But instead of seeking the help I desperately needed, I felt shame. For many years I did not fully comprehend the harm caused by that traumatic experience because at the time I was simply too afraid to admit to anyone that I was sexually involved with someone. Now I think that word is appropriate: They do everything they can to protect and nurture their child so she can grow up to be a wonderful human being.
I know that my parents did the best that they knew how. So my parents did not protect me. Even though they were good parents, raising their kids to be honest and hardworking, with refined midos and good manners, they did not know that I needed protection. For 27 years I considered myself religious: I observed Shabbos and kept strictly kosher. Touching and being touched by a man was too exciting for me, and felt too natural for me to deny myself. Besides, I told myself, I was still technically Torah-observant by keeping kosher and observing Shabbos.
As long as no one knew what I did behind closed doors in my personal life, I appeared to be fully Torah-observant. Religious Jewish girls are expected to remain celibate until marriage.
There are a bunch of rules to keep apart men and women who are not married to each other, to prevent us from having sex. I had no one to talk to about intimacy and relationships while I was growing up. As the oldest in my family, I had no older siblings to speak with. Instead, I navigated relationships and intimacy issues on my own for many years, with no guidance or confidants. Rather than making smart, purposeful decisions from a place of healthy self-respect, self-love, and confidence, I led a life in which naivete, stupidity, weakness, recklessness, and victimhood reigned.
Brothers and sisters traveled from all over the world to spend one week together for Passover. One evening, as we were all hanging out in the living room together, the topic of sex education came up.
I presented the case that by not talking to children about potential hazards with alcohol, drugs, and sex, parents put kids at risk. Namely, youth pregnancy, infections, and disease. Religion does not prevent terrible things from happening. Early grade-school memories of sexual experimentation include: Users would introduce themselves to the group with those identifiers and then continue chatting privately with users who struck their fancy.
He then messaged me privately and proceeded to give me my first lesson in self-pleasure. It felt exciting to be speaking to a stranger and to be learning new things that felt good in my body.
Unfortunately, my mother was alerted via a porn-like pop-up on the computer, signaling to her that her daughter must be up to no good. She decided that she would investigate my extracurriculars by gaining access to my email and sifting through my communication with classmates.
I doubt she found anything interesting, but my trust with authority was broken forever. Religious life was all I knew for many years. At the same time, however, my relationship toward Torah observance was far from positive. My school, summer camp, and mother forced strict observance beyond the letter of the law. Punishments for nonconforming were swift and unwavering. The beauty of Shabbos and holidays was something I only experienced at the homes of other families.
In my family, Shabbos was a huge stressor. At 14, I left for religious boarding school and thus began my foray into all things previously shielded from me.
Things that had been forbidden became particularly enticing. At 16, I became sexually active. I kissed Menach, the slobberer. Meir, the daredevil, felt me up in an alley. When I was 18, Eli, the heartthrob, encouraged me to get naked and told me I was beautiful.
I assume that my discomfort was rooted in the belief that being with a man was prohibited, shameful, and disgusting. I became an expert at lying to friends and family about my whereabouts. Restriction and subsequent deviation led to dishonesty and deception. In the dark, he crouched on top of me, telling me that I would enjoy it and to just let him enter me.
I was unfeeling, numb. I made no movements of my own. My body lay on my bed; my mind hovered somewhere above it, detached, observing. As he moved his body against mine, he grunted with pleasure. Cue the first of multiple intimate situations that would take place over the next 10 years or so in which I would quiet my resistance to something that harmed me or made me uncomfortable.
If I liked a guy, I wanted him to like me back. So when my voice would not be heeded, I learned to just shut up and check out while he did as he wished. My desire for him to like me and not reject me was stronger than my resistance. I deserve to be with someone who respects and appreciates me. The morning after that fateful night with Mendy, I took Plan B to prevent against pregnancy the condom had torn.
At the time, pregnancy was my only concern. I blocked out the whole situation until a therapist encouraged me to confront it six years later. She explained to me that I had been raped and she forced me to acknowledge that fact in order to work through it and allow myself to be intimate with men in a healthy way. Therapy has helped me tremendously to see myself from outside myself.
I tell that girl who lies there helplessly on the bed, while a man does to her as he wishes despite her pleading with him not to, that she is worthy of being treated right. She is likable—even lovable! She can change the situation. Yona Rose is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.