Here?s why abstinence only education didn?t work for me.
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At twelve-years-old, I was raped; subsequently, I soon began sleeping around ? I didn?t consider my rape ?losing my virginity? but it had been lost, in a sense. At that point, sex ceased being important to me; I was very young and I had never been taught anything about sex. To my family, if a woman slept with anybody that she wasn?t legally obliged to, she was considered a whore.
Usually, when a family preaches abstinence-only education they are religious, but my family was not. Their beliefs were based on nothing other than blatant sexism, in fact, if their actions were based on religion they probably would have been more understandable. That being said, they were not ? nobody taught me anything about sex, protection, consent, or sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Sex was just never spoken about, to me.
I was taught not to have sex, and if I did have sex, I was slutty, easy, or a whore. Sex, for pleasure, was only for men. ?Go get em? Tiger,? was said to my brother, he was given condoms and congratulated for his sexuality; sex was a conquest and women are objects, the more you get the more of a man you are. We?re trophies, we?re here for pleasure, and nothing more.
Throughout my formative years I had a lot of sex, it took me until my mid-twenties to realize that none of the sex I was having before I turned eighteen was consensual. In fact, if you wanted to really scrutinize my sexual activity, most of my young sexual encounters could be considered rape. Not the blatant kind of rape that I endured when I had just turned twelve, when I was drugged in a hotel room and penetrated while I was unconscious, but it was rape nonetheless. At one point I had a ?boyfriend? who was twenty-seven-years-old ? I was fifteen. At many points the sex was non-consensual, but more under duress, or under stress that if I did not have sex, I would be raped anyway.
That?s what happens when you are taught from a very young age that you do not have bodily autonomy, that your sexuality is shameful, and that consent does not exist if you are a woman.
As I got older, the idea of consent was still blurry. It takes a long time for you to undo the lies that are told to you in your formative years. At one point during sex that I had consented to having, the man who I was sleeping with began to have anal sex with me; I asked him to stop, but it really didn?t matter, I had consented to having sex with him so I had no right to tell him ?no?. I just let it happen, I figured it was almost over, why make a scene? A few years later, a man that I really liked began penetrating my mouth and forcefully holding my head so that I couldn?t move. I like rough sex, I thought, maybe he just misunderstood? He never asked for my consent, and afterwards my throat was raw and bleeding. I liked him a lot, and maybe this was just his preference, it?s fine, right?
Plus, how was I supposed to speak up with somebody violently penetrating my mouth? It was probably my fault, I didn?t make it clear enough that I wasn?t enjoying myself.
Women are taught to be quiet and polite; we are taught not to speak up, even in situations like the ones I mentioned above. We are taught, from a very young age, that sex is shameful and that if we did speak up, the chances of us being believed or taken seriously are slim to none. After my rape, I told my stepmother and a doctor about what I had experienced, both of whom asked me if I was ?sexually active?, as if rape is considered consensual sex. The doctor who did my exam made me feel shameful and disgusting. I was used and it was my fault.
Photo by Charles ?? on Unsplash
I was never taught about condoms or other preventative birth control measures. I got pregnant at eighteen because the ?pull out method? had not been an effective birth control measure. It had always worked before, and if a woman isn?t completely adamant about wearing condoms, history tells us that the man isn?t going to push it. I had no idea that I could get a sexually transmitted disease or infection from oral sex, and I had no idea that I had the right to say ?no? at anytime during sex. This is what happens when we don?t teach young women and girls that they have bodily autonomy.
You see, now that I know that consent is clear, ongoing, and willing ? and that consent once does not mean consent forever, I can look back on my sexual experiences and see that I was violated. Had I learned this when I was much, much younger, I would have known that I had the right not to be penetrated against my will. I wouldn?t have thought, ?he probably didn?t know I was fifteen,? about the thirty-something bartender who got me drunk in a bar that I had no business in. I wouldn?t have worn the title ?jail bait? as a badge of honor. I wouldn?t have thought that my body was just an object.
My story may not be like everybody else?s, but statistically we know that abstinence only education does not work. When you shame young women and girls about their sexuality, when you don?t teach us that we have rights and options, we inevitably grow up believing that we cannot say no. We grow up not understanding that there are birth control options that men are not in charge of. When you shame our bodies and our sexuality, you?re telling us that we are not in charge of our bodies or our sexuality. You?re telling us that we have no bodily autonomy.
I learned that I had no bodily autonomy at twelve-years-old; my body belonged to whatever man had laid claim to it. After I was labelled a slut, it didn?t really matter anymore ? it was tattooed on my forehead; I was a runaway, I wore revealing clothing, I was a bad kid, so whatever happened to my body I deserved. I was an object, remember? If I wore a short skirt, I was for the taking.
Had I been taught what consent is, I would have never been raped. I would have never thought of myself and my body as an object. I would have known that I had bodily autonomy, that I could take birth control, that I didn?t have to have sex with whatever man wanted me. The fact is, that if we continue to tell young girls that their bodies are not their own, if we continue letting men legislate our bodies, we are telling young girls and women that they do not matter, that their bodies do not matter, and that resistance is futile.
We need to begin educating young girls and women on the ideas of consent, we need to be telling them that their sexuality is not shameful and that they have rights. Young girls and women need to know that they are in charge, not the people whom they allow the privilege to see them naked or to be sexually intimate with them. Young people need to be educated on the topics of sex and sexuality, and that starts with removing the shame that we teach young girls, and teaching young boys that they do not have the inalienable right to anything that they want.
If we begin at the root cause: teaching young boys about consent and teaching young girls that they have rights, we are challenging the norm. We are telling young girls that they matter, and we are telling young boys that, ?boys will be boys,? is unacceptable. Abstinence only education fails every single time, it?s time that we acknowledge that and change the ways in which we talk to children and teens about sex. Pretending that it doesn?t exist does not work.