Growing up, I wish I had known that it wasn't OK for boys to always try to get into my pants. I prided myself on being the "tease" that fooled around with them without ever giving "it" up.
My virginity was a prize they had to win. I was perpetually on alert, ready to push their hand away from my breast or grab my panties before they were able to push them aside. They were hunters and I was their prey. To them, it seemed like a game that was never about my pleasure and was all about their own, regardless of whether I wanted to share what I would later understand as the intimate experience of making love, or just fucking someone you liked. If I finally let my guard down and let them between my thighs, they would always be the ones who would win.
When I did have sex for the first time, it felt like the game had been rigged. I'd known him for a couple of weeks. His friend was dating my friend, and he wore these black leather gloves when he drove. I remember him taking them off to stop at a drugstore to "grab something" before we went to his house for drinks with a group of my friends for my 17th birthday. As my vision began to blur while I sipped my drink, I saw him go upstairs. He was cute, and I liked him, so I followed him to his room. We began to kiss on his single bed, and I was content. I grew up in a house filled with more yelling than hugs, so any physical touch meant the possibility that someone could love me.
Then, my clothes started coming off. Suddenly, I was fully naked on his bed while he was fully clothed. He reached over for the drugstore bag he had brought into the car earlier and asked, "Do you want to have sex?" In my daze, I said, "OK." But what I really said inside my mind was, "I'm drunk, I'm already somehow naked, and I'm turned on, so I guess this is OK. This isn't how I want my first time to go, but I don't know how to tell you that I just want to kiss."
I remember the smell of banana and latex as he slid inside me. I remember moaning because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do, but feeling nothing for this boy who I barely knew and even less because of my intoxication. I remember my best friend throwing open the door to find where I'd gone and seeing me lying underneath him as he yelled, "Just a minute!" "Just a minute," as if he was parking his car with those black leather gloves, not experiencing an intimate moment with a girl he liked. And as he finished and I made more obligatory moans, I remember feeling like I was out of my body — that this experience was happening to me and I didn't need to be there for it. That I didn't need to experience pleasure — and if I did, it was a way for him to try to access what he wanted and was already getting, not to share what could be a beautiful or even fun event, but to simply to use my body to get off.
For so long, I had seen over and over that this was what sex was: boys trying desperately to get laid. I always thought I had the power when I didn't let them inside me, when I got out on the other side with a good make out session and clean sheets – and now, my power was gone.
I tried to get it back by using guys as they had used me. I started to see their bodies as objects for pleasure, just as they had seen mine. I became addicted to that pleasure — not the physical orgasm I could get from it, but the validation that I was wanted for something I had and could take away just as easily as I gave it to them.
The problem was that I was basing my value on how they saw me. I needed to instead base it around how I saw me. I needed to know that a man could love me regardless of whether I had sex with him — but how could I when I grew up feeling like I was simply a tool for his enjoyment?
I wish I had known about consent from an early age. Going to a Catholic school, I was taught about reproduction in the classroom and slut-shaming at home, but never that I was more than my vagina and that boys should respect me enough not to take "no" as a suggestion. With such a high cost placed on virginity and the concept that I would "lose it," it never occurred to me that my value was something no one could ever take. I didn't know that it wasn't my fault if I got too drunk to know what I wanted — or that once I had sex, I wasn't required to keep doing it. I didn't know that my silence and uncomfortable body language shouldn't be taken for a "yes," or that if I didn't want to have sex, it wouldn't require a consolation prize.
I wish I had known that boys — and, later, men — could like me without getting to be inside me. That building a relationship based on emotional intimacy would be enough for them. That I would find a partner who would want to date me without needing to fuck me. That he wouldn't paw at me like the boys I grew up with — not because he didn't want me, but because making love was a shared experience where my enthusiasm should be a part of the equation. That when we had sex, I would feel connected to my body, and that it would be beautiful and fun.
Like many people, I wish I had known these things growing up. The memories of these times have left scars, and although they've faded, they're still there for future partners to see. It's so important that we teach our children consent and self-love — regardless of gender — so they can grow up to feel powerful in their own skin, knowing that no one can take that power away.