Cherry Picking: Let’s Rethink Virginity
When I lost my virginity it was an intellectual rather than a physical act. I’ll explain in a minute.
The “losing the virginity” narrative is one that I think we are all familiar with: Virgin is shy and inexperienced. Virgin has penis-in-vagina intercourse. No-longer-Virgin has now been inducted into the world of the sexually active and is changed forever- huzzah! I have so much beef with this narrative.
First off, and perhaps most obviously, it effectively renders homosexuals life-long virgins. Seriously? Secondly and perhaps most irresponsibly it leaves teenagers who are taught to value abstinence above all else engaging in activities arguably more intimate than (and certainly as capable of STI transmission as) intercourse and still loudly and proudly declaring their “purity”. Now, much of that is also the result of not teaching kids about sex but still, it’s absurd. Third and perhaps most annoying it allows no room for evaluating the weight and meaning of individual experiences as it boils everything down to “Did it go in? No? Doesn’t count.” “Don’t really remember it but found a used condom? Yeah, that was your real experience.” WTH? Finally and perhaps most disturbingly this logic tells a woman whose first experience with penis in her vagina occurs during a rape that she has crossed that invisible line, she has lost her say in how her life as a sexually active adult begins. This is seriously fucked. Let’s talk about approaching the whole idea a little differently.
I don’t often tell the story of my “first time” because it tends to cause some controversy but the more I think about this the more I think I had the right idea. Brace yourselves for a Judy Blume moment folks, I lost my virginity on March 30th 2001 – yep, still remember the exact date. But, what did not happen on March 30, 2001 was a penis entering my vagina. To be clear, I’m a cisgender, heterosexual woman and my experience that night was with a man. So, how did I lose my virginity, as it were, in this scenario. Well, before I explain that, know that as a young person, I didn’t set out to have a unique experience I was all set for the assumed narrative- I’d seen Beverly Hills 90210, I knew how this worked.
So, what exactly did I know? I knew that there were rules in order to be sexual but not (heaven forfend) a slut. I knew that the biggest of these rules was that the big deflowering was supposed to happen at the hands of my Boyfriend (note the capital B, that’s his proper name). I learned early on that girls with boyfriends could act out sexually but if you hooked up at a party there was judgement to be had. So I waited through high school for Boyfriend and dude didn’t show. Then in college, I started getting impatient with Boyfriend, at this point I was ready to be out in the world of functional, sexually active humans but the script I had said I couldn’t do that until I lost my capital-V Virginity. Boyfriend needed to show the hell up.
In the years since I have come to think of this waiting waiting around for someone else to come unlock¹ one’s sexuality as the “Disney Princessification” of virginity. I think that everywhere from Disney fairy tales to John Hughes films the messaging to young girls is “wait for someone cute to come along and bring you love, sex and happiness” I’m not alone in this view, in Policing Young Women’s Sexuality,Clementine Ford said it beautifully: “At every turn girls are told that their sexuality comes from without rather than within, and they must choose wisely which brave knight gets to scale their ivory towers…” Some day my prince will come indeed.
Okay, back to my hymen. By my senior year of college, not only was I still a virgin but I was now freaked out about the fact that no one was “choosing” me- there was no Boyfriend. Obviously, I assumed something was been terribly wrong with me, I must be hideous or just inherently non-sexual. Now, this is not to say I wasn’t sexual but my rule book said I always had to stop short of intercourse. I was still a Virgin and that was not on my menu. I had not been inducted into that club. So, there I was terribly upset about the fact that no one wanted to have sex with me and thus I wasn’t allowed to have sex and thus had to turn down sex…. wait, what?!
It took an embarrassingly long time before I realized how ridiculous this whole thing was.
Cue surprise visit from “someone cute who I thought I wouldn’t see again-nothing like sense of urgency” to prompt action. I chucked the script out the window, put on some leather pants and carpe’d the hell out of that diem. Or tried to at least. In what I later learned to be a consequence of too much drinking pre-sex, the actual act was not so successful but for me, that was it, that was my first time. No doubt in my mind. So, how is this the night I lost my virginity? Well that was the moment I decided it was absurd to wait for Boyfriend Charming and his magic penis to unlock the gate to my sexuality. I had been viewing the loss of my virginity as the firing of a sexual starter pistol and that night I grabbed that thing and fired it myself. That night had so much more meaning to me than the time I had intercourse but when I try to tell people this story they don’t get it and want to know about my “real” first time.
I said earlier that I don’t often tell this story but it came back to me as I was turning over this idea of virginity and I started to wonder what it would be like if we approached virginity in this more fluid way. What if we raised our children² to be sexually informed, empowered and autonomous so that when they went out into the world they would be able to make their own decisions in a safe, respectful healthy way? How would it look if there weren’t “virgins” or “whores”, just normal sexual people? If the value of sexual encounters was weighed in terms of emotional impact rather than physical “base tagging”? What if the rules, the script, the capital-V and the Boyfriend all went out the window? I know my story would have looked a hell of a lot different.
So, let’s rethink this. Let’s celebrate the inherent sexuality of all people rather than dictating “this is is the moment that you become sexual and this is the one act that does it” Let’s stop thinking of virginity as a commodity and virgins as Sleeping Beauties waiting for the magic kiss. Let’s give folks the space to find their own experience and decide what their sexuality looks like.
If you had your first time to do again, what would it look like?
¹All this talk of unlocking sexuality keeps making me think “I’m about to take my key and stick it in the ignition” Because no one does subtle like R. Kelly.
²In the past my tendency to say things like this has led to some misunderstandings. To be clear, I do not have children, just very strong feelings on creating functional humans.