When I was eight years old, I learned what a blowjob was. Well, kind of. A girl in my class sat some of us down by the swings and explained it as “putting a wiener in your mouth until you have a baby.” Not quite sure who her sources were, but whatever. With the cooties epidemic and all, I couldn’t even fathom why you would want to have any part of a boy near you anyway. But the point is that, I knew what fellatio was at the age of eight because I knew who Monica Lewinsky was at the age of eight. I didn’t know all of my timetables yet, was still unclear about whether dragons were real or not, but I knew for sure that at some point in time, Monica Lewinsky gave former President Bill Clinton a blowjob. 

Last week, Lewinsky gave a moving TED Talk on what it’s like to be publicly shamed, almost 18 years after the fact. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about or talking about Monica Lewinsky. But I know her name. And most people do, for all of the wrong reasons. 

Lewinsky interned for the White House in 1995 and 1996 and slowly began to form a romantic relationship with current president at the time Bill Clinton.  She told coworker and supposed friend Linda Tripp all about her relationship and Tripp did what all quality people do; she recorded every single conversation. Sneaky snake Tripp leaked the recordings and voila; we have a major political scandal on our hands. 

One thing to keep in mind that I find to be the most significant piece of information, is that Lewinsky was 22 years old at the time. Twenty literal two, you guys. I really want to know someone who didn’t do something, anything, cringeworthy at the age of 22. Lewinsky fell in love at the age of 22—she just happened to fall in love with the President of the United States. The heart wants what it wants but girlfriend did it have to be Bill? I guess so. 

Here’s the thing. People like Monica Lewinsky, people that are notorious for a scandal, these people wear that scandal like a scarlet letter pretty much for the rest of their lives. It’s tattooed on them for better or for worse. That doesn’t make it ok. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut , whore, bimbo, and of course that woman. I was seen by many, and actually known by few,” she said last week. 

The Lewinsky Scandal was the first time something had been propelled into the world by the internet. Access was inevitable. Lewinsky stated “I was patient zero,” about a scandal coasting on the digital revolution wave.

And as Lewinsky mentioned in her speech, shame is something that can make people want to stop living. It can rot you from the inside out until even you begin to believe the hateful things people are saying about you. She even mentioned that research shows that humiliation is oftentimes more powerful than happiness and even anger. Our society is plagued with the lie that the most important thing in this life is validation from others. Over happiness. Over anger. Over everything. 

Lewinsky cited having suicidal thoughts, and honestly is anyone surprised? Does anyone know about her handbag line? Maybe. Does anyone know that she studied psychology at the London School of Economics? No. Why? Because no one gives a shit. Throw in something juicy though, like an affair with the President, and all of a sudden 273 million people give a shit. They cared so much that they wanted the President impeached. And how is former President Bill Clinton doing now? He’s doing just fine. Of course he is.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan until I heard what she had to say. I was one of the millions of people who chuckled every time I heard her name, like it’s funny that she hasn’t been able to live down a blowjob for almost two decades, like it’s funny that Bill is still the man and she’s washed up before even making it. All she asked for, all anyone who’s ever experienced shame asks for, is human compassion. Realizing that every person you judge or feel any resentment towards has a soul that runs just as deep as yours. That at our very core, we are in fact all the same. That in another life, you may have moments of public humiliation and you might need just one person to reach their hand out. The price of shame is a hefty debt, but it’s a debt that every human deserves to one day, pay off.