Some time late last decade, I accompanied a group of (former) friends to a joint bachelor-bachelorette party weekend at a lake cabin. It was my first such event, and I looked forward to days of girl time, as the genders would be segregated. When I arrived a day later than the rest of the party, I made my way to a dock where eight or so women were sprawled, sipping drinks and sunning themselves. Eagerly, I joined the conversation where the question, “describe your first kiss” had been posed. Surprised at the PG rated topic, I blurted, “describe your loss of virginity”. People began to shift uneasily and an awkwardness replaced the conviviality of moments before. I didn’t understand why, and instead of letting it drop, I pushed forward with my own story. Another woman began to tell her story, which after a few minutes revealed itself to be an account of sexual assault, the telling of which caused her to burst into hysterical sobs, emptying the dock. Her drunken crying was inconsolable and lasted for almost six hours. I had exploded the fun and camaraderie into bits with one simple question. A question I assumed would dominate the weekend’s conversation, because what else would you talk about during a bachelorette party but sex?
This many years later the situation still puzzles me. We were a group of twenty-something women, all in relationships, some married, some dating. Weren’t we in our sexual prime, and wanting to explore what we were doing with our partners and hear about each other’s experiences? Why did the vibe immediately become uncomfortable when I brought up sex? The woman who had been assaulted and I were newest to the friend group, and had no history with the rest, so why was it that we shared and they refused? What was happening in that collective that discussing sex was such a taboo? I’ve observed as the years go by that in many circles of girlfriends, sex is an off-limits subject. Because I’m quite open about sex (thank you Dan Savage and Planned Parenthood!) friends talk to me about it, but feel they can’t with their other friends. And since I’ve never been the type to have one tight friend group (or clique, if you prefer) I assumed everyone was cool with talking about sexuality, because everyone talks about it with me, individually.
I think it’s unhealthy for women NOT to discuss their sexuality in their friend groups. I’ve noticed that not talking about sex can cause people to feel needlessly isolated. I believe it’s paramount to promote a sense of universality when it comes to sexuality. A boon to my development was being encouraged to read Dan Savage’s weekly advice column as an eighth grader. Because people of all passions and problems wrote him, I learned early about sexual diversity. And Dan’s straightforward, sex-positive advice taught me that all forms of sexuality, all kinks, all desires have their place, and thus are natural. It was the foundation from which I built a healthy, vital sense of my own sexuality, and it’s my mission to share this with everyone. There is nothing too gross, or sad, or weird, or good to be shared. Really.
We missed several opportunities that afternoon at the lake. If the group had been open, we could have embraced our new friend when she was brave enough to tell us about her rape. Instead, we allowed her to sequester herself in a room to self-soothe while we slunk off in all directions. Perhaps others in the group had experienced abuse, and we could have supported them if they shared their stories. Or if someone with a funny or awkward or sweet anecdote had piped up first, we could have laughed together and told our own tales of adolescent longing. Maybe the conversation would have flowed from there into discussions about what we were trying out with our current partners, what was working and what wasn’t. We could have learned from each others experiences, and drawn tighter as a group. We could have challenged or healed each other. Instead, the social pressure to remain silent, to keep information hidden won out. We retreated to our respective emotional and mental corners, alone.
It’s wrong for us to keep quiet about our sexuality in our close friendships. How will we ever eradicate Americans’ predilection for shame and discomfort (and the resulting darkness that engenders phenomenon like rape culture, see: #YesAllWomen) if we don’t open up, one conversation at a time?
How interesting that our public media are filled with sexual content but it does nothing to encourage sharing in private conversation. I remember college dorm life being the amazing instruction manual our mothers never handed us–but then after graduation you never talk about it again. Why? Fear, competition, sadness, embarassment? Or is it our Calvinist American heritage? Go hang out with a group of French women and you’ll see the difference.
I agree that it’s baffling how sex is portrayed in the media versus how we talk about it in person.
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