How I learned that my self-esteem can’t come from others’ bodies
Megan Amato // Associate News Editor
Sex and I have a very complicated relationship. It was often an unhealthy one, based not on mutual pleasure but on whether or not a person wanted me. I had little to no self-esteem, undiagnosed mental health issues and a family who had taught me that love was conditional. I treated my body as a commodity that I traded for a temporary kind of love. I looked for who I was the only way I knew how to find myself—through other people. It took many unsatisfying and often humiliating sexual encounters and a couple of abusive relationships to realize that what I was looking for couldn’t be found in others. I couldn’t trade sex for my self-esteem and self-worth. I had to find those things in myself.
I’m not slut-shaming those who are sexually active, who love sex and find pleasure in variety. Instead, this is criticism of using sex as a tool for sex-validation. Simply stated: sex won’t make someone love you, but more, it won’t make you love you. Self-love doesn’t come when you do—and I rarely did anyway.
I hate clichés in media about loose women having “daddy issues.” I may have deep-rooted issues with my father but those issues come primarily from the worst daddy of them all: the patriarchy. Sure, my father told me that he hoped I wasn’t a slut because that’s all I would amount to no matter my accomplishments, but that was just wisdom passed down from big papa patriarchy. Women are criticized as both the virgin and the slut; there is no winning when it comes to sex, and the harder you try to find that self-worth in others, the more elusive it becomes.
I was 15-years-old the first time I had sex with my boyfriend of one week—and he dumped me the next. The second time was with a slightly older guy who was very sexually experienced—to this day I don’t know how he got so many girls to sleep with him because it was the most unsatisfying sexual experience I’ve ever had. I had sex with him because I ached to feel wanted, and for those two days leading up to it, I did. He stopped talking to me almost as soon as he was done. After that, his friend messaged me on MySpace to kindly inform me that I was a whore. It was the second time I’d ever had sex but because it was with a guy who was promiscuous, I was the slut. Boys will be boys and all that rubbish.
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson. I kept handing my body over to people in hopes that I would feel some sort of connection that would provide me with a sense of self. I questioned my self-worth and value daily. I choose romantic engagements over friendships because they made me feel more immediate and hurt people who cared about me. When I turned 19, the bar scene made sex more easily available. There were some fun interactions, but I realized that I wasn’t hugely turned on by the person but by my own power and I slept only with those who chased me. It didn’t last long. It was six months before I was tired of the club scene and my self-esteem had hit an all-time low. I crashed and burned, hurt someone I cared about and began living with someone. That short relationship was emotionally abusive and he made me think that I owed him my body for every kindness he had given me. For a while, I thought it was my punishment and stayed until one incident made me fear for my safety.
After that, I spent six months with myself and away from the toxic relationship I had with sex. I entered a long-distance relationship and being separated from the person and unable to throw my body at problems allowed me to discover who I was, what I liked about myself and my complicated sexuality. In the end, being alone made me confront myself and my issues and opened the door in a way that sex or other people never could. Find who you are by yourself. You’ll thank yourself later.