A journey to becoming a sexual being. Slightly warped by hindsight.
This is going to be a long story. I will tell all of it. I want to tell my story of how I became sexually aware to illustrate a point why being sex positive is such an important thing to promote. I consider my story a success story. It could have ended much worse for me. I see the stories of people for whom it did end much worse and it fills me with such sadness. It’s not their fault. If only they had been lucky enough to grow up in circumstances similar to my own, those stories might be different too. All these memories are as honest as I can make them.
If I have to pick a start of my journey to becoming a sexual being, it starts appropriately in a car. My parent’s car to be exact. It would be over a decade before I would realize it had anything at all to do with sexuality. But the memory is clear as day.
I was six or seven years old. At that time I lived with my parents in the south of the Netherlands. We had moved there from Amsterdam, a drive of about 3 hours. Often we would make that drive to go see friends. And when we did, I would keep myself entertained with a Flemish comic series called “Suske en Wiske” I was a huge fan. Looking back it makes absolute sense I would be. It was my first science fiction obsession. A crazy old scientist! Time travel! Historic adventures! A man with superhuman strength! And best of all, the two title roles, Suske (the boy) and Wiske (the girl) were kids and mostly the heroes of the stories.
Wiske had a tendency to get herself in trouble with the adults. She got scolded a lot. She also got spanked a lot. When I was a kid, a good number of the comic books were already ‘old’ so spanking wasn't seen as controversial. It was just punishment for bad kids.
In one particular comic I kept in the car for these hour long drives, she got grabbed and spanked by someone dressed up in what looked suspiciously similar to an executioner hood. This is hindsight again, seven year old me wasn't aware what an executioner was, let alone what kind of clothing they would wear. But that was the page. That page made me feel funny. And I liked that funny feeling. I could reread that one page over and over.
(In name of full disclosure, I feel I should add my parents didn't spank me.)
That funny feeling started to come up in other things as well. Like the dutch audio cassette of “Sans Famille” (Alone in the world). The part where the orphans get beaten. The sound effects on my cassette were very…explicit. Linked to this memory is one of my mother bragging to a friend what an easy child I was. That I could sit quietly with my headphones on for hours, listening to stories with a blush of excitement. I do remember feeling a little embarrassed right then, deciding never to let on I got a weird pleasure listening to someone getting beaten. That was a part of me no one needed to know about. I much preferred them praising my social skills and empathy. I guess I did have remarkable social skills and empathy for a seven year old. I can’t say if that was natural or me compensating for what I thought of as ‘my mean streak’.
The next step on my Journey comes a year later. It’s one of those memories that has stayed with me. It involved a friend of my brother, three years younger than me and just for that fact he was annoying and someone who was to be tolerated. That day he insisted on playing Barbies with me for a while. He promptly put a Ken on top of a Barbie and started making weird breathing noises. I asked what in the world he was doing and he explained the dolls were having sex. I was horrified. Not because of sex, but because there was a 5 year old who knew more about something than I did! That was an outrage. I could not let that stand. It was my mission in my 8 year old life to find out everything I possibly could about this ‘sex’ so it would never happen again. An other memory, vaguer but still there after all these years, was confusion about why books so obviously written for children were kept in the adult section of the library. When I finished my mission I thought I knew everything there was to know about sex.
Armed with all the knowledge adults were comfortable giving a bright but naive girl under ten, I took it upon my self to inform my friends of my own age all about sex so they would not have to suffer the injustice of knowing less than an annoying 5 year old. That is not my own memory, but one relayed back to me by a childhood friend one evening over drinks when we were both in our twenties . We ended up laughing so hard tears were rolling down our cheeks. I had been her first sexual education. And as hilarious as her story was, I am still strangely satisfied to say I had not been technically wrong. But boy, I was naive as could be.
Then right before I turned ten my parents moved to Aruba. It was a difficult move for me. The remarkable social skills and empathy my parents used to brag about were no match for the culture shock and language barrier. I went from the popular girl to being able to count my friends on one hand and still have fingers left over. I was lonely. I was bored. I started eating. I was never skinny but in these years I put on much more weight. Before long I was fat, lonely and bored.
The one good thing to come out of our move to Aruba, was the swimming. I had always been a good swimmer. I got my swimming certificate at 5 years old when we were still living in Amsterdam. And life on a tropical island is a beach. My parents, concerned about my weight gain, decided I needed exercise and I took to water sports as a fish to water (pardon the puns). I won gold on several swimming competitions. But as I progressed through the skill levels I ran into an obstacle. My difficulty with diving. I couldn't dive far. I dove deep. Maybe that had something to do with being overweight, maybe it was just a particularity of mine, but it did get me benched on the swim team because diving deep instead of far cost me time. It didn't matter because I had lost my interest in competition swimming. I had discovered something far more interesting. Synchronized swimming. So challenging. So graceful. At 12 I was swimming in shows for tourists at the hotels. Shows I got paid for. Forty dollars a week for a 12 year old girl was a small fortune. Sadly that didn't last. While my technique was great and that was reason enough for the coaches of the group to put me in the shows, the hotel complained. They didn't want a fat preteen who had just gone into the awkward body phase in a bathing suit in a show. I got benched again. That would have been more difficult for me if it weren't for 2 things; almost all of the pretty 18 year olds who made up the core of the synchronized swimming team all left the island around the same time to study, leaving the team with nothing but 12 and 13 year olds who might not have been as fat as me but were no less awkward. The hotel decided to fire the whole team. And I had had enough of the synchronized swimming, I was ready to tackle the next water sport; SCUBA diving.
This story about me and water sports is important to the next part of my story, so people reading this will understand. Water, and being under water, was my second home. When I wanted to start SCUBA diving, I could swim 50 meters underwater with just the air in my lunges. I could keep my shoulders out of the water with my arms raised over my head for at least 5 minutes. I could pull and push bodies twice my size around at any depth. And when needed, I could get the hell out of dodge. When in water, drowning or fear were never on my mind. That’s not to say I was fearless on my first dive. But the fear came from the underwater life. I went to great lengths not to touch anything. Not one slimy, creepy thing. One of the dive instructors presumably thought that was funny and pushed me into a field of soft orange seaweed. It was harmless. But yes, it felt slimy. I was visibly upset over it. I think that was the moment I got marked as being ‘out of my element’.
The next dive, the other instructor told me he would be my buddy. When SCUBA diving you always dive in pairs for safety. Your diving buddy. Since I was the youngest, they had told me I would always be paired up with one of the two instructors. I was still upset with the one who had pushed me into the seaweed, so I was happy with the new arrangement. Once in the water, he signed for me to follow him. We were swimming away from the main group. He did know of a very pretty coral growth, one with a lot of little colorful tropical fish. Once we got there he signed me a circle with his thumb and index finger “everything okay?” (thumbs up underwater means “go up”) and I returned it to him. Everything was fine, the place was beautiful, I was happy to hang around and look here for a while.
It was fine until I felt him reach between my legs from behind me, pull aside my bathing suit and tried to stick a finger in me.
He had obviously under-estimated how hard a former synchronized swimmer can kick a man backwards under water and how fast a former team swimmer can get away when you give her fins. Even a 12 year old one.
Thanks to the crystal clear waters around here, I could find the boat without even bothering with my compass.
This stands out to me. I was not panicking. I was swimming at high speed but not full speed. I remember making sure I made my getaway at one depth and made a slow, controlled ascent like I was taught. I was disgusted with the instructor, but never ashamed with myself. My parents had had this talk with me about ‘bad people’ who would do things to kids and how that would never be the kids fault. That those adults were sick in the head. That if you see someone like that you should get away from them and go find an other adult. Above all I was really pissed off my dive was over.
All of the boat ride I avoided everyone and angrily stared out in front of me. I just wanted to be left alone and everyone did leave me alone.
Then when we got to shore and were rinsing the salt off out equipment, I did something really stupid. The instructor called me from the door of his office, saying he wanted to talk to me and offering me some pizza. I decided to go and hear him out. I have no idea why. Maybe because I was expecting an apology. Maybe I thought I deserved that pizza to make up what happened to me. When I got there, he did start out by saying how good a swimmer I am and how he thought I was a sweet and pretty girl. I was going to accept that as an apology. I really was. Then he asked if he could give me a hug. I said yes. Hugs were fine, I got hugs all the time from all kinds of people, so why not? He hugged me with one arm and then I saw him pull out his penis with his other hand. And I was angry again. Not shocked, angry. Again I could get away. pushed him off while ducking under his arm. I think my innocence saved me more than anything, I called him stupid. What I knew of sex, was what I learned on my information gathering mission when I was 8. Among those things was “sex is for grownups”. Somehow I got it in my head that children could not have sex. Like, physically impossible somehow. I was angry this grown man did not know that. So I told him. “I can’t have sex with you. I’m too young to have sex.” I was scolding him. I remember this like it was yesterday. I was wagging my finger at him. And he started laughing. And then he said “Okay.” He also started saying something about “Someday” but by then I was already walking outside and slamming the door behind me. I made sure I never was anywhere near this man again and I never went diving with this diving school again.
I didn't tell any adults because any adults would just make a huge scene and I thought that wasn't necessary. I was afraid they would never let me do anything on my own again. Adults were so upset about other adults that wanted to touch kids. With the things I had been taught I felt I had handled myself pretty well. I had gotten away, stood up for myself loud and clear and it had worked. I was staying away so he would not touch me again. This growing up thing would be a breeze.
A bit later I would tell two friends what happened. I know now how remarkable it is that they believed me without question and the thought I had done something wrong never crossed any of our minds. They told me the guy was an asshole and they were happy I got away before things had gotten worse. I remember asking rhetorically how much worse it could have gotten anyway, since I was a child and could not have sex. It was then that one of the girls quietly filled me in on the concept of rape. I was shocked to hear adults could in fact have sex with children. And that it was something I escaped.
Suddenly sex became something scary. And so I tried not to have anything at all to do with it for a while. Not think about it, not talk about it and not read about it either. Nope, not for me.
In my memory it was a long time I deliberately avoided anything to do with sex. Chronologically it could not have been very long. Puberty was coming on fast and with it all the hormones that would create sexual awareness. Sexual awareness is a completely different thing than sexual knowledge. So far sex had been an abstract concept and a mechanical thing people could do with their bodies. While I knew a lot of people did have sex, I could for the life of me not understand why anyone would want to.
That changed when we went on vacation in Venezuela. I must have just turned 13, maybe I was still 12. My mother, my brother and I traveled with a friend of my mother. This friend had friends in Venezuela with a huge house where we could stay instead of an hotel. A lovely couple who had a son who was going to university. Because he had vacation too, a week after we arrived in Venezuela he too came home to the same house we were staying. I think he was called Anthony. That is probably wrong though, Ive always been terrible with remembering names.
Anthony’s room was in the basement. it had those kind of windows that were high up in the wall when you stood in the room. but at ground level when you stood outside. One evening, while I was laying in the hammock outside, looking at the fire flies, I heard music coming from Anthony’s room. To me it sounded like good music. I had just gotten interested in rock and this music had some good electric guitar in it. I wandered over to the window, thinking Anthony was just playing music. Although my Spanish was lousy I was sure we could sort of connect over song.
When I got to the window, I saw Anthony was not listening to music. He was practicing nunchucks choreographed to the music. He was pretty good too, as far as I could tell. I stood there hypnotized by the flying pieces of wood. It was beautiful. I don’t know how long I was watching him, but at some point he turned and saw me. He yelped and grabbed for a shirt to cover his topless torso. That was the moment I really noticed that I had not only been looking at someone practicing a martial art with some skill, but I had been looking at a young, topless man who created those movement. At the same moment I realized I had been intruding on what was a private ritual I was not supposed to see. I felt funny again.
To this day I still have a thing for martial arts and the way men move when they practice it.
This was the same vacation that I discovered, some days later, that if I have this ‘funny’ feeling rubbing between my legs makes that feeling stronger. It would be some time still before I discovered where exactly to rub. My first attempts at masturbation didn't make me orgasm. But it did make the evenings when I was in bed unable to sleep much more fun.
Here’s the thing that makes me really fortunate. My mind has never emotionally connected my desire with what happened during that SCUBA dive. It left a huge impact somehow. I can call up that memory any time I wish. When I do I still get angry. But it has never come up involuntary when a partner touches me. It has never come up during sex, either with a partner or solo. The other memories I mentioned in this piece do. I sometimes still masturbate to the memory of the comic page. I have been masturbating to the memory of flying nunchucks ever since discovering masturbation. Just the man handling those nunchucks has changed so often I can’t tell anymore what Anthony looked like. I might be able to recognize him by the way he moves though.
As I got older and learned more about sex, what sexually turns me on and the issues around sex, this disconnect confused the hell out of me. Learning about other women’s experiences with sexual assault and the devastation that leaves on their lives, left me wondering why I would be so different. I was starting to get afraid I was suppressing things and that at some point of my life all emotional hell would break lose. I was starting to worry that my interests in the rougher side of sex had been caused by my experience with the SCUBA instructor and were damaging somehow. Specially when I started to develop rape fantasies.
I was putting an intellectual weight on an event that just wasn't emotionally there. I know that now. The difficulty I had with coming to terms with what happened wasn't caused by how I felt about it, but how I thought I was supposed to feel about it but didn't. Which made me fear I was more broken than I dared to admit to. In short, I went through a phase I mentally tortured myself unnecessary.
I have now come to accept my story did end different from a lot of other girls and the reason it did has very little to do with me. Part of it was pure luck and a miscalculation on the side of my attacker. Part of it is my natural arrogance and a tendency to think that I am right and know everything. I was really convinced I knew all there was to know about sex. That’s one thing this experience taught me; I can always be very wrong.
But the biggest reason is my parents and those around me. Even though I made the choice to not tell my parents they helped me by bringing me up without shame for my body and without the notion that sex is bad or something you should be ashamed of. Those I did tell believed me and never said a bad word about me.
I've also come to accept that if anything, what happened turned me off BDSM for a while. Maybe, had it not happened, I would even be more into the hardcore stuff than I am now, I guess I will never know for sure. But my interests predate my incident. I dare say I am in a healthy place sexually and I place the credit on an environment free of shame, victim blaming and overall sex negativity. This is the difference an attitude can make.