I grew up in the Midwest, surrounded by conservative, religious ideals. No talking about sex, no having sex- sex didn’t exist for us. I remember, not that long ago, anxiously talking to my two high school best friends in the back of a minivan late at night in my driveway. What is a kiss going to be like? What if I get pressured into sex? What if, what if, what if? We didn’t actually know anything about sex. Yes, we’d been through all the health education offered at our school, we knew about condoms and birth control, but we never had use for any of it. Sex wasn’t real for us. When I got to Dartmouth, my whole world changed. You’d expect to hear that I went crazy, hooking up with as many people as possible and having drunk sex every weekend. But that’s not what happened. I followed the norms, followed my friends’ examples. Just followed.
I don’t know when a change occurred, when I found out who I was and what I wanted. But I think it was probably sometime during my Sexperts training; we talked about all the things I always wanted to know, and in many ways this made me feel comfortable with myself.
From that point on, I’ve known who I am and what my sexuality means to me. More importantly, I’ve learned to be very open about not being the “norm.” I don’t want a long-term relationship, an exclusive hook-up, or true love right now. My friends know this because I don’t attempt to hide the fact that I’m not following those strict societal norms anymore.
But recently, I’ve received a lot of criticism for who I am sexually. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. The words “slut” and “whore” are used so frequently in an informal matter that it’s sometimes forgotten the stab of being called a slut. I know that criticism is common, and I believe that anyone confident in themselves should be able to handle it. However, when I started losing friends over “being a slut,” it began to shake my confidence, not only in my sexuality, but my very identity.
So in response to criticism, I began talking. I never thought I would need to explain myself, but apparently I did. I brought up the fact that girls who pursue sex are called “sluts” and “whores” while the names for men in similar situations take on positive connotations, such as “player.” I tried to explain that there are men who want relationships and are criticized for it and pressured into the hook-up culture, just as there are women, like myself, who don’t want relationships and are also criticized. While not immediately obvious, women at Dartmouth are pressured into wanting the thing that every woman “should” want: a boyfriend.
I was forced to discuss the real issue many had with my sexuality: not only that I held “abnormal” opinions, but also that I openly admitted to them. I couldn’t believe that people I saw as my friends were telling me that, although they didn’t really have a problem with my choices, if I could just lie or keep quiet about my sex life, it would be better. “Being a slut” was fine as long as people didn’t know about it.
These people couldn’t have been more wrong. It was being open that saved me. My ability to talk to friends and acquaintances about my choices, and, if not convince them, at least express my views, proved to them and to myself that I liked who I am and what I do. My open confidence in my sexuality helped more than I can possibly explain.When I got into honest, real discussions with my friends, I realized many were holding prejudices not based on their own values, but values imposed upon them by our society. Some even realized they also wished they could do what they wanted without fear of being called “slutty” or getting a certain reputation. Much of their problems with me came from my open discussion of my sexuality and my acceptance of new and non-conforming ideas of anti-exclusivity. Once I realized this, I understood much of their anxiety about me came from their own hatred of opening up about who they really are. Discussing sex and sexuality is one way to do this.
Everyone has the right to think differently about sex, but at the same time, everyone also has a right to talk about it. More importantly, everyone who wants to talk about it should. Otherwise, we end up creating outcasts (in my case, a word I now reject: “sluts”) and strict social norms that limit individual growth. For me, talking to my friends about SEX and my own take on sexuality at Dartmouth enabled me to get past the constricting norms of our gender-divided society, allowing me to be who I really am.