My very first sexual encounter was not consensual. Maybe I wouldn’t have phrased it that way at the time, as I was only 15 years old, but as they say: hindsight is 20/20. Neither of us were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and thankfully we didn’t got all the way, but I had a very real sense of having been violated.
I never saw the guy again, but that experience had a lasting effect on how I approached sexuality for a long time. What I thought I had learned from that encounter was that sex was a power struggle, and I didn’t want to ever again be on the losing end of that fight.
Throughout high school and the first few years of college, I used my body like a weapon, always hoping for the upper hand so that no one would realize how insecure and intimidated I really was. I thought it made me appear powerful and in control, but it was a terrible way to live. Not only did it keep me from seeking genuine help for my clinical depression, but it caused me to put myself in harm’s way over and over again. Looking back, it saddens me to see how little self-respect I had.
It was par for the course to get drunk and mess around with a random guy, often not remembering exactly what happened the next morning. The only real boundary I had was full-on sex: I refused it completely outside of serious relationships. At the time I believed that “rule” would keep me safe. And luckily I guess in a way it did, I was never raped or assaulted, but what a high-stakes game to play. At the time I refused to believe that something really serious could ever happen to me. I had convinced myself that I had total control.
But the fact of the matter is, I didn’t have control. By consistently putting myself in vulnerable positions with guys that I barely knew, I could have easily—all too easily—been forced into doing something I didn’t want to do. When I look back on that time of my life, the one word that comes to mind is lucky. Not powerful, not liberated, but lucky.
Eventually I got a bit more mature and I decided I wanted to go to counseling, have healthier relationships, a sober lifestyle, and more respect for myself. In order to press “reset” on my life, I also decided to give up dating for one year. That resolution happened to result in a change of the way I dressed: rather than dressing to catch someone’s eye or to score a free drink, I began dressing for my own comfort and preference. The unintentional result of both of these changes was that I began to see my body and sexuality in a new way.
Rather than seeing my body as a necessary weapon to wield against the opposite sex, I began to see that there were many guys out there who were worthy of honesty and trust. I discovered that the problem wasn’t with the male sex, but with my own determination that control was necessary. Once I stopped relating to guys as if we were in a power struggle, I found that my relationships with them were deeper and much healthier. As I chose to surround myself with emotionally safe people I found that our male-female relationships—whether friendly or romantic—could be a great source of support in my life, rather than an area that required my defenses.
Only a year or two after this big change, I married my husband at 23 and we have been in a monogamous, happy marriage for nearly 10 years. Shared vulnerability has been the key to our marriage and our sex life, which has enabled us to truly function as equals. I no longer have to use my sexuality for control: I have found that those in healthy relationships are willing to share power, so that the needs and wants of both people are respected and satisfied.