In lieu of the article: So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community by Sarah Anne Lawless, the #metoo movement, as well as all of the allegations coming to light in both our cultural icons and our politicians and religious leaders, I have felt the strong desire to speak my truth. There is language in this article that may potentially trigger you. There are situations of abuse and sexual assault and other content that may also trigger you. Proceed with caution.
Navigating sex, dating, and relationships is difficult regardless of age or experience. I have found in my experiences that many young people are given little to no information before being thrust into a hostile dating environment. Too many of the people in my life, especially women, have had experiences comparable with my own terrifying introduction into sex, dating and relationships. Parents are failing their children. The educational institutions are failing our children. The justice system is failing our children. Our Society and Culture are failing our children.
CAVEAT: I am Pansexual and Polyamorous and identify predominantly as female. This article is biased toward my own experiences. There is an entire wealth of discussion about the trans* communities and the challenges that they face in navigating the following topics. I am not equipped or knowledgeable enough to speak with any authority on that matter. It is a discussion that needs to happen AND that discussion is not started with this article.
If I had to summarize the climate in which we teach young girls how to deal with the complex issues of sex, love and consent, I would say the following terms come to mind: religious shame, outdated and rigid gender roles, sexual repression, patriarchal oppression, institutionalized sexism, and double standards.
As women, the decks are stacked against us. We must band together and protect and educate one another so that the abhorrent statistics about violence against women, rape against women, the pay inequalities, and other repercussions of toxic sexism will not perpetuate ad infinitum.
The first real boyfriend that I had was 28 years old when I was 19. I met him on a free online dating service because I had a lot of difficulty with meeting and dating people.
I know what you’re thinking; what good Catholic parents would allow their barely legal daughter to date a man nearly a decade older than her?
My parents were not happy about us at. My mother told me that she thought he was too old for me. She also said many years later, that the reason she didn’t forbid us from dating at the time was because she was afraid I would run off with him and never come back. I surprisingly agree with her assessment. I lacked to tools to make sound relationship related decisions at that time. Not because I was young, but because I lacked a comprehensive sexual, relationship and emotional education during my most formative years.
“He is too old for you.”
“I forbid you from dating him.”
The above statements are inappropriate to say to your teenager or young adult child because they lack proper context. The first statement belittles the intelligence and the judgment of a young women. You are suggesting that she is incapable of choosing a partner for herself. And the second is inappropriate because it is authoritative and takes away the young woman’s ability to negotiate and navigate her own environment.
In my case, my first boyfriend was way too old for me. The statement my mother made needed to have come within a pre-existing context. I should have been educated why certain age gaps at certain times are inappropriate. Providing young adults with resources and explanations allows them the option to make educated decisions instead of defaulting to a hormonal one.
I wish my mother had told me about different life stages and the possible negative consequences of dating a person who was a such a vastly different life stage than myself. I wish my mother had educated me about sexual predators and their characteristic behaviors. I wish she had told me the kinds of traits sexual predators look for in their victims. I wish she had told me about the different lures a sexual predator can use on their victims.
I was convinced that men didn’t want to date me because I wasn’t attractive enough. Nearly all my friends had dated people long before I did and I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me. I was not attractive enough, I was too smart, and I was a nerd with non-mainstream interests.
Because my self-esteem was so low, I felt that the only way for me to meet people was to try online dating. So, after a few awful dates, I was contacted by a man who, for our purposes, we will call Dick.
Trigger Warning: Dick was a textbook abusive partner. If reading about accounts of abuse or rape are a trigger for you I would skip to the summary at the end.
The romance began like any other; at the time, I had nothing to compare it too.
“If I wasn’t waiting for marriage, what was I waiting for?”
“It’s going to happen eventually, why are you making me wait?”
“Sex is what couples do.”
“You already did X and Y, so why not Z?”
“If you really loved me, you would have sex with me.”
“You don’t really love me.”
“You’re such a tease.”
“You’re a bitch.”
“You know you’ll like it.”
“I don’t like condoms.”
If I had sex with him, it was okay because I was going to marry him.
If I had sex with him, it was okay because he loved me.
If I had sex with him, it was okay because he would stop pressuring me.
If I had sex with him, it was okay because he wouldn’t hurt me.
If I had sex with him, it was okay because it would be over soon.
I said no. I wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to. That didn’t matter.
Today I wish my sexual education happened differently. I wish that someone told me I had more worth than my vagina. I wished that I wasn’t sexualized before I knew what sex was. I wished that someone had explained to me that sex before marriage didn’t mean I had to stay with an abusive partner because he raped me. I wish that someone had told me that my no really meant no. My no did not mean keep pressuring me, coerce me, or have sex with me.
I can’t help but think that If things were different in my upbringing that I could have avoided being raped. Maybe if the focus was less on the shame of pre-marital sex and more on how to foster healthy and meaningful relationships, I wouldn’t have been an easy target for an experienced sexual predator. Maybe if the focus was less about guilt of sinning, and more on how to recognize bad situations and seek help, I wouldn’t have stayed with my abuser for six months. Maybe if my parents weren’t antagonistic toward certain “bad” behaviors, I would have felt comfortable enough to tell them how I was suffering and the real reason I wanted to die.
We tell young women that they are to blame.
We make excuse for predators, rapists, pedophiles, and monsters when they are young so that when they grow up they have free license to perpetuate romantic, emotional, sexual and physical abuse.
“Boys will be boys.”
“Boys are just wild like that.”
“Girls need to be polite and smile.”
“What were you wearing?”
“Were you drinking?”
“What did you expect to happen? You invited him to your house, and were kissing alone in your room when no one was home.”
“You were asking for it.”
I wish that my mother had told me that I should never accept bad behavior from anyone at any age. If a minor grabs a girl’s bottom against her wishes, we do not laugh it off as cute courting behavior. If a professor or TA or teacher or religious leader makes advances on a student, we do not congratulate the aggressor for bagging a “young hottie.” When people abuse their positions of power and assert unfair dynamic against women, we do not sweep it under the rug. We do not re-victimize the victim by putting them on character assassination or trial. We do not harbor abusers to save face in our organizations. Boy will not be boys. We should hold them accountable for their actions. Gender has nothing to do with it and we need to stop using it as a scapegoat. If a boy say something lewd. He made a choice. If a boy gropes a girl, he made a choice. If a boy raped a woman, he raped a woman. He made a choice and we must hold him accountable.
Clothing or lack thereof is not an invitation for sex. Just because someone is presented with an opportunity to commit a crime doesn’t make it ethical, right, moral, or legal to do so. Just because a car is parked on a street doesn’t entitle some stranger to walk by and steal the contents from inside the vehicle.
I wish my mother had told me that I owe nothing to anyone. My sexuality and body is mine. No one can take that from me. If someone is trying to take that from me, then they do not deserve me and they are engaging in abusive behavior. No amount of privilege can wash away the stain sexual abuse.
I wish my mother had told me to hold the people I date accountable for their actions, words, and behavioral patterns.