The Elephants In The Room Are Humping

I don’t write much about sexual wellness, mostly because I don’t feel qualified. I feel fantastically qualified to write about sexual unwellness, but as for bringing the same kind of insights to this topic as I might bring to running, yoga, nutrition, emotional health, frugality; nope. I really can’t. Yet. Because there is a point at which we realize we have begun the recovery process from a prolonged period of unwellness, and I can’t say that I’ve even begun. Unless this is the beginning.

My earliest lessons regarding sex were learned in observation, because no one talked to me about sex or puberty unless it was to admonish or chastise me. I had to learn by listening and watching, and later, asking questions of my various peer groups. My earliest memories of sex were porn magazines my parents kept in the house, easily accessible to me (oldest child) and my siblings. If I had to guess I’d say I was still in single digit years (under 10 years old). Porn littered the house. Drugs littered the house. There were parties with lots of drinking. My parents and their friends used drugs in front of us. It was not a wholesome environment.

When we (the children) were caught with the porn mags we weren’t punished because it was assumed we were too young to understand it. Shortly thereafter my mother began entertaining lovers in her bed, in our home, while my father was working the night shift at a factory job. We met these men. They sometimes came over to the apartment before we were sent to bed. They called my mother on the telephone as well, and sometimes we answered. We’d hear Mom having sexy conversations and then the invitations to visit. I remember Charlie. I remember Tony. I remember Tex. When they came to the apartment we were given special treats, like soda or candy. We talked with them as if they were friends of the family. Sometimes we sat on their laps.

I clearly remember trying to impress Tony with my superior intellect by pointing out that the label on the Mello Yello bottle was spelled incorrectly. “That’s not how you spell mellow or yellow,” I stated. Imagine a little girl version Dwight Schrute. Tony told me I was right, which was satisfying, so I went on to say that my Dad was going to be mad when he came home because the Mello Yellos were reserved for him, and we were not allowed to drink them. My bold move got us sent to bed.

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We usually went to our bedrooms unable to sleep, high on sugar and the stimulus of social visitors so close to bedtime. We listened to Mom having loud, very vocal sex with these men in the next room. One night my little brother came to my room, which I shared with two sisters, and asked me, “Is Tony hurting Mama?” I didn’t think so. But how could I know? My sisters chimed in. “It sounds like he’s hurting her.” I didn’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to reassure them but I knew we’d all be in trouble for getting up after bedtime. Instead of going back to bed my brother went to investigate. He opened the door to my parents’ bedroom. My mother screamed for me to get him out.

I pause now to marvel that my mother didn’t get up off her naked ass and handle the situation herself, rather than dumping it on me, a child. But I digress …

I scrambled to comply. My sisters followed. Neither Mom nor Tony stopped what they were doing. My mother’s legs were high in the air. Her enormous breasts were flopping around. Tony’s naked butt was thrusting at her. He was grunting. The  four of us stood in the doorway in shock while my mother continued to yell at me to get everyone back to bed. I obeyed. The sex continued. My sisters and I listened and discussed what we’d seen. We didn’t understand it but it was assumed it must not hurt or Mom wouldn’t still be doing it. Later Mom came out of the bedroom. She checked to see if we were asleep. We weren’t, but we were obediently quiet in our beds. My sister asked, “Was Tony hurting you?” My mother laughed and told her No. Afterward we heard Mom and Tony giggling about this in the kitchen.

One night my mother drugged three of us to make us fall asleep early. She and Tony took my youngest sister into the shower with them and forced her watch them have sex, then molested her. My sister told. My father berated me to confess what might have been done to me but I had no memory of anything he suggested. He took me to a doctor. The doctor asked me questions about my genitalia. I was embarrassed. I denied any wrongdoing. The doctor coerced me to pull down my pants so he could examine me. My father watched. His face was so stern I knew I was in trouble for something. The doctor said he needed to take a look at my hips to make sure no one had hurt me. I was frightened by that statement. I didn’t understand but I obeyed to prove my innocence.

I pulled down my pants. The doctor made me get on all fours with my pants down. He spread my genitals and looked at them. He spread my butt cheeks. I was mortified. I swore I had done nothing wrong. He told my father he didn’t see any damage. I was concerned about the word damage. Neither of them would explain any more to me. I pulled up my pants. My father bought me an Icee on the way home. Tony came back again but my mother didn’t let him in. He banged on the door and begged my mother. He was loud and hysterical. He pretended to cry to get her to open up. He pretended to pee his pants in the hallway to get her to open up. My siblings and I were terrified. My mother smoked cigarettes and told us to be quiet.

Mom didn’t change her extramarital behavior but she stopped having liaisons at home. When I was old enough to babysit (I probably wasn’t old enough), she went out. I was bribed not to tell or bribed to lie if Dad called or came home. She’d put on her makeup and large hoop earrings. That’s how we knew she was going out to meet a man; she always wore the hoops. Russet lipstick. Penciled eyebrows. Cross Your Heart bra that turned her chest into twin torpedoes. Shiny bell-bottom pants we called her disco pants. Platform heels. Avon fingernails. Drugstore perfume. My father called her a whore. He also surmised that since she didn’t start acting like this until after she’d gotten her tubes tied, this must be what happens to women after they can’t have babies anymore.

I pause again to marvel at that statement as well. My father’s understanding of feminine biology was such that he believed an interruption in the ability to reproduce turns a woman bad. But I digress again …

When a boy in our apartment building starting kissing me and fondling me in the basement, I let him. It didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t let him. He showed me an illustration of a belly dancer in a book and told me he planned to get his mother to sew an outfit like that for me. He said we were going to get married. Married people touched each other under their clothes, so it wasn’t wrong. With no education to the contrary I had no reason to disbelieve. He told me I was beautiful and that he loved me. We were making out in the basement when someone opened the door. The boy panicked and jumped away from me as if what we were doing was indeed very wrong. The incident was reported to our parents. His mother screamed at my mother in the corridor that it wasn’t a surprise she was raising a little tramp just like her.

I received a vigorous spanking and was grounded to my bedroom. When I failed to answer the question of where I’d learned such behavior I was spanked again. And again. I was told I should be ashamed of myself. The word nasty was used repeatedly. Allowing boys to kiss me or touch me made me dirty. My parents were disgusted with me. I was ordered to stay away from that boy and all boys. Anything sexual was then described as Nasty Stuff. When that boy saw me in the building or on the grounds he recoiled and avoided me as ordered by his mother, but his scorn was so visible I felt shunned. Beautiful no longer. Loved no longer. Betrothed no longer. I was untouchable, unspeakable, unacceptable.

By the time puberty began we no longer lived in the same place. There were more disturbances and incidents. My father lost his job. We moved so many times it seemed part of our lifestyle. There must have been a drug bust or a report of some kind because my parents went to court-ordered rehab to keep from going to jail. Afterward we were so destitute my father began taking us to churches with food pantries. If we sat through a Sunday morning sermon we could go home with a bag of groceries. One of those sermons must have worked or many sermons wore down Dad’s defenses. He exchanged hard partying for hard religious fundamentalism. The first rule of our new life — my developing body was sinful.

My mother didn’t assimilate well to our new life on the straight and narrow. She stayed home while the five of us trooped to church three times per week. She continued to find men and drugs. We prayed for her. It didn’t help much. I got dressed for vacation Bible school in a dress with a smocked bodice. My tiny new breasts were swelling beneath, sore as hell. My siblings and I were standing outside waiting for the church bus to arrive. My mother sat on the steps and stared at my baby breasts. I tried to cover them with my Bible but it was too painful to press anything against them. My mother reached out with an index finger and poked one of my breasts, hard, and smirked. “What’s that?” she asked. When I jerked away from her and said, “No! Don’t!” she laughed at me. It hurt, both the poke and her jesting at my expense.

One night my father ordered me to attend a special service by a famous evangelist on tour. My mother didn’t attend. My father left my siblings at home, reasoning that with three kids to manage she couldn’t go whoring around town. I presented myself ready to go in white pants and a red top with shoulder straps. I thought the top was a good choice because it was edged with bright white piping, bore a bright white rose, and looked snappy with my white pants. But it did not sufficiently hide my growing puberty breasts and I didn’t yet own a bra. My father challenged my mother, “Can’t you put her in something that covers her better than that?” I was humiliated. My mother sniped back, “She doesn’t have anything else!” I went to the service feeling like a sideshow freak.

We moved into a duplex, inhabiting the upstairs unit. The couple who lived downstairs hired me to clean their unit twice a week. The wife had an enormous collection of paperback porn novels, and of course, the husband had all the popular porn mags. Out of curiosity I snuck a few peeks inside those paperbacks and was treated to the lurid details of fantasy scenario sex scenes that are typical of the genre. It was a story about a man who moved into an apartment building and immediately formed sexual relationships with his neighbors, specifically a mother and daughter who lived alone. The language was so plain, graphic, and descriptive that there was no way NOT to understand it.

In truth, it was the most opportunity to learn about the mechanics of sex, arousal, and the functions of sex organs I’d ever had up to that point. But I would soon regret it. When the husband downstairs began hitting on me the wife told my mother to keep me away from him. She probably meant well but my mother blamed me. Of course I lost the cleaning job but I also got a fresh application of criticism and shame. It felt worse than before because now I finally knew what everyone was insinuating about me. Now I knew what sex was (from a porn book). This was why everyone was so angry with me, even though I’d never had any sex and didn’t want to have any sex.

Fast forward a few years. After the divorce. After several religious backslides. After much vacillation between drug life and church life, back and forth, back and forth, sinner, saint, sinner, saint, I become a teenager listening to my father have sex with girlfriends on the other side of the wall in another apartment building. When the adult lesbian downstairs began openly flirting with me, it was my fault. When teenage boys started sniffing around or trying to call me on the phone, I was punished for not discouraging them enough. I was forbidden to be awake without wearing a bra; couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom without putting on a bra. My body was wrong, bad, and dangerous, ergo I was wrong, bad, and irresponsible for not controlling it. If anyone noticed my body or displayed any attraction or interest in my physical presence, I was incriminated.

When my uncle began groping me at Grandma’s house I didn’t dare speak up. I knew I’d be blamed and punished. When an older boy at the bus stop propositioned me in front of a group of his friends, pointing at my breasts and asking in a loud catcall, “Why don’t you give me some of that?” I didn’t answer. I just swallowed it as they laughed and laughed and told no one. I started wearing a jacket over my breasts every day on the bus. Secretly I wondered why it was okay for other people to talk about sex, joke about sex, read books about sex, look at pictures of naked people or watch sex on TV, and have sex loudly enough to be heard through the wall. Everyone around me was oriented to sex but I was perpetually indoctrinated that I should stop inciting sexual interest from the world at large with my very existence. It was crazy-making.

I made the girl’s basketball team in high school. The school brought in a doctor to give us all physicals before we were allowed to play. We had to strip down to bras and panties. The doctor saw us individually in a private room with no chaperone. He wore blue hospital scrubs. He had a visible erection. His penis was leaking through his scrubs. They were wet. He didn’t bother to hide it. He got his stethoscope caught in one of my bra cups. He apologized and pretended it was an accident. He asked me if I had a boyfriend. I lied and said yes. He positioned himself on a stool between my legs with my ankles in his hands. He stared directly at the crotch of my panties the entire time and explained some ankle exercises I could do to make them stronger. He suggested I get a partner to help me with them. “Your boyfriend will love it,” he said.

When I got dressed and waited with the other girls on the team I asked if he had done anything creepy with any of them. A couple of the alpha girls sneered at me and vehemently denied it, saying, “Eew gross, no! You’re the one that’s creepy. What’s wrong with you?” So I didn’t speak up at school. I didn’t speak up at home. I knew I wouldn’t be protected, I’d be blamed. When a friend of the family took me hiking and fondled me in the woods, asking to plan more private outings with him, and doing what I now know is considered sexual grooming of a child, I was blamed. I was scolded and rebuked for not understanding it or realizing what he was doing. Me and my stupid body kept attracting all these predatory adults and the reaction of my parents was to berate me for being so stupid. This set me up for decades of dysfunctional sexual development.

Never, not even one time, did a responsible adult take the time to explain anything to me, educate me, or counsel me. All I ever got from adults regarding sex was reproach or a sexual advance. By the time I was sexually active my personal boundaries were so screwed up I really had no hope of making safe or healthy choices for myself. I learned about sex first from porn and later by questioning my friends (a pitifully poor source of information) and eventually by just blundering my way through sex. I was so ignorant and confused that I didn’t even realize my first sexual experience was legally rape.

When I lost my virginity I truly did not know sex was happening until the man pulled my pants down. I thought we were going to sit on his bed and listen to records because his roommate was using the living room. When he turned out the lights and made his move I had no frame of reference for it. At first I froze. Then I relaxed a bit when he began the familiar motions of making out. Though inexperienced, I knew we were making out. I understood that much. Did I know this could or would lead to intercourse? No, but before I could stop to think about it my pants were coming down. He pulled me on top of him immediately before I was penetrated, and then I knew. I was having sex. This was sex.

I didn’t know it would hurt. I didn’t know what else to do but wait for it to be over. I didn’t know I would bleed. I didn’t know it was a crime because he was an adult. I was fifteen. He didn’t hold me down. He did not prevent me from leaving. There was no struggle. There was no force. I never said Stop, or No, or even Wait. I didn’t say anything. I don’t remember making a sound of any kind. It escalated so quickly and he pulled me on top so I was penetrated without any pause. One smooth, painful stab, and I was suddenly having sex. I was so woefully unprepared to handle it that my lack of consent was probably construed as consent. I wouldn’t know for years later than a fifteen year old cannot consent to sex with an adult.

What I did know, with complete assurance, is that it was undoubtedly my fault. My heart palps even as I type those words because this was the one thing I did know at fifteen years old. Any bad thing that happened to me regarding my body was my fault, and this had been ground into me with more penetrating force than the entry of that man’s penis. I was stupid for not knowing better, I was stupid for not stopping it, I was stupid for even putting myself in that position in the first place, and there was no one to blame except good ole Yours Truly, as always.

A friend from school took me to a free clinic for birth control. Yes, after the fact. In order to get condoms from the clinic teens had to sit through a mandatory sex education class, which I did. Then and only then did I get an objective non-porn lesson in sex and pregnancy — after I’d already let an adult have sex with me. I didn’t get pregnant but the man told other people in the apartment complex, with special emphasis on my virginity. For every swinging dick in the complex it was open season on propositioning me, because from his perspective I’d been willing. Word spread. I felt hunted every time I left the apartment. I stopped going to the pool altogether.

I came home drunk one night and my father decided I must be in some kind of teen trouble. (Gee, ya think?) So he went through my room looking for clues as to my teen issues. (Couldn’t possibly be rooted in shitty parenting, right?) He found the birth control items I’d put away in a safe place and lost his temper. He slapped me so hard my neck hurt for a week. He compared me to my mother and used the word whore. No concern, no compassion, no worry at all that maybe I’d stumbled into getting myself raped; just anger and more lashings of my character. Everyone in my life now thought ill of me, peers and family alike. When a teen boy my own age felt sorry for me and reached out to me in a friendly way, I was so relieved that I fell for it.

He buttered me up with sympathy and attention for a few weeks, pretending to like me, pretending he didn’t want anything from me other than my company. He held my hand. He carried my books and gym bag. He sat with me under the pine trees behind the complex and talked to me — just talked. Once again I didn’t know it was an act. I didn’t know this was an overture; precursor to an advance. I didn’t know anything about such tactics. I didn’t know to suspect he was gradually softening my defenses. I didn’t know he was working me. I was so grateful to have a friend, any friend; so relieved to have someone like me. When we went for a walk in the woods and he made a dirty joke I thought it truly a joke and I felt safe to laugh. It was obviously a signal to him that I my naivete had peaked, so he told me he was in love with me. I believed him.

He initiated an oral sex act that I didn’t understand until we were already doing it. When I realized what was happening I went along as before, ignorantly not knowing I could or should say No or disengage. I also desperately didn’t want to seem like a tease. I’d heard being a tease was worse than being a whore. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t knowledgeable about things everyone else seemed to know but me. As before, I waited for it to be over. There was no pleasure in it. It felt insulting. It felt crude. I felt dazed afterward; shell-shocked far worse than my previous experience because this time my emotions had been involved. This time I’d been manipulated. And he came in my mouth. He walked me home silently, didn’t say goodbye, and then told everyone at school the next day.

After that he pretended like he didn’t know me, stopped calling me, ignored me completely. But everyone knew what I’d done with him in the woods. And you know whose fault this was? You guessed it. If the God I understood back then had come down from Heaven and personally told me otherwise, I wouldn’t have believed Him. I knew better. I was so stupid I got myself tricked into giving a boy a blowjob before I even knew what a blowjob was. How could I not know? How could I not say No? How could I just go along with it and then dare act like I’d been wronged in some way? I couldn’t. I didn’t. Every boy at school now thought he could get a blowjob from me. I was miserable. The girls knew too, and were far more cruel. My siblings told me what people said about me behind my back. The damage compounded.

My sex life as a young adult got much worse, as in much less healthy. I was fucked up, sexually, emotionally; I was probably acting out symptoms of depression and disorder. I didn’t know it, of course. My beliefs and evolving attitudes toward sex were destructively unhealthy. I got myself educated (and then some) and took many risks. I came into my adulthood believing that sex was a required performance, with expectations and prerequisites, and that I must execute certain behaviors in order to be desired, which was the equivalent of being loved. I cringe now to remember the things that happened, always with the some pattern — someone else introduced an activity and I went along with it either out of ignorance or the misguided belief that if I didn’t no one would want me. So much of it was simply to avoid rejection but all of it was the behavior of a person deeply unwell.

And then there were the things I did that I did not want to do and did not enjoy because I was led to believe it made me valued, more prized, and made someone else a lucky man. All the sexpot posturing I learned earned me superlative social awards. I played along just to keep my titles until eventually I wasn’t playing any more. It was my persona. My partners bragged about what I would do and I was so screwed up I took it as a compliment. My overt sexuality became part of my identity to the point that when I was genuinely harassed I was so desensitized I didn’t even bother being offended. I was probably asking for it, because in truth, sexual connotation was my default form of communication. Sometimes I wonder how I didn’t die. Sometimes I think I did die.

Even after the sexual madness stopped, several marriages ended,  and I entered an emotional recovery period, the language lingered. Up until very recently I enjoyed the fact that I held an honorary degree in inappropriate conversations. Sexual humor was still my strongest social asset and there was no forum in which I wouldn’t use this commentary. It was still my default because it was so easy. It was a skill I perfected. It made people laugh. It made people like me even if I wasn’t sleeping around. It was only very recently that someone left me an opening to zing everyone with a sizzling sexual comment and I didn’t take it. For the first time ever I told myself, You don’t have to be that girl anymore.

Thirty years, y’all.

Twenty years to take back my body.

Thirty years to take back my mind.

As a wellness enthusiast regarding the #MeToo movement now sweeping the country, these memories are triggered and I want to write about sexual wellness. I really want to. I want to help. I want to provide answers and spell out in brilliant prose the way things should be. I want to be an uplifting influence, a voice of hope or reason or insight. But I can’t. Yet. Because of all the aspects of my personal recovery, this part has only just begun to heal. I’m still at the beginning phase of this part. I have a burning desire to join the discussion but I’m still underqualified by virtue of being a recovery rookie when it comes to personal — much less national/global — sexual wellness.

Well, except to say that I know the reason there are so many #MeToo stories breaking around the world right now is that sexual wellness becomes social wellness. More to the point, sexual unwellness becomes social unwellness. I’m just one, but look at how many others. I know what it does to a young girl to be raised by people who are sexually unwell. I know what becomes of such a girl. I know what happens when she grows up and becomes an unwell woman coupling with unwell men in an unwell sexual culture. Multiply by every woman. Multiply by every man. I know what would have been better. I know a lot about what not to do. I know what I’d say to hypothetical daughters, and more importantly, what I wouldn’t say. And to hypothetical sons; equally as important.

At 45 years old and I am only now beginning to unravel these knots but every time another story of sexual unwellness breaks, my ire is tempered with what I know now — that the entire population is kindred to me with such knots. We are all knotted and we are all victims of whomever and whatever tied them and we are all suffering the damage done by living in bondage. We all became who and what we are through a process, over time. None of us were born deviant or predatory; we were taught. None of us were born victims; we were compelled. When our sexual unwellness inevitably runs aground, I can tell you firsthand that slapping each other in the face or humiliating each other is neither therapy nor justice. It will only make us worse. All of us.

— Mercy

2 Comments Add yours

  1. mishedup says:

    god I love you.

    Like

    1. Renaissance Heart says:

      I love you more.

      Like

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