I grew up most of my life fearful of sex and ashamed of the human form, particularly my own. My first encounter with sex was learning about what it was, “where babies come from,” in the fourth grade while playing Barbies at my neighbor’s house, when the bride and Ken were seemingly attacking one another naked. Appalled, I asked her why they were doing so before she explained what making love was.
When I asked my mother, a conservative, head-covered Muslim woman, about it later, she was upset with my curiosity and told me to hold off on questions until I was an adult. It was understandable, considering I was the eldest daughter of the first Arabian-American generation in our family, and the indubitable expectation was that I, and my siblings, would hold steadfast to tradition and religion.
Fast forward to the fifth grade: my playground pal and I pretended to be strippers on the monkey bars and swing poles. I started buying triangle bras. Sixth grade: I began flirting with boys and they wrote me poems about “doing it.” Seventh grade: my first real crush that I dreamt about sleeping with. Upon entering high school, I developed multiple eating disorders in my attempts to gain control over my life and sexuality – and in the hopes that I would be appealing to the boys around me.
I was the rebellious one. I didn’t think so at the time, not in the slightest, but I was usually in trouble for one reason or another. My parents lived in the fear of my potential deviance and I lived in the fear of never feeling free.
Traditional Middle Eastern views are restrictive ones – I’ve read and expanded on theories that sexual repression is the most significant contributor to the oppressive culture permeating much of the Muslim world. Turning pleasure into a sin – in addition to anything that could conceivably lead to lustful thoughts, including integration of the sexes, equality for women, and revealing clothing – was and is how to control people. By making human nature inherently shameful.
I made out with and lead on many guys following that first time, while I faked desire and experience as I gathered it; eventually, I grew feelings for two older men, entering unhealthy relationships that ended with their falling in love and wanting to get married. I promptly ended them, one after the other, and subsequently entered a deep depression. Not as a result of them, but due to the constant state of shame I was in, especially while experimenting and lying to my parents and those surrounding me.
I gained a lot of weight my senior year of high school. Even less comfortable in my own skin, I sought validation from anywhere. I hooked up with my best friend’s boyfriend, a promiscuous boy who loved her but loved my body.
I lost my technical virginity to a friend who fell for me after a night I got drunk and he didn’t, while feigning more experience in bed than I actually had. I started having sex with strangers, sometimes not knowing their names. I’d ignore their calls and texts afterwards. I slept with an ex-porn star and got so drunk I was raped twice. One guy I spent some nights with woke up in the middle of one night and gave it to me rectally, so I wouldn’t get pregnant without a condom, and woke me up with his orgasm before we just fell back asleep.
Even objectified, I got turned on by just about everything. I seriously considered posing nude, making porn videos, or escorting to turn it into a career. Not that I was proud of my body, but I liked how it could feel and make others feel. But I felt used, so used and abused. It wasn’t right and I knew it. I was still waking up every morning wanting to die, drinking until I felt dead and using sex as a means to feel a little bit alive.
After the unprotected anal, I got tested with all clean results and in my paranoia, took thirty days of anti-HIV medication, blessing the clinic that helped me get a thousand-dollar prescription at a steep discount.
I was still sleeping around until finishing the regimen, when I felt really forced to reflect on if this type of life was what I really wanted. Someone once said that trouble always found me, but that’s not true: I actively sought it. I went out of my way to not have sex for ten days, and while it wasn’t a relief I did feel slightly better knowing that I could in fact willingly go without it for some time.
I went back to my hometown about halfway through this past semester, and spent some time with my younger sister, who happens to be my best friend in the world. We have a lot in common, understandably; we share DNA and upbringing.
I was an extrovert to her introvert, and I was the problem child to her golden one. But we both had this bottomless sense of loneliness in our psyches, and paradoxically, we reveled in that loneliness together.
Through her, I began to realize that sex is not really a way to fill a void inside of my heart. And even if that I was a route I wanted to take, it shouldn’t bring me as much inner guilt and shame as it was.
I still have casual sex, but it’s no longer a compulsion. I see a counselor for other things going on in my life, but constant shame as a result of intimacy is no longer one of them.