I never got the sex talk my entire life: an essay on masturbation and intimacy

By Sonja Gutierrez. Illustrations by Gabrielle Gatchalian

I am eight years old and walking by the hallway beside my classroom with my friend Elaine. We are both quiet as I notice the skies overcast–a sign of the coming rain. I want to ask Elaine something but I am not sure if it’s right, I am not sure about how she would react. I have a vague idea of my question’s answer but I want someone to say it out loud. Elaine is one of the top students in my second grade class. Perhaps she would know.

I blurt it out and get it over with. “What is sex?”

Elaine does not even hesitate when she answers me. “It’s when you’re a boy or a girl. Male or female.”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”

She says it with so much assurance that I don’t try to push her even further. All I think of when we walk back into our classroom is that it is not the answer I wanted to hear.

Sex is a strange thing. It is one of the most natural aspects of human life, with its necessity close, if not equal, to food and sustenance. And yet we live in a world where it’s more comfortable for an audience to watch murder and gunfire in the media rather than an intimate love scene. Where talking about sex is taboo, often spoken with euphemism and hushed, hurried words, despite grown adults instilling sexuality in young children.

“The both of them would look so cute together.”

“He’s teasing you only because he likes you.”

“Who is your crush?” (I didn’t even know what a crush was when this question was suddenly thrown at me, so I told my aunts that I had a crush on Denver, the Last Dinosaur. You can Google him later.)

I grew up in a conservative Catholic household that refused to talk about bumping uglies. The sort that told you to close your eyes during a sex scene on TV and pretended it never happened afterward, no matter how curious I was. And because of this and my family’s painful awkwardness around said taboo topic, I didn’t dare ask them about it.

Friends coming from exclusive schools would always tell me I had it better studying in a Catholic co-ed school. You’d be less sexually repressed. You can talk to guys better. But honestly, it still wasn’t easy. Relationships were prohibited until you reached high school. If you were caught, your conduct record would be tarnished with the big, fat, ugly “BGR” (“boy-girl relationship”) label. Then of course there were gender expectations—guys could freely talk about sex and pornography and it’d be completely normal. But no girl would even try uttering a word about sexuality, else you’d be labeled as a slut, a whore, or “green-minded.’ I don’t think I have to talk about the Catholic expectations.

For years, I have struggled with moral compass and sexuality. What was this odd, new feeling? Why does nobody ever want to talk about it with me? And was it a sin to feel something so human?

This is an essay about sex. This is an essay about lack of sex. This essay is about innocence, of innocence lost, of coming of age.

***

In high school, a couple must go through the “MU” or mutual understanding stage before officially being in a relationship.

My first “MU” came in the form of a short, pale, and wide-eyed 14-year-old boy named Iggy. When we embraced for the first time, I remember wondering if he could feel my breasts through his chest.

I broke his heart a week after partaking in this “MU.”

***

I am 13 when I tell my friends that oral sex is gross and declare that I will never, never, never ever partake in such a vile and gross act in my entire life. I mean, you get rid of your body’s waste with those areas of your body.

As a child, I’ve always thought vaginas were disgusting little things. Those weird-colored, wrinkly folds that inconveniently get hot and sticky when your undies are too tight—I’ve spent a lot of time looking at mine and wondering why it was just so strange. I couldn’t even begin to think of a boy’s mouth coming anywhere near it.

At the same time, my mother never gave me the dreaded “talk.” Her strategy was to always keep mum about it and pretend to be as clueless as your other pubescent friends. We were watching an episode of One Tree Hill together one evening and the episode showed one of the main characters, Brooke Davis, being caught masturbating by another character. Of course, the scene in question was not explicitly shown, and Brooke was accused by her friend of “Brooking herself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked my mother.

She shrugged and did not dare say a word.

I genuinely believed she had no clue about it either.

***

I am 16. It’s nearing the middle of a particularly humid evening and I am talking on the phone with Iggy, who has become one of my closest male friends and confidants regardless of me breaking his heart.

My legs are folded up so that I can rest my chin on my knees. The conversation is on its second hour and we are talking about secrets.

“I want to tell you something but I’m shy.”

I can hear the scoff in his voice over the other end of the line. “You can tell me anything.”

“You’re going to judge me.”

“I won’t.”

“You have to promise.”

“I promise.”

I lower my voice into something that is barely a whisper. “I am guilty of something.”

“Guilty of what.”

“That really unnecessarily long word that sounds absolutely hideous.”

“Sonja, you have to say it,” he groans. “Say it out loud and own it.”

“It starts with an M and ends with an N!”

I can hear Iggy giving up over the phone. “It’s a natural thing. I even know some girls who do it regularly. You shouldn’t feel so bad about it.”

“But I do! I am so guilty.”

He laughs. “You shouldn’t be.”

It is 2 a.m. when I get off the phone with him. I feel as if a huge weight has lifted from my chest, as Iggy is the first person I’ve ever decided to talk to about it. But the conservative Catholic inside me who just wouldn’t get out is sorry and ashamed for being a 16-year-old who enjoyed thinking of sex.

***

Sex may or may not come with love, while masturbation is solely for pleasure. People do it to feel good.

I learn of masturbation for the first time when I am 14. The first thing that I think of when our Christian Living Education informs us of this topic is, “Oh, so that’s what it’s called.”

It the strangest thing to have known something for so long before you actually learn its (unbelievably ugly-sounding) name. It is even stranger to have grown up thinking I was literally the only girl in school who was doing it—the only girl who’s discovered it so early, when every other girl was probably thinking the same.

Like anyone else who does, I masturbate to feel good.

Someone had once asked me about my wildest fantasies—what do I like, who do I think of, if I do it with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background and incense sticks burning in my room. It’s hard to say for a person who solely craves for even the slightest bit of pleasure. Most of the time, I just look at dirty stuff and get off faster than a commercial break. Unromantic, I know. When you’ve been untouched for 100% of your life, you don’t need much creativity.

But sometimes, when the feeling of being high fades away, I lie on my bed, stare at the ceiling, and it is as if I am the loneliest, saddest, most isolated girl on this planet.

I am always waiting and longing for something.

***

At 18, I stop pretending. I don’t understand why so many people have this purer-than-pure, holier-than-holy idea of me when my brain is probably filthier than the underground canals that lead to Pasig river. Perhaps it’s because I’m quiet. Perhaps it’s my face. I don’t know. All I know is that I want this Virgin Mary facade to disappear. So I bring up desire and sex whenever I have the opportunity, earning the nickname “Impure Sonja” within my small circle of girl friends in university.

One day, one of said friends mentions something that may be taken as sexual innuendo, and of course, I have to remain true to my nickname and point it out jokingly.

Hay nako, Sonja. You, ha. You are so dirty,” she says.

The manner she says this to me feels like a mother lecturing a child for something they did wrong. I am taken aback because I am aware of all the filthy things she’s done with her boyfriend, while there I was, a girl who has never even seen a live dick in her entire life.

***

My gay friend, Alex, and I are trapped in a room where two of our other friends are making out on a bed. We cannot leave the room because it’s not our house and we have no idea where else to go.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” he whispers, nudging his head to the couple not so far from us.

“How did we even get here?” I ask him. He just shrugs.

We decide to ignore them both and talk about Math 10 and how annoying our Math professor was. We giggle quietly among ourselves, regardless of our awareness of the moans overpowering our slightly nervous laughter.

***

Gabe and I have known each other since we were 12. We are now 20 and he’s been spending more time with me than the usual because he and his girlfriend had broken up earlier in the year.

I win tickets to a rock concert during my summer internship. I don’t know who else to bring so I ask Gabe to come with me.

He plays a song called “Sex Tape” on his car stereo, something from the band that both he and I really like.

The ocean takes me into
Watch you shaking
Watch you weigh your powers
Tempt with hours of pleasure
Take me one more time
Take me one more wave
Take me for one last ride
I’m out of my head

I don’t really enjoy the concert much because I only really know two songs in the entire setlist. Gabe looks like he’s having a blast, though. After, he drives me home like he always does when we go out. I say that it was a fun night while I shamble through the things in my bag.

It is then when I feel his lips on the side of my head, lightly kissing my hair, a fleeting moment no longer than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. I don’t understand everything that is happening and I quickly mutter a “bye” before dashing out of that car and into the gates of my house. A few weeks later, when he drives me home once again from a friend’s birthday party, he kisses my arm.

I feel uncomfortable and confused and wonder if this is what love feels like.

You’ve been reading trashy fan fiction for most of your sad, sex-less adolescence and when the chance for intimacy is finally here, you decide to run away like the coward you are.

Am I a coward? Do I know what I want?

What do I want?

A few months back, I talk to my friend about what I want to write about in this essay. I tell her my plans to write about desire, adolescence, and sexual awakening. She, Crystal, squeals in delight across me on the table where we sit, somewhere in a dingy canteen across our office building.

“I am scared,” I say, smiling despite my utter craving to put these thoughts onto paper.

“Don’t be,” she says back. “Be brave.”

Naturally, as she is also a writer herself, we run through the possible themes that I can touch on—discovery, repression, growth, self-projection. She asks me all these things that I cannot answer on the spot. In your fantasies, are you different from who you are in reality? Why do you think people see you as innocent? What triggers you?

(I try and fail to answer all these questions in a coherent manner.)

We inevitably talk about our sex lives—hers and my lack thereof. Crystal reminisces her time in college where she began a heavily physical relationship with a man older than her. She tells me about a very short piece she once wrote about how her body forgets the act of making love, but her mind remembers their conversations before and after the event. In the piece, Crystal writes that she was small compared to him, a mound formed by time and effort and love. I sit across her stunned, a bit annoyed that the one and only real juicy thing that I could tell her about myself is that I masturbated when I felt the urge.

She widens her eyes and informs me that she cannot possibly achieve sexual fulfillment by her hand alone. And she very earnestly says, “Sonja, you’re amazing.”

I sit across Crystal, my friend, a woman. I, a girl, laugh and try to convince her that I really am not.

***

I am sprawled out with my legs open and the first person to ever touch my vagina other than myself is a gynecologist.

While she is poking around to look for infections, at the same time, I am wishing my vagina is a live person so I can slap her right in the face and say, all I’ve ever done is love and protect you and this is how you repay me.

“Have you had sexual contact?” my gynecologist questions.

“No,” I begrudgingly say with resigned honesty while I pull my underwear back on.

“Yes, it’s a fungal infection,” she tells me like she’s told patients probably a hundred times. “It’s probably because you eat too much sweets.”

I want to laugh because I can’t even indulge in my sweets now.

The doctor prescribes me with vaginal suppositories and I have the most uncomfortable night of my life. When I eat my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies the following day, I tell myself that if I am going to just be penetrated by suppositories and nothing else for the next few years or so, then I at least deserve these damn cookies.

***

Iggy and I meet in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch in Ortigas. He is now seeing a girl who is not particularly fond of me. Like friends who don’t normally see each other often, we must always, always talk about our love lives. I nonchalantly tell him about a boy who’d been trying to ask me out. I also note that while the boy’s attention is flattering, he is notorious for dating around and never taking girls seriously.

“Just use him for his body then,” Iggy says. I almost choke on my own saliva.

“Um, no.”

“Why?” he asks. “You have nothing to lose.”

I glower at him. “I don’t want to just do stuff with someone who isn’t special to me.”

Iggy is irritatingly persistent. “Why?”

“Because I’m so pure and innocent,” I tease.

Iggy rolls his eyes at me and I laugh.

“You know,” he ponders as he stirs the teaspoon to his hot Chai tea. “You could get rid of it anytime you want. You can have anyone you want, really. You’re not bad looking. And any guy would be crazy to turn you down.”

I scoff at him. “No, I can’t.”

Iggy shrugs and takes a sip out of his tea. “I’m just saying.”

Deep down inside, I know what he’s saying is right. I can.

I just don’t want to.

***

In one of my dreams, I have a boyfriend, tall and pale and handsome. In the dream, he injures his leg. We both go to the hospital but it ends up pouring by the time the doctors have mended him up. For some reason, he comes out of the hospital with no crutches, so he leans on me and we both limp as fast as we can to find some shade from the rain. He and I end up in the control room of a small auditorium that looks a lot like the one my elementary school had.

My boyfriend is laughing and still holding my hand before he gazes at me. I know that look very well, and then suddenly our clothes are discarded on the floor. I am on top of him and he is holding me against him and nothing else can be heard but both our heavy breaths and the sound of rain.

When I wake up, I find myself in an unexplainable sensation of loss. I am missing something. I miss his embrace, his laughter, the feel of his hand tightly clasping mine, the mischievous stares we’d exchanged, the idea of someone who is completely, helplessly in love with me.

***

I find it quite touching that a handful of my friends are trying extremely hard to find me the one. And also a little worrying that my own mother has recently been attempting to set me up on blind dates—as if I wasn’t capable of getting dates myself (unsurprising trivia: I am horrible at flirting).

I like who I am now. Like any girl, I feel insecure here and there, but I can truthfully say that I like myself. I am certainly not the prettiest, smartest, or most talented woman in the world but I am cute, articulate, and a little witty. Someday, hopefully, the right person will see that.

I like who I am now. Like any girl, I feel insecure here and there, but I can truthfully say that I like myself. I am certainly not the prettiest, smartest, or most talented woman in the world but I am cute, articulate, and a little witty. Someday, hopefully, the right person will see that.

I am still a virgin and sometimes I find myself a loser for having younger relatives who get 99.9% more action than I ever had in my 20-something years of existing. But that’s alright.

I talk about sex more openly now and still fluster those who aren’t as comfortable speaking about it; despite this, they know they can tell me anything that they’re too afraid to mention to anyone else. I tell everyone I crave for it, now without all the guilt I’ve felt before, but I realize that I speak less of the desires I want even more—warm embraces, forehead kisses, conversations at midnight, curious gazes, sharing music, human connection.

Not making love, but falling in love.

Someday (God, please), I will have sex. And when that day comes, there is one thing I know for sure—it will be with someone I love the most.

And you know what? Regardless of being the not-so-young virgin that I am, that’s okay. In the end, waiting is my choice. Other girls would choose to have as much sex as they want. Fuck, that’s more than alright. Then there are some girls who don’t even feel the need to have sex or masturbate. And that’s also totally fine. No one should ever dictate what women can and can’t do behind closed doors.

As the wait, though begrudgingly, goes on for now, I’ll have some good erotic literature, porn, and the sweet touch of my fingertips, please.