a personal photography project & journal


On Fire

Fuji X-T1 35mm f/1.4 Settings: ISO 400 f/2.5 SS1/180

Fuji X-T1 35mm f/1.4 Settings: ISO 400 f/2.5 SS1/180

My mother never gave me the 'sex talk'. When I was relatively young, I have this vivid memory of her sitting on the toilet talking to me (as mothers & children do). She told me my best bet was to 'keep my legs closed'. I had no idea what this even meant except that it felt incredibly shameful & embarrassing. Little girls are often told to close their legs when they're wearing skirts. What was between my legs that needed to be hidden? I wasn't sure. 

In junior high I had a boyfriend who grew more & more fond of getting me alone in his bedroom. This lead to pretty short bursts of heavy petting sessions, lots of rubbing & kissing on his part. Lots of wriggling underneath him on my part. After a particularly rousing afternoon with him, my mother came to pick me up from his home. The drive back to our house wasn't long, but I could sense something brewing, my senses quite in tune to bursts of anger by that age. By the time we'd arrived at home she was absolutely seething. 

She turned to me in the parked car of the driveway & hissed at me, Never come home again smelling like you've been rode hard & put up wet. 

Horrified, confused & incredibly ashamed, I didn't even know what that meant necessarily, except that whatever I had done was bad. Very bad.

I played that phrase over & over in my head. What did it mean? It's something that even to this day is embarrassing for me to think about. As an adult, at the complete off chance I would even hear that phrase it would entice a full body cringe & likely mouth vomit. 

I snuck peeks at my parents copy of The Joy of Sex, illustrated with dudes sporting pork chop sized side burns & women with huge plumes of pubic hair that would rival any 80's Playboy model. 

And speaking of Playboy, I found my share of those too. In a garage house behind my dad's home. The images were fascinating to me. Women with pursed, wet looking lips. Big curled hair. Tits thrust onward & half dressed, they perched on all fours, on the hood of vehicle in a wheat field. Weird, man. 

It's probably no surprise I started having sex at 15 with an older boy in my high school. He was handsome & popular & most importantly, took an interest in me. I lost my virginity in his parent's bed, them away on vacation, his friends lingering at a party just outside the closed door. I don't recall much about the experience. I do recall he asked my permission. My sheer luck in avoiding STD's & pregnancy scares not withstanding, the real tragedy is, I didn't actually have an orgasm until I was in college. That's 6 years of really, really bad sex. 

How was I to know, though? I was never told sex could be beautiful. That it was perfect for people who loved each other. That sex should actually feel good for me & I was under no obligation to simply be a conduit for some guy to expedite getting off. 

Another high school boyfriend at least recognized his inability to help me orgasm & one time tried to encourage me to touch myself. Jesus. What the hell was he thinking? Good girls definitely didn't have sex in parked cars or empty parent's houses & they sure as hell didn't touch themselves. I knew I wasn't exactly good, but I also knew that sex was ultimately wrong, no matter how many parked cars I ended up in. I shouldn't be doing it in any capacity & I absolutely shouldn't be having sex with myself. 

One summer after junior college, I took the initiative to get myself to a free health clinic. Set up with a new birth control regimen & a paper bag chock full of condoms, I headed home. I happened to be living with my parents that summer because there just wasn't anywhere else for me to go & eventually my mother found my bag, stuffed in the back of my closet. 

Disappointed. She was so 'very disappointed' in me. As a young woman, taking charge of her body, trying her best to navigate a semi adult life without a compass, this rumpled bag of rainbow colored condoms was yet another reminder of just how disappointing I was. 

My first orgasm happened around the time I was 21 & it was a complete & total surprise. Like stepping off a street corner to get smacked by a bus. So much of a surprise I didn't really know what happened. I just knew it was wonderful. I knew so little about my body & actual anatomy, that orgasm was just as much a fluke as a good hair day. No way to recreate that magic. Hope it happens again, tho. I spent the next couple of years & handful of partners chasing that feeling, continually being eluded.

I can easily say, & I'm sure he wouldn't mind hearing, that my husband is the best sex I've had. But I must add that I feel partially responsible for this. The reason being, I finally learned how to facilitate my own orgasm. As it turns out, masturbation has nothing to do with being good or bad. Saintly or slut like. 

Sex is something that's never been difficult for me. It's intimacy that remains out of reach. Yet, intimacy was what I was so desperately seeking all those times I casually slipped off my pants. Surely, sex meant something. I was beautiful. I was desired. I was important. I was seen. I was loved? But then again, all I knew for sure was that for me to be having sex was, inherently bad. And looking back, I know seeking love out in such a reckless way was certainly not good. 

Until, of course, I was married. Then & only then, would sex finally be allowed.  

Some days I see myself in the mirror & groan. Fuck, you're old, I think. I squint my eyes, bring my face as close to the mirror as possible. Inspect every wrinkle, every line, every pore. 

But lately... & usually after I'm well moisturized, I'll catch a glimpse of myself & think, Ooh, girl. You look good. And in a weird way, even as I creep closer & closer to my 40th trip around the sun... somehow I feel more beautiful. More sensual. More sultry. More... sexy?

A few weeks ago I was overcome with this intense feeling that I was finally really becoming myself. Like a moth emerging from her cocoon, misunderstood; I might not be the most beautiful winged creature but my presence is still seen. Is this what comes of four decades of living? Do we, as women, finally get to accept & love ourselves once we've tapped into our inner most thoughts & desires? Do we first have to experience true intimacy with ourselves before we can share it with another person? 


Trisha Hughes4 Comments