Our contributor Katherine Chen, who is a sophomore English major at Princeton University (check out her personal site here), is penning a series of confessions for EMandLO.com collectively called “The Virgin Diaries.” Here’s her sixth installment:
When I first got my period, my mother wanted to avoid the dreaded “Talk” but still convey the fact that I was now capable of being impregnated, so she purchased a number of instructional books that explained how menstruation was actually a natural process and not the product of some disability or mutation. Surprisingly, the topics covered in these books were not confined to anatomy and the scientific mechanics of fertility. A few of them contained quite a healthy bit of sex, too. Well, maybe “healthy” is the wrong choice of words.
I distinctly remember reading about the story of one teenage girl who decides, perhaps against her better judgment, to sneak out of her bedroom in the dead of night and meet up with every parent’s nightmare: the bad boy. A few pages later, this boyfriend attempts to date rape the girl in the back of his car by shoving his hand between her legs, but she manages to escape. My feelings at the time were a combination of dread, fear, excitement, and interest.
Looking back, this one story fueled what would become my complicated fascination with and relationship to all things sex. While it turned me on (probably because it was the first “sex scene” I’d ever been exposed to), it also taught me certain gender roles, however misguided: guys want it, girls don’t; guys are aggressive, girls are submissive. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve been sitting on the sidelines when it comes to actively pursuing sexual partners today. But it’s also one of the reasons I admire certain female porn stars: they always look like they’re having fun and are on top of things (literally) instead of being controlled.
And while that story drove home the lesson that sex was dangerous, it also made me hyper-aware of the widespread occurrence of sex in everyday life. I started seeing it everywhere. Imagine my amusement when a high school English teacher suggested that the cross was a phallic symbol and that the scene in the movie-version of “Hamlet” where Mel Gibson points his sword at his mother’s breast contained strong sexual overtones. Everything, even the absence of sex (for example, when sexual desire is sublimated for a “higher” purpose), could still be explained through sex. This notion transformed libido, at least in my mind, into a truly powerful force with no boundaries, something that is both awe-inspiring and scary.
For better or for worse, my over-analysis of sex has raised my views to such black-and-white extremes that I can no longer reconcile my true feelings about sex in relation to myself. While I have not yet been in a relationship where I seriously considered the prospect of having sex, even if I had been, I doubt I would have known what I wanted to do. On the one hand, having seen all the good that can come from sex, I have placed it on such a high pedestal that if and when I do engage in sexual intercourse with a partner, I fear it will inevitably be disappointing. On the other hand, having also seen all the bad that can come from sex, I am absolutely terrified by its potential consequences, such as the transmission of diseases, unwanted pregnancy and heartbreak. And once I’ve had it, I’m most afraid of losing my outsider’s perspective — I’ll be forever comparing and contrasting my own personal experience with others, which seems like it would be more limiting than liberating.
In the end, I am grateful for my outsider view of sex, and thankful for the fact that I am not yet one of the initiated, if only to prevent myself from getting hurt or disillusioned about something I have built up to “heavenly” proportions. This may come across as contradictory for someone who has just admitted to being fascinated by sex, but I do not believe that I am such an outsider that I cannot understand the important role sex plays in all forms artistic, musical, spiritual, religious and even scientific. Plus, spending all this time thinking about sex enables me to understand better my own opinions about this confusing topic. So until the time comes when I feel confident enough to step outside of my box, writing and reading about sex will do just fine.