Questions that need answers
I haven’t had the chance to introduce myself here before. I’m Tunika, an editor here at Carefree, and I’m happy to be a contributor to a magazine that I also love to read! Nice to meet y’all.
So I know we just met, but can I just say last week was weird for me? Maybe it was the transition from November into the last month of the year (I would have sworn up and down it was 31 days and not 30); maybe it was that I’m not traditionally employed and struggled a bit extra (rent is really due on the first every month, that’s crazy); or maybe it was because a Californian genuinely has no business experiencing New York’s bone-chilling fall.
Who knows? My early 20s have been a weird, challenging, rollercoaster of a time and no one can really prepare you for how true that is—this week’s story touches on one aspect of it. There’s growth at every age, though, and I hope you’re experiencing yours with grace and patience, support and self-love. And if you’re not, that’s cool—2022 is just around the corner, just in time for some real resolutions.
Until next time, when I may have something more useful to say.
Associate Editor of Carefree Magazine
This Week’s Story
The #GettinGrown series continues! Sure, sex requires us to share ourselves with another person, but what about when it reveals us to ourselves? Having good sex isn’t just about being or getting good at the act itself, but learning to be comfortable within our own bodies. Accepting our own wants and needs and learning to communicate them with the people we choose to sleep with is the difference between a mindblowing, backbreaking time and…whatever the opposite of that is. That’s what Brikitta reminds us this week in her story, as she reflects on the complicated feelings surrounding her first time at age 24, the times after that, and everything she learned about herself in between.
The Sexual Awakening of A 24-Year Old
Regret is a wish—it tells us that we know enough to feel sorry, that we know well enough to be remorseful for taking the actions society told us were wrong. We are meant to want this feeling. Unfortunately for me, I listened to society for far too long and should have pressed pause on listening to the opinions of others long ago.
Instead, I assimilated.
I assimilated until I was swiping left and right on a dusty little app that changed my entire outlook on the life I thought I was supposed to live. I was maybe 21 or 22 when I first heard the words ‘sex-positivity,’ and when I got involved in the conflicting views that were part of it. I questioned myself: Should I have had sex by now? Had my first kiss by now? Been in a relationship by now?
Confusion is the best way to describe what it feels like to grow up Catholic, Nigerian, and Black—that should be considered an entirely new Holy Trinity. With my upbringing, it was not enough to be told sexual desire was a sin. I was also told that being desired was sinful, even though it is of no fault of your own, and that because of the way you look, your actions must always go through intense filters that determine if they’re wrong, if they’re ‘holy,’ before they’re taken.
In August 2020, I threw my filters away.
I said, ‘screw what I have been told, taught, and pressured to do. I will make this choice for myself.’ And I did.
Some say virginity is a construct. It’s a feeling, it’s what you make it, and blah blah blah. There isn’t enough time to debate the intricacies of a woman’s virginity, so simply put my situation meets the dictionary definition of ‘losing my virginity.’ I met him online. I did not know him, only where he lived and what time he wanted me to arrive.
This era of dating apps and judging people based on photos—probably edited and filtered—is detrimental enough, and that’s before we throw in general inexperience in dating and navigating the intricacies of human behavior (which is most often foul).
So I jumped in, confused, lost, and sure of only one thing: I would finally make a decision solely for myself. After the so-called life-changing event of losing my v-card, aka “The Happening”, I confided in my friend who said to me, “What’s the big deal? I was 18 when I had sex for the first time.” Suddenly, her nonchalant reaction and dismissiveness left me questioning why I believed losing my virginity was meant to change my life.
“Good for you,” I dismissed her back. It was the day after ‘The Happening’. “I was 24.” I thought I could use my age as armor and convinced myself that I had waited until I knew better.
The day after that, that twinge of regret started to creep up like Christmas music in October: it didn’t make sense and I didn’t know what to do about it.
Sex is empowering. When it is done right and on mutual terms, it can teach you how to advocate for yourself, how to respond to dissatisfaction, both yours and the other persons’, and what your boundaries are.
It taught me that I had no clue how to advocate for myself and that I respond terribly to others’ dissatisfaction with me. Everything I experienced weighed down on me. The confusion destroyed my daily routine, but it taught me that what I wanted wasn’t even ‘sex’ in the first place.
The curiosity I had over the act was a cover for what I was told by books and movies that I would achieve—being wanted and being needed. I had thought that was what I wanted when in reality, I wanted to prove to myself and my irritable insecurities that I could be wanted when I had never been before.
I thought anyone could give me that, when I should have chosen someone who deserved to offer me that in the first place.
As a heterosexual woman, I was only looking for one thing on my quest to see who would participate in my first sexual experience. Safety was on my list, but for the most part, I only needed one thing and I thought I had found it.
Until the third day after, when I found myself unmatched and my number blocked. Another week later, with an STD and HPV.
I was hopelessly, hilariously hurt.
Mad at myself, and then mad at him, once I realized the condom I had insisted he wore had been secretly removed.
I kept telling myself, I wish I knew how to stand up for myself. It started as a chant until it became a ritual. I had danced around the reality of not knowing what I really needed, and the consequences of searching for it before I even understood what that ‘need’ was.
My quest to understand me as a sexual being turned into one of understanding myself completely. I brought up what had happened to that same friend, and her support was amiss. So, I thrust myself back into my ‘regret bubble’ and I entered the ‘keep trying until you get it right’ phase of every story that ends terribly.
The second man was some sort of a message from the ‘go with the flow and see what happens’ tribe. Instead of the risky option of going straight to his home, we met for drinks and exchanged genuine conversation for a couple of hours. I felt seen and appreciated, and after The Happening #2, I left his home feeling like I had ticked off another box on my list of sexual exploration, I thought I was healed.
About a week later, the regret crept up again. I began to wish my filter was still around me. I wished I had the power to stop myself, instead of fueling me to continue chasing a feeling I did not know how to describe and had never experienced. Stumbling along with my heavy cement feet and a chest full of liquid tar, I ended every day waiting for the time I’d finally fall. After the third, fourth, fifth man I shared a bed with…I thought that I was alone in my own world of hindering incompetence. I didn’t know what questions I was supposed to ask, how I was supposed to voice my own wants, or how I was supposed to receive the wants of someone else.
I sought out a community for other people like me, for guidance. I didn’t get it from the doctor who treated me for my STD, who did my colposcopy and scared me with words like ‘pre-cervical cancer’ and ‘abnormal cells.’ I didn’t get it from those whom I called my friends, or even who I called my friends-with-benefits. It turns out, the benefits were just more costs.
To navigate the tricky and incredibly misunderstood world we sexually active people live in is to do so with no compass, no map, and, apparently, no rules. It took about 6 months, some self-isolation, and facing what I avoided all this time to reach a place of self-acceptance. I had to stop avoiding myself.
Once I did, I learned to master my own compass and write my own map as I went along, and I did that by taking those feelings of regret and turning them into ink that would write my path thereon. I poured them out onto everything I was doing. Instead of internalizing and self-berating, I spoke out and listened to anyone who was supportive and who I trusted, and realized that shame would only hold me back. Shame was only the phantom of all the old teachings and opinions of others that had latched onto me.
Stripping myself of the ideas of ‘what I should do’ and ‘who I should be’ left me blank and ready to start a new chapter. I know there are others like me and I hope you are here, I hope you have friends and family like us who just need to hear one person who is like them. One person who has also existed under the heel of familial and societal expectations.
As that person, I make no promises to you. But when those pesky feelings of regret start to poke at you and shame starts to knock on every door of your house, I can say that they fade overtime, the more you start to shine. Your journey in self-awareness may or may not include sex, but my sexual awakening was the unforeseen green light I needed to crack the surface of my protective shell, dissimilate from society’s stigmas, and define what peace means in my own path.
Brikitta Hairston is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a BA in English and Creative Writing. She is a romance author and criminal justice master’s candidate; she spends her days reading a minimum of a book a day and a binging Netflix series by the week. Her contemporary romance novels are published as Bri Stone, and you can find her words in OffColour Magazine, Radish, and in Giddy Magazine.
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