…and how a zine about it changed my life
In regards to our sexual histories, the initial confrontation and honest reflection may be emotional; it may tear at our strings of shame, bring our fears boiling to the top, but I’m an advocate for feeling those raw, first clenching emotions over the flat line reservation that indifference and silence perpetuate.
It’s 20I4, I’m a self-indulgent 20 year old enjoying the safe, comforting feeling of perusing the Internet in my own room. My room has always been home base, that specially designed place where I can let my heart, curiosity and expression run freely, typically resulting in books and art supplies covering the floor to remind me where I want to go. I clean once a week or so, but I end up back at square one, looking at the physical expression of my internal state.
Anyway: the internet. You know how it goes these days, one click to the next, and I find myself immersed in an online pdf of the zine Learning Good Consent. I can’t help but wonder what it is that this consent culture all about, and why have I never heard about it before. Barely halfway through the publication, I am crying. I had never been exposed to these questions in relation to sex, and I felt simultaneously cheated by my past as well as liberated as my own history flickered through my mind. Answering and reflecting on these “consent questions” was like watching the sunrise as a warm light exposed all of the things that I could never see at night.
You see, I grew up right in the middle of two brothers, and we were all two years apart, which means that I was surrounded by dudes growing up, and at times, puberty was a ragin’. Hormones happen, and as humans, we get curious about sex around puberty. Well, my friends, turns out a lot of other shit happens too when there are no healthy conversations around sex. Not at school, not at home, not in the movies and shows we see on TV.
It’s 2004, and I – a rebellious, angst-y 7th grader – am lying in my older brother’s room with two of his closest friends, one of whom apparently had the hots for me. The other pretends to be asleep only feet away from us. Even though South Park was blaring from the T.V., the silence between us is suffocating. Adreneline is rushing through me, and next thing I know, hands are exploring my body; up my shirt, down my pants. It’s exciting, but I’ve never done this before, so I just lay there, and let it happen. Moments later he pulls me on top of him and I right as I’m thinking “shit, I don’t know how to make out”, my brother barrels through the door with a big “what the fuck is going on? Get the fuck out of my room.” He calls me names, oblivious to the severity of his words. I retaliate with a string of harsh words I’m sure, and retreat to my room to call my best friend. I don’t sleep. After the shaking subsides, I watch the sun come up and feel the cocktail of conflicting emotions morph into a stoic indifference; my best defense mechanism. This moment drove a wedge between my brother and me. It will be years before we talk about it, and even more before I begin to fully analyze the implications of what happened.
I agreed to go into that room with him, I knew something was about to happen, and honestly, I was excited to explore the feelings taking place down below. But why did it end so harshly? Why did I feel so shitty? And I wonder to myself now, why did someone else feel entitled enough to my body to just begin touching me like that? Why was I the one who was “slut-shamed” at school? Why did my brother have so much animosity towards me after this? And dear god, why was there no communication between us about what we were doing?
There never was. The experience with my brother’s friend was the diving board leading to my plunge into the world of sex. And it got unhealthier as I got older. It got unhealthier when I really started having sex. It got unhealthier when I was dating someone who was sucking me dry, someone who was severely unwell, emotionally abusive, someone who wouldn’t make the effort to converse with my family, but would instigate complex strategies to sneak us out of our houses to have sex in his family’s car. It got unhealthier when drinking was involved. And despite never having talked about these issues with anyone else, I knew that something was very wrong. I could feel it in the pits of my stomach. And sometimes I felt like a clam, when I would express these feelings and it was received negatively, back into the shell I’d go, “peace out intuition.” For example, I recall calling my partner to tell him I was uncomfortable we had been drunk for our first time having sex. He laughed, comforting me with a simple, eloquently put, “it’s all good, dude.”
I used this phrase until it made me sick. But guess what you guys?
It’s not all good.
Sexual expression is a beautiful extension of our souls, yet so many kids growing up today are socially banned from this topic.
It’s not all good when there is no conversation; when you grow up watching parents “owe” each other things, when your teachers tell you not to let those pesky boys “deflower” you; the principal tells you to wear different clothes and not be distracting while the boys ask you on dates because you’re one of the first ones to have boobs; when you are laying in bed feeling like you’ve just been the means to an end. It’s not all good when you’re not even given the chance to say no.
For a long time, I couldn’t process what was missing. I wanted to experiment sexually. However, this realm wasn’t nurturing. I mean…you kind of just know its not nurturing when you wake up remembering that you fell asleep crying after sex.
I can see now that quite a few things were missing. For starters: consent, communication, respect, and um, hello, orgasms…?
To me, the culture of consent goes beyond just sex and is a means to cultivating safe, respectful, and nurturing relationships with other humans, and unfortunately many people have not been exposed to it. So, awkward as it may feel at times, we have to be the ones to make the changes we want to see in our lives. (Shout out: Ghandi) There is no gray area to sexual consent. However, how we cultivate it in our relationships is up to our own creative desires, and varies from couple to couple. I found an immense amount of courage and strength from simply starting to work against the belief that talking about sex is taboo. My friends and I were suddenly sitting around eating sweet potatoes and talking about masturbating, our desires, awkward encounters. Time and time again when I shared my stories, my friends would open up as well.
It makes me cry thinking about all the people, the kids, living today and having similar experiences to mine growing up. And that is why this issue of consent, and of relating sexually is bigger than just us and our shitty experiences.
Regardless of your gender or sexual expression, let your experiences guide you. Carry them proudly on your shoulders and let them be the fuel to your fire. A friend said to me once that ”knowing who you don’t want to be is just as important as knowing who you do.” I scribbled this phrase in my journal and have to remind myself often. We are here to create ourselves, and that is precisely what we must do. When you’re ready, share your stories in a safe space that you are comfortable with, engage in the conversation, because every story matters. Just like how the courage of the people who wrote that consent zine started a healing journey and a complete paradigm shift for me, yours might just be exactly what someone else needs to hear.
To learn more about consent culture, grab a cup of tea and check out the zine that changed my life here.
- Lauryn Flavin