I first learned about sex without ever really intending to — through a combination of high fantasy novels, crime novels and the stack of Good Medicine magazines that populated the waiting room of my mother’s optometry practice.
I was a shy, bookish child who loved reading. My favourite Good Medicine section was the part that, in hindsight, was probably intended for couples. It was always titled something vague (and vaguely promising) like, ‘How to feel good’, or ‘How to spice up your love life’. And I’d wanted to see if their claims were true.
Sex education didn’t tell me I would be sexualised by strangers because of my ethnicity, or how I should react when it happened.
Some suggestions I decided to try out were:
- Use an ice cube, and gently trail it down your body. (I used a damp/wet finger because I didn’t want my parents wondering why I wanted to take a single ice cube up to my room.)
- Get a pair of dice, and decide on a body part for each number. Roll the dice, and have your partner touch each body part for 30 seconds. Swap places. (Since I didn’t have a partner, I just touched myself. And I made up the numbers because I couldn’t find a pair of dice.)
I tried both of these out for a few days – gingerly, under my blankets. It was the first time I’d ever been naked in bed. It was the first time I realised that touching myself could be pleasurable. It felt good, but I also felt a pang of discomfort. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of what I’d been doing or what I’d been reading — and I was half-terrified that I’d be found out.
My parents never tried to have “the talk” with me. Looking back, they must’ve assumed it was pointless, given the fact that we were Christians (and Chinese Christians, at that). This means I would definitely not be having sex before marriage, and therefore, it was not a conversation that needed to be had until I was in a serious relationship, if at all.
Their deafening silence on sex, however, combined with quiet tuts and not-so-subtle eye rolls whenever there was a kissing scene on TV, meant that I knew about the shame of sex even before I knew anything about the act.
Their deafening silence on sex meant that I knew about the shame of sex, even before I knew anything about the act.
Luckily — in some respects — sex education was mandatory at school. Sex-ed in primary school was mainly learning about periods, the reproductive system and the effects of hormones on puberty. We were separated by gender and given the anatomical facts. But I also knew there was more to learn, I just didn’t know what questions to ask yet. Fast forward to high school and sex education was filled with more laughs, more condoms on wooden dildos, but still, it didn’t really prepare me for the real world.
For a long time, I thought that sex would be painful (especially the first time), that it wouldn’t necessarily be pleasurable, even though I’d read that it could be.
Sex education didn’t tell me I would be sexualised by strangers because of my ethnicity, and it sure as hell didn’t tell me how I should react when it happened. I knew the concept of “yellow fever” – of mainly white men fetishising Asian women – existed, but during high school, it was just something of a joke, and so I didn’t really take it seriously.
I wish sex ed had taught me to find a group of friends and talk to them about it, that I didn’t have to take it on the chin and hold it all inside. It didn’t tell me enough about consent, or exactly how to remove myself from situations in which I felt uncomfortable.
I had to figure all this out on my own, to have the confidence to say no, to stand up for myself – to say screw you, Asian women aren’t your fantasy, we aren’t one-dimensional, we talk back.
I had to figure all this out on my own, to have the confidence to say no, to stand up for myself. To have the courage to say 'screw you, Asian women aren’t your fantasy, we aren’t one-dimensional, we talk back', instead of staying silent while a white guy nudged his friend, signalled to me, and said, laughing, that he’d bet I’d be a good lay because Asian girls are always submissive in bed.
It has taken me a while to get to this point. I had to undo all the unconscious conditioning my parents had instilled in me as a child and a teenager, to give myself permission to not be ashamed about sex and my body in general. I learned, as always, through reading – but also through doing, by making mistakes, by becoming confident enough to tell men what I thought of their sexist, racist comments, by exercising my right to choose what I wanted to wear, regardless of how it might be perceived by other people. I just wish I could have had more support along the way.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_