Anouszka Tate: A Letter To My Teenage Self And Best Mate L

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To my teenage self and best mate L,

I want to address you both because right now the two of you are caught up in a competitive world that pits women against each other.

A woman’s greatest currency, so she’s told, is her sexual availability. You’re tangled in a narrative that suggests a true sexual goddess is one who’s alluringly available when a man decides he wants you, but wouldn’t sleep around of her own accord. You aspire to tread that enigmatic line between prude and ‘easy’. This would make you a certified ‘cool girl’.

They might not know it, but you and the girls in your year group are playing a game. The winner is the girl who has sex first. You both intend to win, and as such are knowingly trading information about when you plan on doing it. You’re each hoping to stay one step ahead of the other, but are also eager for it to happen around the same time so you can talk about real life sex together in your exclusive new club.

Spoiler alert: you’ll get your wish.

L, you’ll win by three days. Anouszka, you’ll be bitterly disappointed because you were on track for the win but then you got your period. (Side note – it’s really fun having sex on your period. Another story for another day).

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter who won, because you’re playing a completely made up game.

You see, virginity is a social construct. It’s a dangerous concept that buys into the idea that there’s only one type of sex that truly counts, and that’s penis in vagina penetration. It’s wildly heteronormative; it ignores the reality that sex is in fact a wonderfully rich tapestry of preferences, desires, and experiences that may – or may not – involve a penis.

You won’t believe me, but soon enough you’ll be waxing lyrical about how the word ‘foreplay’ needs to be banned because it suggests that anything that isn’t P in V is a mere warm up act for the main event. I know you’re probably still slightly pitying your peers who haven’t quite gone all the way.

You think that ‘other stuff’ doesn’t really count as proper sex; it feels amazing (and interestingly, you do already know that) but it shouldn’t grant you access to the cool girl club.

But as I said, your feminist conscience will kick in soon and it’ll confuse you – anger you – that you used to privilege the act most likely to get a man off (penetration) over the acts more likely to be pleasurable for people with vulvas (clitoral stimulation). It’s not your fault; you were never told any different.

And by the way, it’s not that orgasm is the sole goal of sex, but isn’t it telling that the sex acts that most reliably get a woman off aren’t real sex? I’m afraid I’m going to have to burst more of your bubbles.

Alongside your entire class, you’re currently throwing round the idea of ‘going to the clinic’ as a savage slur. To you, spotting someone heading in the vague direction of a sexual health practice is concrete evidence that they have an STI. Catching someone queuing for the morning after pill at the pharmacy may have you believe they must have done something pretty irresponsible. Really, they’re in the middle of doing a responsible thing.

You’ve been led to believe that it’s not just that their genitals – already a shameful part of the body – are now disgusting, but they are too. They’re the type of person who’s having a depraved kind of sex.

You, of course, are having the cool, sexy kind of sex that somehow magically makes you exempt from having to think about gross things like infections. You just want to be like the carefree, glossy gals in the movies and they never go to the clinic, do they?

Looking back, it baffles me that being seen walking to the clinic is an act you’re mercilessly ribbing your peers for. The people you’re spying swabbing on a regular basis are the people you should be respecting most. They’re the ones keeping you safer when you have sex with them.

You’ll soon appreciate how important language is in all of this. You’ll make a real effort not to use the word ‘clean’ when it comes to discussing your STI status, because it suggests those with a positive result are somehow ‘dirty’. Instead, you’ll use the more neutral ‘clear’.

You’ll understand that you should be getting a sexual health check up every three to six months, or every time you start sleeping with someone new. You’ll know that recognised early, most STIs just take a simple course of antibiotics to resolve. And that yeah, you might get caught up in the heat of the moment and not use contraception, but that choosing to take the morning after pill as a precaution definitely not worthy of shame.

You’ll learn that none of this needs to be a big deal; it’s just common sense.

You’ll realise that when you shake off the internalised misogyny that sees you shaming other women to build yourself up, you can embrace a sex-positivity that celebrates sex as a pleasurable act rather than a game. Working together rather than against each other, all women will get to have better sex. That’s what’ll eventually make you truly cool girls.

All my love,

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