Let’s start this with a big question,
Is the human conscience inherent?
Are you born with a sense of right and wrong?
Are things like guilt and shame part of human DNA?
I had a friend once tell me that babies display conscience on their own. He said to look at a baby when they did something bad and see how they react.
Now I have three younger siblings and one niece, and I have watched them all grow from infancy to their current ages.
I have had to look after each one of them at some point and I can tell you for sure that when my baby siblings and niece were spilling tea (milo and milk) on the table, or smacking me square in the face with a toy, or ripping up my carelessly kept workbook, none of them had a sense of wrong, or a glint of evil in their eyes. And until I yelled and shocked them out of the act they were engaged in, they genuinely looked like they were simply curious explorers with no intrinsic reason for what they were doing.
My first sexual encounter led to a depressive episode.
I sat in a library the day after and broke down into tears just to release the heavy feelings in my chest.
I knew then that I was headed down a dangerous part.
I was plagued with feelings of worthlessness.
I woke up every morning after with a sinking feeling of despair.
Despair for me feels like waking up with your spirit, hopes and dreams dead and heavy, weighing you down from the inside out.
This was triggered by the fact that a penis had reached the entrance of my vagina.
There was no penetration, but to me, that was enough.
You see, I was raised Christian, with Christian values and morals.
I was told virginity was a gift for your spouse even though this wasn’t said anywhere in the bible.
In the Old Testament bible, having sex before marriage was punishable by death for girls (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), and since there wasn’t and hasn't been any way to check if a boy has never had sex, boys were exempt from this punishment. Virginity itself is mythical in a sense because a woman’s hymen can be torn by a number of things besides sex and some people are born with no hymen present at all.
My breakdown wasn’t caused by the loss of virginity because my hymen was in fact still intact after that first experience.
My break down was caused by years of faulty messaging about sex and purity.
It was caused by pseudo sex-education lectures in secondary and primary schools were boys were separated from girls.The girls were gathered in a hall and given lessons on how to care for our pubescent bodies, how to avoid getting raped and how to remain ‘pure’ while the boys played in class.
Even though I had been a feminist since I was twelve and I thought I had rejected all sexist, patriarchal fallacies, the ones about virginity had stuck and become my conscience.
I was overcome with guilt and shame and even though I was aware mentally that having sex did not make me impure, knowing it in my head still did not change how I felt about it.
I wondered if my guilt was a sign that the myths about virginity were true.
I read Actress Tamera Mowry’s account about how she had sex for the first time before marriage, and regretted it and she waited until marriage to do it again.
Was my depression a call from my conscience, struggling to stir me right?
Was it a sign from God that I had sinned?
Are post-sex blues simply premarital sex guilt?
The beauty about coming into feminism is that it provides you with tools to navigate moments like these.
Conscience isn’t fact, it is formed through indoctrination.
Because I had previously dropped various other patriarchal ideas I once thought of as fact, I knew that in this instance there was a need to reorient my mind to get me out of this depressive episode.
In some Nigerian cultures, there was a time both male and females walked around topless and nobody cared, it wasn’t wrong and there was no shame attached to it. Now there is shame attached to it thanks to the spread of westernized religion through colonization and many people in today’s society consider going topless, or showing ample boobs immoral.
Sex before marriage like anything else that harms no one, has no inherent moral angle to it.
It is neither bad or good, it is just a thing you do.
You can either choose to have sex, or you can be abstinent. Both options are based on the choice of the individual.
The problem with scaring girls into virginity until marriage, is that it creates an anxiety about intimacy and often sexually represses them.
There are people who are plagued with post-coital guilt and feel impure even after sex with their husbands.
Attaching someone’s worth to what they do, or do not do with their sexual organs is absurd, and it is also quite frankly lacking in logic.
The people who have sex don’t wake up with an extra head or a different character the next day.
Nothing changed about me after my first time but somehow my heart was not at rest.
The guilt I felt inside was dark and ugly and I desperately wanted and needed to let it go.
In order to get my head right, I did three things.
The first I did was read Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth. I found someone whose message was in alignment with what I knew was true, and hearing directly from her helped me reinforce facts about sexuality.
Secondly, I asked my girlfriends about their sexual encounters.
Hearing them talk so unashamedly and freely about it and even make jokes, helped me not make a big deal out of something that could be special, casual or sometimes both.
The third and most important thing I did was to have sex again.
Because I know that I am susceptible to past anti-women messages, religious doctrine and generally skewered ideas, I have a habit of doing things over and over again until I no longer feel guilty about doing any of it.
I know that if you repeat something over and over again it becomes truth to your mind.
The rules you repeat to yourself become your conscience
After every sexual encounter, I reminded myself over and over that I was still pure.
You can create or recreate your conscience.
I live by one rule only, do no harm.
If what I’m doing does not cause anyone else pain, then I have done nothing wrong.
I did it over and over again until I accepted that the bible is misogynistic, until I realized that if at all a higher power existed, it would have more important things to worry about besides my hymen.
I did it until I realized that my body is not a wedding present and trumpets won’t shoot out of the skies on my wedding night.
I kept doing it because I want to be with a person who wants me as I am and doesn’t subscribe to any ridiculous ideas about purity.
Having sex casually and feeling absolutely no guilt as an adult is still one of the most liberating things that has happened to me.
Change is not easy and I have come through a huge, dark, depressive storm and smaller ones to get here but I’m glad that the fear that my ‘purity’ can be taken from me, no longer bothers me.
The funniest part about all this is I have never wanted to be married, but I made my boyfriend wait a year for sex because “true love waits”.
I never really realized how these two things contradicted each other.
Words by Edwin Ununuma