When I was 13, an adult man, whom I had never met, called me a “harlot” in a sleazy attempt to hit on me. Although this sickening interaction was the first time I had ever truly felt objectified, it would not be the last. Throughout my teens, men would pull up next to me in parking lots, sit down at my table in coffee shops, harass me at baseball games, and even videotape me while I was swimming at a public lake in strange attempts to “hit on me.” I don’t give these examples to brag; I give them to explain the origin of Harlot.
Each time I had one of the aforementioned experiences, it made me feel vulnerable. Like I was continually being preyed upon. Like my growing sexuality was being used against me. I felt like I was out of control of my own body. Each time someone insulted me with a derogatory label (slut and trollop were two others I heard a lot. Why? I don’t know), it destroyed my sense of self a little bit more. What was I doing that made them want to call me those things? Just because I enjoyed being playful I was a slut? Just because I wanted to walk through a parking lot wearing shorts I was a trollop? Just because you found me attractive I was a harlot? Why were people shaming me?
I spent a lot of time asking myself these questions and then examining and altering my behavior. Maybe if I wear baggy t-shirts instead of tank tops, maybe if I wear less makeup, maybe if I’m nicer, strangers won’t feel so compelled to call me mean things. Nothing stopped it. It wasn’t until a close friend of mine found herself in an abusive relationship that I realized it wasn’t me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was them. It was how society views women and girls, and it was how our culture views sex, it was how people wanted to exert their dominance over me to somehow make themselves feel powerful.
Over the years, I began to understand how educating myself about sex helped me feel more empowered in those situations. Reading about sexual health, relationships, birth control, menstruation, and gender stereotypes helped me feel grounded in my body, courageous in the face of harassment, and confident in my own decisions.
Sex was an ever-present entity in my life. If strange men weren’t trying to solicit me, the teen magazines I was reading were oozing with how-to-please-you-man tips, my favorite stores were advertising to me with images of half-naked couples rolling around in a field, and the stars of my favorite TV shows were all banging each other.
Visually, you are exposed to sexual content everywhere you turn: malls, magazines, TV shows, movies, music, and the internet. To be clear, I am not here to serve as the “morality police” for the censorship of sexual content, I just remember how confusing it was when I was a teen. Being told not to do something (like have sex) but simultaneously being surrounded by sexually explicit content. Well, let’s just say the hypocrisy pissed me off.
Adolescence is an incredibly confusing time. You are expected to navigate, learn about, and be well-versed in reproductive health, sexual health, healthy relationships, personal ethics, and body literacy with few people there to guide you. Not to mention, you are required to simultaneously ignore all of the sex around you.
Fast forward to today, I am no longer a teen, but I can see how the hypocrisy that plagued my youth is still alive and well. Sexual health education programs in schools are being banned at alarming rates, low-cost health clinics like Planned Parenthood are constantly under attack, and teen magazines/websites are still deeply rooted in the “sex sells” trope.
Enter Harlot. My mission with this website is to serve as a safe, informative, objective place for you to learn, ask questions and feel a little less alone in this very confusing world. I (and the Harlots) want to help fill the information gap between government factsheets and how-to-please-your-man articles. We want to challenge you to think about things critically, to see things through a new lens. We want to help you find your voice. We want to help you grow confidently into the person you are meant to be.
We are so glad you are here, please, stay a while!