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I had my first kiss at 12 years old on the beach at sleep away camp; I gave my first blowjob at 16 to some guy from Los Angeles –- him on a lawn chair, my knees digging into the sand, both of us on vacation with our respective families in Hawaii. I lost my virginity to an Oxford University rugby player in a one night stand while studying abroad at 18.
Then there was this: In high school, I was molested for a year and a half by a guy I had called a close friend in middle school, and during my first month of college, I was date raped on my dorm room floor. These experience catapulted me into my early 20s, desperately confused about sex.
In November of my junior year of college, I came home slightly intoxicated, sat on my bedroom floor with my best friend, and laid out my life. I decided the only possible way to relearn, reclaim and reevaluate my sexuality was to start over –- go back to the moment before Jesse Peters kissed my lips on that humble sandy beach in Denmark, Maine, and then I let him stick his tongue in my mouth.
So, I became celibate. No intercourse. No oral sex. No kissing. No one night stands. No make outs. No dates. Just me.
I wanted to figure out which part of my sexual past was the real me: the girl who gave a random guy head under a table at a night club until the bouncer asked her to leave, or the girl who wouldn’t sleep with her boyfriend sophomore year of college because she wasn’t ready, even though she wasn’t a virgin.
Celibacy was cathartic -– like a spiritual orgasm captivating my senses with fascinating new epiphanies. It was liberating to forgo the anxiety surrounding sex: to have, or not to have. An entire portion of my brain became vacant and I filled the emptiness with self-examination.
I realized it was impossible to keep from drowning in judgmental shame for having been sexually abused while simultaneously continuing to have a sexual identity. I graciously and delicately deconstructed my sexuality as its own sacred entity, with the respect I knew it deserved.
My friends thought it made sense. My therapist thought it was brilliant. My fellow sexual violence survivors followed my example.
There weren’t any challenges or obstacles: It was cleansing. I didn’t miss sex, because in a sense, it was as if I had never really had sex. My body may have showed up, but my “self” was never fully there, because I didn’t know who my “self” was.
Spring semester, senior year of college, I was caught in a traffic jam the night my housemates and I threw a huge party. I conjured an exercise my mother had recently suggested: I envisioned my sexual oppressors on two chairs in front of me, right there in the middle lane of Interstate 76 in Philadelphia. I told them they were no longer able to have control over my body. I was in charge of my sexual identity, body, and consent.
Later that night, one of my roommates and I smashed ourselves against another roommate’s bedroom door. We made out wildly for several minutes, parted ways, greeted guests, and reconvened at the party’s end when he came to my room and we kept making out.
It felt good. It felt honest. It felt like me: a 23-year-old girl who felt sexual experiences were a physical union to amalgamate an emotional and mental bond already fulfilled with another -– no matter how weak or strong said bond was on the spectrum of connection.
Celibacy taught me patience. I had sex for the first time again at the very end of college. Then, not again for six months. Then, not again for a year and a half. I didn’t mind the dry spells. They nurtured my spirit in a self-actualizing sort of way.
Sex is a manifestation of my sexuality; not an escape from it. I no longer have anything from which to escape. I discovered the core of my sexual identity.
Now, I’m 29. I’ve been in a committed relationship for over four years. It’s the first and only serious relationship I’ve ever had. And he’s the only person with whom I’ve ever had sex more than twice.
Several months into dating, I told my boyfriend the entire story of my being raped. He already knew that it had happened, as well as the abuse in high school; he just didn’t know all the details.
We were on our way to Long Beach, Long Island. He listened, calmly and lovingly. By the time I finished the thorough account – the dorm room floor, the morning after pill, the aftermath and trauma –- we were laying on our stomachs, in bathing suits, on a beach towel near the ocean. I asked him if I seemed damaged or scarred from these experiences. I asked him if my having been abused seemed to affect my ability to be sexually intimate; did it affect our sexual intimacy? He said no. Not at all.
I knew then, for sure, as I still know now: I am free.