A Pre-pubescent Slut

Updated: Jun 1

At seven years old, I was still responding to grown-ups' questions of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with the starry-eyed answer: "A mermaid." At eight years old, when working on a writing assignment for school about what I think I'll be doing in five years, my thoughts remained on the cutting-edge of impracticality. In my young, neurotic head, in five years––at age thirteen––I would have already been publicly ridiculed as a perverted, dirty whore, shunned by my family, hunted down by the FBI via helicopter, and grown accustomed to the view through my steel bars in the state prison. Of course, that isn't what I wrote down for my school assignment; if I had, then my teacher would have known who I really was underneath the innocent, ordinary eight-year-old façade, and contacted the police to have me picked up from school that day instead of my mom.


Elementary school didn't feel as easy as it should have been when intolerable anxiety would grip my chest each time the school principal smiled at me as she passed by in the hallway––a gesture I imagined I saw right through––beneath that smile was undoubtedly an acute awareness of the horrible thoughts in my head, and she was simply waiting for the right moment to call me out and escort me to her office. Unlike my peers who were happy to have class disrupted, I hated those annual assemblies when a police officer came to talk to us about safety––I held and lost my breath in panic, just waiting for the officer to pull me aside afterwards and slip handcuffs around my tiny wrists. Contrary to Lionel Richie's beliefs, Sunday mornings weren't easy either: I dreaded the few times each mass when the priest cued us to kneel and pray--certainly the crowd of people surrounding me in pews knew the horrible images that were inevitably coming to my mind in moments of holy quiet, and were praying to God asking Him to send me to Hell. And, it never felt quite like a cake-walk circling our abstract-printed living room rug for an hour––meticulously stepping within each shape and avoiding any lines where the colors changed––every time the distant sound of a news-station helicopter or cop car sirens disrupted my solo Barbie karaoke performance. Everywhere I turned, there was something to be afraid of––a constant threat that my "bad" would be exposed to the world and the police would come after me.


The vast majority of my obsessions didn't add up in reality. I was a child. I was pre-pubescent and most definitely a virgin, with no trauma history to attempt blaming myself for. But did I believe I was a slut? Absolutely––no doubt about it. Did I know what a slut was? No, I didn't; I'd only been taught by my friend (who had significantly more laid-back and freely-intimate parents than my own) that it was a bad thing to be and had something to do with sex. Did I know what sex was? Hell no! I thought that having my Barbie and Ken dolls laying down, nipple-less chest to nipple-less chest with arms outstretched and elbows locked in a Voldemort-Malfoy-level uncomfortable hug meant that they were "getting it on." Likewise, I conceptualized that a single tap of one Beanie-Baby's hand against the seam of another's pelvis was some highly erotic endeavor. I'd like to avoid imagining how disappointing my sexual performance would have been at fifteen or sixteen when my peers may have been sexually active, as I'd learned little more at that point in life than where my vagina was actually located so I could put in a tampon.


Irrefutable facts aside, I knew deep down that I was a slut. I've been a slut since I was eight years old. I remember my rite of passage vividly...

I came home from school one day, eager to procrastinate doing homework by hopping on the swivel chair in my dad's home office and playing SuperSecret––one of my regularly rotating choices of dress-up and lifestyle games for adolescents––on the family computer. It had been a while since I'd played SuperSecret, and I struggled to recall the exact name. I knew it had the word "secret" in there, and when I thought I had it, I began the web address with: 'mysecretlife'. In a single, well-meaning left-click, my life changed.


As any adult may presume, the webpage I found my young eyes on was not intended for an eight-year old's viewing. Immediately, an internal voice shouted: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Exit out. NOW. But I was a child, and I was naturally curious. I had never seen an adult completely nude before––male or female (aside from those times I showered with my mom as a toddler for her convenience's sake). Check the door and make sure it's shut. I took a quick glance, and the door was slightly ajar. My chest pounded. Seconds. I had seconds to choose between exiting the window or closing the door. The steps it would take to close the door meant that the people inside the computer knew what I was looking at for longer, and had more data to send to the police. They would already know I was here, but if I close out now they may believe it was just an accident...


But exiting out meant that I would miss the opportunity to explore this...stuff. Is anyone nearby? Do you hear footsteps? Can you hear anything? The sound of my pounding heart was all-consuming. I couldn't hear anyone. I listened closely and estimated that everyone was far enough away that I'd have time to exit out and pull up solitaire if I eventually did hear movement...But are you sure? I couldn't be absolutely sure...I would just scroll down the page quickly then exit out and immediately clear the search history...


I felt my brow muscles furrow until they ached fiercely. In a single swipe of the scroll wheel, my stomach dropped and all the air in my lungs suddenly vanished. Everything in my body had gone numb but my pounding heart, which continued to grow stronger as the rest of me faded. Something was pulling me away from the world.


There were several men in frightening black masks––sort of like the horror movies my older brother would watch at night with his friends that would scare me so much I'd have to change my route to the stairs in order to avoid seeing something that would show up in my nightmares––but for some reason the others (all seemingly women) in the pictures and videos weren't afraid. They wore all sorts of leather straps, but nothing covered their privates...in fact their privates did not seem so private at all. I couldn't understand the movements they were making, or the expressions on the women's faces. Was it pain? Were they being hurt? Was it fear? Was it joy? Was it disgust? What were they doing?


I closed the tab. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I cleared the search history. I shut down the computer and ran across the hall to my room, where I abruptly closed the door––I did not dare slam it and risk drawing attention to myself––and hid in the corner of my closet.


My eyes glossed over with hot, burning liquid and I gasped for all the air that couldn't make it into my lungs.


This was bad. This was very bad.


I was bad.


The words grew heavy in my little head, the weight of them pushing tears through my eyes. Why did I look? Why did I look? Why did I look? Why did I look? Why did I look? Why did I look? WHY DID I LOOK?!


Because you're a slut, the voice responded. Because you are bad.

Five years later, at thirteen years old, the police still hadn't knocked on our front door prepared to take me to jail, my family hadn't yet shunned me, and no one had publicly shamed me for being a perverted whore. But I knew that was only because I was keeping up with my precautions at all costs.


I was nearly mute, I didn't talk unless I was directed to––every vocal chord vibration carried the risk that I could slip and say something bad or confess to the horrible thing I did on the computer when I was eight that still haunted me daily. By remaining silent, I would minimize the chances of someone finding out how slutty, perverted, and bad I secretly was. In my new, unspoken vow of silence, my parents stopped describing me as "the life of the party" and started encouraging me to have more than one friend. "Who's that one girl you used to hang out with? Why don't you call her and ask if she wants to do something together?" Because I'm bad, Mom, and I'll just turn her bad too.


I was still clearing my search history at random whenever using the family computer or my new lime green Dell laptop: 4 times minimum to be safe, 7 times to be really safe, and, if the anxiety remained prominent after that, I'd continue hitting 'Clear Search History' until it felt "just right" (which usually ranged anywhere from 14 to 77 times). Even if I just briefly logged on to make sure my Webkinz weren't famished and play a couple rounds of Cash Cow, I could never be sure there wasn't some lingering data that provided evidence of my wrongdoing years prior. I needed to clear the search history. As I continued to lose count of how many times I'd clicked that button––the compulsion becoming a movement so natural as itching a mosquito bite––it had less to do with erasing computer data and everything to do with clearing my history in the most literal sense of the phrase.


But there were always reminders of my badness, and no matter how many times I cleared my history I could not escape them. They most often came in the form of intrusive mental images: a flashback of the bright red webpage with masked men and naked women I saw on the computer that day years ago; Jesus' loincloth, on the large Crucifix sculpture that hung directly above the altar, suddenly slipping away to reveal his genitals; the couple holding hands and walking past me in the street, de-robed one second and banging the next; bodiless penises, hanging on the walls as if taxidermic animal heads; the framed Georgia O'Keeffe print come vividly to life, flower petals replaced by labia. Because of the insurmountable anxiety aroused by such unwelcome intrusions, one can understand how I was not particularly relaxed by the lighthearted encouragement to "just picture everyone in the audience in their underwear" before a speech at school––upon hearing that phrase I was undoubtedly imagining all of my classmates in their underwear, then naked, then making out with each other, then breaking out into some wild middle school orgy with little hope of returning to their clothing and their seats before it became my turn to step up to the makeshift podium and choke on the words I'd meticulously rehearsed. (Although I will note that at this ripe age of thirteen I still didn't know what a penis truly looked like or what sex entailed, so these intrusive images would likely be laughable now––and, not to mention, much preferable to the matured intrusive images I experience yet today.)


Sometimes they came in the form of intrusive sounds, though. I became hyperaware of cop cars and helicopters out of fear they were coming after me to lock me up in prison. My senses became so heightened that I thought I was hearing sirens when there were none. It was as if I were repeatedly experiencing the phenomenon of hearing sirens when driving with the radio on, only to realize that it was part of the song––except turning the radio volume down was never enough to be sure they weren't coming for me.


The catch was, the more I fought to suppress and get rid of these intrusions, the more they consumed me. The more I denied their presence and avoided their triggers, the more fearful and isolated I became. The more I tried reasoning with myself––that it doesn't make sense that I could be a virginal slut, or that the police don't arrest children who accidentally viewed porn––the more unsure I grew in these internal debates. The more I cleared my search history, the more treacherous and deeply embedded that memory became. Much like the discovery that getting a 'B' on one test in third grade would not have even the slightest impact on my ability to get into college, I would have to learn all of this the long and hard way.

I was a virginal slut for ten years. From eight to eighteen, I endured years full of sex education, week-long middle school "relationships," and harrowing games of Truth or Dare at soccer team sleepovers with girls who intimated the shit out of me––all while thoroughly believing these experiences were the perfect opportunity for my secret perverted, bad slut to be exposed and publicly shamed. I got by, though. I'd bitten my tongue for so long that it seemed to stop working properly; and, in desperately trying to suppress and hide a secret, that seemed to serve me well. I talked enough to make friends, to do well in school, and to construct a façade of normalcy that even I, myself, could fall for at times. But in certain circumstances, believing in this façade led to too much normalcy.


Then I was a non-virginal slut. Regardless of how jam-packed the previous ten years were with self-hatred, internalized shame, and desperate rituals, it was not nearly enough to prevent or prepare for the immense torment my mind would conjure with raw evidence of myself as sexually active. I'll make it crystal clear––it was consensual, very vanilla, and neither of us knew what the hell we were doing. But it did not matter how inexperienced I knew I was. It did not matter how many people I knew my age had been sexually active for years (or even pregnant). It did not matter that my boyfriend's friends teased us that we had finally lost our virginity. The same thoughts circled my mind, day in and day out like a glowing news headline in Times Square: You're a slut. You're a dirty whore. You're a bad person.


In the following two years, I'd grown overwhelmed and defeated by the constant intrusive thoughts and images, such that I retreated from my loved ones, broke up with my boyfriend/best friend at the time, and turned against myself out of deep-rooted shame. I was slipping away, unannounced, and no one––including myself––truly understood why.


That's the thing about shame––it wants you to stay silent and hidden. But when you stay silent and hidden, you become so isolated and your struggles so unrecognized that there is no one to help you. When you stay silent and hidden, you alone stand very little chance against the dangerous overgrowth of shame you cultivated. Because that's how shame grows––in silence and hiding.


It took twelve years and all of the courage I didn't realize I had within me to stand up to the shame I grew––to speak to each secret experience, unwanted thought, and intrusive image that haunted my adolescence and forged my identity as someone I hated. When I finally started talking––and continued talking even when shame would creep back in––the most unexpected, simultaneously frightening and hopeful thing happened.


I received a diagnosis of OCD.



To be continued.

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Quirk

Quirk