a great gyno who answers all the questions I have. I read books, pamphlets, brochures. I even got the courage to grab fistfuls of free NYC condoms. Anything to further my knowledge. I experimented and learned and laughed, all while shedding my internalized sex-shame one clothing layer at a time.
Unlearning is a work in progress. I still get shy about the topic with my Mom, although now she’s trying to be more open about it since I’m obviously an adult. I’m learning more about my body over time and how to listen to it. How to respond to it and to know what feels good or not. Owning my pleasure meant listening to my body. To be patient with my body. To be accepting of the wisdom it’s telling me; not to reject it because of some other external factor (i.e.: this partner won’t like me if I say this or this is what I’m “supposed” to do).
I am also assertive and vocal of continuous consent, very important for all parties involved. I no longer carry the extra weight of worrying what others will think or say just because I am living my truth. I own every inch of my body and it’s a daily affirmation I make to keep this peace. This body is not for a future spouse, or for childrearing or a trophy for someone’s stupid honor: it’s all my own, no one else’s. Managing my anxiety has also provided me the mental clarity to be present. To enjoy the moment and frankly, to breathe. I am able to be present in the moment, be aware of myself and to accept peace in myself.
No one tells you this about sex: it’s okay to take your time. In this hypersexed/youth-obsessed culture, sex can be weird. Sex can be complicated. The most important part about this sexual education is you: your comfort, your consent, your pleasure, your health, your safety. I don’t have the answers but I’m still learning to not feel any shame or guilt for any piece of me. Solo cuidate / take care of yourself in the process (condoms, birth control, abstinence, whatever works for you). Light up all the candles to the Google Gods and do research to learn.
Sexual education does not mean a direct pregnancy/life-sentence.
It’s a fucking conversation.