The following contains language and photos that may be deemed NSFW.
When I was in seventh grade I had my first “boyfriend.” His name was Jesse, he was a year older and I agreed to “go out” with him even though I had no idea who he was until he approached me in the lunchroom one Friday afternoon. The next day he came over to swim in our pool and before he left, without a word, he grabbed my arms, pulled me towards him and jammed his tongue into my mouth. Then hopped on his bike and rode away while I stood silently dripping chlorine into my driveway as fingerprint size bruises began to appear on my upper arms. I broke up with him on Monday but It wasn’t until years later that I was able to admit to myself that my first kiss was a sexual assault.
Probably because I was sexually assaulted again a few years later. By my next door neighbor’s Grandfather. Yeah. Gross. I was staying with the neighbors, as I often did when my Dad was out of town, so this fucking creepster was driving me to a friend’s house for a sleepover. The car hadn’t even left our street when old dude starts guilt tripping me into kissing him. FOR REAL. “I haven’t seen you in so long. I didn’t get a Thanksgiving kiss from you.” He literally went on listing fucking holidays before I caved and leaned over to peck him on the check. That’s when SOMEONE’S GRANDPA grabbed my face and shoved his tongue down my throat. I was able to fight him off and instead of jumping out of the car and running back to my house or another neighbors house or to my friend’s house two miles away, I just sat there with my entire body shoved against the car door and stared at the stars.
This is what is meant by “sexual agency.” Agency, as defined by Webster is “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” So to have sexual agency means to be active in the decision making of sexual acts, behaviors, and choices. To have autonomy over your body. It’s a right we give men without question or constraint – and the rights to women’s bodies, as well. Additionally, America has created social norms and scripts cultivated to teach women that sex is shameful, immoral and worthy of extreme punishments like sexual violence, physical abuse, and death. As a form of self-preservation, survival, and assimilation, women internalize this lack of power and participate in their own oppression.
If that’s too strongly worded for you consider this. Abortion. Abortion has been on the agenda since the invention of modernized (capitalistic) medicine and practiced since the beginning of time yet remains one of the most controversial topics in our cultural dialogue. Why? Because it hinges on one sole factor: that a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body, including all of the things happening inside it. Disagree? Consider the current reality of our ruling body.
When you regulate, legislate and dominate anyone’s body you not only take away their power, you take away their humanity. The most accepted and influential intersection of gender and power in America is sex. In particular, sex for straight men in which women are regularly dehumanized but regardless of sexual preference, sex itself is a masculine space: for men, by men, about men. Women are granted agency, sexual and otherwise, at an extremely dangerous and highly controlled cost – their basic human rights. Sexual agency is given freely and at little cost to boys. Girls have to ask for it. Girls have to fight for it. Girls have to die for it. In every moment of every day.
We change this when we grant ourselves sexual agency. We don’t ask for it. We take it. We name it. We practice it. There are constant battles. And, consequences. Life altering consequences. There always are on the path to freedom.
I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I established my own sexual agency but I think it started when I contracted herpes from a boyfriend when I was 23. Having an incurable STD really elucidates the sexual shame game. Not just of your crushes but your own internalized self-hate from years of being a woman with a body in America. How many conversations did I have about my STD, shaping the conversation to make my ex out to be the asshole (he was) but also neglecting to take any responsibility for my part in it. I was the asshole having unprotected sex with a person who hadn’t been tested (and was probably cheating on me). I mean, I HAVE A DEGREE IN WOMEN’S STUDIES FOR CHRIST SAKE. It took me close to ten years to truly believe that this was not a fault of mine. This what not some eternal flaw. This was not punishment for a poor decision (though the decision to fuck a line cook at Outback Steakhouse who followed Phish was very poor indeed). Above all, this was by no means a reflection of my worth as a person. As a woman. My ex certainly carried no shame about having a dirty, damaged dick why wouldn’t I allow myself the same freedom. This was life. This was humanity. This was the reality of being sexually active. Herpes is so common that one in three people have it so it’s more likely a third of the guys I had those unnecessary conversations with were also infected and passing it around to ever Tinder match they fucked without a condom. Yes, dudes still try to fuck you without a condom. In 2017. After you’ve told them you have herpes.
Two years ago I had the word “slut” tattooed on my thigh. Here’s why. Because fuck them. Fuck that Jesse guy. Fuck Grandpa Harry. Fuck that fucking Phishead, Chris. Fuck that pussy grabber in the White House. Fuck them all.
I AM NOT HERE FOR THEM.
I am here for myself. I am here for the sluts.
Alicia Swiz is a professor, performer and professional feminist. She is the founder of the feminist collective SlutTalk and host of Feminist Happy Hour, a comedy-performance showcase for women & femmes. Follow her work @aliciaswiz & @wearesluttalk.