When it comes to sex and relationships, I feel like I’ve done everything right.
By right, I mean that I’ve ascribed to what was expected of me in terms of saving myself for marriage and staying far away from the opposite sex until I’m ready for marriage.
Sex education for me as a young African girl was: keep your legs closed, stay away from boys, don’t talk about sex because it’s dirty and focus on your studies. The main way I accumulated some knowledge about sex was through R&B music and watching sex scenes when no elders were around.
Purity was an expectation for girls, and as a result, when I was 13 years old, I took a purity vow at church, vowing to remain a virgin until marriage. Renouncing all sexual immorality and vowing to remain pure until I wed was one of many rites of passage into womanhood.
I was taught that premarital sex was evil in the eyes of the Lord and dirty. It brought about unwanted pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, eternal damnation from God and shame on my family because I would be a whore for engaging in it.
So, at the age of 13, I learned that my value as a girl came from my virginity. I went through my teens secretly scoffing at girls who dated and had sex, believing that they would never marry because they would be “damaged goods”. However, a part of me longed for what they had, which was the freedom to explore relationships and all that came with it.
Fast forward to college, my mindset remained the same, even though the freedom that college life brought meant that liberal dating and sex was all around me, and I had to have an opinion about it when it was brought up in conversation. I had little to say about because I realized that my understanding of it wasn’t mine.
So instead of figuring out where I stood on the subject, I avoided it like a plague by keeping busy with extramural activities and drowning myself in my studies. I was too afraid to challenge my beliefs about sex, let alone change them, because I felt like I would be losing myself in exchange for something that was dishonorable.
I dated sporadically but my relationships would never last because I would end up feeling dirty and guilty. Feeling turned on and wanting to be touched sent me running for the hills.
I’m now an adult, and in order for me to have a healthy relationship, I have to deal with my beliefs about sex.
Firstly, what am I doing all of this abstinence for? I’ve played the good girl role all my life because I was frightened into believing that sex was ugly. I was fed slut shaming philosophy before I could even understand what sex is.
I feel like my sexuality was advertently policed because of society’s fixation with controlling female life. I wasn’t given a chance to formulate my own opinion, let alone ask basic questions to broaden my understanding.
The church hasn’t helped either with lessening the burden. If it really was the case that spirituality and sexuality are mutually exclusive, why was I made to be a sexual being? Why do I get horny and why do I long to be desired?
What am I supposed to do with the sexual side of myself while unmarried? Do I continue to run and ignore it, or is there some kind of “holy” manual on what to do with sexual thoughts, desires, and feelings?
Marriage is regarded highly by society, as if my womanhood will come alive and everything will fall into place once I get hitched. Am I expected to magically transform into a sexual being who instinctively knows her way around the bedroom once I get married after years of being conditioned that sex is bad and evil?
As I let go of my socially conditioned understanding of sex, I’m beginning to understand that my worth as a woman isn’t determined by my virginity or lack thereof, and that sex is beautiful. This doesn’t mean I’ll jump into the sack with every tom, dick and harry because, like all things in life, you must have an integrity about how you do things, but it does mean that I won’t refrain from sex for fear of being slut shamed or locked out of Heaven.
*image from Thelma Thinks.