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Sexual Agency: Truth or Dare

February 22, 2012

In grade school, accepting a dare was a matter of honor. It was a promise uttered by someone else that you had to follow through on. In essence, it was equivalent to being true to your word. A dare made you accountable. Follow through meant you were strong-willed, someone to be reckoned with.

No matter what I was dared do, I would do it. Thankfully, I was never dared to do something that went beyond my growing sense of morality, but obviously there’s something really flawed in what I wrote in the previous paragraph.

Ultimately, real honor, real strength, steams from knowing who you are and claiming the agency we all have over our own actions. Still, there’s something about a dare that sparks a desire in me to prove to the world that I can do whatever crazy thing I was dared to do. Now, I would never truly do something I didn’t want to do, or wasn’t comfortable with because of a dare, but there’s something to be said about pushing your own limits.

It depends on the context, right? I might really want to jump off that high cliff into the water, but anxiety or fear might stop me from doing so. Give me an audience, and a dare, and I’ll forget all that just to prove I can.

I liked filling that role; the crazy girl who was up to anything and who had the guts to do things others couldn’t. I’ve had a lot of crazy adventures, a small portion of them might have started out as silly dares, but they all sort of came from that same place of wanting to prove something, of wanting to fulfill the fearless role I had chosen for myself.

It wasn’t until high school that the silly dares we used to shoot our mouths off about started to become sexual in nature. It was no longer about proving how gutsy you were; a simple game of dare had a new component: truth. Truth or dare became a game of who could come up with the most twisted and outrageous questions and dares. I was a fierce opponent. I prouded myself on coming up with the toughest questions and the hardest dares, and I answered the call of others to the best of my ability.

I’ve done some stupid crazy shit simply because I was dared to. I’m not exactly proud of them, nor am I ashamed. It just makes me think of personal agency in a way I would never have considered at the time. I no longer have anything to proof, except perhaps to myself, but at the time it didn’t stop me from diving head first into a garbage can and retrieving a discarded container of yogurt with my teeth, or opening my mouth so someone could spit down my throat, or even licking the tip of my then gay best friend’s dick when I was eighteen, because our roommate dared me to.

What troubles me though, are the times when my body was used in a dare that wasn’t aimed at me. Let me explain, when someone dares you to do something you have a choice to go for it or not. For example, when our games of truth or dare started to develop sexual undertones, someone might dare a person to kiss another. The person who had been dared had the choice to do it or not, a difficult choice for sure when your reputation as a teenager often rests on the willingness to prove just how capable and brave you are, but the person who is the recipient of the kiss, within the context of the game, doesn’t have a choice, or at least their choice isn’t often considered; their participation is bound by the rules of the game.

In this context, consider a guy who was dared to kiss a girl. The guy in question is the person who’s “honor” is on the line, no consideration is given to the person who is the recipient of the dare. Oh, I’m sure plenty of people in this circumstance have balked and said no, but more often than not, that person’s agency isn’t consider; they are simply a prop to be used in someone else’s dare.

No one ever asked my then gay best friend is he wanted to have the tip of his dick licked by his straight-female best friend, but it didn’t matter, what mattered was whether I had the guts to do it.

I remember a particular game of truth or dare when I was fifteen years old. That summer was a pretty wild one in my life; lots of drugs and drinking, as well as a complete disregard for authority. I was starting to understand my sexuality in terms of “others” as opposed to something that had been internal up to that point. That particular night, I had stayed out way past curfew and when my friends who still cared about disrespecting their parents went home, I found myself alone with 4 boys (my best friend, the brother of one of my girl friends, an acquaintance, and the boy I had a crush on).

What do four teenagers do on a random weekday night at 3am in the morning when they’ve been wandering the streets for hours with nothing left to do? They find a nice secluded spot to play a game of truth or dare. As the only girl there, every time the guys were dared to do something remotely sexual, I was their guinea pig. I wasn’t even the one being dared, but I was the object of several sexual dares that night.

I was fifteen, and still a virgin, so depending on your perspective some of the dares were pretty tame. What I mean by that is that no blow-job or sex were involved. I didn’t have to do anything I just had to let thing be done to me because someone had been dared to. Even when you’re not being dared to do something, in the context of that game and all it’s unspoken rules, being the object of the dare holds its own set of rules. You’re not expected to object, because you’re just a means to an end. Your participation is about allowing the other person to claim some kind of honor, or social status, by following through with the dare.

None of these things ever crossed my mind that night. I never considered my agency, my ability to say yes or no. Of course, there were limits. They are certainly things I wouldn’t have done, or have let someone do to me, but I’m conflicted about what did happen.

To give you a quick sense of what happened. Let’s just say, that three out of four of those guys got to suck on one of my nipples, while the fourth guy got to slip his hands down the top of my pants and feel the top edge of my pubes, of course he would later say that I had let him finger me, but anyone who was there knew that couldn’t possibly have happened. Like all dares, strict rules were in place. I never thought of saying no, but I did set limits.

For instance, the first guy to suck on my nipple was my then gay best friend, and it was done in a corner without an audience except the person who had issued the dare. I covered my breast, leaving only enough exposed flesh for the deed to be done and a strict time limit was established.

While I write this, I feel a certain amount of shame. Not in my memory of it, but in exposing it to the public. I fear the kind of judgment that comes with slut-shaming. It’s a conflicting memory, because at the time I remember it being fun. I didn’t feel used. In fact, it was rather exciting. It felt transgressive and strangely thrilling.

It’s confusing, because when I look back I feel like my participation was passive and without agency, but at the same time, like I said previously, it was kind of exciting. I was a willing participant, but I wonder about things like: sexual agency, control, power, shame, honor, experimentation, defining your own boundaries, and understanding all those things within the context of being an adult woman who tries to “do the right thing,” but who grew up as a kid who got a kick out of breaking all the rules.

There has to be a balance somewhere, right? I’m glad to be in a position in my life where I see that as a possibility. I just wish that sexual agency in the context of sexual experimentation was something that was taught from the get-go. Too often (girls especially) are taught how to say no, but what about saying yes, and what about dealing with all the situations that fall somewhere between those two words. I wonder how that game of truth or dare would have played out if all those gray areas had been more defined. Too often when we’re not sure about something, we tend to just let it happen while we’re still making up our minds about what we want.

One thing’s for sure, these kinds of experiences definitely clear up some of the confusion. Would what I know about myself now have changed that particular game? I don’t know, but I do know I could  have gotten more out of it, out of all my life experiences,  had I been exposed to these kinds of questions earlier in my life.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 11:09 pm

    It’s quite brave of you to reveal yourself in this way. To me the interesting part is your conclusion that teaching people to say yes is as important as teaching them to say no. Maybe the most pressing thing to teach kids is to make them aware that they always have the choice, and that they are empowered to make their life whatever they want it to be. Life isn’t easy for many kids, as you remind us with your personal circumstances, and I can only be happy that you found a way to rise above what you were given then.

  2. February 23, 2012 12:18 pm

    Olga, why do you feel a sense of shame about telling us what you did? Phil once told me that the experiences we had during our formative years mold us into the people we have become. They are an integral part of our personas and should be embraced. Believe me, I got up to some seriously naughty stuff when Iwas growing up, but I would not change much if I had a magic wand. I was promiscuous, smoked dope, rebelled, and yes, I rose to a few dares when I was a student (one involved wanking a guy a guy off to see not only how how fast I could make him come, but also how far his semen sprayed!!). So don’t feel guilty or shamed, share your pranks with us, unburden yourself, we won’t tell a soul!

  3. February 23, 2012 7:50 pm

    @Fruit Taster: Thanks! I don’t know if I’d consider myself brace in this context, but I suppose that “bravery” can be defined as doing something, revealing something about yourself, you fear others will judge. So often, as kids we’re told “not to do,” and not enough attention is put on what we can do and the strength that comes with asserting that for yourself.

    On the subject of writing, I’ve wanted to be many things while growing up and I’m sure there are many more things I will want to be in the future…. I always had this vague idea of being a writer one day, maybe publishing a book or something. I had this idea that it would come naturally, just pour out of me one day and voila there would be a book, but it was a sort of dream, I was never told that writing was a viable possibility. Just like many of the “arts,” there’s a certain lack of encouragement from parents/friends/society when it comes to saying “Yes, go for it.” And sometimes, you have to realize that it’s okay to say that to yourself, to stop waiting for that magical moment, and just go for it. To just do the things you love.

    @Nature Girl: I agree with Phil’s perspective. On the particular subject of this post, it’s not that I feel personal shame per se… it’s hard to explain. It’s as if I feel like I should be ashamed of it, or some similar feeling, you know, like I have to make it clear that I don’t endorse these kinds of experiences for everyone. Like, I shouldn’t make it seem I was proud of what happened. But the reality is, that at the time, I wasn’t used, I didn’t feel used… To me, it was an exciting night out experiencing life. It’s not so much what happened, but the context and the assumptions that I wanted to examine.

  4. Gillian Colbert permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:06 am

    An excellent and thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing!

  5. February 25, 2012 1:29 am

    @Gillian: Thanks for reading!

  6. February 26, 2012 5:18 pm

    I was touched by your honest, self reflecting and revealing post. You can be happy that you played with your close friends that wanted to do no harm to you (in principle).

    As you said, the dares seemed soft – but it doesn’t matter if an adult thinks a dare is OK if it is still new to a teenager. I expect many young ones to make even more shocking experiences when playing that game. Especially when drugs are involved, which is yet another very, very touchy subject.

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