"You Make Me Wanna" is a column celebrating pop culture-fueled sexual awakenings—from crushing on cartoon characters to humping pillows while watching boyband videos.
I remember my first erotic experience with incredible clarity.
I was six years old, lying in bed as the air conditioner breeze wafted over my skin. I was naked and lightly tracing my skin with my fingertips, enjoying the shivering sensations it gave me, the goosebumps that popped up with each gentle caress. I wondered languidly, is this what an orgasm feels like? Does it matter really? I only knew that it felt wonderful, and spent most of my summer—and many summers after—locked in my room, exploring further.
But I wasn’t imagining some cute young heartthrob; I was imagining the fierce glint of the knives wielded by the best villain from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder. I pictured Shredder, who looks like a samurai drawn by someone obsessed with blades—he has knives on every part of his outfit, an impractical number of knives that would likely make movement, particularly something flowing like martial arts, next to impossible. The impracticality of his outfit made no difference to me—all I knew was that he was covered in sharp things that would draw my blood, and that he was incredibly sexy.
At six, I didn’t know much about sex, really—and definitely didn’t know anything about kink. I knew a little bit about masturbation thanks to Joani Blank’s A Kid’s First Book About Sex, but I didn’t really know how sex worked—just that it felt nice. And though my parents didn’t hide their Good Vibrations catalogs from me, I had not yet discovered them on my own—nor had I found my first porn video, Annie Sprinkle’s “Sluts and Goddesses.” But I had discovered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and an accompanying erotic attachment to martyrdom that would take years of therapy and bad sex to unravel.
The first TMNT live-action movie debuted in 1990. I’d been taking karate for a year at that point, along with ballet. I was better at karate—though I deeply enjoyed my sparkly dance costumes—and competed in tournaments, even winning a silver medal once! Bolstered by my newfound passion for martial arts, I developed a crush on the team of green mutant ninjas. While my school peers debated the merits of each member of New Kids on the Block, I pored over the unique skill sets of the teenage turtles. I treasured the jokester qualities of Michelangelo, the mad science leanings of Donatello, and the reluctant leadership of Leonardo—but I wanted to be Raphael. Clad in a red bandana, Raphael was sassy, sarcastic, and often got in trouble for running his mouth. Just like me.
There’s a moment in the 1990 movie where Raphael argues with Leonardo and stomps away, storming up to the roof. It’s there that the foot soldiers—an army of teenagers and ninjas trained by Shredder—ambush him and leave him for dead. He’s rescued by the other turtles and nursed back to health, forgiven for his brashness by his teenage mutant family. Something about Raphael’s redemption arc—suffering for his sins of being headstrong and rude, but ultimately being forgiven and embraced by his fellow turtles, who stand beside him to fight evil—was both relatable and deeply desirable.
This scene moved my young heart deeply, and I somehow translated it into an erotic martyrdom fantasy that involved being kidnapped by Shredder and slowly tortured by his exquisite blades. Sometimes, I even used my blanket to tie myself up, hands bound behind my back as I fell asleep fantasizing about my predicament.
These desires might have all been kept a secret, but with AOL chat rooms at my disposal as a teenager, I dove headlong into the world first indirectly introduced to me by Shredder. I devoured everything I could find about kink—online and off. Nancy Friday’s 1991 book Women on Top gave me a framework for understanding that my perverted tendencies weren’t abnormal or bad. I discovered online educational resources like the now defunct sites Informed Consent and Castle Realm, which focused on the importance of being honest and communicative, rather than creepy or predatory. By the time I came into the kink scene at 18, I wasn’t completely naive about what I was getting into.
That said, I wonder if my fixation on Shredder, this silent, dangerous person who holds your life in his hands, led me to be a little too eager to forsake safety precautions—and whether my fascination with martyrdom led me to mistakenly identify as a submissive for a long time. These days, I don’t bring sharp objects into the bedroom unless I’m asked very nicely—and I’m definitely more likely to be Shredder than Raphael in a kinky roleplay.