Writer’s note: Any references to sex in this article are specific to consensual sexual encounters. If you have experienced any kind of sexual encounter where consent was not explicitly given, please know the following – you are not alone, it is not your fault, and you deserve to feel safe. If you feel ready, please talk to someone you trust. If not, be patient with yourself. And always remember that you are strong and beautiful.
Sex is a strange, beautiful, powerful thing, isn’t it? It can be a gift or a weapon, a blessing or a curse, freeing or debilitating. And while the encounters we have throughout our lives certainly help shape our viewpoints on sex, our brains start forming opinions on the subject at a much younger age. Think about where you grew up, how you were raised, what beliefs you held, what your school taught you—it all plays a part. And sometimes, we are conditioned to expect or believe things that are not necessarily true but are incredibly difficult to unlearn as we age and experience life.
My family is incredible, and I would not trade them for the world. They have always supported me fiercely and helped me become the strong, confident woman I am today, and I am beyond grateful. Therefore, I know their intentions were good when they raised me according to “purity culture.” In other words, I was to abstain from sex until marriage, as marriage is only to be shared between a husband and wife. (Purity culture goes much deeper than that, but I’ll let you decide if you want to dive down that rabbit hole on your own.)
There was a lot of shame and guilt cast on those who did not abstain, so I followed the rules—both because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, and because I had crippling anxiety about pregnancy. (I’ve known my whole life that kids were not for me.) So I got married too young, as many midwesterners/abstinent couples do, and was looking forward to my first sexual experience.
The wedding night came, but you know who didn’t? Me.
Because I. was. terrified.
How could I suddenly flip a switch and get my brain to understand that this shameful, sinful, terrible thing was finally okay? How was I supposed to even know what I was doing? Was there a rulebook or guide I should have consulted?
It took a while for me to feel comfortable enough to enjoy sex, even as a married woman. Then, six years into my marriage, life surprised me with a major spike in my libido…as well as a divorce. Perfect timing! Oh, and by the way—divorce? Also a “sin.”
Among the countless things/existential crises I had to address following my divorce, my relationship with sex was one of the biggies. I got married at 22, divorced at 28, and had no idea how to approach dating—let alone sexual encounters. That libido spike didn’t dull at all after my ex left, so I knew abstinence was not the path for me. But as I moved forward and tried to consider what a new sexual relationship would look like, the fears that plagued my wedding night came pouring back. I’d only ever been intimate with one person, so what the hell could I possibly know? If things get steamy with someone, should I step back and say “Hey, I’ve only boned one guy before this, so cut me some slack here, buddy!” before we do the deed? And on top of everything else, my brain continued to whisper to me, “Sex is bad, you shouldn’t want this, and you definitely shouldn’t act on this desire.”
So, what was step #1 for tackling this issue? Sex toys. (Yes, plural.) I realized that I needed to know myself before allowing someone new to know me sexually. So I took time to time to learn what sexual sensations I enjoy vs. what I was simply used to, which involved research and … well, experimentation. I learned a lot—and, to be blunt, I enjoyed the ride.
Step #2 would not work for everyone, but it worked for me: I found a trustworthy friends-with-benefits situation. And while I wasn’t as blunt as I joked in my earlier paragraph, I was very upfront before we got down to business. I told him that I had a warped perspective on sex that I was addressing and wanted to enjoy a safe and fun sexual experience before entering the dating world. At no point did I want our situation to evolve into something romantic. I wanted a stress-free opportunity to explore and learn about my own needs and desires. He was happy with the arrangement, we checked in with each other regularly to ensure boundaries were not being crossed and that we had not changed our perspective on things, and we were able to have healthy discussions without the added burden of maintaining a romantic relationship. This lasted a couple of months before I was ready to end that chapter, and I was very grateful for it.
Both steps helped me become more comfortable with myself, which radically changed my perspective on my sexuality and boosted my confidence. I realized my fears about “not knowing anything” were wildly inaccurate, as sex is not a one-size-fits-all activity. It’s a shared experience that looks different for everyone. My fears around sexuality being “sinful” finally began to diminish as well, as I had a new appreciation for my body. I finally embraced the beauty of being a sexual being, and it was empowering. This growth allowed me to more easily express my needs—and boundaries—to the partners I’ve had since then.
So, yeah, sex is weird. And once you add in divorce and religion, things get even weirder. But once you embrace and accept the “weird” for what it is—rather than worrying about what it “should” be—everything changes. You can finally relax and enjoy the weird, wonderful moments that sex can offer.
Britnee King (she/her/hers) serves as the Communications & Marketing Manager at The Cabaret. Born and raised in Indy, she’s worked exclusively in the nonprofit sector since graduating from IU in 2014. In addition to working at Indy’s swankiest performance venue, she’s also a freelance graphic designer, photographer, conservation nerd, and Scotch enthusiast. Follow her on Instagram at @britnee.king.
All of our content—including this article—is completely free. However, we’d love if you would please consider supporting our journalism with an Indy Maven membership.