Shauna from the United States
(After years of running this site, I finally told my story at a SoS live event in Berlin. Here is the text for all of you who want a look at where I come from and how I got here.)
I grew up in the middle of what is probably not so lovingly referred to as the Bible Belt. As you might guess, religion was important in my community. Even if my parents weren’t that religious, Bible Belt culture always found a way to sneak into my everyday life.
Growing up, I was shockingly oblivious to sex and to my own body. It’s funny, because for a living I talk to people about how they started masturbating at eight years old or how they always had some kind of undeniable urge to explore sexuality. I hear story after story from people but there is still somehow a small part of me that is surprised, just because their experience is so different from my own.
I think I knew as much as other kids about sex, I just didn’t care. From early on I was out trying to get boyfriends and have my first kiss, but that to me was very separate from sex or desire.
The sex education I got in school was also about as Bible Belt as it can possibly get. There was no putting a condom on a banana. No talk of healthy relationships, the actual mechanics of sex, and of course no talk of pleasure, respect or consent. Instead, it was three days of power point presentation of genitals so mutilated by STIs, that we all thought we would swear off sex forever. Turns out, it was only enough to make us swear off sex for a few days, a few weeks at best.
There was probably a reason that the classroom right next to the sex ed room was a day care.
Then there was the capstone, quintessential Bible Belt sex ed analogy that said,
“Your sexuality was like a piece of bubble gum. Everyone wants a crisp, new, untouched piece of bubble gum. Gum is great. New gum has a function and it has a value. But once I give my gum to you, and you gnaw on it and chew it up, you make it gross. Your ruin it. It has totally lost any value it once had and no one will ever want it again.”
This analogy confused me for a number of reasons. First of all, this was high school, it’s not like we weren’t sharing literal gum anyway and more important, why wouldn’t you just get another piece of gum? This fueled more questions than it answered. Will my vagina somehow get more and more deformed every time I have sex? Will I wake up one day and all that is left is a gross wad of clumpy, mangled flesh between my legs? I was taught both directly and indirectly, that by giving my sexuality to someone, I would become unworthy of future love or respect.
Between my remarkably negative sex ed and my personal lack of drive towards sexuality, I becoming detached from my own body. I knew very little about it. How it worked, or how I was supposed to live the rest of my life with it. I had never even touched my vulva before without the socially acceptable barrier of toilet paper protecting my hands from the weird and scary hole between my legs.
It’s hard to say exactly why I was so scared. I never had problems with my body per se, it was more of a subtle indifference. I don’t know where this impression came from but I truly, deeply down felt that my vagina was dirty or shameful and that interacting with that part of my body would somehow make me dirty and shameful.
When I hit thirteen, strengthened by my acknowledgement that I was practically an adult and knew just about everything there was to know about the world, I decided that it was time that I cast off my childish ways. I was finally going to learn what was going on down there.
I knew masturbation was a thing, but I thought it was something that only boys did. A few of my girlfriends were already talking about having sex but none of them ever talked about masturbating. I guess I knew there must be some women out there who masturbated right? But honestly, I thought there must be something wrong with those women. Maybe they couldn’t get partners. Maybe there was something so damaged, so broken inside of them that pushed them to what I considered such extreme behavior.
If only my teenage self could see me now.
So here it is, the time has come for me to breech this barrier and not only touch my vulva but maybe, if I dared, even feel what was going on up inside. The shower was the obvious destination for this momentous occasion. The next day I nervously got into the shower, still incredibly undecided if I was ready for this step into adulthood or not.
I stood in the shower for so long, it felt like maybe I would actually be an adult by the time I gathered up the nerve. I kept going back and forth in my head thinking,
“I need to do this, this is important.“
Then turning back and thinking,
“oh no, I can’t it’s too dirty. It’s too shameful.”
What would happen to me after I crossed this barrier? Would this somehow change who I was deep down as a person? Would this turn me into some sort of insatiable sex monster?
I finally gathered the nerve to continue. I slowly slide my middle finger up into my vagina and….. nothing.
I don’t really know what I was expecting but surely it was more than this. Now keep in mind, my obviously stellar sex ed failed to actually teach me much about sex itself. I didn’t really get the whole in and out motion that comes with sex and more importantly, I had never so much as even heard the word clitoris. Which, let me tell you, is a beyond vital point if I am ever going to get anywhere masturbating.
So here I am, awkwardly hunched over, with by this time barely luke warm water running off of me with my finger up inside waiting for fireworks but getting nothing more than a weird cramp.
I wondered, is this what sex is? Is this what masturbation is? And if so, what in the hell is all of the commotion about? Nothing about this was anything that could be mapped anywhere near the idea of pleasure.
Even though it should have been pretty clear to me that whatever it was that I had just done was in fact not masturbation, I used this experience to write off touching myself for another ten years. I had shitty sex because the only thing that I knew about my own body was that having a finger resting awkwardly in my vagina was not great.
So that’s what brings me here today. I guess no one has ever had the perfect learning about sex experience, but we can learn a lot from hearing stories from our peers. Then hopefully, we might do better with our own children one day. Or, at least get a good laugh and learn something new about our friends.