Snapshots of Sex: The Millennial Context
Disclaimer: I am a millennial. I am not all millennials, I am but one in a sea of them. But my story is real, it’s familiar — it’s the story of a generation.
I came of age in the times of multiple music players and audio formats. I owned a Walkman, a CD Walkman, a cassette player, a multi-disc player, a mini-disc player, an MP3 player (that only fit 15 songs), and the first Apple iPod — all within a 10 year time window. I dabbled with MySpace, AOL chatrooms, and MSN Messenger before Facebook opened up to the world. And when it did, I was one of the first few on there, riding that Facebook wave as far as it could take me.
Back then, we used to Facebook-friend everybody we came in contact with. I remember friending a girl I had been standing next to in line at the campus Starbucks, simply because we were standing next to each other in line at the campus Starbucks. I remember Facebook before the infinite scroll feature happened. Before it was available on mobile. Before the internet was available on mobile. Back when the most interesting thing on a cell phone was a game called Snake, which consisted of probably 50 pixels lighting up as they moved across a 1x1-inch screen.
I remember planning phone calls around internet time and having a computer with 2 separate and heavy parts that were bigger than my body when put side by side. I remember the exact moment the fickle dial tone connecting me to that mysterious online world would hit that one specific screeching pitch that made me question whether my ears were bleeding. I remember humming along to that same series of notes once I had heard it enough times.
I remember remembering my friends’ phone numbers, and dialing them on my new cordless house phone that would run out of battery before we could finish our 5-hour exhaustive conversations about nothing in particular. I remember helicopter parents that could simply pick up any phone in the house and transport themselves right into our “private” conversations any moment they pleased. Sometimes they announced themselves, with the pretext of saying something newsworthy — like that dinner was ready — and sometimes, they didn’t.
I remember the original purpose of Snapchat, and I hail from the generation that created the need for it.
I remember the feeling I had when I found out the same boyfriend who had taken my v-card hosted some sort of sausage party where he had played our little “sex tape” off his first-generation camera phone (you know, the ones with like 0.5 pixels in the camera and enough memory to hold a whopping 2 minutes of video before they imploded) for all his pimply-faced high school friends after I broke up with him. I suppose I can at least take solace in the fact that this was all before such a film could be uploaded online to something like Reddit or, worse yet, a revenge porn site; and that — generally speaking — on the average screen of any kind these days, you wouldn’t be able to make out a pixelated nipple, even if you tried.
I remember the first sex tradeshow I went to with one of my best friends in our early university years. It was also vanilla for me by then, but not for her. I remember how uncomfortable and weird and simultaneously exciting it was for her. I remember counseling her on which vibrator to buy (it was her first). It was a sensical follow-up to our first lesson on “How to Masturbate” which I had the honor of leading her through (relax, it was over the phone, and not as a play-by-play).
You see, she had been raised in a very religious household where the concepts of sexuality and masturbation were beyond simply taboo — they were things that were untouchable, unmentionable, literally punishable by an eternity in flames. Can you imagine that? I come from a generation that was parented by people who either didn’t talk about sex and turned a blind eye to the “alternative” ways we opted to learn about it; or — worse yet — who policed us and made us feel dirty and conflicted about the very concept of loving our own body.
Here’s the thing. Many of us were never taught to love our body, to worship it, to understand the difference between the two, let alone to let it be done to us on top of feeling ourselves in the first place. Sexuality was always something that was falsely negotiated — it was never ours to give away. The only thing we had was the illusion that we actually had a say in the matter; and, rather than be able to claim it for ourselves, it was like our bodies were territory that was perpetually owned by “the other” and we were only temporary guests, mere tenants, assigned to maintain the property and keep it in working order between the transference of ownerships.
I lost my virginity at 16 to my very first boyfriend. And I know that’s actually rather vanilla, considering what other fellow millennials had been up to at the back of the yellow school bus, for example.
I learned about sex through messing around in AOL chatrooms with my teenage best friend as much as through discovering first generation porn sites — and significantly less than through anything the education system, or my parents ever offered me.
I belong in the “other” category of millennials against the backdrop of those who reportedly have the absolute least sex in the history of humanity. The fellow millennials in my category probably have the most sex ever. Unsolicited, free, loud, uncomfortable, exploratory, raging sex.
I come from the generation that made “it’s complicated” a legitimate relationship status.
I come from the generation where “blue balls” represent a term that was coined to express a state of male being inasmuch as the fact that it is actually possible to have someone be both the cause and the effect of a given status. And that both the cause and the effect mean they are “responsible” for “taking care of” it.
I come from the generation that was sexualized before we were sexualized.
I come from the generation that is divided on whether or not something called “rape culture” exists.
I am a millennial. I’ve been conflicted and confused. I’ve been taken advantage of, I’ve even welcomed it. I’ve said no when I meant yes, and I’ve said yes when I meant no. I’ve said many things and meant other things. I’ve gotten belligerently, incapacitated-level drunk because I wanted so badly to escape the shittiest relationship I’ve ever been in. I’ve been in some kind of altered-state trance that I believed to be love at the time, and I’ve learned that being in love doesn’t usually involve walking on eggshells and being used as a sex toy, picked up whenever the mood calls and discarded whenever it doesn’t.
I’ve had “It’s not rape if you’re my girlfriend” grunted into my ear as I laid helpless and confused with someone inside of me as tears rolled silently down my face. I’ve learned how quickly someone you think you know inside and out can become a stranger.
I’ve never paid or been paid for sex — but then again, it depends on how we define “payment,” doesn’t it? Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve used sex as some form of currency in gaining social capital, and I’ve certainly used sex as some form of validation and as a means to gain acceptance, love, or at least attention for a given moment in time. Welcome to most female millennials. Males, I’m looking at you, too.
I’ve felt firsthand almost every possible emotion along the spectrum having to do with sex. I’ve hate-fucked, I’ve been hate-fucked, I’ve squirted, I’ve had g-spot orgasms that crept up out of nowhere almost instantly. I’ve put a kink in my neck from wild masturbation sessions that lasted hours on end. I’ve had sex in movie theaters, on the dark corners of a beach at midnight, in parking lots of places that really shouldn’t be seeing any sexual activity.
I’ve been used for sex and I’ve used people for sex, and most of the time, both were happening simultaneously. I’ve mixed sex with emotion and, I’ve mastered the art of separating the two. I’ve felt the damage that does, and I’ve incurred damage on those who crossed my path in the process. I’ve felt guilt and shame and everything in between for being hurt, and for perpetuating the cycle in hurting others.
I’ve witnessed my friends freak out over pregnancy tests, envisioning the loaded potential futures and life derailments that were suddenly hanging over them like a moldy ceiling that may have always been there but you only suddenly notice one random unexpected day. I’ve been close enough to a few abortions here and there, and I’ve watched as my male friends dealt with them in a variety of ways. I was there for my friends when they did something they had regretted with someone they barely knew, and I was the first to show up with a bottle of red and a good movie to get them to forget all about it. I was there for them when they found out they would be forced to remember it for the rest of their lives, because here’s a painful truth: men who want sex aren’t going to be upfront about the reasons you shouldn’t, like STDs that don’t go away, for example.
I’ve seen the struggle. I’ve seen the pain. I’ve seen drunken nights in letting loose and claiming ownership and being “free” and I’ve contemplated where the fuck that definition of freedom actually comes from. I’ve been saved in someone’s phone as “Hot Blonde at X Bar.” I’ve had exes message me years later in the middle of the night saying nothing more than, “Do you want to have sex?” and I’ve actually said yes. I’ve cheated and been cheated on, and I’ve seen for myself how easy it is to pull off.
I’ve been sexually assaulted by men in positions of power, and I’ve spent seemingly endless and heavy days in hospitals attempting to put back the pieces of my friends who had experienced things far worse than I did. I’ve seen the after-effects of being date rape drugged, used up and left on the side of the road with one shoe and no personal belongings, and a dress haphazardly zipped back up halfway, all twisted around the body like it’s a mannequin made of plastic rather than real human flesh, with a soul and a story attached to it.
I’ve seen the morning after in all its glory and all its failure. I’ve laughed at mishaps and epic fails, and males reeking of desperation. I’ve been called beautiful and a dumb slut in less than a span of 60 seconds all because I said no. I’ve seen the difference between remembering a night you want to forget, and trying to remember a night that someone else designed to be forgotten. To this day, I’m not sure if it’s more traumatizing to know what was done to you while you were unconscious, or to just have a blank film of memory for three hours that you can only fill via your own imagination.
I’ve felt the eyeballs of judgment and I’ve been victimized and re-victimized, and I’ve felt how it is to be told what I must do and what I must report, and to whom and where I must do it. I’ve felt the weight of all future victims on my shoulders.
I’ve reported assaults only to be poked, provoked, and had every word of my truth questioned by police officers who recorded me squirming in my discomfort and probably enjoyed it. I’ve been told by the same police offers there’s a difference between an “assault” and a “regrettable act,” and I’ve been asked, after all the video cameras and questions and repetitions, if I’m sure that the horrible thing that had happened wasn’t just a case of the latter and not the former. I’ve seen the system fail.
I am a millennial. I’ve gone from complete insecurity about my body to complete freedom enabling me to enjoy everything about it — and I can tell you the difference is mostly in a) how long it takes you to come, and b) how often you can get there. I’ve removed the societal shackles of guilt and shame off my arms, and in other times, I’ve actually wished for them to be put back on me.
The more I think about my relationship with sex, my sexual history, all my sexcapades and my journey of sexual discovery, the more I realize that I’m just as sexually free as I am sexually enslaved. And when you really think about it, you realize how powerful of a truth that is, and how it applies to all of us — not just females, not just millennials, but everyone who has ever had sex outside of the sole purpose of procreating. You realize that freedom and enforced control are actually each what make the other possible; that it’s impossible to have one without the other. That as a female millennial, I am constantly balancing on the tightrope between these two realities, and that as a female millennial, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell you where the “right” side would be to fall.
So I remain, balancing, hanging on for dear life.
I am a millennial. Me discovering my sexuality wasn’t just a part of my coming of age. It was my rebellion, my way of claiming control in an area that I had been consistently made to believe was not my own. But, with the good also comes the ugly.
I am a millennial. I’ve had my fair share of sex, and I still do. But most importantly, I talk about it.
These are my stories. But they are not just mine, they belong to all of us. I am not your average millennial — I am every millennial, and these are our stories. This is our collective narrative, our everlasting negotiation with sex, sexuality, and our personal sexual experiences.
Because, you see, it’s complicated.
But it’s time to talk about it.