David Wraith is a Saint Louis native, writer, filmmaker, activist and co-founder of Sex Positive St. Louis. He’s a polyamorous, sado-masochistic exhibitionist who has spent much of his adult life advocating for women’s reproductive freedom, GLBT rights, and people living with HIV. I met him when my tour took me to St. Louis; after my book reading he took me out to a coffee shop and we talked until they kicked us out. Well just recently, I realized that he is on Twitter, so being the brazen hussy that I am, I immediately asked him for a guest essay. And being the charming gentleman that he is, he agreed.
I’m going to say perhaps the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever said on the internet: sexual abuse made me the person that I am. And I like who I am. Aside from being better with money and less of a procrastinator, they’re aren’t whole lot of fundamental things I would change about me.
I am a fan of Dr. Drew Pinksy (Segues are for kids, folks. Just watch my feet for a few paragraphs, okay?). So, like I was saying, I’m a fan of Dr. Drew Pinksy, particularly his radio and TV show, Loveline. While so many TV doctors come off like snake oil salesmen (Dr. Oz), or jerks (Dr. Phil), Dr. Drew always struck me as someone who really wanted to help people. I felt like he was a great resource for the monogamous, vanilla world. If he had one blind spot, in my opinion, it had to do with kink and polyamory. Mainstream relationship professionals are often promoting monogamy and heteronormativity; that’s nothing new. I once had a nice Twitter dust-up on the subject of polyamory with Steven Ward, the host of VH1’s Tough Love, that ended with me calling him a “well financed pimp.” I never expect these guys (and they’re mostly straight, white guys, now that I think of it), to be very open to alternative relationship structures. But for some reason, Dr. Drew’s bias against kinky and poly folk bothered me in ways that his contemporaries’ attitudes didn’t. Case in point: it seemed that without fail, anytime a Loveline caller described themselves as “very sexual” Dr. Drew would always follow up with, “So, you were sexually abused as a child.” When the callers would protest that they weren’t, Dr. Drew would assure them that they were whether or not they remember or acknowledge such abuse. This pissed me off. Who was Dr. Drew to tell total strangers they had been sexually abused when they themselves said they hadn’t? Surely, not everyone who is hypersexual is damaged or has been abused, right?
One year, Dr. Drew spoke at my school and I planned to ask him this very question. I was a grad student and much older than the undergraduates Dr. Drew was pitching his lecture at, but I didn’t care. He was there to talk about binge drinking on campus and hook-up culture, but I didn’t care. I wanted answers and this was my chance. I queued up to ask my question and just as one of the volunteers was about to bring me the mic, Dr. Drew announced that the question right before me would be the last of the evening as he had run out of time. I called my girlfriend on the ride home to vent my frustration. Here was a man with a national platform, a doctor traveling the country, going on TV, going on the radio, spreading the idea that anyone who is hypersexual is a sex abuse survivor, and here I was, living proof that he was wrong. I mean, I’m hypersexual and I was never abused!
“You weren’t?” My girlfriend asked.
She was referring to some things that had happened to me between the ages of 5 and 11. There was an older boy who would masturbate in front of me and instruct me to masturbate in front of him. There was an older girl who would expose herself to me and threaten me with violence if I didn’t expose myself to her. In a feat of wisdom that I can only describe as David Wraithian, I decided these two would probably hit it off, so I introduced them. They became a couple and pretty much any time the three of us would spend time together, they would act out sexually in front of me, including having sex in front of me on occasion. In retrospect, I was the perfect cover. A teenaged boy and a teenaged girl alone together in a bedroom would arouse their parent’s suspicion, but as long as there was an 11 year old in the room with them, it was assumed that nothing was going on…even when it was.
Fast forward to adulthood. I had a very difficult time masturbating in front of my lovers until I was much older, and even when I was alone, developed a habit of masturbating with a pillow to cover my face, as if someone was watching me. As a child I had a habit of exposing myself, which as an adult turned into the somewhat legally dangerous hobby of streaking (you haven’t lived until you run from the cops while simultaneously trying to put your clothes on). Although I am firmly ensconced in a sex positive, polyamorous, orgiastic culture, the sight of people having sex in front of me is still something of a trigger. Once, after watching a friend give another a blow job, my partner turned to me, only to see me covering my eyes with my hands like a little kid watching a horror movie. It would probably take an amateur Freudian eleven seconds to diagnose my adult sexual proclivities and hang-ups as resulting from the abuse I got as a child. It took me the better part of forty years.
So, damnit! Here I was all this time thinking I was a living example that Dr. Drew’s theory that only child sex abuse survivors grow up to be hypersexual was wrong, and I was a child sex abuse survivor all along. Now, don’t get it twisted; I personally don’t feel like I survived anything. To me it’s just one of those things kids go through at the hands of other kids, like bullying. It can be mild or it can be severe, and in my case, it was pretty mild; I think the fact that I am a “sex abuse survivor” is almost a technicality. Like the that time in El Paso, Texas, right before I was questioned by the border patrol for having one foot on either side of the US/Mexico divide when I was “technically” in Mexico. And who knows, perhaps it was the very “abuse” I “suffered” as a child that put me on the path to one day co-found an organization like Sex Positive St. Louis. Perhaps a “healthier” childhood would have led to me being a general contractor like my dad, or a pharmaceutical sales rep, like my mother wanted. Instead, I am a free-range, polyamorous man whore and published author of erotica who travels the US and Canada teaching workshops on sex and relationships. Of course, I’m not trying to encourage childhood sexual abuse; the things that happened to me, minor as they were, I would not wish on my child if I had one. I guess, if I’m trying to do anything other than describe my personal experience, it is to pull back the veil of fear and shame on the topic of childhood sexuality. For better or for worse, those early experiences help make me who I am. And I kinda like being me.