In high school, boys broke up with me because they said I wanted to move too fast. I was always the most experienced of my friends and, oddly, given the repressive Catholic school I attended, never ashamed of it.
That doesn’t mean people didn’t try to make me feel ashamed. Even my best friends made faces when I talked about my sex life, and I learned to keep my mouth shut (at least in that context). I got a reputation among our social group — among my best friends — as a slut. I was baffled rather than hurt, mostly. Didn’t everyone want to fool around like I did? I didn’t realize that even for a teenager, I had a high sex drive. I also didn’t realize it was only the beginning.
In college, I always had a boyfriend or was sleeping with guys between boyfriends. I wasn’t groping for some kind of desperate connection. I wasn’t trying to fill some kind of void. I just really loved sex. Loved it. Adored it. Loved the skin-on-skin, the open mouths, the feel of another body on mine.
Luckily, by college, I could always find a willing partner, and my boyfriends were usually on board with my willingness to try anything pretty much anytime and anywhere. Still, I had a reputation. It was less stigmatized by then, because in college, everyone was sleeping around, especially the crowd I ran with, but still: the reputation was there. You have a sex question, talk to Alyssa. You want to run to the porn store, you know Alyssa’s up for it.
My sex number doesn’t matter, but it’s a lot higher than most people’s, and that fact doesn’t bother me.
What does bother me: getting shamed for it.
What bothered me even more: when I did get raped (he got me drunk, ignored my voiced “no,” and kept me in his apartment all night, and I stayed because I didn’t want the situation to get physically violent). Some friends didn’t believe me. That included my boyfriend, who promptly broke up with me, and an ex, who called me a slut. See, I had a high sex drive. So I must have been asking for it. I must have brought it on myself. At least in my ex-boyfriend’s mind.
But a high sex drive, dressing provocatively, and even a history a of promiscuity don’t negate rape. Don’t make rape okay. They may make it easier for the rapist to get away with his crime, and they did. But they don’t make the rape any less real or any less acceptable.
That rape destroyed me, sexually, in a way no amount of slut-shaming ever could. Suddenly, I couldn’t kiss anyone without feeling suffocated. Being naked during sex felt too vulnerable, and I often wanted to keep my shirt on. I often demanded we stay under the covers, and I learned later that was because rape victims often feel the need to stay warm during sex. I tried bondage (which I used to love) once — once — after my rape. It traumatized me all over again. My high sex drive was still there, but I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, act on it. I was too afraid, and too ashamed.
I got married. I had kids. I was put on SSRIs for depression. We had sex, like people do. Good sex, decent sex. I did a lot of work to recover from my rape. I switched from my SSRIs, notorious for repressing sex drive, to another drug. And suddenly, in my 30s, I had the same high sex drive I had when I was eighteen. Except I was now married, with two kids, a house, and familial obligations.
My husband was overjoyed. He’d never had a wife who could make out without turning away. He’d never had a wife who jumped him in the shower, who initiated sex (I always waited until I was damn sure he wanted to do it before I let myself go). We had what he called “college sex,” trying all the positions all the time and fooling around when there was no chance we’d finish. Suddenly, I was always the propositioner. “Netflix and chill” became watching a little Netflix and then having a ton of sex, because laying in bed next to him and watching Brooklyn 99 for an hour was enough to turn me on.
It got so he would be apologetic: “I’m sorry honey, I have a headache,” he’d say. Which made me feel like an asshole, because that’s the old excuse, right? Or he’d say he was too tired, which also made me feel like a jerk, and I worried that what he was really trying to say was: Again? I really don’t want to have to fuck you again.
My recovery is still fragile. I want sex all the time, but society never taught me, as a woman, to understand that men might not want sex all the time. So I viewed it as a personal rejection.
So when my husband made the mistake of teasing me about having a high sex drive, about how I always wanted to jump him, it didn’t feel like a joke. It felt like every voice from high school, every dissenting whisper from college, that ex-boyfriend after my rape saying I was lying. It felt like slut-shaming. I told him so and I walked out in tears. I hadn’t realized how fragile that recovery had been until he shredded it.
I wish I could end on some triumphant note: something to say that no woman deserves to feel this way. Something about how no woman should ever be shamed for her sexuality. I firmly believe this. I believed it in college and I believe it now.
But sometimes that isn’t enough. This is one more thing to work through, I tell myself. You worked through a rape. You can work through this. And I pick myself up. I resolve to try another day, to let him know I want him, even when I’m scared he’ll say no. Even if that will feel like a personal rejection. Even if I get turned down.
Having a high sex drive can be awesome. But it can also suck sometimes, because society doesn’t teach us what to do with it. Women are supposed to be passive. Women are supposed to be virginal, or have low sex numbers, at least. Women aren’t supposed to initiate sex or want it all the time. If you do, we have a name for you, and it’s “slut.”
It’s hard to work your way out from under that, especially if you’ve suffered some kind of trauma. But you can do it. I tell myself that. I remind myself I am worth it.
Then I ask, again, if my husband wants to lock the door.
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