The adolescent in me was giddy when I read the topic of this essay because, for her, it meant this was a do over. I could say to her all the things that she needed to hear.
Today, I am a 24-year-old woman. I have come close but have not yet had (penetrative) sex. This is neither something to boast about nor to be ashamed of—it’s just what is. My choice to wait is rooted in a plethora of reasons or excuses. Whatever we want to call it.
God bless my mother; she tried her best. As a teenager, she would call out to me in a certain way while I was watching TV and I always knew it was time for us to have “the talk”. I would mirror her awkwardness right back at her. I would count the minutes in my head, questioning my maker about why I had to endure such humiliation.
“When you are ready to have sex, tell me so we can get contraceptives and make sure you’re protected,” she said. The sincerity in her voice made me feel safe but my feet wanted to run because somewhere along the way I had internalised that sex was a dirty thing. It felt like a foreign dream, asking my mother for her blessing and companionship while I pledged my life to opening my legs to other people. I had heard how parents attacked and shamed girls that were having sex. They were brutal and unyielding. The girls were called fast. Likers of things. I winced at the words and my identity started forming around never becoming the sort of girl that they spat fire on.
For any urges or feelings I felt, I used the same words. I shamed myself out of them. It put a false crown of purity on my head. A crown that never quite felt like mine because the thoughts would come. The urges and warmth would come. And it felt…good. I felt split. Two girls living in one body. One pure and good. The one who listened and was a robot that did not have sexual urges or any curiosity. And the other, so bad. She was a law unto herself. She let her mind roam and felt all the sensations when they came. It confused me when the latter was the one I identified with the most.
Looking back, I wish “the talk” I received included naming private parts as openly as we do other body parts. I still sometimes feel like I am swearing when I call a spade a spade, because I internalised that they are things to be ashamed of. I wish adolescent girls weren’t shamed as a form of control; it creates distance between themselves and the curious creatures that they are. Shame makes us judge those that are different from us, especially because they are living authentically. I viewed so many of the incredible women in my life as sinners or inferior because of their sexual choices. I am ashamed of that and have vowed to be more open minded.
Adolescent girls need age-appropriate sexual education that does not necessarily control their choices or make them feel wrong for them. It should be informative so that they make the right choices and are protected if/when they decide to have sex. Young girls should be taught that their no is a no and that they have a right to say no, but that they are also allowed to say yes and then no. Consent is important. They need safe spaces to ask questions and let their imaginations run wild. Sex should not be taught just as a procreation method; sexual pleasure is also a necessary discussion. Sex should be enjoyable. Young girls need to be taught the difference between good and bad touch, so they can identify very quickly when someone is being inappropriate.
When adolescents see older people stop victim blaming those that have been violated, it teaches them to do the same or better.
I think looking back, the adolescent girl in me would have appreciated being told that her body is hers. Her worth and her morality are not determined by anything other than the fact that she is a human being.
Written by Mothepane Lebopo