Late night sex talk: Virginity

I had my first girlfriend when I was a freshman in high school. I was very young, very naïve and very inexperienced. She was the first person I ever kissed and — because this is how life goes — the first person I ever slept with. I felt the compulsion to tell my mom that I’d had sex, and somehow I did manage to do just that. I expected some sort of shocked/ashamed reaction, but instead I got something much more troubling; she said, “That doesn’t count, Sarah. You’re still a virgin.”
At the time, I was pretty devastated. In one off-handed comment my mother had invalidated my entire relationship—the sexual aspects of it and otherwise—as well as my identity. I don’t blame her now, though; she was only reinforcing the ideas that we are all brought up with. Even though at the time I disagreed with her, I didn’t know how to articulate why. Now that I’m older, have more experience with sex and with the world in general, I’m a little clearer in why her response was wrong.
We as a society are taught that virginity is invaluable. We are taught that it is something physical and vital to our beings, something to hold onto at all costs. We even ‘lose’ it at some point, as if having sex takes something away from you, something you can never retrieve. In reality, virginity is a concept; it’s something we as a society have made up in order to keep sex taboo and secretive. As a young queer person, this myth of virginity was confusing and hurtful, and now, as a sex-loving adult, it just seems downright ridiculous. Why would we put so much value into something both so subjective and so fleeting?
First of all, who decides what makes someone a virgin or not? If I’ve had oral sex, am I still pure? At what point while I’m fooling around with my partner have I officially lost my virginity? Not only that, but how am I supposed to lose it at all if I’m not heterosexual? I’ve been told multiple times that, until you’ve had intercourse with a member of the opposite sex, you’re still a virgin. Why should my sexual relationship with my girlfriend be so invalidated that it isn’t even deemed ‘real sex’?
It’s all relative. There are a lot of gray areas to sex, and who is authorized to tell you which parts are legitimate and which parts are not? (Hint: the answer is no one, except you.)
Another issue with putting so much value in virginity is the loss of respect we experience once we’ve had sex. When talking about my first time, I used to say, “I was with her for a really long time and we waited months before we finally did it.” I felt that I had to explain myself in order to stay away from the assumption that I was a slut. If I waited four months before letting her see me naked, that makes it okay, right?
Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit the way your first time went. As long as it was consensual sex that you felt comfortable participating in, who cares the way it went down? If your first time was in a nice, comfy bed after you’d been in a relationship with your partner for a year, it doesn’t make that sex any more valid than someone who messed around in the back of a car after the first date. It all depends on your own personal choice, and since it’s your decision, anybody else’s opinion on it is not your concern.
That’s easier said than done, obviously. Again, referring back to my own experience with sex, I was completely conflicted after my first time. I felt torn between what I had been conditioned to feel and what I actually felt. I wondered if I was supposed to feel different or ‘changed’ after my experience. I didn’t. I felt exactly like myself, except now I knew what sex felt like. The only guilt or regret I experienced was brought on because of what I presumed others thought of me, not my own feelings about myself. And that mentality, that you’re doing something wrong even when it doesn’t feel wrong, is incredibly harmful and actually made me value myself as a human being less than I did before.
In the end, if you are having consensual sex and if you’re comfortable with your choice to do so, you are not doing anything wrong. When we teach people that virginity is invaluable, we are in turn saying that you have less value once you have had sex. And that can lead to some serious self-esteem problems later on. (Not to mention the unhealthy relationship you might develop with your own sexuality.)
Sex is healthy and natural, not shameful. Sex is something to be celebrated and discussed. And you shouldn’t question your value as a human being just because you are having it.

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