When I felt the blood rushing between my legs, I thought I was dying.
It looked like a carnage had unleashed itself in my underwear and I still felt blood dripping, my body aching. My voice was shaking in fear pleading for answers, amidst the jubilant cries of my grandmother. “Estas una mujer ya!” (You’re a woman now!) she yells, searching through the cabinet under the sink.
I couldn’t help but think I was being punished for something I had no control over. What had I done? Why was I woman now? Why was I bleeding? Why did it hurt? I sat perched on the toilet seat as my grandmother shoved pads into my hand, the thoughts in my head so loud that eventually, I couldn’t hear her anymore.
I knew nearly nothing about my own body for the first decade of my life. The area between my legs was a complete mystery, just a place where my pee came from (although how it came out I didn’t know). The words “vagina” and “penis” seemed akin to curse words because they were never spoken aloud. Neither sex or puberty was ever explained to me, but rather talked about in shadowed whispers and cheeky innuendos.
I was never sat down or encouraged to ask things about my body, everything was kept quiet and under wraps. My family was allowed to comment into what a grown woman I was becoming but after that, there was a line we could not cross. The line was the difference between acknowledging my changing body but not encouraging my exploration or educating me about it.
When there’s so much you don’t know, and you’re ashamed to ask, your body becomes a stranger. I felt like I was living in a host I didn’t understand and I had no bodily awareness.
As my body began to grow and hormones began to kick in, no one sat me down and talked to me about it. On the contrary, I was still made to cover my eyes during sex scenes in movies and unable to buy tampons because they would “take away” my virginity.
The closest form of sexual education I got was from the Internet and an American Girl book about puberty my aunt gave to me when I was 12.
But I guess the entire world is afraid of vaginas, because even the book didn’t talk about them or sex. Not one page about what discharge was, where the clitoris was or even what the clitoris even is. Not one page.
Yet it seemed nearly everyone was obsessed with boobs, what bra to wear, but again the area between my legs was ignored, it was almost taboo.
While boys are given “the talk” by their fathers, who are no doubt incredibly open to talking about boners and hair in special places, I was not encouraged to reach below my underwear or even mention the strange things happening down there.
For boys, learning about their bodies and masturbation seems to be a rite of passage, they’re allowed to flourish sexually from the first time their penises get hard.
But like me, many women are taught that there’s something wrong with being sexually aware and having sexual desires. So I kept my body and what I do with it a secret, anytime I thought about it or touched myself I felt shame and fear that someone would know. I was afraid that somehow they would see my “sinful” thoughts and hate me for them. I was afraid that I wasn’t supposed to be curious and ask questions.
Then one day, it just seemed as if I knew everything and was never confused to begin with. In an effort to erase my naiveté, I looked for the information myself, tired of being in the dark. I used to be afraid of my body because everyone else was. No one ever wanted to talk about it, and they made me feel like it was shameful and dirty to do so. In reality, though my body is anything but dirty, it is a piece of art and a vessel for change. Most importantly, it is mine and I have nothing to fear.