A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with the lovely Mr Hunt about our previous experiences. Probably seventeen years later than others might have had it, but it just hasn’t ever been important. I knew he’d been engaged before, and I knew about one or two other girlfriends. At no point did I assume I knew the whole story, nor did I share everything from my life story.
Nineteen or twenty mistakes…I haven’t made that many, and yes, I know Joan Rivers said this tongue in cheek. Should it be different for girls?
When I was a teenager and trying to set rules for myself I heard or came up with “never do anything you regret: never regret anything you do,” and I rolled these thoughts around for a while. I came to conclusion that I should trust my gut, if something doesn’t feel right in the moment I shouldn’t do it. On the other hand, if I made the best judgement at the time, I shouldn’t second guess myself later with the benefit of hindsight. So, if I had sex with someone I never perceived it as a mistake.
As a parent, my approach with my children is consistent across their genders. Part of this is possibly because I don’t feel attached to a gender label and can’t really see why gender should make a difference to how you approach self-esteem or health. I am concerned about the same things: that they respect themselves and potential future partners and that they make choices to protect themselves and others as a sign of that respect. Pretty much that is it. I have no illusion that they will love every person they sleep with or that they be completely ready before they start making those choices. It is my job to help them information gather now, while they are young, so they know what respect for themselves and partners might look like.
Identifying as non binary, there is little expectation on my older two children. Are they expected to behave as men because they are penis owners? I hope they are free to make their own path without having to negotiate gendered expectation.
When I was their age, I absorbed a whole lot of expectation and shame around sex I do not want for my children. The concept of “what good girls do” and how this was different from boys and men were allowed to do was evident from the first Mills and Boon I devoured at about age nine. Bond slept with every girl in the films, and their only purpose was to meet with a sticky end, just to show bad girls always ended up in trouble. Good girls presented themselves a certain way, did certain things and most important was the list of things they didn’t do.
Apparently, I was a good girl.
Except I wasn’t. Not really a girl. Not particularly good.
I had a very active imagination and fairly active friends. Before I had any action at all, I had been voyeur to friends’ sexual experiences many times. I think we thought this was a safety thing, that we had sex on sleepovers in rooms filled with our friends as though they weren’t there. Or rather, others had sex. I listened. Jealous.
Then my friends orchestrated an experience for me… lined me up with an appropriate gentleman at an event with drinks and suddenly I was topless in the woods.
The sky didn’t fall in.
And I liked it.
And the next time.
Fuck I felt powerful. Wanted.
I collected experiences wherever I could.
But I also absorbed other rules. Boys didn’t like girls who pretended a one-night stand (or a one-hour stand) was anything other than that. I resolved to be the best one night stand they could have. I didn’t cling. I went home. I didn’t call. And if asked, I left a random number. If men could do that, then I could also. Well, when with guys. I didn’t do that with girls… it felt wrong. I was just as guilty of the double standard, treating people differently by gender.
I have no regrets. They were not mistakes. I might not do the same things again, but I went with the best information I had at the time and had fun without worrying if they liked me, or if I was any good, because I had taken control and had chosen to walk away. When friends or acquaintances were involved, I framed it as a shared moment with no ongoing significance.
The ultimate moment of power was to finally hook up with my mid teen crush at a sleep over party when I was in my twenties, and then carry on at breakfast the next morning as though nothing extraordinary had happened.
I might be autistic and shit at reading responses, but I know I surprised him. And doing that is a more powerful memory than the sex. In fact the act had little to do with sex and was all about power.
This person didn’t make nineteen or twenty mistakes. Or have nineteen or twenty sexual partners. I actually don’t know how many people I shared sexual experiences with before monogamy hit (sort of), but twenty isn’t close.
See. The sky still hasn’t fallen in.
I didn’t respect myself all the time in the way I would like to instil in my children, but I didn’t disrespect myself. I protected myself in a poor way, protecting my fragile emotions by denying the opportunity for any connections to be made beyond they physical and immediate. I would hope my children have better self esteem. I would hope my children didn’t make their choices based on what society would have them be. If they want hook ups, that should be their choice because it’s what they want, not because they are trying to be something for someone else’s comfort. I hope they are gentle with themselves if something doesn’t go to plan.
I had a hell of a lot of fun.
Between the experiences of the lovely Mr Hunt and me, there is an order of magnitude.
Neither of us had suspected such a discrepancy.
Does it actually make a difference?
Not at all.