Theres a certain degree of scrutiny to which you open yourself as a writer, a certain understood and assumed lack of privacy which you invite into your life when you make so much of yourself public. There’s always a reason and everyone’s is different. For some it’s fame. For some, money. For others it’s a cause, a catharsis, or a little bit of both. Every writer has their reasons for what they publish and even better reasons for what they don’t. Certain things are private; certain secrets, struggles or hardships or beliefs which, for one reason or another, they feel will do more harm than good to either them or people that matter to them. We keep these secrets because the potential benefits don’t outweigh the potential fallout. Sometimes, however, there’s a sort of grey area where the cost-benefit analysis isn’t quite as clear cut as we’d like, but we write it anyway, over the cries of protest from our better judgment.
I don’t always make the best company. I make people uncomfortable sometimes. My friends reading this are probably smiling and rolling their eyes because they know I’m a fan of understatement. I’m either cracking an inappropriate joke, seeing how much I can get away with saying, or broaching a subject that people would rather avoid. I discuss abuse a lot. Mostly the abuse of others, open and public cases, how the public responds, proper awareness, debunking abuse myths—things that rank up there with politics and religion on the list of topics one should avoid as dinner conversation. Sometimes I talk about what happened to me in public, but I try not to because it makes me more vulnerable than I’d like to be. You can’t control the opinions that fly at you in public the way you can on a blog.
Even when I do discuss what happened to me, and even when it’s on my blog, I try not to talk about the effects abuse had on me; I prefer to let my readers draw their own conclusions. I have to live in the real world, a real world where people know me, associate me with what I write on my blog, a real world where what I say on this blog can affect my chances of landing a client, or, more importantly, someone with whom I can hope to share my life.
Sex worries me. I know that as a man I’m supposed to—expected to—want sex, crave sex, desire sex more than anything else—that it is supposed to be the center of my existence and the focal point of all my goals, but it’s not. I talk about it plenty; I joke about it plenty; I think about it plenty, but sex, actual sex with another person, as in not hypothetically, but actually contemplating having sex with someone worries me. Worries is perhaps the wrong word to use. Worried is the word people use when their erections don’t stand up quite as proud and tall as they’d like them to, or when they’re worried they’re lacking in the experience department. Lack of experience is the least of my worries. Scared, perhaps. No, scared sounds a little wimpy, like I’m worried I won’t be able to please my girlfriend. What’s the word…terrified. That’s the word—terrified.
Sex seems nice on paper, sometimes on the screen (God, I hope my rav isn’t reading this), depending on what I’m watching. My friends all do it, enjoy it, rave about it, tell me it’s nice, feels good, bonds them and their significant other in ways I’ll never understand unless I have sex, and while I can understand the appeal, feel the physical drive, want, on a base level, to have sex with someone, either significant or just for the sake of it, I can’t bring myself to actually, consciously, want to have sex.
I suppose it’s lucky that I subscribe to a religion that demands celibacy of me until marriage. It means that whichever girls I spend my time with will not only never pressure me to have sex, they’d be horrified if I asked for it. There was a time in my life when religion meant nothing to me, when I’d just as soon have broken my obligation to maintain chastity until marriage, but I never did. I never even tried. The thought never crossed my mind. Religion came in handy, in that sense, even when I didn’t believe in it; it was an excuse I could fall back on for being a 19 year old virgin. I’m 22 now and still a virgin, and while I take my liberties here and there, the one thing I’m happy to keep, the one thing I’m glad to be obligated to keep, is my obligation to stay a virgin until I’m married.
Everything I know I learned by negative example. I know how to treat people by having been abused. I know I would never want anyone else to experience what I did, certainly not by my hand. I learned how to have a relationship by seeing so many bad ones. I learned how to educate myself by seeing the cost of ignorance. The problem with learning by negative example is that there’s a steep learning curve when you try to infer positive from negative and apply it practically. Everything I know about sex I learned by negative example.
Age four, I watched my mother have sex with a man I barely knew from the foot of the bed they were having it on. Age 10 I had to beg my mother to come home and take care of me when she ran off and shacked up with some man she hardly knew for a few days, and told me it was because she wanted to have sex with him. Age 16, I heard my mother tell me that she wished I was dead because my not existing would benefit her sex life. There’s plenty in between that I’m not ready to talk about.
And that’s what I know about sex firsthand: I know that sex hurts, that it tears families apart, that it causes irrevocable damage—that I still suffer because of it. I know that every time I so much as think of actually having sex with someone I experience physical anxiety. I can’t count the number of times I’ve considered finding someone with zero interest in sex and just settling down with that person, resigning myself to a life which, while devoid of what I’m told is something wonderful and pleasurable, would also, thankfully, be less one more thing that could hurt me or anyone I love. I’d be secure in the knowledge that I could never be hurt, nor could I ever hurt someone in the ways I and so many of my friends have been hurt.
That doesn’t make me happy, though. I know that my experiences aren’t the only truth out there. I know that abuse, and pain, and suffering are not all the world, that relationships, that sex has to offer. I know that there are people, many if not most people, who live happily, have happy relationships, happy sexual relationships, happy sexual relationships which in no way involve anyone getting hurt. I just don’t even know what that looks like, and I am absolutely terrified of letting myself find out whether or not I can have that. Maybe I can; but what if I can’t? What if I hurt someone the way I’ve been hurt? I know I don’t want to, but does everyone who hurts someone else want to? What gives me the right to take that risk?
I faced something similar when I stopped being shomer negiah. I was scared of touching someone else, especially girls I dated. I was scared I’d do something wrong. I learned a lot from not being shomer negiah (shomer negiah is the Jewish law prohibiting men and women who are not either married or immediately related to each other from touching). I learned boundaries, what I like and what I don’t— I know I like cuddling, I know I like holding hands, walking down the street hands around each other’s shoulders or waists, and I imagine I’ll enjoy kissing and touching. I learned when to initiate and when to back off. But I don’t feel that’s enough for me to let myself consider sex with someone else. It seems like there’s so much more at stake—so much more potential for pain. I know one day I’ll have no choice, but…