Illustration by River Mansueti

Trigger Warning: Porn mention, Female Masturbation mention

It was pool party season, and I wanted to enjoy it. But Mother Nature decided to remind me, who had not touched a male in at least two months, that I was not pregnant by releasing a waterfall of blood into my underwear. Usually, I take the pad route because frankly I’m terrified of chemical shock by tampon. But a girl wants what a girl wants, so I consulted my mother, who bought me a box of tampons, and with hopeful eyes and a quick demonstration, sent me into the bathroom.

My first mistake was the use of Vaseline as a lubricant. (I was fine afterwards, but it should not become a practice for a few reasons.) But after that mistake, which I didn’t even know I was making, I thought I was in the clear. I had it in my hand the right way, fingers poised. I was relaxed, and I went in at an angle.

It went in about a centimeter, and then I felt like I was being stabbed with a Wartenberg wheel. Fire and glass. So I stopped. And then I went at it again, but it was worse. It was only the second try and I was on the verge of tears.

I threw away the tampon, put in a pad, and left the bathroom. I avoided my mother’s hopeful gaze and threw myself into my bedroom and cried.

How could I be a fully functional woman without tampons? Everyone else uses tampons. Oh my God what if it’s because I have an imperforate hymen or vaginismus or something? What about sex? Oh my God oh my God-

These evil thoughts plagued me for the duration of my hellish period. I visited many different women’s health forums and they only made me feel worse.

That was rock bottom. And when I hit rock bottom, I turn to Instagram to those pages that post about beauty in every form, encouraging indulgence in self-confidence, and not letting anyone drag you down, pages that I would normally find annoying, and in doing so, I found a saving grace: soft porn.

When I saw it, I was hesitant. I grew up in a part of the U.S. where porn and sex were so heavily stigmatized that if one said they watched it, they were annexed from their friend group, no questions asked. You were evil if you watched porn, much less enjoyed it, much less masturbated.

I know this is a damaging ideology. So at rock bottom, with nothing more to lose, I decided to look at that ideology and say, “Up yours.”

And in doing so, I found out many things about my body. I found out what it likes, what it doesn’t, and most importantly, that it could do wonderful things. I learned that it could take me to cloud nine if I treated it properly. Masturbation liberated me from the hell of expected womanhood.

Maybe it’s that liberation that my mom’s so afraid of. If she ever found out that I did this, she would be disgusted. She would probably punish me. But I honestly think that the worse punishment would have been that continued feeling of inadequacy.

There are worse things you can do than enjoying yourself. Porn was a doorway to that. However, porn is far from perfect.

I was trying to heighten my learning experience with porn, but because videos are not an option for multiple reasons where I live, I chose story pornos. These may have been worse. They were literally all incestuous or involved serious consent questions. Especially POV porn, in which the only free one I found was explicitly non-consensual.

So when that porn failed me, I went to Omegle. Known for its occasionally funny conversations and insatiable hunger for sex, I decided why not make someone else’s day, too?

Wrong again. Users almost always ask “M or f?” which can encourage dysphoria and panic for non-binary, agender, and other individuals. That, and users almost always want images or another form of communication, which can cause serious safety concerns.

All of that said, those problematic steps brought me to a place of pure happiness with myself and my body. I would not be here if not for treading through such darkness with my body, with myself.

“How?” you ask. How could I, after coming from a place where women are objectified and a gender binary exists like all other genders are nonexistent, do I stand empowered? How, in this home of mine where if I shared this with my real name I would be ridiculed for all time, do I exist proud of my body? It is because I went through all of this and still found light. I survived it all –wait, no, I lived and enjoyed myself through the struggle. I found out that when I had nothing else, I had my body, my vessel, myself, and that it will carry me through to the other side. It worked because, though I hated my body for being wrong, it did not hate me, and it taught me that I was just as normal and valid as anyone else in the world.

I know that this is minor compared to the body issues others face, believe me, I know. I share this to tell others of my story, to tell others that through the storm there is another side. I promise. Sometimes, when the world screws you over, say, “Screw it.” It’s difficult, and there are dark paths ahead, but in the end, they’re screwed, and you’re free.