Not a Dead Fish; Not an Experienced Slut

Photo taken by Satchel @dead.rum

Photo taken by Satchel @dead.rum

Our world is fucked.


There is a dangerous undertone that plagues most people’s perception of female sexuality. I was fortunate in that my childhood was hardly like that of most I know. I was born to Lebanese immigrant parents in the U.S. and shortly after we moved to Lebanon for two years when I was in fourth grade. I finished up the rest of 6th grade and high school at an American school in Japan. At the ripe age of 13, I was trekking around every corner of Honshu, which is the Japanese island that houses Tokyo.


Despite the exoticism of my life, I still struggled with the wallows of puberty. I had a mustache I didn’t know how to get rid of, menstrual cramps that felt like the bane of my existence, and a serious lack of male suitors. Women complain all the time (myself included) about the negative attention we get from men. But I can’t say being invisible to them felt much better.


I was desperate to be seen. This was a mission that started even younger than 13 and continued until about 16, which is around the time I’d been introduced to tweezers, self-tanner, and squats. I was finally starting to get some momentum in my romantic life. If social classes in high school were divided by alphabet letters, I was attracting C+ quality men, and I was comfortable with that.


This was also around the time my mother was stuffing my head like a portobello mushroom with ideas about how I should carry myself around boys. The irony is, when I got my period she gave me a pamphlet. The struggle was real. Her mother never introduced her to the changes her body was going through. How was she to do that for me? But with boys it was different. A period stain can’t bring your family shame like an unexpected pregnancy can. So she took her due diligence to teach me what she felt were three major pointers about sex:


  1. Sex is a woman’s weapon to control men

  2. The mention of sex puts you at risk for an STD

  3. Preserving your virginity = major bonus points to score a high bidding husband


So, let me get this straight: women are basically domesticated prostitutes? If sex is a woman’s weapon, then it’s obviously more of a tool than a treat. If preserving my virginity makes me more valuable in the mating market, then I’m basically using it as an exchange for a man and his resources, which kind of feels like socially sanctioned prostitution.


Of course, at sixteen I didn’t have the eloquence to describe it like that. But I believed in every word of this philosophy nonetheless. So I gave my mother’s advice a whirl. While everyone around me was fucking and sucking during bathroom breaks in the gym locker room, I held out for that special someone. I didn’t know why blood came out of me every month and insisted on creating a jabbing pain in my lower back, but I accepted it all in the name of womanhood. I even joined a Xanga group called “I bleed monthly. Don’t mess with me.” I thought it was kind of bad-ass to be a woman, to have this superpower to control men by closing or opening my legs. I still didn’t understand the intricacies of that concept, but I obliged it nonetheless.


Then it was senior year and I was dating a man seven years older than me. He was an Albanian model on a full-ride scholarship to a university in Tokyo. He was trilingual. Definitely my vibe. The first date we had was an hour and a half away from my house by train. He took me to a restaurant that simulated a prison. We ate our dinner in the dark handcuffed to each other. It was interesting and weird, like him.


Our meal ended and it was time for me to go home, but custom to first date behavior, we dragged on like turtles to the train station. Before I knew it, I was grappling with the fact that I’d just missed the last train home. At first I wrestled with an internal anxiety-induced conversation about logistics. What to say to my parents. Where to take out my colored contacts. How to go to school in the same clothes the next day.


Meanwhile, he maintained a relaxed smile. He wanted me to be comfortable. I wanted to be comfortable. But staying with a guy I just went on a date with? Hardly easing.


We finally arrived at his humble dorm. Imagine a tiny room with a bunk bed and a bathroom. Posters of soccer players on the wall, and the Turkish flag (his roommate was Turkish). I refused to sleep with him on the bed, so he gave me a futon to sleep on instead but insisted on joining me on the floor. I turned my back to him, I didn’t want any kind of behavior even alluding to the “S” word to be initiated.


It was a very conservative first date, just like my mother would’ve liked. The months rolled by, and our relationship gained momentum. Six months into our relationship, a new year was approaching. We spent the new year with his friends at a bar in Tokyo, and by that time I’d grown accustomed to spending weekends at his dorm. This night was different though. Because I’d been having a pep talk with myself all week about how I was ready to ‘lose it’ (oh how I distaste that term; the idea that the woman ‘loses’ something when she has sex for the first time...but that’s a rant for a different day.)


My first impression of sex was that it was okay. It kind of felt like doing a primal dance naked. The faces it inspired him to make weirded me out. He was like a different person. All the put-togetherness just melted off him in an animalistic attempt to conquer. I didn’t know how long to maintain a position or how to switch to another one, so I just followed his lead. Of course, my lack of knowledge was exacerbated by the fact that I’d never masturbated. So asking me what I liked was like asking a life-long vegetarian what their favorite kind of meat is. I had no idea what I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy. The entire experience felt like one continuous string of odd movements until we miraculously reached the desired destination.


His first impression of sex with me? Well, he called me ‘maguro,’ which is ‘tuna’ in Japanese and is used to mock a woman who just lays there. So there’s that. Of course he said in the context of a joke, but there was a lot of truth to it. I truly had no clue what I was doing. But I was determined to change that.


I moved to Lebanon for university leaving behind the Albanian and seven years worth of memories in Japan. By then, my mentality of sex had evolved beyond the concept of ‘socially sanctioned sex,’ that my mother had installed in me. I saw it as a pleasurable exchange between two consenting people. It wasn’t as poetic for me as people stereotype it to be for women. It was actually quite simple. Like dancing or playing tag, except you did it naked.


Around this time I was writing poetry about sex. It was raw and honest. I talked about the awkwardness of it all. The visible ingrown hairs in broad daylight. The logistics of keeping long hair out of your face in certain positions. The boredom of the act once I had cum, but the ongoing acting that took place until he did too. The exaggerated moans, the scratching which I supposed was sexy based on mainstream media. Sex was like a car that I knew enough about to drive, but there were still many features I hadn’t explored, and I wasn’t sure I ever would.


Around this time I was also learning how conservative Lebanon really is. The irony was that I’d never seen girls so pristine and revealed. Everyone was sun kissed with lip fillers. The girls were gorgeous to look at. But once you took a step closer and actually had a conversation with them, you’d unravel a personality complex that eventually infected me too.


There was a social hierarchy I’d never experienced before based on what I found to be trivial measures of worth. Merit was based on the negative value of a woman’s sexual experience and the net worth of her boyfriend. It was all so foreign to me.

Here I was trying to overcome the horror of being called a ‘dead fish’ in bed, only to learn my lack of experience made me more desirable in this society. At first, I rejected this notion. When you move to a new place, you bring the old place with you. It takes a conscious choice to leave that part of you behind and assimilate to the new culture.

Unfortunately, the assimilation process finally took off and not in a way I would’ve hoped. I spent five years in Lebanon with two opposing schools of thought fighting for my attention. On the one hand, I knew it was sexist to set constraints on a woman’s sexuality, but on the other hand, I had a social duty to fit in. So I pointed fingers, and did everything I could to divert attention away from the parts of me I’d grown ashamed of, notably my sexual experience. I minimized it and did away with details.


Despite that, my inherent openness leaked through the conservative shell I put on everyday. This invited meaningful connection into my life, because I wasn’t quick to scrutinize other people like most were. But it also invited harsh judgement that would drive anyone sane into hiding. It was painful, and most of it wasn’t true.


One-sided rumors rotated about me, coming from the most unexpected sources; people I’d never even met before took valuable time out of their day to detail my whereabouts over a morning cigarette.


I hated Lebanon and being Lebanese. The entire culture felt like a sexist retaliation against women. But I thrived in it by conforming because there was no other way out. I did like the Romans, and eventually what once was a persona became my personality. I lost interest in sex, and in exploring my sexuality further. I denied my attraction to women. And I thought of sex in the exact way my mother had described it to me as a child: a weapon to control my boyfriends with.


That was less than a decade ago. Now I live in the U.S., where sexuality is supposedly accepted for the most part by society. I find it is not the case. I still struggle greatly with expressing the full range of my female sexuality. I suppose some knots take longer to untie. Nonetheless, I am moving towards progress everyday. I have a partner with whom I exchange honest ideas about sex with. We explore our sexuality together more openly than I would’ve ever felt able to in Lebanon.


Within that though, there are disagreements. There are internal and external battles about what is or isn’t acceptable for a woman to do or not do. I try to understand his perspective, but the scars left behind from years of slut-shaming don’t fade that quickly. So I end up taking a lot of his ideas personally and it mistakenly bleeds into a defensive argument of morals and values.


I also get paid to help people with their sex lives now. That is rewarding because their fight is also mine, and I consider their wins my own. I started this article as a how-to but it turned into a personal story. A story that wrote itself because it needed to travel through me. A story that has no real beginning or end but continues to write itself through my experiences everyday. A story that I hope brings warmth to anyone who is confused about their own sexuality because it never had room to flourish. A story I hope will have a happy ending I can share in this much detail one day.