- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Laura Westley
Best Defense guest contributor
Donald Trump’s treatment of women and the overwhelming support he receives from his fans, voters and our nation’s leaders demonstrate why I feel safer being single, despite my longing for an intimate relationship with sexual pleasure.
I’m a 37-year-old divorced woman. I’m also a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran who has been surrounded by men who act and speak a lot like Donald Trump. I recently penned an article in Military Times titled Time for a new approach to sexual harassment, assault in the military, where I described the “bro culture” of my environments at both West Point and in the Army, especially during the Iraq invasion.
I also admitted my tolerance of such environments, to the extent where I adopted a vulgar vocabulary, including the words used by Trump in the “Access Hollywood” video, in order to be accepted as one of the guys. I believed my survival in the military depended on this.
Unfortunately, this tolerance and conditioning pervaded my personal relationships as well.
For 24 years, I had obeyed the strict teachings of evangelical Christianity and maintained my virginity, terrified at the prospect of disgracing Jesus, my church and more terrifyingly, my father. But when bombs, gunfire and RPGs threated to cut my life short in Iraq, I decided to change that. The pendulum then swung in the opposite direction.
I never had a chance to cultivate my own values in how I would attract and relate to men in the context of a romantic partnership and sexual relationship. Instead, I was in a unique incubator – Iraq – when I gave in to men who seduced me and encouraged me to give into the sexual desires I had no idea would even surface, because we were at war.
In the same manner in which we conquered Iraq and declared it our right to dominate, a few of my comrades in arms did the same to me. And I let them.
I thought this was normal.
In the book Sacred Pleasure, author Raine Eisler describes the interconnectivity of sex and violence, of sexual pleasure and war. The introduction reads like an academic treatise of my memoir, War Virgin. Eisler explains that throughout history there have been two predominant models of sexual relations: “dominator” and “partnership.”
I believe that coming of age in the Army caused me to gravitate toward the dominator model. This pervaded all of my sexual encounters, even within my marriage.
After years of aggressive sexual dynamics, characterized by a lot of masculine energy, something in me shifted. Perhaps being away from the military, living a more subdued civilian life and developing friendships with more peaceful individuals made me realize that there were other ways to live and relate. I also finally allowed myself to grow up outside of a male dominated environment, and as I began to embrace my authentic self and cultivate my feminine energy, I wanted intimacy to look and feel like something completely different.
I left my husband and tried to start over. As an aside, I think many of my West Point women alumni eventually become divorced, because we marry our “battle buddies,” especially at a young age (since the military is a marriage-centric culture). Then later, as we feel more comfortable with our feminine nature and need to express ourselves as such, it’s no longer compatible with whom we married.
My attempts to start over were comically disastrous, tragic and pathetic at best. I also quickly came to realize that even civilian men have aggressive proclivities in the bedroom and use the same vernacular as Donald Trump. When I couldn’t stomach hearing body parts described as “tits,” “pussy” and “dick” anymore, I demanded better. When my requests to slow down, savor the experience and connect beyond the physical realm met resistance, I gave up on sex and turned to the safe confines of celibacy.
I know there are good men out there who respect women. But I’m terrified at the prospect of having to meet the metaphoric frogs before finding the prince. My heart is too fragile to risk any more possibilities of mistreatment, including rape by an ex-lover. Donald Trump’s video and its unacceptable level of tolerance make me worry that the percentage of frogs far outweighs the percentage of princes.
But I also realize that I’ve never loved someone first and then become sexually intimate with them.
I won’t go back to my Christian upbringing, where the Bible mandates that people become married before engaging in sex. I don’t believe this rule is healthy or realistic, nor do I ever desire to be married again. (I despise how society treated me when I was a “wife.”) However, perhaps I can glean one outcome of postponing sex, and that’s getting to know someone’s heart before I come to know their flesh.
And if this never happens, I’ll be fine…better than fine…great. I’m quite comfortable being alone, and I live a fulfilling life replete with emotional support and love from dear friends.
I do, however, remain cautiously hopeful for a future that provides a loving, respectful and blissful partnership. I want to believe in unconditional love. Unconditional Love is actually the title of my War Virgin show’s theme song. I believe every human deserves to experience it.
Laura Westley is a West Point graduate, combat veteran, author, playwright, performer and veteran mental health advocate. Her memoir, War Virgin, is now available on Amazon, and her War Virgin show is currently touring the East Coast. For more information visit http://www.warvirgin.com.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons