My first sexual experience with a boy – a man of 19 when I was a summer shy of 16 – was rooted in assault. Every touch, kiss, and fondle was coerced from me.
His breath smelled, he sat too close, his fingers hurt my tender skin as he dug his way down into my jeans and then into my body. He reeked of Obsession. I refused to let him look at me naked, never took off my clothes, but he managed to snake his hands onto my flesh and they explored my virgin body instead. In broad daylight all over his parents’ house, exposed and helpless.
He called me every night long past a decent calling time and kept me up until 3 and 4 in the morning. I dragged myself to work at the pool where we both taught swim lessons and lifeguarded; I shied away from him in public. I didn’t want anyone to know about us.
I can still taste the kiss he planted on me after his lunch of a big Dairy Queen burger with onions.
One warm summer night my friends and I all dipped into the Everclear stash of Tammy’s drunken, passed out father. My friends were vaguely aware that this 19 yo man and I were dating, but they didn’t press. He and Tammy had dated for several months and every night he’d sneak in her bedroom window and fuck her while her father lay passed out on the couch in the living room.
By all accounts, despite being a year younger than me, she had wanted it and him and thus everyone assumed I did, too. Not wanting to appear less sophisticated than her I didn’t correct them.
The liquor stoked a restlessness within me. He knew I was there and what I was doing and he’d told me to sneak out and come see him. To do what, exactly, I never considered. My innocent 15 yo brain could only explore so far before my imagination gave out, romance novels notwithstanding.
With enough alcohol to embolden me I called him and shared my plan: I would steal one of the 16 year old’s cars who was too drunk to notice and drive across town to see him. But just for a little while. “Don’t take advantage of me,” I said.
Underage, without a license, I traversed my little bedroom town and parked in front of his house. He was waiting for me in the dark awning of his converted garage bedroom.
I don’t remember what we said to each other except that I said those magical, protective words again: Please. Don’t take advantage of me. I felt light and hot and like a grown up. Wild and free. I’d told him not to hurt me so therefore he wouldn’t.
I knew he wanted me – whatever that meant – and that felt like power.
We kissed in the dark, alone and in his bedroom, a place we had never spent time before. He walked me backwards towards his bed. His room smelled foreign and faintly like dirty laundry. Like a musky boy.
The backs of my legs hit the bed and we stopped. I stopped. This was enough. I was done. But how??
He was not done.
He pulled off my shirt and I crossed my arms over my bra. He pulled my hands apart and took off my bra. I had never been topless in front of him and I shivered with embarrassment, a vague sense of wrong washed over me, but… I had put myself here.
He pushed me back on the bed, pulled down my pants and I shuddered with humiliation thinking he could see in the dim porch light that I was wearing my mother’s high-waisted underwear. He didn’t notice that I was wearing my mother’s panties.
He only wanted them off.
I froze as he slipped them past my straight little hips and off my foot, pushed my knees apart and put his face between my legs. There. Where no one had ever been before, where I had not asked, where he had no right to be.
His tongue was hot and wet and acid. Mortification, horror, fear pressed me deep into the mattress. I was disgusted that he seemed to be enjoying it.
I pulled him up, told him to stop, and he kissed me as if it were a lovers moment, my first experience ever of tasting myself on a man’s lips and I pressed mine shut and turned away.
He pulled me into his arms to lay on his bed. I thought it was over. That he’d gotten what he wanted and I was safe again. Stiffly I lay against his bare chest. He was in only underpants. I didn’t know what to say.
Then he took my hand – I thought he wanted to hold it – but instead forced it down to his groin, to his hot, hard skin. I snatched my hand away as if it were burned, sat up and couldn’t stop the verbal outpouring.
“I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go,” I said. “No, no, no,” spilled out to nothing as he helplessly watched me find my clothing in the dark. Retroactive words that couldn’t turn back time.
I was sober now.
He continued to treat it like it was a tender moment between us and hugged my stiff body goodbye. I walked to the little red Pontiac Le Mans 5-speed and drove back to my friend’s house and cried.
I cried because it was my fault. I cried because I was supposed to feel differently than this, this despondence, this hurled into space feeling.
I had called him, flirted with him, went to him.
I hadn’t fought or slapped or kicked or said even one word to him to make him stop.
But none of what had happened had felt right — nothing about our entire “relationship” had felt right — but I was raised on dysfunctional interactions with men – you must be so beautiful you stop traffic, so desirable you make him reckless and irrational, so lovely you make him weep. Not listening to how I felt with him was what I’d been bred to do: what I needed never mattered.
He shipped out the following fall and married a sad creature from our high school. He occasionally wrote me letters telling me how special I was. By then I didn’t care. I no longer wanted to impress him.
A decade or so later, with a divorce and two children under his belt – including a daughter – he apologized for that night. He avoided calling it assault, but he acknowledged that if I never wanted to speak to him again he deserved it. My reply was gracious, but lackluster. I had shrunken it down: It was just a bad night.
I wish I could remember when I named that night for what it was. It wasn’t right away, I know that. For years I considered that just another really bad sexual experience, a bad start. “Sexual assault” was too hard to swallow.
I didn’t date another boy until I was in college and those fumbling attempts at sex were consensual, though I was barely present. I would drink too much and throw myself at these boys and descend upon them fearlessly, my tender heart a million miles away.
I fucked like that throughout my 20s, through serious boyfriends who’d paw at me and beg and wear me down until I finally said yes, through drunken liaisons with hot, willing men in bars whose names I barely knew.
Close to 30 I began to try to marry sex with emotion and embarked on sober sex with a lover or two before I met my exhusband – who was so not sexually charged that I considered him safe enough to open up with. I had missed the mark again.
Another decade and I left our sexless marriage and was back to heartless fucking and a lot more “bad sex.”
Sex when I didn’t want to have it after a wonderful date.
Oral sex when I had said I didn’t want it.
Being abused by a “so-called dominant.”
Being fondled in public on a first date without my consent.
Being completely ignored when I said “No, not tonight.”
Maybe having sex with the bastard who dragged me across a room filled with people into a dark bedroom, but I can’t remember because I was so fucked up or maybe I just blocked that part out.
The date with the Frenchman who coerced me into his car, into his apartment, and into letting him jam his disgusting, fat tongue down my throat.
The same Frenchman who insisted on pawing me and trying to sneak his hand up my skirt despite my many firm NOs.
The light-weight chef who blamed the whiskey or two he’d consumed on his boorish sexual advances.
I literally cannot count the number of times I have been physically assaulted in my life — Twenty-five? Fifty? — let alone count the number of times I have been assaulted by unsolicited dick pics and disgusting “erotic” messages online. If I had to guess at that combined number it’d have to be in the thousands.
After a couple of winter assaults in 2016 I began 2017 with a date at a swanky restaurant with Rex, a feminist and bleeding heart liberal. Imagine my surprise when I registered the shock on his face as I told him, “Literally every woman you know has been sexually assaulted. Every. Woman.” He should know this already, right?? But, no.
He wanted to know more, why hadn’t I reported anything ever? A bad thing happened to me at the hands of someone else and I should report such bad things. “Because it wouldn’t have held up in court; I know what kind of world I live in. I did X, Y, Z and a jury would find me at fault.”
He had no idea that No didn’t actually mean No to a whole lot of men out there, that women felt compelled to follow through with a situation because she felt responsible, that some women — myself included — did things with her body because it might mitigate potential violence should she try to fully stop her date, that all women understand she bears the burden of proof and if one signal were mixed she has no legal leg to stand on.
I began to feel responsible for the mixed signals I had given. How would he know if I didn’t say No? If I didn’t fight? If I ended up just going along with it because my body responded to his touch? I was a part of the problem, too, then right? I was actively contributing to misinformation about sex and women and the miseducation of men. Wasn’t I?
It wasn’t until this fall, right as the Harvey Weinstein news was crashing down upon us all, that I wondered this aloud to a young man who wanted to connect with me before we embarked on a sexual relationship.
Nate and I sat in his dark Volvo outside my building and he listened to my concerns and he became incensed at my logic. Incensed.
I could hear the horror in his voice as he realized I was owning the revolting behavior of the men who had hurt me over the years. “NO, HY. NO. MEN KNOW WHEN A WOMAN DOESN’T WANT IT.”
“But what if I didn’t want him to know??”
“But what if I went along with it?”
“But what if eventually I just stopped saying No??”
“NO NO NO NO NO. WE ALWAYS KNOW.”
The windows steamed up from his shouting. I felt like I had been punched. Not by him — no, I was in awe of his emotion about this — but by a new reality: those incidents hadn’t just been “bad dates” with ignorant, stupid men, they had been sexual assaults by men who knew better.
They knew they were hurting me.
They knew they were pressuring and pushing me.
They knew I didn’t want to.
Just like that 19 yo boyfriend always knew.
I don’t think that this makes every man who assaulted me a bad man and a predator. It makes him irresponsible, possibly an opportunist, certainly a jerk, but not an automatic menace to society. That would require more data if we are to be fair.
And a man is as much a product of his socializing to conquer and take sex as I have been socialized to please and give it. Imagine how different our world would be if we raised our men to give sex rather than take or get it.
Honestly, how the fuck are any of us to know when No is a real-No and a No is an I’m-Supposed-to-Say-This-So-You-Don’t-Think-I’m-Easy-No. Aziz Ansari is a numbnut dipshit and a perfect example of this and that date personifies my guilt about my role in all of this.
He [willfully] believed all her dodging and eventual capitulations were part of a consensual chase, that it was his role to pursue, but those two poor souls were definitely not on the same date. She was in hell, he was the romantic hero of his own romance novel. But he still knew, he just assigned a different meaning to her behaviors.
She was being coy, playing hard to get, and if he could somehow convince her to say Yes then it was consensual. Score 1 for the good guy!
And she’s thinking, “If I say Yes, then maybe it’ll stop.” Or, “Maybe it won’t be that bad.” Or, “Maybe he really doesn’t know and I won’t die if I just do it.” Or, “I did invite him back to my apartment/go to his apartment/a secluded area/his car so I’ve given the signal I’m interested and I can’t stop now.”
This issue does not lay at the feet of only women to solve. It is not about us saying No louder or avoiding situations or running away or “just leaving.” It’s about men understanding that it lays equally at their feet to be honest, present, and responsible.
Men need to question the model of masculinity handed to them, the Patriarchy which tells them once turned on it is their duty and right to satiate their need by any means necessary.
Women must reject what’s been handed to them, as well, this belief that they are solely responsible for what happens to them. If only she hadn’t worn that skirt, had that drink, said Yes the last date/hour/minute then this wouldn’t have happened to her.
What we’re taught is breathtakingly fucked up.
Once we realize what we’ve been spoon fed we all – both men and women – need a path to redemption. Men need an avenue to a safe place for growth and forgiveness and women need a route to believe in her inherent human value and her rights to safety with men.
Being violent is only the most obvious assault, but it’s not the only way men force their sexual will on women. They also intimidate, beg, cajole, plead, manipulate, wear down, corner, argue, and insist upon.
And because he didn’t raise a hand against her he believes he did nothing wrong and the woman who just went against her instincts to survive the encounter is left with a jagged empty space in her heart and a truckload of guilt for bringing it upon herself.
But he knew.
And now we know, too.
Post inspired by Katie’s, “Not that bad.”