Fri | Jul 21, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Promiscuous girls need love, too

Published:Monday | July 10, 2017 | 7:06 AMMichael Abrahams

I don’t like the word ‘promiscuous’. It sounds rather judgemental to me. I recall someone defining a promiscuous person as "someone who has more sex than me", which made me laugh, but also understand the point being made. Recently, a young woman used the word while describing her past to me, and just hearing her story made me feel so much for her.

She told me that she was raped by a cousin when she was 10, and although she informed her mother about the egregious assault, no action was taken. In addition to the trauma of being violated and then being abandoned by her mother, she later discovered that she had contracted chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to chronic pelvic pain and infertility, during the incident.

As she grew older, she reported that she became ‘promiscuous’, having sex with many persons. She was criticised and called derogatory names by family members. I winced as I thought of the pain of her double whammy: bearing the scars of sexual abuse, plus having that burden compounded by being labelled as a slut.

Less than a week after hearing this woman’s story, a female friend of mind, in her late forties, shared her experience with me, which was eerily similar, and told me that it took decades for her to heal.

These stories haunted me, and I took to my Facebook page and posted comments about shaming women and girls deemed to be promiscuous, and who are also survivors of sexual abuse. The overwhelming response to my post opened my eyes to the enormity of this issue.

One of the responses that touched me deeply was a message sent to my inbox from a woman who is a survivor of incestuous sexual abuse. She said that my comments “brought back so many many memories, and tears”. Her story began when she was sexually abused at age six by a brother who was 10 years her senior. He told her not to tell anyone, and she complied, saying that for most of her life, she did not remember the incident.

Her mother had left her physically abusive father and sent her to live with her grandmother, who she claimed did not show her much affection, but used to “beat, belittle and berate” her. She wrote long letters to her mother lamenting her plight, but was just told that “everything is gonna be OK”. While living in that house, she alleges that she was also sexually assaulted by a cousin, a granduncle, her grandfather and finally by her then brother-in-law, who fathered her son.

Sexual abuse resulted in her becoming very active sexually, and she admitted to having sex with “quite a few men, and women”. Her family’s reaction to her sexual activities was to shun her and label her a “whore” and a “mattress”, among other things. Her mother disowned her, and when she was raped and beaten by men, she was told that it was “her fault” and that she “wanted it”.

Unfortunately, this woman’s story is not unique. It is common. Too common. Childhood sexual abuse can cause victims, male and female, to shut down sexually and develop an aversion to intimacy and sex. Conversely, many others become hypersexualised as a result. Low self-esteem, searching for love, curiosity and wanting to feel in control of sexual situations are contributing factors.

Sexual abuse is not the only reason why a woman may have a history of multiple partners. Some women simply love sex, and do it because they want to and it makes them happy. That’s their prerogative.

But the society is pointedly misogynistic regarding the way it treats women whose sexual activity is deemed to be excessive. Men are allowed to do as they please and have ‘nuff gyal in a bungle’, but women are harshly and unfairly judged. A man is called a ‘player’ or a ‘gyallis’. Women, on the other hand, acquire ugly monikers such as ‘whores’, ‘hos’, ‘sluts’, ‘mattresses’, ‘leggo beasts’ and ‘village bicycles’, are seen as being loose and are denigrated and vilified.

I know a woman who developed such a reputation from she was in her youth. I recall an older woman telling me that she does not associate with “women like that”. I later befriended the object of my friend’s scorn, only to discover that she had been raped multiple times during her childhood and was experiencing a gaping void in her life regarding love and affection.

Women have a right to have sex with whomever they please, and what they do with their vaginas is their business. But when you observe young women, especially teenagers, who appear to engage in sex indiscriminately, rather than shunning them, reach out to them. The negative attitudes and words directed at them only serve to intensify their pain. They could be survivors of abuse, hurting deeply and searching for love, nurturing and acceptance.

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.