Growing to appreciate monogamy

By Emily Johnson

(Joey Yee/Flickr)
(Joey Yee/Flickr)

A lanky, 90-pound 14-year old, I got my period for the first time on the morning of my first day of high school at an all girls’ boarding school in rural Connecticut, a two- and-a-half hour drive from my eastern Massachusetts home. I assumed that the moment in which I witnessed my bloody underwear would activate my womanhood, and I wanted the world to reveal answers to every question I had had for a few years: when will I have sex? Will I actually enjoy it? How does a penis fit into one’s mouth? Unfortunately, I think this was instead the turning point I became more confused in entering the world of hormones and sex.

Prior to college, my sex education was limited to friends’ stories, my own experiences with teenaged prep school boys who had selfish agendas and episodes of “One Tree Hill.” None of these included information on female sexuality or the female orgasm, a mysterious and strange phenomenon.

In high school I had a vendetta against the nature of monogamy, perhaps because my sex ed came from television, which displays sex as spontaneous, wild, unashamed and anxiety-free – so, for me, that meant never having sex with the same person twice. I often joked that my gynecologist was the only person I respected enough to go inside of me. During my senior year, I sat on my best friend’s bed as she anxiously chose an outfit to impress her new boyfriend’s parents, and I remember asking her, “What’s the point of all this?” My thought: I can have sexual relations with whom I want, yet not develop any emotional attachment. Win for me.

This attitude only continued in college, but became more difficult to sustain.

Despite this theory I held onto so proudly, I exhausted myself trying to avoid catching feelings for certain males, mocking friends who had significant partners and praising myself for my self-described “independence.”

In early August, while in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was violently sexually assaulted by a stranger. Suddenly the act of sex had been warped: in my mind, it served as a weapon to control and intimidate. How could I have sex in the future without thinking of this traumatic experience? Would I ever find some sort of intimacy with a partner?

I arrived back in Amherst, unaware of where I had left things off with a close male friend with whom I had spent a greater part of the summer. He and I devoted many nights together only talking after my return. During this recovery process, I met a fellow survivor who alerted me that after her assault two years ago, she had been unable to have any sort of sexual or intimate relationship, unable to even kiss.

When my friend and I eventually had sex, I discovered what freed me from the chokehold of my attacker: consensual sex is a physical conversation. The assault was not any sort of sex, but an act of violence. That distinction needed to be made, because consensual sex – often gross, sticky, bloody, ugly, not spontaneous – can still be a beautiful experience if it is with the right partner. My partner and I were interested in what the other’s body had to say, communicating and listening equally, unselfishly and not one-sided. Monogamy would never be boring with him, for as long as we are emotionally involved, for as long as our bodies do not run out of things to say. A few nights ago, in the dark, I rested my hand on his chest and blindly traced his rose tattoo accurately, having memorized its elaborate design and placement. The permanence of the tattoo scares me, but it excites me too.

Emily Johnson is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]