“Do you have any experience?… sexual experience?”
I’ll never forget the night I was asked this by a man whose attention I had become emotionally dependent on over the course of the year prior.
Not only was this question inappropriate for a middle aged man to be asking a teenage girl, but for me, the answer to that question was almost impossible to articulate.
As I answered a question I should have completely ignored, I confided in this man that I had been hurt by the effects of a sexual experience at the age of 12. While I hoped I would receive the response of a loving a father, the response I received was one that indicated he desired to use me just as I had been used before.
At the age of 12 I had what I would later come to realize as my first sexual experience. At the time I was infatuated with a boy three to four years older than me who had asked if he could be my first kiss.
But when I showed up to receive it, I got a lot more than I expected. While in the moment I was completely enamored by the fact a boy who I had a crush on “liked me,” this moment was the beginning of a struggle that would be present in my life indefinitely.
In the months following the sexual activity I became extremely depressed but I had no means of articulating why. While I attributed the depression to losing the friendship I had come to have with that boy, there was something deeper at play. I was grieving the loss of my innocence and purity at the level of my soul. And it wasn’t until 6 to 7 years later that I would be able to understand what happened for what it was: a grave violation of the good and natural order that God intended for human relationships and physical communion.
I now understand the grief that my 12-year-old self experienced as an indicator of the goodness my body was intended for and the innate dignity I possess. In a sense, the grief I experienced was a God-given built in mechanism that I believe every human feels when they are used (or use themselves) for purposes contrary to God’s design (Sort of like a check-engine light on a car). I thoroughly believe that anyone who engages in behavior contrary to God’s intention for sex feels this to some degree, regardless of consent or lack thereof. Guilt and shame serve a purpose.
As asserted in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, our bodies are designed to communicate the language of love. And because of this, sex can only be done in the context of marriage, if what is said by our bodies is to be true. Sex communicates, “I love you in my entirety and without end.” When sex occurs in a context other than an intentional life-long sacramental commitment, a deep and physical lie is communicated. And we feel this deception in our very physicality and soul, if not immediately, eventually (the check-engine light). This is exactly where my profound grief was coming from, the lie I had been told.
In my adolescent efforts to make sense of my own grief, I often compounded it in the lies that I would fully consent to and engage in in my romantic peer relationships. This grief landed me in yet another situation of domination and use as a 16/17 year old girl who found herself the target of a sexual predator. But Christ found me at my breaking point and that’s why I’m writing this today.
I was once encouraged to ask Christ to reveal to me where He was in the particular moments of my life that have caused me the greatest amounts pain, most of which being related to sexually abusive behavior and my own failings in striving for chastity. In each moment I saw an image of Christ in profound grief, reminding me of the grief I knew intimately. He revealed that He was full of sorrow for me in each moment I recalled, just as He no doubt is for you in your most painful and shameful moments.
Just as He cried with me, He cried with you.