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Sex as Self-Harm

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September 28, 2016

The writer acknowledges that this topic is a sensitive subject. They would like to post a trigger warning for those triggered by mentions of self-harm. 

I’ve been chronically depressed since the age of 12. Which sounds ridiculously young, but that’s life. When my family made a drastic move from Michigan to Georgia, my once lively self became quiet and withdrawn. I was suddenly eating more than usual, hiding it from my family. After class I would spend time in my closet upstairs, holding my breath and thinking of ways to make growing up go by just a little bit faster. I didn’t wake up excited for what happened next, and I didn’t find the world full of endless possibilities. For me, living was just something I did. I had no say in the matter, and I stuck around so I wouldn’t hurt my mom.

At the age of 13, I discovered what self harm was through a 7th Heaven binging spree. Self-harm through the form of cutting made me feel in control. It made me feel as though time stopped, as though I had a say in the pain happening to me. Suddenly, I was depressed, but I was depressed with a purpose. The world sucked, but for those few minutes a day, I determined the frequency. I determined the harshness.  After a dramatic incident in the 8th grade, I kept my cutting a secret, and let it follow me throughout college. Officially diagnosed with depression after entering college, I was enjoying life a little bit more with my newfound confidence. I had a crush on a guy named “B” in one of my extracurricular activities, and I somehow managed to get his number. Subtle flirting soon snowballed into sexting, and one night after homework, my friend was dropping me off at his house to have full-blown sex.

To be honest, B sucked. He was an awful person. He was often manipulative and, condescending. He made me feel worthless, and he acted as though he was too embarrassed to acknowledge me on campus. He also had some borderline abusive tendencies. Gas-lighting was one of his favorite hobbies, and he often did not take “no,” as a complete sentence. He would go weeks without talking to me, then claim he wanted to “work things out.” In fact, I once had a friendship with someone I later found out was B’s ex. I learned that B seemed to not respect women in general, and felt as though he had ownership over their bodies. What B lacked in compassion, he did NOT make up for in bed. Sex with him was pretty bad. He couldn’t kiss, and I often imagined hooking up with other people while we were in the middle of intercourse. He didn’t seem to respect me at all. After every interaction I felt dirty, undervalued, and used. So why did I stay?

I allowed him over again, and again because at the age of 19, I felt as though I was too old to self-harm. It was time for me to take on more mature forms of self-destruction. Sex with B gave me the same feelings that cutting did. Life sucked, but he sucked more. I had a say in the pain inflicted upon me, and I told myself that I did not deserve more.

To the average reader, you might be thinking “So what?! You had bad sex!” and that is true. Multiple people are having orgasm-less sex across the globe. In fact, as I’m typing, some poor femme is probably laying in bed right now in disbelief that they shaved for such let-down. The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that I had unsatisfactory sex. The problem lies in the fact that I had unsatisfactory sex with someone detrimental to my self-esteem because I felt as though that was all I was worthy of. In my mind, sex with B served as my punishment for being a flawed and “bad” person. Sex with B was all I would be able to get, so I might as well accept it.

When it comes to any decision that is made as a result of low self-esteem, the consequences are usually bad. Eventually, after making progress in the arena of my mental health, I was able to block B’s number. After noticing that I had begun to avoid him on campus, he stopped trying.

So where does sex positive feminism fit into all this?  By acknowledging sex as a possible form of self harm, are we perpetuating the myth that people who choose to engage in various forms of sexual activity have deeper emotional issues? I don’t think so. For me personally, I view sex as a positive thing. In fact, I have more flings now than I ever did with B. However, this time, it’s not as a form of punishment for myself. In fact, it’s the opposite. I deserve good sex with someone who respects me for all that I am. I deserve the freedom to make choices about my own body, sexual freedom, and reproductive health. I deserve to pursue these freedoms while also acknowledging my worth and value as a person.

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