What I Wish I Was Taught Growing Up
by Rukiat Ashawe
My name is Rukiat and I created these four questions for me to answer truthfully and with no shame. I believe that by answering these questions honestly, I could inspire other women to do the same. To spark conversation about what we were taught (or lack of) growing up when it came to sex and relationships. And most importantly, to spark change.
If I had the right sex education, what would I have known earlier on? What could I have avoided?
I don’t like to play the blame game, but I think its fair to say that school, as well as my upbringing, did fail me when it came to learning about sex and relationships. As a young woman in her 20s I still don’t have it figured all out, but I am a lot wiser and smarter than my teenager self. But this is because everything I have learnt/am currently learning has been down to experience – years of trial an error to be precise.
It would have been nice to be told that the sexual health clinic is not somewhere to fear, but a place that I should make the effort to frequent if I am having an active sex life.
It would have been nice to be told to use protection, but not in a patronising or lecturing way. Instead, in a way that leaves me equipped to make informed decisions on my own when it comes to sex.
It would have been nice to be told not to ‘stay away from boys’ but instead understand that my body is my body and I should protect it, yet also feel free to do what I want with it because my choice is my CHOICE.
There were times where I felt that I lost full autonomy over my body, times that I could have avoided if I had the knowledge to protect myself. Even till today, I am still learning how to have full control when it comes to my body and the choices that I make with it.
If I was properly educated on consent, how different would my relationships with men have been?
A vulnerable, nineteen-year-old me would not have accepted a misogynist, slut-shaming, sexist older man into my life. I was depressed, lonely and wore my insecurities on my sleeve. Any little attention I got was good for me, so I allowed men into my life who really did not deserve to be in my presence.
But what did I know? Growing up in an African home, sex and relationships are things that we don’t typically talk about. And when the topics are brought up, it’s usually to warn me about bad men and to work on myself so that I can get a ‘good husband’.
So, for a lot of my relationships with men I sought validation because of course, validation from a man is something that a woman must strive for in a patriarchal society.
I believe that if I had been properly educated on consent, I would have had the courage to say no many times. I would have walked away confidently, without thoughts of guilt ridding my conscience.
“I don’t want to ruin the mood,” “he took time out of his schedule to come and see me,” “let me just do this for him so I can get it over with.”
Such thoughts would have never occurred to me because I would have understood that I am not obliged to give my body, even if we both lay together naked. My no means no, and that is that.
If I was told to never settle, which individuals would I have chosen not to lay with?
Ha! So many! But there is one in particular that I remember oh so well.
This person would make me feel wrong for being comfortable in my own natural, sexual being. My sexual liberation was confusing to him. He let me know this by saying some real shady things from time to time.
“Are you not shy?” He asked me one day as I got up from the bed naked and began to walk around my own room.
“No, why?” I replied, slightly confused.
“Oh, I dunno… It’s just that good girls are usually shy to be naked around a guy, but you don’t care do you?”
“Hmm. A good woman would cover up.”
It makes me laugh and shake my head now but back then, in that moment, I did question myself.
When I think about it though, I find it funny how we both had sex – naked – together – yet I should have been the one to feel shame afterwards?
If I knew what I knew now, I would have never given that person a second more of my time. I would not have laid up with somebody who does not respect women and cannot grasp the simple fact that there are women who actually have sex to please themselves, not men.
But with age and experience I have come to learn these things. I just wish somebody would have told me that my life does not revolve around men and that I should never seek validation in other humans, only myself.
If I was taught that the only person who can place value on my own being is me, what would validation and acceptance mean to me?
To never depend on another person when it comes to accepting myself, or to living a fulfilled and happy life. That’s all.
I believe that the younger me could have made more fearless and bold decisions when it comes to sex and relationships. The younger me could have protected herself. The younger me would have found it easier to navigate through a world that is sex-fuelled and hell-bent on controlling her very own being. The younger me would have understood boundaries and how to protect her own. The younger me would never compromise.