The Student Life’s Sex Columnist wasn’t something I ever imagined I’d put on my resume.
When I applied for a position this semester, I thought I’d ask to write a column about “campus culture,” something covering the antics of those living in Claremont. However, when I showed up to my interview with a malformed idea and fuzzy head from too much wine the night before, I ended up pitching my idea saying something along the lines of: “it’ll be kinda like the sex column, but, you know, like not really.”
I share this anecdote because it’s reflective of the way I often approach sex. I don’t wear my sexiness on my sleeve, so to speak. I don’t have a great sense of style, I don’t have great posture, and I’m notoriously clumsy. While I’m outspoken among my friends, I don’t know how to comfortably assert my beliefs and opinions with large groups of people. Any stereotypes you might have in your head about a “girl who is comfortable asserting her sexuality” don’t quite fit me.
That said, I do think about sex, a lot. I talk with my friends about sex a lot. I worry about my sexual health a lot. I get angry when others try to police my sexuality by telling me boys would like me better if I made them wait longer, or by making me worry about “my number”. I am furious with political and religious groups that think they should be making my sexual decisions for me. Sex is an important part of my life.
You couldn’t tell by looking at me. I wear jeans when it’s cold out and sundresses when it’s warm. I take classes in economics and compete on a sports team. I don’t look like that kind of girl.
The crux of the matter is: there are many girls who are sexual girls, and many people who are sexual people, but we don’t all act and dress the same. It’s not just the girl with the punk haircut inviting you to Motherfucker, or the girl in the crop top dancing at a north quad party. It’s the girl who wears the same Patagonia almost every day, the girl who works at the bike shop, and the girl who asks a lot of intelligent questions in your Intro Bio class. It’s many, dare I say most, girls, and people.
So why do I choose to hide it? Why don’t I choose to lead with my sexuality, something that is so deeply integrated with my core being?
First, I hide it because I don’t want to be judged. I remember the first time someone else called me a feminist and meant it as an insult. I remember how much it stung to be looked down upon for simply caring about my own rights and well-being. I remember retracing my steps, trying to pick out which arguments I’d like to take back. I remember the first time I “overshared” about a sexual experience and the wave of shame that ran through my body as I was told it was “too much information”. As much as I intellectually believe that embracing female sexuality is good, my conditioning often takes over. So I choose to blend in instead of challenge the norms of female silence surrounding sex. Many of us do.
Second, I don’t feel like I’m good enough at sex to express my sexuality. I don’t have a ton of sex. I do have it, sure, but most of my close friends get laid way more frequently than I do. I’ve also never been in a relationship, so I’ve never had a consistent, monogamous partner with whom I could really learn how to move. It’s somewhat difficult to reconcile how sexual of a being I am, all the while admitting to myself that I’m inexperienced, that I don’t have as much of or as good sex as I’d like, and that sex has led me to pain and rejection.
Third, I like to keep some parts of myself hidden to the outside world, available only to those who know me best.
This is perhaps my only somewhat decent reason for refraining from expressing my sexuality. I do believe it’s nice to reserve parts of your person only for those who take the time to get to know you. That said, there is societal pressure on girls to reserve this particular side of themselves, their sensual side, which can be a significant aspect of their identities. It’s reminiscent of an era in which women were told to tone down their intelligence and gregariousness to make room for those of men.
I told my friends that I would be writing this column and they were ecstatic. When I told them I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually mention sex, they were less so. They thought it was boring, a cop out, almost cowardly. After picking my brain for a few minutes, I realized they were right. People like talking and reading about sex–more so than they will allow themselves in public. By skirting around the subject, I was perpetuating the awkwardness and shame that surrounds something most of us enjoy.
My girlfriends and I have started subtly challenging the norms of silence surrounding sex. We might bring up birth control in front of male friends, or try to speak less euphemistically and more candidly about our one night stands. Our methods are slow going, but we do think we’re helping those we engage with become more comfortable with a necessary cultural change. And it empowers us, too. Talking about sex is talking about ourselves, our whole selves. It lets go of shame and brings in self-acceptance.