Talk to your kids about sex, or the internet will

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I never got the supposed “sex talk” from my parents, I strongly doubt I’m the only one. Like in many other minority households, sex was a sensitive subject around our house, despite ten kids being evidence of a ton of it happening. I learned about sex from a friend in the fifth grade, her name was Mara Greene. We went to summer camp together and waited at the same bus stop in the mornings, overtime, she and I became friends. And as familiarity formed, we began spending all of our free time together. We grew more comfortable with one another as the summer months passed. Overtime, our conversations sunk just below the surface, our gab grew a little more grown up, if you will.

Now Mara was naturally bubbly and outgoing, had a laugh you could pick out of a line-up. To this day, I can hear her high-pitched “Hi, Ms. Dorothy!” in my head. My mother grew to adore her larger than life personality, and grew quite fond of Mara’s mother as well, a far more reserved rendition of my friend. Over time, my mother grew comfortable with Mara and I spending time together, even outside of summer camp hours. “Just for a few”, my mother would reiterate as she dropped me at Mara’s doorstep, “Then Ms. Greene is gonna bring you back to the house, you got me?”. Of course, I did. I was not about to screw this up.

My mother trusted no one, and I do mean no one. There were no house visits, no birthday parties, no school dances, no eighteen and under nightclubs, no movies, no amusement parks, and absolutely no sleepovers, whatsoever. Mara made my mother nervous, despite her fondness. She had a personality that popped and a full figure that was equally hard to hide. In my mother’s mind, Mara had all of the makings of a “fast ass little girl”. She questioned whether or not she was safe for me to be around. Between Ms. Greene’s sometimes eighteen-hour shifts and Mara’s flagrantly flirtatious demeanor, something told my mother to monitor the situation closely. I knew that if anything absurd happened at Mara’s, there wouldn’t be another Mara’s. So, I committed to making sure that nothing happened, even if something did.

Now when you’re 10, 10 feels a lot like 20. And if you’ve ever been 10 before, which we all have, then you know everybody’s 10 is a little bit different. I was a lot more sheltered than Mara, who knew way more about grown up things than I did. I attributed that to her being the eldest sibling which, for a lot of Black girls, comes with a limitation on the length of their adolescence. But overtime, I’d learn there was a lot more to my “fast ass” friend than just an advanced anatomy.

One day, we got on the subject of boyfriends. I wasn’t permitted to date, which was fine by me. Mara was, and she did. She sometimes told me about it in passing, never offering an abundance of detail. But on this particular day, she decided to tell me more, specifically about her boyfriend. Mara confided in me that her buried beau was none other than a guy I knew only as Theo, the 20-year-old best friend of her older cousin. She told me about the times he’d pick her up from school and drive them back to her mother’s house where they would engage in sexual intercourse. I wasn’t sure what to believe, being that Mara joked quite often.

Mara offered to prove it to me, and I boldly called her bluff. In an instant, Mara retrieved an old orange shoe box from beneath the bunk bed, opening the lid to reveal a collection of used condoms, each knotted to contain its’ contents. I’d never seen one in real life, had no clue what distinguished a used one from a new one. Mara grabbed one of the condoms and pretended to toss it in my direction. “It’s not nasty”, she parroted without provocation, “It’s natural”. I hadn’t a response to offer her, just sat staring as she playfully picked at the condoms, one by one.

“What are you keeping all those for”, I asked, if for no other reason than to move the awkward conversation along. I had a dinosaur Gigapet dying of starvation back home that desperately needed tended to, that’s how out of my medium this conversation had moved. “For when I wanna get pregnant”, Mara explained. “He always yells at me to flush ‘em so my Mom don’t find ‘em, but I hide it in a tissue til he leaves”, Mara explained. The room fell quiet.

“Don’t say nothing, ok?” “Ok”, I agreed, watching her wiggle the box of bundled condoms back under her twin-sized trundle. Mara wasn’t a fast ass little girl, but that was the reputation her victimization was going to earn her. I feared that once word reached my mother, not only would I lose my friend, I’d lose my mothers’ faith. I knew very little about sex, only that it was painful and strictly reserved for married people and prostitutes. Of which, Mara was neither.

I had no knowledge of the imbalance of power between adults and children, women and men. Hardly a handle on molestation, nor a proper perception of pedophilia. What I knew was that I myself was no stranger to the sexual advances of adult men. I knew what not to wear when we entertained male guests, I knew not to sit on any laps and to hug men from the side. I knew to cross my legs at the ankle, no colored nail polish as not to give anyone the wrong impression. I was raised in preparation to become prey, burdened by my birth alone. Had no one taught Mara how to maneuver around a man’s erection?

Mara was no victim in this, at least that’s what my Mother would’ve said. According to her, there were two types of girls in the world. There were good girls, and then there were the short skirt wearing, hoop earring-sporting, lip smacking, neck rolling fast ass girls. Those girls went out looking for attention and boy, did they find it. Those girls, those fast ass girls, they didn’t mind their mothers or their manners, probably didn’t know their daddies, and definitely didn’t deal in decency and tact. Those girls, girls like Mara, deserved whatever came to them, whatever the whatever looked like.

At the time, I believed that my secrecy served a noble purpose. That purpose was the preservation of my friend’s reputation, whatever little reputation she had earned at that age. Without fully understanding why, I understood that the bulk of the blame for this predicament would fall on my friend, all 80lbs. of her. I know now how ridiculous that is, to blame a 10-year-old for the sexual perversion of an adult male. I know now what it means to grow up in a culture that views both femininity and sexuality as sin. I know now that my friend was preyed upon, that her hypersexuality and attention seeking behaviors were symptoms of a much bigger issue, and that the adults in our lives chose not to see those signs beyond their correlation to some silly scripture. I know now that those adults, including my mother, were wrong. But back then, I found myself captured by curiosity.

My visits to Mara’s continued. At first, our sexual exploration stayed somewhat civil. Mara would share stories of her “significant others”, there were two prior to Theo, all of whom were over the age of 18. Over time, the conversation curved towards me. Mara became curious as to my maturation as a young girl. I hadn’t yet begun puberty and wouldn’t for another 7 years, Mara, on the other hand, was way ahead of the game by medical standards, something I now attribute to her repeated ravishment. She offered to help me learn to be loved by a man, warned me that it could, at times, be painful, but the real pleasure was in knowing that your partner was pleased, at least that’s what they’d all told her.

One day, Mara sat me down and offered to show me a video she found in her Dad’s stash. I kid you not, “69 C*m Shots” was sprawled across the VHS case. “What’s this”, I asked, noting that I was joining her three younger siblings in the sitting room, the youngest of whom was 6. “You’ll see”, Mara smiled, as she pushed the tape into her mother’s expensive entertainment center. She plopped down on the couch beside me, like clockwork, her baby sister leaned back and covered her eyes.

As the film began, it appeared fairly- normal. A man in a cable company uniform approached the front stairs of a suburban home, he knocked on the door announcing himself, and a woman in a red robe answered the door. She invited him in, leading him to a bedroom in the back of the home. From there, they briefly exchanged a few words, before the woman began to disrobe in front of the gentleman. I looked over at Mara, who was fully fixed on the screen. Her twin brothers too sat intently towards the television. The youngest of the crew kept her eyes covered. “Mara, what is this?”, I asked, “I’m not allowed to watch Rated-R movies”.

Before Mara could respond, I glanced back at the television to find the pair performing oral sex on one another. “Mara, what is this?”, I exclaimed, “Just watch it”, the younger of the twins chimed in. They’d seen this before, all of them. I looked back at the television to find the couple now engaged in full on sexual intercourse. I began to fiddle with my hands, my eyes darting back and forth. I didn’t know the ins and outs of what was happening but I knew I was not supposed to be watching this. I was barely allowed to watch kissing scenes without my mother going berserk. I knew I was not supposed to be watching this, so why couldn’t I look away?

I had a million and one questions. Was THIS what Theo had been doing to Mara? And if so, was she ever going to be okay? Why was the woman screaming so loudly? Were these now multiple men trying to murder her? Why would anyone want these things done to them? My mother included! And what the hell was wrong with my dad?! Was this how humans were made? And why the hell did I feel so damn funny?

I was experiencing sexual arousal, a concept I had no comprehension of. I didn’t know the birds from the bees, barely knew all of the functions of my female form, but my brain was responding to the sexually explicit stimuli the best way it knew how, by hitting the hormone switch. When erotic imagery infiltrates the brain, it responds by releasing a big dose of dopamine, the brain’s feel good guy. Over time, the brain begins to correlate these positive feelings with the consumption of this explicit imagery, even seeking them out in order to continually source said feelings.

Despite my learned disgust, my body was intrigued. I left Mara’s house different that day. I couldn’t get the images out of my mind, I had all but accepted that my curiosity would kill me, especially if my mother found out. I had to make sense of what I’d just watched, but how? Asking my parents was completely out of the question, there wasn’t a book I could borrow without raising red flags, and phoning a friend was what got me into this mess in the first place. And then it came to me, I would make use of my school computer lab to sort this situation all out. They were typically unattended and packed wall to wall with colorful iMac G3’s, one of the perks of attending a prestigious private school. There I decided to delve into the wonderful world of pornography, for research purposes of course. And so I did, day after day, day in and day out, soaking in some of the most sordid images the internet had to offer, committing to never tell a soul.

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