In the area where I spent my teen years and young adulthood, it was common to give teenage girls a teacup. This teacup was a tangible representation not only of their sexuality at a time when they were becoming increasingly sexually aware, but was also a representation of their worth.
The instructions were simple: every time you had sex or went further sexually than you wanted to, you whacked the teacup and took a chip out of it. You are broken. Then you glued it back together and became whole again, but the scar would always be there. You would always be a little bit chipped. You did this every single time you did anything sexual. Then, on your wedding night, you get to smash your teacup and don’t have to worry about being broken.
The message that adults told themselves they were sending to the younger generation is pretty simplistic: it’s better to wait, prevent unwanted pregnancy, and STIs. Waiting is always better, regardless of your sex or gender. No unmarried person is meant to be having sex. We females were told that not only we, but our partners should wait, too. It’s the same message that’s been passed down for a long time now. Only there’s this little problem going on. The message they think they’re sending is not actually the message that’s being sent.
Let’s break it down a little. This cup becomes the girl (I’m using “girl” here as this practice is often used with those that are not yet adults) and her worth. If she has sex, she loses a bit of her worth and has to chip away at her very self. Once the chip is glued back into place, the scar will still be there and she will have to look at it every time she sees the cup and remember that she lost a little bit of her value. By having sex, she has become less worthy, less whole, less stable, and everyone can see it. Not only does she see that she’s broken, she can see just how broken she is.
Now, a girl wasn’t only supposed to chip the teacup each time she had sex, but any time she went further sexually than she wanted to. Was she bullied or pressured into sex before she was ready? Threatened? Coerced? Tough noogies. Chip that cup and show the world that you are broken and you are at fault. You should have been stronger.
Each time the girl chips her cup, she gets a visual reminder about what a failure she is as a person. If you’ve ever heard of this tradition, you may be thinking, “But the whole point of gluing the piece back on is to show you can be whole again!” Yes, that’s true. That is the point of gluing it back on. But did you ever try to glue a fragile object together after it broke? How did it look? Unless the breaks were pretty dang clean and you have steady hands and the exact right type of glue, that object is always going to look damaged. Now imagine an impressionable girl that has to look at her “failures” every time she comes in the room. She gets to have an actual physical manifestation of what her world is telling her are her errors. Talk about a self esteem booster. I’m sure that will make her much more likely to stand up to pressure, riiiiiight?
In my mid and late teens, my teacup should have been in such a shamble it wouldn’t hold together. But I never broke it. I couldn’t. It would be like breaking a bit of myself. The mere thought of chipping the cup terrified me. So I looked at it often, on the shelf above my headboard, completely whole but knowing it should be a Frankenstein-looking piece of ceramic. It mocked me and told me of my guilt.
But what about the boys? Surely they had a similar lesson? I mean, if the message being sent is that everyone needs to wait, then the boys had to have had something similar. MWAHAHAHAHA! No. Not even a little. The area had no similar lesson for males. Wasn’t really even discussed.
So, in a nutshell, here’s what we have:
What the adults think the lesson they’re giving is: Everyone should wait.
What the lesson actually is: A female’s worth is tied to her sexuality. Use your sexuality, and become less valuable and permanently damaged. As for dudes, well, they’re just supposed to rock on and let the females worry about being the gatekeepers.
I don’t think I’m ever going to give any girl a teacup.