Sweat coated my palms. My fingers itched. I couldn't hear my breath over my heart. I was 18; I had had sex for the first time and my period was late. The results were in.
"Negative" for pregnancy. I'm not religious, but I said a prayer. I kept scrolling through the test results, and my heart froze in my chest. "Positive for chlamydia, contact your doctor."
My parents were going to kill me.
In Igbo culture, it is taboo to come home pregnant while you are still living in your father's house. My father urged us to wait until marriage to have sex. If pregnancy is taboo, I do not know what the Igbo protocol is for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) -- but I knew shame would always follow.
I ran through all of the possible solutions that didn't involve my parents knowing. The nerves in my brain fired like a Jimmy Neutron brain blast. But nothing would work. I was going back to Boston in two days and I didn't have my license or a car. My older brother was working all those days. I could do over-the-counter medication, but I wanted to go through my doctor to make sure it was fully treated.
I had to tell my strict, religious, immigrant Nigerian parents that their first daughter, the Ada, not only had sex, but also got an STI.
My father, a Nigerian cisgender heterosexual man, is the more religious parent. He forced us to go to Catechism, Catholic school, every Sunday. Eventually, to save money, he started his own Sunday school for his five children every Sunday in his bedroom. There was a time in my life when my father made us go to church three days a week. He made us pray every day: before we ate, when we get into the car, at night, and whenever he felt like it.
My parents never gave me a sex-positive talk. Every conversation involving sex was a threat. My freshman year in college, I refused to have sex because I was so scared.
I got in the car, and my father led the prayer. I was getting my driving hours while he supervised me. My mother was at work. This was the only time I would be able to speak with him alone before I left. The best time to drop the news. We made a pit stop so he could use the restroom. As he left the car, I put my hand on my chest to try and slow my heart. I gave myself a pep talk: "Your health comes before their disappointment."
Back when I was 11 years old, my parents sent me to Catholic boarding school in Nigeria, and that is where I faced the height of slut-shaming. Older than many of my peers, I hit puberty faster and began having sexual urges. As a girl, I was called an "ashawo," which means prostitute, by students and administrators for being seen with a boy. If I wanted to hold a boy's hand, it had to be in secret. Sex never crossed my mind, because a girl's reputation could be easily damaged if she wasn't holy and chaste until marriage. So you can understand my complete shock when I returned to the States and all of my peers had already had sex.
One hand in his jogger pants, my father strolled back to the car. I took a deep breath. I told him about my test results. He asked a bunch of clarifying questions: He was processing. He didn't yell at me. But I knew, I would never live this down.
At 15 years old, navigating high school in the United States, I would face a lot of pressure to have sex. I didn't tell people that I was a virgin. I was embarrassed. I couldn't even bring myself to have oral sex. It felt wrong. My body and I were two different entities. I didn't know how to share my body in pleasure with another person. I masturbated a lot from 12 years old onward so I felt pleasure in private. My boyfriend at the time put a lot of pressure on me to have sex: It felt like he was slipping away from me every time I said no. When I finally let him give me oral sex a year after we started dating, it hurt. He thought he was good at it, but he was not.
In college, I would continue to be unable to feel pleasure when with another person. Or perhaps cisgender, heterosexual men are just terrible sex partners. By the end of my freshman year, I was fed up with myself and decided it was time to get this sex thing over with.
I went to China for a research internship the summer after my freshman year. I met a boy from Ghana. One of my guy friends had warned me to be careful, because the Ghanaian boy had been around.
On the night of my first time, I was trembling. I had to put my trust in this boy I had just met, or else I would chicken out. He was very gentle, held me close. When he entered my body, I remember thinking, "Why aren't we using a condom?" I thought it, but I couldn't bring myself to say it out loud. We did not agree beforehand to have unprotected sex. He probably figured that since I was a virgin, he wouldn't catch anything. I don't know why I didn't say anything. I just know that I couldn't. The sex negativity I've been fed all my life kept me silent.
I am not sure when my father told my mother, but when she returned home from work, she called me to her room, still fully dressed in her nurse scrubs, and recited "disappointment" at least 100 times. She insinuated I was a prostitute, having sex the whole time I was at college. Little did my parents know that it was their behavior towards sex that caused all of this.
I never told my parents how I felt about everything: They never asked, and they don't care. To this day, my father still brings it up, saying, "I know you've learned your lesson" or warning my younger sister not to be like me. After the incident, I went into a depressive episode, and anything sex-related felt triggering. Eventually, I spoke to a friend who went through a similar experience. I gave myself time to process what had happened and decided that it wasn't my fault. I felt powerless -- and it's because neither the cultures I've grown up in nor my parents empowered me to speak up in such a moment: They failed me.
It has been two years since this happened. Now, I've made YouTube videos where I candidly discuss four myths about sex that I was taught growing up, and the fourth myth is that having an STI makes you dirty -- what a lie! I also talk about my sexual experiences, my disconnection with my body, my fear of squirting, and more. My work discussing sex has taught me that the only thing stopping my healing is shame, and what a powerful tool shame is. But it's just sex! What do we have to be ashamed of? I am reclaiming my body and relearning pleasure. Finally, the unyielding weight of shame is starting to crumble.