The Silence Around Sex

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sex. And I’ve been thinking a lot about silence.

I see what you did there.

I’ve been speaking with friends about sex since I was about six. I haven’t decided whether a group of six-year-old girls getting together to fantasize about sex is healthy or says something is deeply wrong with the sexualization of women in our society. Probably both. But since I’ve actually started having sex, I’ll actually admit that I’ve actively avoided speaking about any messy details.

But recently I’ve gotten to a place in a few of my relationships at Barnard where I finally feel comfortable talking about sex completely candidly (and this took me until my senior year). I’ve found myself and a few girlfriends laughing (read: howling) in the Diana Center about particularly unfortunate sexscapades (fairly few and far between) of the night before. Another very close friend of mine (also a senior) is a virgin, and she’s been asking me a whole bunch of questions lately about sex and sexual relationships. I wouldn’t consider myself very sexually experienced. I can count the partners I’ve had on one hand and I don’t even have a particularly active sex drive. I can go (and have gone) months, and up to a full year without sex. But I do my best to answer as openly and honestly as I can.

One thing that’s been coming up lately is how difficult it can be to reach the point of an orgasm. So it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really (and I mean really) realized it’s something a lot of other women have trouble with, too. I know (and I consider myself lucky) that I’ve gotten there before with a high school boyfriend. And although I really enjoy sex, I haven’t gotten there since. But, I’m staying positive.

Recently, I came across Sophia Wallace’s Cliteracy Project, which aims to spread awareness and get people thinking about the clitoris. One thing she makes a point of, is how female bodies are so openly sexualized, but female sexuality and pleasure is so rarely talked about.

Until I showed her the Cliteracy Project, one of my friends admitted to me she didn’t even know where the clitoris was. While personally, I’m not particularly crazy about clitoral stimulation or oral sex, I know for some women that the clitoris is really important. It’s interesting that reaching an orgasm can be such a unique and personal thing for women, when it seems so straight forward for men. I think it leads to us sometimes putting too much pressure on our partners to satisfy us. For me at least, since I’m still figuring out my own body, my achieving an orgasm would be just as much a personal success as one for my partner. So while exploring, it’s important that us women are educated and stay open minded about what works for us and our bodies.

A friend also showed me an article from almost 8 years ago from Women’s Health magazine. This article describes in detail what an orgasm feels like, and the mechanics behind it. From my limited experience, I think it’s spot on. Without trying to sex it up, it talks about what might be required to get to that climax.

Everyone’s O happens a little differently.

While passing this article along, I jokingly lamented to a friend that reading that the article and talking so much about it has gotten me wanting to have sex. She directed me to this post, which features 31 pictures of a 25-year-old woman’s cervix throughout her entire menstrual cycle, that was linked to by Well Woman last Sunday. Sure enough, my initial reaction to this article killed any sexual desires I might’ve been having. These are pictures of the inside of a woman’s cervix while she’s menstruating, straight-up. And when she’s not, there’s plenty of discharge and other fluids in there. I’m all about the beauty of the female body, but that’s disgusting.

At first, I didn’t get the point. What’s so great about a woman posting pictures of her cervix? And that’s when I started scrolling through some of the comments.

So many of the comments are astonishingly thankful. A lot of them are from women that never knew that vaginal discharge was normal (some for up to 13 years of their lives). I laughed at first, but then I remembered that, the first time I experienced discharge, I felt the same way. A deep sense of shame. Fortunately, I avoided both prolonging these feelings and talking to anyone directly about this subject by discretely doing some research in adolescent puberty books.

But, I can imagine the feeling, that since you first saw discharge on your underwear, that there was something wrong with you. But being both too ashamed and scared to even ask a doctor or another women.

One comment I thought was particularly moving:

I just can’t express how helpful this is. I’m thirty years old, happily married, and I think of myself as loving and open-minded. In fact, I found this site because I’m investigating menstrual cups and the product ads mentioned the cervix (trust me, for my background that is uber progressive). But the truth is, there are things about my body that have always terrified me. The first is that I discovered at a young age that there is a numb ridged area inside of me. It feels like twisted scar tissue. This upset me so badly because I thought that the inside was supposed to be smooth and I thought that something had chewed me up inside. Maybe an infection or a birth defect. I’ve never told anyone about this, but I was looking at these pictures and this healthy woman has the same thing. She has rough ridges all along both sides. I’m just crying so so much right now. I’m sure this sounds stupid to a lot of women, but thank you thank you so much for just getting this information out there. I’m so grateful. I’m just so grateful.

It struck me then that this feeling might be way more common than just among women that didn’t know basic facts about their internal anatomy. The feeling that there’s something wrong with you in regards to a topic that’s so strictly taboo, that you can’t even being yourself to ask anyone about it. Because the possibility of acknowledging something that is so deeply wrong with you is so shameful that you feel like if you tell anyone about it, it could destroy you. So in the meantime, it chews you up inside.

There’s a couple times that I’ve felt this way. Late puberty runs in my family, so I didn’t get my period until I was 16. I was paralyzed by the thought that I might be infertile. The first time I found myself attracted to another girl in my class I would feel so sick, I had to stay home from school for days. Whenever I found myself wishing I were born a boy. I have a friend who became so deeply ashamed when she started becoming sexually attracted to boys at around 13. She thought she was perverse, a sexual deviant. She never told anyone, but because of it, she allowed herself to be verbally and mentally abused by men for years. There is such a heavy price for remaining silent.

Keeping sex sexy!

And in this comment, a married, thirty-year-old women had been feeling this exact shame just because she possessed basic female anatomy.

As women, we hold ourselves up to such crazy expectations, that even the most basic things about being a women drive us to shame. A paralyzing fear of breaking taboos and of not being normal forces us to stay quiet, even though the same fear occupies all of our minds, distracting us constantly. The silence is suffocating.

Another article I came across recently, is about how women are often in a position where they have to be the one to put on the brakes in a sexual situation. The article starts with someone saying to a woman, “Just tell me when to stop.” If you’ve gotten this far into my rant, you should read the article, but it basically goes on to say how women are put into a situation where their partner’s pleasure takes priority, and by saying “no,” a woman feels like she’s denying her partner pleasure, putting the breaks on the sexual excitement, and thereby making herself come off as less sexy. In a society like ours where, socially, the success of a woman is weighed maybe equally between her intellect and her sex appeal, that’s a difficult position to be in. A society where “silence is sexy.”

I’ve slowly come to realize over the past month all the times that the need to come off as sexually desirable has kept me silent. That the shame of not being normal has kept me silent. That fundamental experiences that come with being a women have kept me silent.

What has kept you silent?

This post has been submitted anonymously. If you would like to submit and remain anonymous, email us at ninewaysofknowing@gmail.com, use our tip sheet, or ask us on Tumblr.

Images courtesy Osocio, Teach Me Tonight, and My Revolution.

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