Let’s discuss sex.
The trials and tribulations of growing up a sexualised teen.
The other day I was walking home with my friend late at night. I left her by her house, and walked the 100 metres left to my front door, alone in the dark. As I turned the corner, a drunk man stumbled up to me and breathes in my face, ‘I’ll fuck you for £100’.
I dodge the lumbering idiot and run back to my house.
I’m back in my room, feeling angry. What gives him the right to violate my personal space and safety? I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of treatment. I’m not a piece of meat you can pick up off the street. No.
How do I know this? I know I don’t deserve to be spoken to in this way because I’ve learnt things. I’ve had conversations about sexual violence, sexism and objectification. I’ve read books on the subject, written essays on gender, joined forums discussing how to protest against such behaviour. I know it’s wrong. In that situation, standing face-to-face with a man who was leering at me, the force of all of those voices validated my own self-belief.
I haven’t always been so sure of myself. I haven’t always known that kind of behaviour was wrong.
The age of 12-13 is really rather strange. It’s the first time you encounter real conversations about growing up, about sex, about periods. Your contemporaries speak with what appears to be such authority on these issues. If you don’t understand what they were saying, you fear being perceived as immature or unattractively naive.
Up until that point, sex had always been that funny awkward thing no-one really spoke about. A bit like ‘He who must not be named’, albeit a little less sinister.
Sure, the boys in your maths class would draw willies on almost everything they could get their hands on. But sex wasn’t something you ever thought seriously about. You didn’t have to. The closest I ever got to busting the ‘Stork brings baby’ story was when my parents indadvertedly played something a little too risqué on the TV, and promptly proceeded to cover my eyes.
I remember sitting in my classroom, furiously discussing last night’s episode of 90210 with the girls. In the ‘boys’ corner of the form (not quite past the days of gender segregation), we could all hear incessant giggling. They were recounting the video ‘Two Girls One Cup’ they’d all watched together. ‘Ahhhhh man. It’s so gross. You can see everything’.
You’ve probably all heard of this video. It seemed to be about the only thing schoolkids could talk about for months. That and pictures of ‘blue waffle’ vaginas.
The sheer grossness of the video captivated people’s attention. It seemed funny at the time. But that was my first experience of someone my age talking about sexual activities. From that point onwards, from the age of 12/ 13, I would hear about wanking, about ‘cum’, about blowjobs and so on… and be taught about those things from my male contemporaries.
I had no idea what they were talking about, but the girls around them were laughing, so I should too right? My first knowledge about sex was filtered through immature teenage boys. Teenage boys who had been watching unrealistic representations of sex.
Fast forward 2 years. I’m 15, in my GCSE year at boarding school, getting more and more obsessed with my appearance and social status.
Amazing! The cool boy in the year above told his friend he thought I was ‘fit’. What validation! It was really important for your social prestige that you were highly rated.
The compliments were never as romantic as they seemed in the films. It was never, ‘you’ve got nice eyes’. It was always more crudely sexual. It was things like, ‘You’re a 7/10 would bang’.
One moment stands out as particularly ludicrous now. Someone I had been seeing for a month or so (and broke up with me whilst watching ‘The Holiday’ – seriously who does that?!) told me after he noticed someone saying I was a ‘7/10 would bang’, that he “found my talent”.
Recounting these stories to my friends now, I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. These boys were also so young, most of them probably had only ever kissed a girl in a sweaty disco.
In a moment of nostalgia for the long-lost days of creepy Facebook advances, I decided to scroll through my private message archives. #TBT to the days of objectification, aggressive sexualized conversations and stifled teenage libido.
These screenshots are all conversations I had with boys in older years. They didn’t know me. We’d probably never even spoken face-to-face before. Yet, it was totally normal to tell me how many beers they would have to have before they slept with me, or to which ‘base’ they’d go. I cringe so much at my responses. I know now what I should have said – ‘Leave me alone you creep’. But I didn’t.
The advances made me feel actively uncomfortable – these older boys were talking about sex in such a casual manner, despite my only previous experience of it being filtered through accounts of porn from my male peers. I had no idea what I was saying. But I didn’t challenge the behaviour, despite knowing it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Fast forward another two years. I am 18, just about to come to university. I’ve been flirting with a boy for quite some time now. I think I really fancy him. I get excited when he texts me. We’re both back in London and meet up on a night out. He ends up back at my house, after insisting that he comes back. In a ‘gentlemanly’ manner he pays for the taxi. I put on a film when we get inside because I want to create a distraction from his very obvious desire to have sex. I’m scared, I don’t want to be in this position. I try and laugh at ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and appear to be engrossed in the film. He’s clearly getting a bit bored, and perhaps doesn’t understand the subtleties of the film. What do I do?
An hour later, he’s left the house. I didn’t want to have sex with him, but I did. I told him to stop mid-way because I was in emotional and physical pain. He gets frustrated, turns me on my back and finishes himself off on me.
I’m left feeling confused, a little bit broken and disappointed.
A month after this experience (which has totally ruined ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ for me), I started university. During Fresher’s week, I was invited to attend consent classes. ‘I don’t need consent classes’, I said. ‘Consent is so simple’ – it’s when someone actively doesn’t want to have sex, and they are raped.
A year and half on, I’m looking at my fresher self telling her not to be silly. I wish I could have told the Ellie just a month before to say to no to that boy. It would have saved her from feeling like a piece of meat, something someone just sought their temporary pleasure from. It would have made sex seem less sinister from that point on.
I wish I could tell her that consent isn’t black and white. I would explain to her that the principle of having autonomy over your own body, about being enthusiastic to have sex, not having to feel scared to say no, are all so important.
Maybe that Ellie, who was just about to start her university experience, didn’t want to face up to the reality of how utterly shit she felt after that night in London.
It’s been almost two years since that night in London, and I’m comfortable to talk about my experiences.
I know that I didn’t deserve to be treated like that, and have the confidence to say NO when I mean it.
Little anecdote for you: Last term, an imposing boy (translation: complete and utter wanker) in my year spat on myself and several other girls in Cindies, I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed. I understood that in that action, he was trying to convey his power over the female sex. He was trying to demean and humiliate me.
Three years ago I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to tell that guy to get lost. I know I certainly didn’t bat an eye-lid when the rugby team would share around naked pictures of their girlfriends, or refer to sex as “business”. I know I actively tried to dress in a way which would appeal to guys my age. I know I spent too much time obsessing over how much makeup I was wearing, and not enough time revising French vocab.
But, step-by-step, I’ve learnt things. I’m more confident in my beliefs.
It makes me sad to think about my notions of self-worth built on other people’s perception of my outward appearance. I wish I could go back to my 12 year old self, and tell her to stop listening to those messages which made her uncomfortable. I know it would have made her a happier person.
It’s amazing how many people my age have a catalogue of comparable experiences. I recommend speaking up. It makes you angry. But you know what – for once that anger feels really really good.