This is the title that today's story teller gave her own post. And like me, you’ll probably disagree with her choice once you read it. My first reaction was shoot the parents. I mean really. How does someone help their children by stopping them from living? But on reflection, how can we know what we will feel like until we are parents ourselves? And whilst I’d like to think that I wouldn’t stick a straightjacket on them, who can say for sure until it happens. Parents often believe they are doing what’s best for their children, even if they are not. And the resultant journey is one that we all go through. It’s called life. The tantric sex teacher that I interviewed for my book summed it up thus…
‘There’s a lot of stuff been written about this. About what you know, and what you are told. Because as a child, you have a very deep, inner knowing. And what happens to us is that our intuition is denied and that’s why we get so fucked up, because we don’t trust ourselves. Because the authority, parents, teachers, whatever, tell us that what we’re feeling is wrong. And that’s the journey really, to get back.’
Here is Adele’s journey to get back. It’s a big one.
‘I am one of the many people who have become quite taken with your new book. It has been a subject that has really got me thinking. I was born in 1984 and as a woman, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the generation that has grown up knowing I can ‘have it all’. I can be a mother and a beloved wife and a career woman and go on flash holidays and have the most adventurous sex ever. However, my upbringing was quite sheltered, and while the big bad world was looming outside my door, I very rarely got to part-take in its many pleasures.
In hindsight I wouldn’t necessarily say that my parents were strict. There were some things that took place in our household that simply wouldn’t in most Afro-Caribbean homes. They were not consistent about many things like bedtime or sweeties, but they were and still are overly anxious about our lives and the things we do. They’re afraid. The fact that my parents raised me and my two sisters with fear as their guiding light stopped us from blossoming and stifled our basic development.
My mum and dad got married very young and within a very short time had three kids. I can remember always feeling like this was the ultimate journey to undertake, fall in love, marry and have babies and have a companion at your side to muddle through life with. In their late 30s they both got baptised and within a short space of time my father was ordained as a Minister. The following year my two sisters and me converted to the same Christian denomination and from then we became Minister’s kids. It’s quite an awkward position to be in. Everyone is watching you to see that you are outwardly pure. Everyone wants to see that the family is harmonious, praying together, at various church events together. We were rarely apart from our parents. It sounds like something from the 1940s, perhaps even a little bizarre, but this was what life was for us.
We attended an all girls’ school so my contact with boys was very limited. I can honestly say that I never spoke to a boy until I was about 18. Were there boys in Church? Of course there were, but if you were seen talking to a boy; you better have a good reason. All sorts of rumours would circulate either that you had been acting filthy together or that you were getting married. Because they were the only reasons to even look at a boy. We were taught to pray against any unholy urges and ask God to lay our lustful thoughts to sleep until we were blessed with a husband. I was 13 years old, my oldest sister had just started university, we were hormonal young women who were told how impure our minds must be if we wanted to be touched. It was all very confusing and very hard. So we sat back and waited to get married.
I remember working so hard at being ‘holy’, denying my every bodily pleasure in the pursuit of the heavenly. But I was so young, impressionable and really needed a guiding hand. The pastor at our assembly was very old, my dad was his deputy, but the young people were left in the care of the Evangelist. She was a fearsome lady, and as someone who was new to the faith I revered her as someone to follow. Coming from the home that I did, I was taught first and foremost to respect my elders. My parents were always right, I never disagreed with them and they loved me for it, so I was to never disagree with the Evangelist. I believed that if I could just gain her wholehearted approval, I would be fine and on my way to heaven. She was a disagreeable woman; nothing made her happy for long. I found myself on the receiving end of her sharp tongue and aggressive ways and watched my parents being belittled by her. I was so afraid at times to go to church for fear that she’d be in one of her terrifying moods. If I told my parents I didn’t want to go they would tell me not to worry or to pray for humility, she was an elder and therefore wouldn’t lead me astray. I completely lost sight of the belief that God was my heavenly father who loved me. Instead I saw him frowning at me and hating me, just as she did.
You’re probably wondering what on earth this all has to do with my virginity, but these experiences lead me quite directly to my sexual misadventures. A couple of years passed and it was time for me to go away to university. I was nervous, that same old fear reared its ugly head at home again. I had chosen a university quite far away from home and my parents were wondering why. I was still working part-time in London so it was expected that I was to come home every weekend, and of course attend church every Sunday. I must admit I was hoping to get away. I was hoping to get a life. I had never been away from home, was constantly under the watchful eye of my elders. Every word I said was scrutinised, everything I heard and saw was censored. I was bound. I longed to be free.
Freedom came in the second term when Artem, a Canadian exchange student came to stay in the dorm a couple of doors down from me. He seemed so sophisticated; he charmed his way into the hearts and minds of everyone he came across. We started spending a lot of time together and everyone was convinced that he had the hots for me. So one night I kissed him. One thing led to another and although it didn’t go further than heavy petting, it was a giant leap for me. I was convinced that I was in love with him and him with me and started making plans for us. Everyone was having sex; all my girl pals had boyfriends. I was desperately lonely. In retrospect, I lacked so much of the confidence I tried to exhibit. It was almost like it had been stolen from me after years of being a member of a Church that practically obliterated my faith in God. My faith was such an integral part of my identity; it was hard to function without it. I felt hollow and I needed to be filled. Artem, I thought, was just the man for the job.
But he was cruel to me, picking on every little thing I hated about myself. I was left feeling fat and ugly. Having let him know that I wanted him to be my first, he told me that he wouldn’t touch until I lost some weight! To drive this point home he began a very public flirtation with Sadie, a six foot tall size 8 model-looking thing who he would ‘fuck in an instant’. What little self-esteem I had left was shattered completely. I was left not only hollow now, but very, very angry.
Anger was a new emotion for me, since I had had to deny myself any knowledge of ‘fleshy’ things for so long. I was so completely taken over by this anger, it was like a drug. I dropped out of university after one year and started working full time. Everyone was disappointed, not least because I was a girl with ‘so much promise’. I went from wearing no make-up and long skirts, to not wanting to leave the house without a full face on and showing way too much boob. I started drinking and answering back. I had more or less stopped attending church at this point, waking up every Sunday morning with some excuse or another. My parents judgementally shook their heads and I can honestly say I hated them at those moments. It probably doesn’t sound so strange to have a child saying that about her parents, but the fact that I wasn’t a child, I was a young woman and I’d spent all my teenage years under my parents wing lovingly doing as they said, is odd isn’t it? I started to fight really hard for my independence, but when they refused to acknowledge my desire to grow up I tried to hurt them. The only way I thought I could achieve this was by abusing my own body.
Sometimes I think about the amount of freedom we have over our own bodies. A hundred years ago a woman’s body was secret to everyone but her husband. Nowadays we can flaunt it and no one bats an eyelid. In the western world we look at the burkha, for instance, as a tool that Eastern cultures use to stifle their women. But is revealing all up front any better? In affect aren’t we as women only giving men more of what they want without expecting them to work for it?
I was drinking too much, mostly in secret. I was watching a lot of pornography and worrying about my desirability. My provocative dress was getting me noticed big time and working in the City in a well known jewellers meant that I had my fair share of admirers. One such admirer was Alessandro, an Italian scooter-driving banker. He came in and asked me to dinner and I accepted without hesitation. I was looking so badly for a little affirmation that I let my standards slip. What I wanted was someone I classed as a real man – older and therefore experienced, owned their own house, had a successful job (lots of money) and someone who seemed up to have sex with me. In the testosterone-filled City this was pretty much everybody. Our first ‘date’ was an amazing restaurant, the second was back to his place where he was to cook me dinner. Needless to say he didn’t spend much time in the kitchen. I was certain I was ready for him to fuck before he started fumbling about. He threw me on the bed, fingered me too hard and broke my hymen. He tried to enter me but he was far too rough and then he sat on top of me and made me give him oral sex. It was then I told him I was virgin and he called me a cab. The experience left me feeling cheap and disgusting. I did want a little romance, but he was so flippant about the experience. But I wouldn’t say I’d lost my virginity, even though he broke my hymen.
My parents had been calling me all night to find out where I was, which really pissed me off. When I got home after one, I explained I had been with a man and they looked at me in horror, which gave me a perverse sense of pride. They begged me to let them know when I was going to be out.
The next man who picked me up was Claudio, another Italian, a chef and ex-model who started signing his number to me from the other side of a restaurant I was at with my sister. We started texting right away. He let me know that he thought I was beautiful and at that moment I felt so grateful, not least because he was so good looking. We went to dinner a few nights later. The man was tall, dark, desperately handsome, but so boring! I just wanted to go back to his place and see if I could get him into bed. I did, but I just couldn’t give it up to him. A part of me really wanted to, to upset my parents and God and to give myself a reason to think I was sexy and worth it. But I was resisting him. Was I afraid it would hurt? Maybe. Was I still thinking that I ought to be in love before I went all the way? I don’t know. We continued seeing each other for about a month, but then he told me he was moving away so it fizzled out.
And then there was Graham. A Geordie, he was broad and dark, the spitting image of Jack Branning from Eastenders. At 35, he was 14 years my senior. I walked into a bar with some friends and I didn’t even need to look at him. I sensed him. I sensed that every single pore of his being wanted me and I felt so powerful I was practically walking on air. He approached me and we hit it off. He didn’t want me to leave when my friends tried to drag me away to get the last train. We were on the phone constantly and when we went out to see a film on our first date we were in an endless lip lock. But this kissing was quite unlike anything I’d known before. Electricity. I could feel his hard-on against my arm and for the first time I wasn’t afraid of the penis. I wanted him so bad it almost hurt.
We dated and kissed for a while and I managed to convince myself that he really cared about me. He was always telling me how strongly he felt the moment he first saw me. I was the ‘most beautiful girl in the room’, and I really appreciated the sentiment. I let him know I was a virgin, and he took this news in his stride, he wasn’t in the least bit fazed like the others had been. He set about putting me at ease. The night I agreed to stay with him I was quite shocked by his dirty flat, but I didn’t care. I was there to be rid of my virginity. We were kissing and touching. As always it felt so good. Then he said the words that shook me to my core: ‘I want to fuck you Adele; I want to FUCK you in every hole’. So after hours of foreplay I let him. Without a condom.
The experience left a lot to be desired. I didn’t orgasm, I couldn’t. I still couldn’t shake the thought that sex was dirty and that I was dirty because of it, just as I had been taught at church. The momentary peak in self-esteem that I felt when Graham called me beautiful abated and I felt worthless again. I continued seeing him for a while, always at his place, always a quickie that left me sad and anxious for affirmation. Never with a condom. I couldn’t care less if he had given me some incurable disease, I hated myself so much. One night he unexpectedly became quite aggressive with me and it left me a little shaken. So when I left I promised myself I wouldn’t be back.
It’s really strange how life happens. I spent my childhood innocently following my parents rule without question, believing in love because they loved me. My teens were spent trying to squeeze the love out of a heartless woman who wanted to hurt people because she was hurting. I’ve spent the best part of the last 6 years battling my anger at never being strong enough to walk away sooner or strive for my own independence the way other young people do. I stopped believing in love and looked for sex, but each time I found it gave me another reason to hate myself.
As it turns out, I didn’t catch a nasty disease from Graham. I fell pregnant and four and half years later I have the most beautiful little girl on the planet. He's never been involved, which is okay. She’s really bright and forward and everyday I’m afraid that I’ll make some terrible mistake that will lead her down that same path I went on of self destruction. After years of trying to pull love out of people I learnt that I need to love. My child taught me that. She was born so fragile and pure and my heart grew at the sight of her. Now, I’m in a happy, fulfilling relationship with the most beautiful man I’ve ever met and we are expecting our first child together. We’re getting married next year and my little girl gets two loving parents and a younger sibling. Once I opened my heart to love I found that I couldn’t stop.
I saw my virginity as a sort of anchor to my passivity in the past and in my haste to lose it, I ended up hurting myself and others. I have so many regrets that I didn’t know enough about myself back then. If I had only had more patience and self-esteem I believe I could have bypassed these less than desirable experiences and found love. It’s mad that virginity is viewed as something so undesirable. It’s a virtue. I’m not ashamed to say that this is the lesson I will be telling my children when the time comes. Will I tell them to wait until marriage? Maybe not. But I will most definitely tell them that sex is dangerous if you’re using it to get affirmation. Learn to love yourself and you can go anywhere and be anything.’