Yalla, let’s have a conversation
I say with false bravado because really I’m terrified, but I can see I’m not alone and I think we need to have this discussion. Or maybe I just need to speak a daunting, condemning truth.
I too do the unmentionable in the dark.
This isn’t an attempt to brag or justify myself. It’s a cry, a plea, and at this point I’m not even sure who I want to hear me, or who I want to reply. I’ve fought with myself and lost every time. And I have no “excuse”, no explanation, no past experience as a secular Jew, thank G-D no abuse. I’m an FFB. I grew up shomer negiah, segregated school, segregated everything. And yet here I am, admitting that I do something good Jewish girls aren’t supposed to. Isn’t sexuality supposed to turn on with the flick of a switch under the chuppah?
I have no one to talk to about this. Aside from the total taboo and silence for singles, beyond wagging fingers and “you’d better not” and “don’t talk to boys,” there is no one I would trust enough to share this secret with face to face.
So how did I get here? I can’t totally point the blame to one thing in particular but at least part of it was a lack of sex ed. Well maybe not exactly. Medical diagrams looked like an alien language and I wanted to understand my own anatomy. Surely there’s nothing wrong with a good from girl trying to work out the shape of her body? The function of it, where exactly is it that blood and babies come out and where is it that pee does?
And then suddenly it felt good. Like any young person lacking information I turned to the internet. Medical explanations, sure, but then I stumbled onto pornography and erotica. I try to stay away, I do, but it pulls me back every time, hours, days, weeks later. I know I could get an internet filter but to me that feels controlling and imprisoning – not because of the sex, but because it blocks so much more than necessary, because I believe in freedom of information, because at the end of the day in a world (Western AND Jewish) that tells me how to look and how to behave and what to believe, I need my agency, my ability to choose and think like the ability to breathe, even if it means I keep falling back down the same rabbit hole.
And then there’s the guilt. At first it came in waves, paranoia that everyone knew what I was thinking about, that I was being judged, that I was now a terrible dirty person, ruining my future, ruining my future relationship with my spouse, poisoning my mind, setting up unrealistic expectations even though I *know* the difference between life and fiction. The guilt dragged me down until I was walking around like a stone entrenched in mud on the bottom of a river, pinned, trapped, gasping for air, relentlessly dragged down. So I was brave. I accepted myself. If this makes me a sinner then I’m a sinner, if this will destroy my future relationships, well, I’ll figure something out. The right person somewhere someday will accept me warts and all. For now I have to live with myself, I have to function as a person, I need self-esteem. Accepting masturbation allowed me to free myself, to start thinking about other mitzvoth I could improve on, other areas of my life in which I could grow, since in this one area I was making no headway. When the essence of Torah is loving another like you love yourself, and the prerequisite for that is loving yourself, well, I needed some self love.
And here’s the other thing. It gave me self-confidence. As a chubby kid and overweight teen, I told myself that looks don’t matter and it’s whats on the inside that counts and all that cliche that I really do believe. But buried deep down I hated my body. Or at the very least, felt extremely uncomfortable with it. Suddenly I felt like I could love myself. Like I could look in the mirror and see beauty, see a body capable of being something other than a sweaty uncomfortable weight that made it impossible for me to find nice clothes or wear what everyone else was wearing without looking unbearably lumpy. I now feel comfortable in my own skin. I understand how my body works and it no longer takes me by surprise in that pubescent way that makes everything so miserable. And well, I like that.
And yet I fear.
What if I fall in love and when I tell him he turns away, becomes a stranger with my deepest darkest secret? Because the day I tell someone face to face, it is the moment they will hold my delicate heart and soul defenceless, and if they drop me I will shatter. What if I do have unrealistic expectations? What if he’s not enough? What if I niddah is too long, what if I’ve ruined myself and my chance for satisfaction and happiness?
I want to do good, I want to keep Torah, I want my Father in Heaven to be proud of me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I have no one to talk to. It’s better now but for a good year or so I walked around internally suffocating and that’s not right and I’m starting to realise I’m not the only one. And I don’t know what the answers are, I don’t know if there are answers, but we have to do better. Girls need to be talked to about sexuality. From what I understand gleaned from the internet that’s probably at best half true, boys to some degree talk about this more. I’ve spoken to teenage male relatives who knew more about issues of wearing a pad on Shabbat than I did because they were learning about Carrying in their Gemara class but no one bothered explaining this to the people it was relevant for.
(Side note, I have only anecdotal evidence and no empirical proof, but I think total segregation is self-defeating. When you’re told never to speak to a male, look at a male, stay away lest they poison you with their testosterone, it doesn’t protect anyone from objectification. If anything it makes it worse, because if men only exist to marry, if you must keep away lest you suddenly find yourself in the middle of an orgy, it’s hard to relate to half the human race. Every interaction is fraught with tension, like asking someone three years younger than you to pass the salt might lead to sex or marriage or teenage pregnancy and eternal doom.)
I’m not sure how to end this. I know some of you readers will judge me harshly. That’s why I’m anonymous, so my heart doesn’t break quite as hard and you’ll never hear the crack. Some of you will hear me. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. I just know that this is my experience and if it helps anyone with anything, well, maybe the vulnerability will all be worth it.
PS: This post has been waiting to be written for a long time. Neshamas has finally given me the platform and the courage, so, thank you.