The First Time I had Sex

For the majority of my life, I’ve feared vaginal penetration. At eleven, when I tried to use a tampon, I couldn’t even point it towards my crotch without sobbing. While dating in high school, I never let anyone touch me there whatsoever. I didn’t consider sex until my freshman year in college, when I started dating a guy named Taylor. After a few months of exploring the realm of oral sex, we decided we were ready for intercourse.

We chose a day when we knew Taylor’s roommate would be gone. We didn’t kiss or cuddle or even really touch one another, but instead moved mechanically, in a stiff, contrived manner. The condom seemed foreign to me, and I pushed it towards him, happy to get rid of it. He asked me to put it on. “You do it,” I said, somewhat accusingly. We were both virgins, and nothing about sex seemed as straightforward as television and biology textbooks pretended. The realness, the rawness, the latex, the gooey lubrication, the strangeness of guiding something between my legs. Any sexual chemistry vanished; in fact, any sexual desire in the entire world seemed to have disappeared. He couldn’t stay hard, I couldn’t get wet, and for the next seven months we repeated this bizarre, formal routine, without any success. His penis would not go in, as if my vagina had a “no entry” sign and had the doors locked. Neither of us was aware of our separate cases of sexual dysfunction, and the combination without a doubt made each other worse.

The whole ordeal sent me into a depressive episode. I couldn’t break the obsessive cycle; the more I tried and failed, the more convinced I became that I would never have sex, that I was abnormal, that I couldn’t even do the one thing women are evolutionary designed to do. This conviction made me tense whenever we tried, and often I would give up emotionally before we ever really had a chance. I assumed no one would want to be with me, that I would be a virgin forever. No one I spoke to, not my mother or other women or the gynecologist, had any clue about my problem. “Just relax,” they’d said, and I’d want to punch them in the face. “But it’s not that easy!” I’d scream in my head.

A Google search led me to the term vaginismus: involuntary muscle contractions surrounding the vagina that cause uncomfortable or painful intercourse, or make penetration impossible. Many physical and non-physical conditions can cause vaginismus; anticipation of pain, anxiety, stress, past traumatic events, fear of pregnancy, sexual guilt, hormonal changes, pelvic trauma, and UTIs to name a few. I learned that vaginismus is relatively common, but rarely spoken of, probably due to the same embarrassment I experienced. I started seeing a therapist. After discussing my (extremely long) anxiety and depression history, we decided to try anti-depressants.  After they started working I managed to insert a tampon for the first time and complete a gynecological visit. My obsessive thoughts quieted, though the unfulfilled desire to fully experience my sexuality still hung over me.

Two years later, I entered another long-term relationship. Although we had discussed our desire to have sex beforehand, we allowed our passion to morph naturally into sex; Michael kissed me, massaged me, stimulated me, slipped the condom on without pause, moved in slowly with my approval. I was surprised to feel hardly any discomfort. I also didn’t bleed, despite what so many “losing virginity” horror stories led me to believe. I cried, out of relief, out of excitement, out of love. He kissed my tears, my mouth, and together we celebrated my newly discovered abilities. He showed me that an understanding and supportive partner is just as important as being comfortable with myself. For this reason, my vaginimus still poses a problem during casual sex. I’m not embarrassed by it anymore, though it does get annoying. I’m not particularly worried about getting a negative reaction from a partner, because that reflects on their character, not mine.

I had one hilariously awkward encounter with a French guy named Pierre (I’m not kidding). He was sexy and\ assertive, and after making out for a while he picked me up and carried me to bed. Then he took off his pants and revealed the ridiculous largeness of his penis. He tried to slip it inside me without any clitoral stimulation. One of the golden rules of sex: no one can enter without ringing the doorbell. I showed him what to do, but he didn’t keep up with it, dropping his hand after a few seconds to direct himself in again. It didn’t even hurt, as it wouldn’t go in at all.

He claimed that this had happened before, and usually I’d accuse a guy of conceit for saying something like that, but I’ve never seen a penis that long or thick. He took off the condom and I started giving him a blowjob. After considerable time and no results, I asked if he could get off from what I was doing. He said yes, and then put another condom on. I thought maybe the French practiced extremely safe sex, so although I found it strange, I kept going. After a few minutes he stopped me and said he misunderstood, he thought I was ready to have sex again. I had completely lost any desire, so he took off the condom again, said not to worry about it, and we went to sleep. I’ve learned to accept and laugh at such ridiculous situations.


 

If you’ve ever had vaginimus or have been involved with someone who experienced it, please send me your experiences. I’m interested to know any tips or tricks that helped you/your partner become more comfortable with themselves and work towards a happy, healthy sex life.

Why Does America Still Allow Its Babies to be Circumcised?

While circumcision has been going on for thousands of years, for diverse reasons (religious sacrifice/rite of passage, enhancing/decreasing sexual pleasure, increased/decreased social status, to name a few), it gained popularity in America during the late 1800’s to hinder masturbation. For the next century physicians created numerous insupportable claims as to what circumcision cured or prevented. As of 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics state that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, but acknowledge that “the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision”, leaving the ultimate decision to the parents.

Studies show that circumcision reduces the risk of UTIs, genital herpes, and HIV in both hetero- and homosexual sex. The same can be said about proper hygiene and condom use. But how many Americans actually circumcise for health benefits? A study based in Denver, Colorado found that 90% of circumcised and 23% of uncircumcised men cited conformity as the main determinate for snipping their sons’ foreskins.

Sure, complication rates are low and usually minor. Should we continue medical use of leeches just because they don’t cause any real harm to patients? In 2007, the National Hospital Discharge Survey found that 55% of American male infants were circumcised. This number has decreased 10% over the past three decades, though the percentages in the rest of the world (with the exception of Africa) remain under 20%.

I’ve had difficult finding unbiased articles on the psychological effects of infant circumcision, though speculations of lifelong effects include increased brain sensitivity to pain, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, uncomfortable erections due to insufficient skin, and decreased sexual pleasure.

Some like to compare male circumcision to female genital mutilation. While both are invasive procedures performed for cultural and traditional reasons, it is insensitive to make a direct comparison between them. FGM involves partial or complete removal of the clitoris, and in some cases the stitching of the labia. These procedures have no known or speculated health benefits; in fact, they often lead to extensive and lifelong health complications, even to the point of death. The act is misogynistic and unambiguously linked to impairing or destroying a woman’s sexual desire. For these reasons, FGM is more appropriately compared to complete castration.

I was surprised to learn that child labor laws weren’t imposed in America until the late 1930’s, and child abuse laws didn’t come about until the 1970’s. No wonder we’ve made it to the 21st century mindlessly mutilating our sons without their consent. The United States still hasn’t defined its stance on children’s rights; while children technically have the same constitutional rights as adults, their lack of maturity passes the decisions on to their parents. Furthermore, the United States is one of two United Nations countries to have not ratified the original Convention on the Rights of the Child, created in 1989. The Convention originated to promote basic (constitutional) rights for children, but America opposed it, “primarily based on fears of U.N. interference in U.S. laws and families…[and] undermine parental rights”.


 

As a woman, I can’t understand the full impact nonconsensual circumcision has on men. I’ve talked to circumcised men who both were outraged and apathetic about it, though I’ve never met an uncircumcised man who wishes he were circumcised. I’m curious to know your thoughts and experiences, especially if you’re a biological male. Is infant circumcision unethical? Should American laws protect our sons in this area?

Stoya by Steven Klein

SLAM

Over the Christmas break I’ve been exploring ideas surrounding gender, investigating what are perceived and understood as ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ bodies and gender identities. Biological sex has been assumed to be the basic category, which influences one’s own self-identification as well as others to one side or the side of the gender binary. As soon as the question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” is answered, it’s assumed and seen as ‘natural’ that the individuals’ gender will align with their biological sex thereafter naturally.  However, social conditioning, platonic ideals of gender ‘norms’, stereotyping and rigid socially/culturally accepted frameworks also come into play. We are taught and learn that males and females are meant to act, behave and look distinctive from each other and that sex gender and sexuality all link naturally. A male will be masculine and have heterosexual desire towards his opposing sex. This is the ‘norm’. However…

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Couchsurfing with a Nudist

“If people can’t face up to the fact of other people being naked or smoking pot, or whatever they want to do, then we’re never going to get anywhere. People have got to become aware that it’s none of their business and that being nude is not obscene…If everyone practiced being themselves instead of pretending to be what they aren’t, there would be peace.” – John Lennon

 

Doug answered the door fully clothed, invited me in, and promptly made tea (I’ve never drank anything as much as I drank tea while in Scotland). He remained clothed that first evening, but nudity was nevertheless the topic of choice. He taked about his business doing non-sexual bachelorette parties, where essentially grown women giggled at his nudity while playing a few interactive games. The conversation soon led to sexuality (though this had less to do with nudism and more to with Doug and I both being very open and sexual) and he pulled out his chastity toys, explained their various functions, and offered to show a video of him giving a blow job. I had no interest in seeing it so I declined, but I appreciated his straightforwardness and genuineness nonetheless.

The next morning when I woke up and saw him washing dishes naked in the kitchen, I surprised myself by finding it completely normal. I am neither modest nor prudish, but as I was alone with a naked man whom I just met, I had anticipated some sort of naked “presence”, or perhaps even an oppressive air of masculinity. Nope. Those thought originated from my American Catholic upbringing I suppose. He was just a naked man in a kitchen, his flaccid penis flopping about harmlessly, and within thirty seconds I forgot that was even the case.

When it rained too hard for sightseeing, Doug and I spent cozy couch-confined days watching Dr Who, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, and Train Spotting. We took turns cooking and talked about every aspect of our lives. I normally divulge about 90% of my life’s details to just about anyone willing to listen, but I knew Doug wouldn’t judge me for the remaining, darker 10%. We talked about our past, our ambitions, our fears, our relationships, our sexcapades. He told me he had hooked up with couchsurfers in the past, and I knew he said it in part because of his attraction to me, though he would never have made the first move. He had a good body for being in his 40’s, albeit a bit lanky, and just enough gray hair and wrinkles to look more distinguished than old. In the end, his candidness and confidence made me sexually drawn to him more than anything else. Having him naked next to me made everything seem so much more possible. I wanted to touch him out of a curious, primitive urge; a playful, exciting, well-we’re-both-naked-so-why-not interaction.

 


 

As a species we’ve spent 170,000 years expressing ourselves through clothing in much the same way that male birds flaunt their feathers to prove themselves worthy to a mate. But clothing has inadvertently become another way to make people insecure about their bodies and their social status. Nakedness removes one of the many barriers we have between us and makes everyone equal. One quickly realizes that their body is normal precisely because no ‘normal’ body exists.

Would more random sex happen if we were all naked? Probably. Would more rapes and sexual assaults? Probably not, as those are crimes of power struggle and not sex. I doubt we’ll ever walk around completely naked, but hopefully someday in the near future we’ll at least free the (female) nipple from its unwarranted exile. Funny, how those who choose their natural state are the ones considered weird.

Broad City: the (Subtlely Feminist) Comedy You Didn’t Know You Were Waiting For

 

I adore this show so much that I can hardly go a conversation without mentioning to someone that they need to watch it. A comedic celebration of life, friendship, and youth, the show is based off of the crazy misadventures of “jewess” stoners Abbi Jacboson and Ilana Glazer. The two comedians started writing the web series in 2009, and it premiered on Comedy Central this past January as a 30-minute comedy with Amy Poehler as the executive producer.

While written by women about women, “Broad City” is equally appealing to both genders. Nothing about it hits viewers in the face with typical feminist propaganda, and that’s one of the main reasons I love it. Feminists aren’t militant, man-hating individuals looking to derail society: they are real people. Abbi and Ilana don’t fit into traditional female stereotypes nor do they actively work against them. They are simply (shamelessly and unapologetically) themselves, two women who happen to live outside society’s narrow boxes for their age group, sexuality or gender roles.

Abbi, a Bed, Bath and Beyond fanatic who has a poster of Oprah above her bed, is so structured she even schedules when she’s going to masturbate. Ilana is out of control, sleeping in bathroom stalls at the office instead of working and hiding her marijuana baggy in her vagina since it’s “the safest way to travel”. They are the definition of a hot mess (often disheveled and humiliated by their ridiculous endeavors) but never have fights, break ups or emotional breakdowns. Instead, the show builds its plots by taking small observations or simple outings, and turn them into a surreal comic adventures. The show laughs in the face of the Bechdel test. Abbi and Ilana talk about anything and everything, from silly to vulgar: is it better to sleep with a tampon or a pad? Why won’t Abbi show Ilana her boobs? Should Abbi get back into pot?

Both women are attractive, but in their own, real way. They wear minimal, if any, makeup, and in Ilana’s case, minimal, if any, clothing. Neither woman wants a long-term relationship or fantasizes about her some-day wedding and children. They don’t have any need for that—they support and sustain one another, never criticizing one another’s choices or getting into pointless trivial fights. They are dedicated to each other, so much so that despite hanging out all the time they still video chat when they’re apart (including cam sessions in which Ilana is secretly having sex, puking or shirtless).

While Ilana is the more overtly sexual and liberated of the two (she’s openly bisexual and always trying to convince Abbi to hook up with her), both women enjoy having casual sexual encounters. Nothing about their sexcapades is self-destructive or shameful; they’re just single and enjoying it. In a lovely touch, it’s Ilana’s friend/sex buddy Lincoln who wants to commit but Ilana can’t be bothered. Another great touch and particularly hilarious scene has the two ladies staring at men playing basketball, discussing their overall attractiveness and possible penis size, until one player approaches them to say their unwanted (sexual) attention was making some of the men uncomfortable.

The mix between flawless comedic timing, relatability, and the effortlessness of their authenticity  is what makes this show so amazing and poignant. Here’s to hoping television will lead by their example and give us more of the real-women driven television shows we’ve been waiting forever to see.

 

Heroines

Where’s my parade?

“I was like, am I gay? Am I straight? And I realized…I’m just slutty. Where’s my parade?” – Margaret Cho

 


FAQ: What is “slut-shaming”?

Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

Short answer: Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.

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Thoughts on Hooking Up with a Taken Man

I entered my friend’s apartment in a giddy state, excited to see quite a few people from our writing workshops who I had been eager to interact with—artists I admired from afar but never had the courage to praise, people whose personalities pulled me in but I felt too awkward to approach—and figured now was the time to go for it. Among these was Keith, a young poet who ran a literary journal, and his long-term girlfriend Elizabeth, a slender and graceful woman working on a masters in literature. Practically inseparable, always holding hands or sneaking affectionate glances, they were the kind of couple people saw and thought, “love does exist and it looks as adorable as I imagined.”

I had chatted with them now and then, but never had the chance to progress beyond small talk. I was surprised to see that Keith had come alone to the party; Elizabeth had went back to campus for the weekend to work on her thesis with her advisor. As it turned out, Keith and I had quite a bit in common and spent a considerable portion of the night forming a friendship. We were perhaps a little too friendly due to a steady flow of alcohol, but I wouldn’t have called it flirting. Coming from a family with divorced parents (due to my father’s multiple affairs), and having seen the damage that does to a person, I’m careful not to make advances on taken individuals.

Eventually a group ended up in a circle, passing a wine bottle around, talking about our sexcapades. Keith expressed his enthusiasm for giving road head, and until that moment I hadn’t known eating a woman out while she drove was possible. Impressed, I commented that if he and Elizabeth ever broke up he should give me a call. I realized it was inappropriate as soon as I said it (though admittedly I would have responded similarly if someone said they make awesome chocolate cakes—of course I’d want to try). I apologized for the comment, feeling guilty for overstepping boundaries and disrespecting his relationship, but he told me not to worry about it.

Around 3:30am, after several glasses of wine, two joints, and some champagne, I whispered to a friend that I needed to lay down. She followed me into the bedroom, as did Keith and some other curious people, and soon five of us were cuddling in bed. Keith got into bed next to me, positioned so that I spooned him. I found nothing explicitly wrong with this: with five adults in a small bed, cuddling was necessary to fit. But when everyone else got up to roll a joint in the next room we lingered, staring awkwardly at the ceiling and ignoring the heavy sexual tension. He asked if I had ever felt a connection with someone. Careful with my words, I rambled into a new conversation, but he steered back. He said he would happily spoon me but thought it’d be rude since he couldn’t without getting hard. I brushed it off, saying I had a friend I casually cuddled with who sometimes got a boner and it wasn’t a big deal. I should’ve just confronted him about his flirting and said, “you have a girlfriend, I am interested in you, but this is not okay,” but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I guess I assumed if I avoided his advances he wouldn’t have the nerve to try anything. And of course part of me wanted him to keep trying.

We joined the others to smoke and then crawled back into bed. He slipped his arms around me and I snuggled into the curve of his body, knowing we had crossed the threshold. Everyone mumbled and giggled for a while, speech slurring in and out of sleep. I too had drifted off—or rather, I had entered an exhausted and drug-influenced light sleep—when I felt someone touch me between my legs: tentative and invitatory. I froze, flashing back to when I was sexually assaulted in my sleep at college. The same hazy thoughts came back: acknowledging the pleasure and then the stomach-dropping sickness after realizing I was being touched without my consent.

I knew it was Keith. Was I offended that he assumed he could touch me? Did he intend this in a creepy way? Perhaps he assumed I was still awake and had slid his hand slowly over my thigh, waiting for my reaction? I stopped his hand, taking it in my own while I leveled my breathing. Unlike the time in college, I was attracted to Keith and we had been somewhat intimate leading up to his attempt. However, I don’t think anyone should just grope someone and assume they will be okay with it. Even though we had flirted and cuddled before didn’t automatically mean I wanted something sexual with him. But for me, in this particular situation, I did want it.

After calming down from the flashback, my (kinky) sexual side tuned in, and the thought of getting fingered in a bed with three other people turned me on. For a half hour or so we laid there, caressing, limbs intertwining, noses almost touching. He decided to try again, and this time I let him slip down into my underwear. He brushed past my clit and I sighed, which made him smile, a reaction that both adorable and sexy. He went inside of me and I weaved my fingers through his hair, tugging slightly. As far as my experience with hook-ups went, guys usually placed my hand on them, or attempted to jump right into sex. Having someone reach out to me, touching me in ways that made me feel good without any kind of expectation for repayment, felt wonderful. I didn’t have to react or impress, I could just enjoy.

Slowly the room brightened and the others started stirring. Even after people woke up he kept his hand on me underneath the covers. But once we got dressed everything turned back to normal. I’m positive no one guessed a thing as we walked down the streets and got the first train home.

The ambiguity, though quite sexy in the darkness, made my mind whirl in the daytime: did he think I was “the type of girl” who would enjoy being sexually solicited like that? Am I? What does that even mean? Did he see me as the perfect person to cheat on his girlfriend with? Does that mean I’m not the type of person people see as relationship material? Do I even want a relationship? Was I being self-destructive by going along with it? Does what Keith did invalidate his relationship? Does it make his feelings towards her less real?

When I confronted him about the encounter later via Facebook, he said that it had been a dreamlike, intense encounter that had surprised him—both thinking of doing something like it and actually acting upon it. Esther Perel, a therapist and “sexual healer” describes exactly this sentiment in her article about cheating: “…an affair is such an erotic experience [because] it’s not about sex, it’s about desire, about attention, about reconnecting with parts of oneself you lost or you never knew existed. It’s about longing and loss…”

I don’t condone infidelity, but I don’t think Keith meant to be intentionally hurtful with what he did. I’m positive he still loves his girlfriend. I believe that he never thought he would do something like that. I think he felt some sexual attraction towards me and, since we were in a “safe” environment (squished in a crowded bed), he went for it knowing the encounter couldn’t progress even if we wanted it to.

It occurred to me afterwards that I might be what some people label a “slut” or a “whore.” I tend to hook up, one way or another, with someone new about every two weeks. In this particular instance, I didn’t provoke the encounter. I didn’t intentionally seek it out, even if I was wrong to give in. It amuses me that I could fit into the realm of such a judgmental and hateful slur. I certainly don’t feel like a bad or vindictive person. I do feel uncomfortable that he maybe lied to his girlfriend and that I would’ve been involved in that lie, but I don’t feel responsible for his infidelity. To label someone as a “slut” ignores the fact that she is a complex being with a lot of hormones, psychology, and emotions and judges us based off of a single aspect of our lives. The reality is, no one and no situation is that one-dimensional.


 

I’m curious – do you think it’s possible for someone to cheat and still love their significant other? Are Keith and I both responsible for what happened? Or he is more the guilty party since he betrayed his own relationship? Or, do you think humans are fallible creatures and everyone should cut us some slack? Leave me your thoughts in the comments, or feel free to share you own (‘morally ambiguous’) hook up story.

Down with Deodorant! & Other Products You Probably Don’t Need

Sometime during college I developed a suspicious armpit rash. The doctor blamed razor burn, but as I’d never had it before, I doubted I would randomly develop it under both arms at the same time. I stopped using deodorant to avoid any unnecessary irritation, and within a few days I realized that I neither smelled nor sweat without it. It got me wondering what other products I used that society made me believe I needed when I actually didn’t.

The average person uses nine products daily. At flirst glance that number seemed too high, and then I thought about it: toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, lotion, shaving cream, causing an exposure to 80 or so unique ingredients to arrive at society’s definition of “clean”.

Add colognes, perfumes, aftershaves and makeup on top, and chemical counts adds up quickly. Perhaps due to gender-biased societal pressures, women especially use countless superfluous products (the “lip” section on Sephora’s website has five sub-sections). As a result the average woman absorbs up to five pounds of chemicals a year, many of which are suspected carcinogens or shown to be toxic to the reproductive and endocrine systems. Even products labeled “natural” or “organic” aren’t risk-free since FDA has relaxed regulations.

Some of the biggest ingredients to avoid: parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, fragrance, sulfites, sodium lauryl sulphates and sodium laureth sulphates, among others

Every other creature on the planet gets by without corporately produced creams and chemicals…why can’t we? Your poor body is confused; it is quite clever and knows how to regulate itself. It just doesn’t know how to react to all the crap you’ve been putting on it. Did you know that shaving creams contain skin irritants, necessitating the use of aftershave? Or that some shampoos cause dandruff and some body washes cause dry skin? Which we then remedy by applying more chemicals. Consider which products you could painlessly cut out of your life (come on, I’m sure there’s at least a few!) and experiment with natural ingredients that work even better than chemical ones.

Skin moisturizers: olive oil and avocado

Skin soother: oatmeal and honey

Skin exfoliate: honey, olive oil and sea salt

Skin toner & brightener: egg white with a few squirts of lemon juice

Lip scrub: honey & brown sugar

Body soap: castile soap with a few drops of your favorite essential oils

Hair moisturizers: egg yolk, avocado and a couple drops of olive oil

Hair shine: soak hair in 1 part water, 1 part vinegar

Pedicure: soak feet in vinegar

Currently, I only use all-natural soap & shampoo while in the shower. I’ve heard of people doing the no-soap challenge, but I’ve yet to try it. I shower every other day, as this works best for my oily disposition, or after any intense work outs. Since college onward I’ve worn make up out of enjoyment. I crave change and make up allows me to alter my appearance to fit my mood, even if I use only a few products (eyeliner, mascara, an eyebrow pencil and sometimes lipstick and cover up). I love nail polish for this same reason; the colors are fun and, like make up, I can remove it when I grow tired of it. Which lets me give my poor hair a rest, since I restyle that practically every season. I cant say for sure, but I feel like if I were a guy I’d probably still use make up. I don’t pluck my eyebrows for the sake of femininity, I just don’t like unruly eyebrows. In my opinion, a universal skin tone looks good on everybody, as do elongated eyelashes. We’ve stuck with this idea that make up is for women, but honestly it would look just as good on guys.


In short, figure out what works for you. Don’t do something just because people or commercials tell you it’s how it should be. If you’re anxious at the thought of leaving the house without makeup, ask yourself why. If you want to wear make up but are hesitant because you’re a guy, remind yourself that only your opinion of you matters. It all goes back to that famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Love and celebrate yourself and carry yourself with so much confidence that no one would even think to question your fashion choices.

When I was Sexually Assaulted

About mid-way through my sophomore year, when my boyfriend and I were having problems, my friend Cameron started getting flirty with me again. He had expressed romantic interest in me during my freshman year, but I had declined and soon we both entered long-term relationships. I thought I read too far into his comments, so I ignored them.

For his senior photography project he needed a nude model. I had already done this for another friend, and had enjoyed the exhilaration of the experience. So when he asked me, I agreed. Afterwards I received a lot of criticism for this, but we’d been friends for two years and I trusted him. The shoot went well and respectfully, despite the very beginning when he tried to start taking pictures with the lens cap still on.

A few weeks later during finals, I got drunk for the first time. Not understanding how to pace myself, I drank a bottle of wine within a couple hours and ended up extremely drunk. My friends walked me back to my dorm and halfway there we ran into Cameron. As I knew they needed to get back to studying I waived them away and, linking my arm in his, appointed Cameron my new guardian.

I said goodbye to him at my dorm room door but he said he’d come in to make sure I was okay. I found this a bit strange, but I didn’t question it. I changed into pajamas, contemplated climbing up to the top bunk but gave up on the first rung, and then collapsed onto my roommate’s bed, as she had left for the evening. He turned the lights off, and at some point I fell asleep.

In a dreamy state—how much later I don’t know— I became aware of someone fondling my breasts. I recognized it as a familiar, pleasurable sensation. I smiled and thought, ‘that feels nice.’ Then it hit me what was actually happening. I sat up abruptly and said I needed to go to the bathroom. I went in and shut the door, relieved to be alone and behind a locked door. I sat on the toilet and despite actually having to pee, I couldn’t relax enough knowing he was still in my room. I debated my next move, feeling suddenly very sober and clear-minded. I needed him gone but I didn’t want to confront him or let him know I knew what had happened. So I took a deep breath, left the bathroom, opened my door and thanked him for helping me. He gave me a hug before he left. I spent the rest of the night crying in my friend’s room, unable to ignore the fear that if I fell asleep something bad might happen again.

The next day was perhaps even worse than the actual assault. My boyfriend essentially said ‘I told you so’ and asked me how I could let that happen, seeing as he had been wary of Cameron and wasn’t happy I had done the photo shoot.

I decided I wanted to tell Cameron’s girlfriend Beth what happened. She took the news rather gracefully and calmly, asking me questions without being aggressive or mean. “I’m not trying to be accusatory,” she said. “But are you sure you didn’t do anything to provoke it?” “I’m sure, Beth. I was unconscious when it happened. Plus, I was drunk and he was completely sober.”

Afterwards I spoke to the campus’s guidance counselor, a woman I had seen previously and trusted. I explained what happened and although she didn’t directly say not to report the incident, she implied it. She reminded me he would graduate in a few days, that I was an underage drinker, and if I didn’t say anything I could put it behind me quicker. At the time, confused and stressed and worried about finals, it made sense that I should just let it go.

Then I got a text from Beth asking me to talk with her and Cameron. I asked my boyfriend to come with me and he refused. I sobbed as I walked across campus to my friend Chance’s room, and when I got there I collapsed on the floor repeating, “it’s all my fault.” Chance put his arm around me, reminding me that I had done nothing wrong, promising he’d come with me to confront Cameron.

We met in a common lounge, and I explained that I had not come to debate what had happened; I came because Beth asked me to, and I wanted to help her out. She asked some questions and I responded while Cameron glared at me. Never once did he say that he didn’t do it. He just kept avoiding culpability by passing the blame onto me, saying I was too drunk to remember what happened.

When I told my mom, she said I shouldn’t have been drinking, I shouldn’t have been alone with him while drunk, and thankfully he was ‘respectful enough not to rape me.’ I certainly didn’t feel thankful. I felt violated and pissed off. A part of me was even sad; I had enjoyed our friendship and was upset that it had to be over because he did something so disrespectful and stupid.

My mom shared every slam poetry video I made except for the one about my sexual assault because she claimed that “people didn’t need to know about that sort of thing.” I wanted to scream that of course they need to know, people need to be made aware and made uncomfortable so that change starts happening. I am not ashamed of what happened, and I am not going to hide my strength just to protect someone’s injustice. That’s the problem with being a victim: not wanting to soil someone’s name by turning them in, not wanting them to lose their job or their lover or their life. But it was always their choice and their fault, not ours.

Even though Cameron graduated he continued live in our college’s town and visit campus. The first couple times I ran into him I felt nauseated and started crying. He never made an effort to give me space; in fact, if he entered a room where I already was, he gravitated towards me and hovered nearby until I eventually left. I decided to report it to campus authorities, who told me since more than three months had elapsed since the incident they couldn’t even put it into the college records.

The Obama administration is attempting to erase university reluctance to record and report these instances by prioritizing campus sexual assault prevention, an extremely important measure since college students are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population.

Before I encountered it myself, I thought victim-blaming was one of those over-dramatized instances seen only on Lifetime. Unfortunately, victim-blaming is a very common response to sexual assault. In my opinion, one of the main reasons people blame the victim is because they refuse to acknowledge that something horrifying could happen to them—cautious individuals surrounded by people they trust. They don’t want to know that assault and violence are random, they want to feel excluded from it’s dangers. An unrealistic notion considering 73% of assaults are committed by non-strangers. Being aware of your surroundings and avoiding overtly dangerous situations can help reduce your risk for sexual assault, but the truth is “sexual violence is a crime of opportunity and offenders will use whatever means they can (including alcohol consumption) to justify their entitlement” (CCASA). For example, just check out this study that found sober men at bars intentionally preying on drunk women.


 

Please think before you speak. Anyone who has already been assaulted (and probably betrayed by someone they trusted), does not need criticism or hostility from the others they love. If they find the courage to report what happened (only 40% do), they don’t deserve to be blamed and held accountable. Rape jokes are not funny. They diminish the painful experiences of survivors and validate the actions of perpetrators.

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