Pornography was very taboo growing up. It was the one thing everyone was sure all the boys would watch, but the one thing that nobody talked about. Some “vulgar” teenage boys would mention porn here and there just for the sole purpose of creating an uncomfortable and even violating environment for girls, which unfortunately worked every time — girls looked away or pretended not to hear anything while their faces turned red.

It was interesting. Adults expected boys to watch porn, but the expectation of a “good kid” was to stay away from it. It was almost as if being a “good kid” was impossible — an ideal, a fantasy. The standards were set up so nobody could meet them, in fact for everyone to fail; everybody knew everyone was failing, but the standard remained on its high horse and never budged. And for girls—the poor girls—, pornography was such an unsafe trigger word. The default for boys was to watch porn and masturbate, but the default for girls was to not know what the word meant. Masturbating was an impossible bodily action for girls. How does a girl masturbate without a penis? How does a girl watch pornography? Why does a girl watch pornography? What is pornography? The more of a blank slate you were, the better. The more innocent, pure, and porn-free you were, the more of an ideal little girl you were. For girls, there were no standards set, unlike the impossible one set for boys. There was no standard because it was impossible for girls to understand sex, let alone pornography. Girls were not supposed to know, feel, or desire, so how can there be a standard when there is nothing to know?

And for such reasons, pornography automatically meant immense guilt. For boys, it was a guilty pleasure — arousal, porn, masturbation, and guilt were the four steps that went hand-in-hand at all times. For girls, a glimpse of pornography meant soul-crushing guilt and shame. To be aroused was an impossible feeling for girls because there was nothing that could be done about it. It was considered demonic—something you have to pray and fight with all your might to go away. So when girls gave in, and despite everyone’s denial they did give in, there was no talk about it. No expression of guilt. Because if they talked about how ashamed they were and how soul eating the guilt was, they would have to subject themselves to others who would listen, judge, and condemn them. There was a silent and mutual pact that no girl talked about it, not to one another, not to strangers, and certainly not to parents. It was an odd solidarity that bound all the girls together in a way that demonized each other’s sexual desire even harsher than any other ever did.

So to this day, a tingling discomfort emerges when I hear the word “pornography.” It wasn’t until I was much older when I understood that pornography is not supposed to be, and certainly not in consumption, a male-thing. But all those talkless moments about pornography got me feeling like any talk about porn is that of out of the box, boundary, and comfort zone. When it should be the opposite — pornography is perhaps how every desire-surging teenager explores their sexuality, and if as adults they are expected to know everything, there can’t be a snap of a moment where kids are just inserted all the knowledge about sex and desire. To become an adult is a process.