Freshman year of college, your professor in ‘Reclaiming Human Rights for Communities of Color’ tells you she teaches her daughter consent through the most basic forms of contact. If someone asks for a hug, she makes sure her daughter knows she’s not obligated to give that person a hug, she can say no to unwanted touch. Think about this, and all the people you’ve let touch you without asking.
. . .
Touch. Touch yourself. Let others touch you; touch you any way they like. Touch you roughly. Touch you deceitfully. Touch your breasts. Touch your waist. Touch the rolls of your stomach. Touch your thighs. Touch your ass. Touch your panties. Touch your vulva. Touch the inside of you. Let others touch you without asking. Let them touch you in silence.
On an unseasonably warm night in February, you meet a man at a party you pay $10 to get into. The night will imprint on you. From time to time, you will find yourself thinking about him involuntarily; about the night warmth was attracted to his body and you were attracted to warm bodies.
You will share first kiss together on a dance floor overrun with people, sweat creating a shiny wet sheen on both your foreheads. Think nothing as your limp arms wrap around his neck and his tight grip rhythmically grinds your ass against his waist. Think nothing.
At 3 a.m. the party will end and bodyguards will guide the crowd into the cold with a harshness. He will offer you shelter. You, shivering and stranded in Brooklyn, will accept. Let me him guide you to his BMW. Unclench as the heated seat warms you. Allow yourself to confuse warmth as safety.
Say: “We’re not having sex.”
He’ll respond by chuckling the way older men do at young girls’ naïveté. Ask yourself: Would you still be in a stranger’s car driving through Brooklyn at 4 a.m. if you’d been taught the dangers of yearning for something as precarious as human warmth? Wonder if a part of you likes the danger (and the pain that comes after).
When your mother finds out you’ve been watching porn at the age of thirteen she’ll unscrew your bedroom door off its hinges and throw it out. She’ll yell, “that’s not a realistic depiction of sex! Sex means more than that. Sex is special!” With a good amount of bad porn and sex with men, you’ll disagree. You will never be able to explain to your mother that you mainly watch porn for the female orgasm. You wonder if they’re all fake. Explore multiple categories: medical kinks, orgasm torture, squirting, female masturbation. You don’t consider yourself someone who gets turned on by other people’s pleasure. You just like to watch women come.
. . .
Fantasize someone watching as you climax. Not out of exhibitionist desires, rather out of the desire to not come ugly. Learn how to make the most attractive sound. How to take the smallest intake of breath. How to grab the bed sheets to form the perfect scrunch. Practice letting go before having to do so in front of someone else.
The most uncontrollable thing you do is the shaking of your thighs. You have the irrational fear of popping someone’s head like a balloon between your legs as your muscles tighten. It’s the locking of muscles, the way you lose grip failing to rein in your own strength. The way your body parts tremor rebelliously. Imagine holding someone like that in the throes of orgasm. You’ve practice coming so many times that you’ve settled on your favorite word to say mid-orgasm: an all-breath, urgent, right at climax, “fuck”. Say it to yourself as you masturbate, approaching climax. Gradually get louder, infusing more urgent gasps as you begin to come.
. . .
You lose your virginity for the story. Your mother wants your heterosexuality so badly she supplies you with the condoms and leaves you in your hotel room for five hours with a boy you met in a club in Cuba two days prior. There’s something fascinatingly crude about sex with a man. Clinical. Robotic. Performative. The sex itself is lackluster, but you’ll tell people it was the best relationship you’d ever had. The following day, confess to your mother your thoughts on your possible asexuality.
“How can you say that?! I saw you with that boy! I’ve never seen you smile like that!” You’ve hurt her feelings.
When you ask your mother whether she likes sex or just does it to have done it, she’ll tell you a story. Eighteen years old, she loses her virginity to her first boyfriend and continues to withstand six months of painful sex.
“It’s just the way things are,” she’ll say. “It’s normal.”
Your mother finds reassurance in her tolerance for pain. This is how you relate to one another, through a shared experience of pain, except one of you understands pain as a challenge to overcome and the other understands it as an indication of a problem.
Every time she tells you this story, you’ll want to reach back in time and give her eighteen-year-old self a hug. You won’t be able to imagine your mother at eighteen, confused by a pain burrowed so deep within her she can’t assign a name to it. In attempting to conjure up such visualizations, you’ll see yourself. Feel your own eighteen-year-old desires and make them your mother’s at that age. Tell them that bearing through pain doesn’t make you a stronger woman. Teach them how to say no, how to use it with confidence.
Feel. Feel him touch your back. Feel him touch your ass. Feel him touch your neck, then your cheek, then your lips, then your hair. Feel him hold your hand. Feel its warmth. Feel him lead you to his car. Get lost. Feel his cotton bed sheets. Feel him lay down next to you. Feel his arm wrap itself across your waist. Feel his hard-on press in-between your ass cheeks. Feel his fingers hook onto your panties. Feel them slip off.
“You’re so wet,” he’ll breath into your ear.
. . .
You won’t be able recall the sound of his voice, just the way it made you want to disappear. Think about how a small spider must feel moments before being squashed — this consciousness of its own smallness — and you’ll feel it.
Watch as he hovers over you deep in concentration, his breathing heavy and itchy on your face, eyes darting between your expression and his impaling you. Wonder what it must feel like to witness surrender first-hand. From his looming position on top of you, wonder what he sees. Does he see you as weak as you feel?
Periodically, fragments will resurface of the liquified coconut oil, brought in from his kitchen pantry, scooped out of its jar with one cupped hand and sloppily smeared onto your vagina as makeshift lube. Feel the memory of two fingers pushing their way inside with a roughness. Become a doll. Become a boat allowing itself to be carried by the current.
You’d once heard of a woman who became a dominatrix to reclaim herself, her body. She would think of the men that hurt her as she punishes lost men in dark suits seeking an escape. Attempt to imagine the sadistic pleasure she must’ve reveled in the weak men that came to her pleading for release. Naked, lying on top of an unknown man’s crumpled bed sheet, realize that one cannot imagine the unimaginable.
Once he releases you, ask to use the bathroom. Gather your discarded clothes from his bedroom floor. The bathroom’s fluorescent overhead lighting will sting. Close your eyes. Let out a shaky breath. Open. Get dressed.
Your hands will tremor as they search for the tag in the neckline of your shirt before pulling it over your head. Stare at them as they shake. Wonder what just happened. Try to put the pieces together and fail. Recall telling the man in the other room that you weren’t having sex. Recall his chuckle from the driver’s seat of his BMW. Recall you having sex. Begin to question yourself.
Wonder: Does telling someone you’re not having sex and then being rendered silent as he takes off your clothes equal consent? Your stomach will hurt, but not to worry, it is really your vagina sore and pulsating from recent penetration. Realize one can’t really hold their vagina, so hold your cervix instead.
Recite the following: ‘Maybe he didn’t hear me? Maybe I wasn’t loud enough? Maybe I lacked insistence? Maybe I seemed unsure? Am I still unsure? Maybe silent acceptance after-the-fact means no one will believe? Do I even have a real reason for crying right now? Does he know I’m weak? Maybe weakness is a kind of pheromone? Why are you so weak? I’m weak, and stupid, and stupid, and stupid, and weak.’
. . .
Afterwards you’ll be on a train, unsure of how you got there. The way home will be instinctual. Your bones know which stop to take. They know the walk back to your apartment. They know which floor you live on, which solid grey door is yours. They can smell your bedsheets, their resemblance to a damp flowerbed. Your Victoria Secret burgundy hipsters will be forever lost somewhere in that apartment he shares with his roommate. Try to picture him finding them. Wonder what he’ll do with them. Wonder if you’re good enough to be memorialized through a keepsake. Imagine them at the bottom of his trash can.
When you finally realize you’ve gone home wearing no underwear with a stranger’s ejaculate inside you, ask Siri where the nearest Planned Parenthood is. Call the number.
“Planned Parenthood, this is Berna. How can I help you today?”
Benumbed, say: “Hi. I’d like to make an appointment.”
Sitting in a Planned Parenthood’s waiting room chair that’s been bolted to the floor, wonder what he’s said about you after that night. Wonder how he’s chosen to explain your hasty departure. If he’s gone through the trouble of explaining your rushing out the bathroom and providing a lame excuse about needing to rush home. Perhaps he’s said nothing, told no one. Ask yourself: Are you even worth the story?
The doctor on duty at the Planned Parenthood that day is a middle-aged white woman. The nurse leaves you in a stark office with furniture that looks as if it were stolen from a middle school classroom. Upon her arrival, the doctor will greet you in an exasperated tone. She’ll let out a sigh of relief as she plants herself in the office chair across from you.
“So, you’re here for an STD screening?” Provide a sound of confirmation in response.
She requires reading glasses to properly examine the Dell computer screen where your patient profile lies. She’ll tell you that you’re HIV free in a congratulatory tone. You expect some sensation of relief, some weight to be lifted, but none will come.
Tell her: “Nice.” Say it with a small smile.
It’ll take two weeks for the other test results to be processed. Outside the Planned Parenthood building hold yourself in the soft felt of your sweater. Recall the day after that night. The day you spent in bed, smothered in your duvet, unbathed, your only sustenance an entire box of Wheat Thins. Recall waking up and remembering; your quiet heaves as to not wake your roommate; the intrusive feelings of shame; the quiet numbness you attempt to shove away with your sixth marathon of Friends. Imagine two weeks of this, of feeling so dirty and stupid you surmise that there is no amount of soap and scrubbing that will cleanse you. Excessive scrubbing can become a self-harm practice. Repeated scrubbing can cause skin trauma. Your therapist would call this a “regression.” Wonder how your mother can hide her damage so well.
Do not listen to the non-believers. A body can haunt. That body is your own. Exist in this thing that haunts you. Allow each haunting to wash over you. Close your eyes. Inhale deeply. Feel your lungs expand. Hold. Hold. Hold until your chest begins to tighten; until your brain, confused, starts to panic. Release.
. . .
The first time you experience the use of proper consent during sex will also be your first time with a woman. She’ll look you straight in the eyes, unflinchingly. It’ll make you uncomfortable. It’ll make you want to run. Resist the urge.
“Can I kiss you?” She’ll ask in a soft, sultry voice.
Wonder if that’s the trick. To make consent sound sexy bring your voice an octave lower and ask a question like you’re reading a book to a group of kindergartners right before nap-time.
Hesitantly respond with: “Um, yeah. You know you don’t have to ask.” She’ll look at you as if you’ve given the wrong answer.
“Yes. I do,” she’ll say, deadpanned.
She’ll be the one to give you your first orgasm during sex. She’ll be ingrained in your personal history as the first person to hear you say “fuck” at climax in between urgent gasps. Smile the whole way home. Smile lying in bed, remembering. Write her a poem.
On the one-year anniversary of the night you became a rag-doll in a stranger’s bed, you will still feel him. Your vaginal walls clench at the memory. Shiver at the feeling. Wonder if what you’re feeling is actually arousal. If you’re actually restraining from letting your hand slip into your panties to rub one out. Are you turned on? Were you turned on? Does the memory of violation turn you on? How gross you are. Feel shame. Be ashamed.
Planned Parenthood will email from time to time. They will wish you a happy birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving. They will write you emails with the subject: “Remember us?” You’ll want to forget. Sometimes you’ll want to forget so badly it’ll bring you to tears; forget the pain of him inside you—that overwhelming betrayal—the slow sensation of losing something over and over again in intense bursts. Your vagina will ask for the past to be scraped from her walls. You will keep delivering the news that she is forever tainted; that you cannot change the past. She shares her memory of pain with you. Accept it. Sit with it. Allow it to reassure you of your own existence.
Close your eyes. Inhale deeply. Feel your lungs expand. Hold. Hold. Hold until your chest begins to tighten; until your brain, confused, starts to panic. Release.
Greta McGee, an American-Italian born and raised in New York City. Her creative fiction and nonfiction reports on the body, spirit, and mind as they work together. She is a 2021 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.
Image By: Greta McGee