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I was 10 years old. I had gone to a big sleepover at my friend Lauren’s house, and we were all lying around in our pink pajamas, giggling and eating junk food and sharing our middle-school gossip.
The conversation began to wind down when Lauren’s cousin Jennifer, who was older than the rest of us, said “Hey guys. You know what we should do?”
Her voice sounded so rich and mischievous that we were all instantly intrigued. “We should visit a chat room.” None of us understood the appeal, but the gravity in her voice and the spark in her eyes fueled our interest. We all ended up standing around the household computer, Jennifer in charge. She clicked away until she found what she was looking for, a chat room home page with bold letters stating: YOU MUST BE AT LEAST 13 YEARS OLD TO ENTER THIS SITE.
Jennifer was the only one of us who met this qualification, but she went right in. Instantly, our screen was flooded with messages from eager chatters, all asking “a/s/l” (“age/sex/location,” Jennifer informed us.) She responded to every one with “16/f/Miami.”
The general response to this was a blunt “Want to cyber?”
I had no idea what “cyber-ing” was, and the other girls were just as naïve. But that evening, our eyes were opened as Jennifer introduced us to the process of having digital sex. I was shocked. I grew up in the Bible belt, where sex was rarely discussed and desire was a sin. I knew sex only as an act between two married people when they wanted to have a baby.
And I had certainly never heard words like this before. I didn’t know what these men meant when they said “I’m fingering you” or “I want you to masturbate.” It was a completely new language, one that Jennifer explained to the rest of us throughout the night. In addition to being shocked, however, we were all strangely delighted. We couldn’t believe that we were talking about sex with these strangers, and we were excited by it. We laughed and flushed and chatted well into the morning. We had entered a whole new phase of our adolescence, the phase of sexual curiosity, and we wanted to learn and experience more. At every sleepover from then on out, we would find a time to log on to that chat room. It became our favorite game and our biggest secret. We were intoxicated by the naughtiness of it and amazed by this new world to which we had been completely ignorant. Soon, I began visiting the chat room on my own. I didn’t need the other girls there for emotional support anymore. I would get home from school, hole up in my room, and pretend to be a much older, much sexier, much more experienced woman.
I felt empowered by the way I could tantalize men just with my words, and the way they spoke me to made me feel wild and beautiful. I began touching myself, masturbating at night and thinking about the older men on the chat room who wanted to do all kinds of dirty things to me.
I enjoyed it for a time. Cybering made me feel worldly and desirable when, in actuality, I was an awkward and gangly little girl whose crushes were all “out of my league.” Soon, however, I realized that I had become addicted. I had gone, in a very short amount of time, from a wide-eyed and innocent child to a sex object, and I couldn’t bring myself to quit. I felt damaged. I couldn’t stop thinking about sex, and that worried me. I mourned for the loss of my childhood, and I grieved over my own perversion.
To make it worse, I was attending a conservative church that consistently preached purity and abstinence. I believed that God was judging me, and when I would masturbate at night, I thought He was watching me in shame.
I would pray for Him to release me of my desire. I would sob and beg for forgiveness. I even believed that my dead relatives were watching me from heaven, horrified at what had happened to their baby girl.
I grew to hate myself, and I hated the men in the chat room more. Even though I voluntarily logged onto that chat room every day, I felt preyed upon, taken advantage of, and disrespected. I came to believe that all men treated women like that. Slowly but surely, through the course of my early teenage years, I pulled myself away from the chat room culture. I stopped visiting that site, but my insecurities, my fear of men, and my extreme guilt grew tenfold. I began avoiding intimacy at all costs. I turned down boy after boy who wanted to take me out because I felt like they were attacking me. I resented the boys who had crushes on me.
Even slow-dancing at the school’s homecoming dance made me feel objectified. I kept men at such a distance that I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 21 years old. And even then, I felt robbed of my innocence.
I thought for awhile that maybe I was just asexual. But, no, deep down I had sexual urges like most people did. However, I had also developed a crippling fear of relationships and a supreme anxiety surrounding the very idea of sex. I just recently learned that there is a term for this: sexual anorexia.
People with sexual anorexia experience a profound sense of dread when faced with the idea of sexual intimacy. It can be caused by many factors including sexual abuse and strict religious convictions regarding sex.
Often, people with sexual anorexia will push away prospects of love because they know that, ultimately, it will lead to intimacy.
These days, now that I have surpassed my adolescence, have moved away from my conservative town, and have grown out of my conservative way of thinking, I understand that masturbation is healthy, sex is natural, and that, as a little girl wanting to know more, I was following my built-in biological instincts.
I do not feel guilty any more, nor do I request God’s forgiveness or approval for my sexual attractions. I am, however, a 24-year-old virgin. A friend asked me about it once: Am I waiting to have sex until I’m married? The answer is no.
I fully believe that sex is a healthy and vital part of any relationship, and I think it’s perfectly awesome for unmarried people to sleep together.
I am now simply a late bloomer. I have to take things slowly, with a great deal of trust. I have to deeply care about someone to hold their hand. Kissing someone feels scary and bold and daring. And in order to sleep with someone, I will have to love them implicitly.
And maybe, hopefully, after all these years of self-torture and confusion, when I am finally able to let my walls down with a man, he will have been worth the wait.