In the six years of having my autoimmune disease, I've learned what I need from a person in order to view them as a potential long-term partner.
During my teenage years, I read women's magazines religiously. I memorized sex tips that held no practical use to me and devoured the stories about women pleasing men. I was obsessed with sex, like the magazines and media told me I should be. The information made me feel sophisticated and worldly — and in a big rush to find a guy to please and use all the knowledge I had.
Everything I read about the big First Time (read: strictly penetrative vaginal sex with a male partner) seemed to stress making it special. That was the moment you lost your innocence and purity. The moment when you went from girlhood to womanhood. This all apparently happened in one moment, the second a guy's penis gets inside your vagina. Sex changed you, the message went, and losing your virginity mattered. Bye-bye, purity and innocence.
When I was deciding whether to have sex for the first time, my stepsister told me, "You will always remember your first, so choose carefully." I fretted about the choice, nervous that if everything wasn't perfect, I would replay the encounter on repeat for the rest of my life. We place such a high value on losing our virginity. Even now, in a time where sexual expression for women should be less restricted, the pressure to have penetrative vaginal intercourse by someone we "love" is still there. Popular media idealizes the event.
The moment I got the opportunity with someone I thought was worthy of "taking" my virginity, I had sex and I quickly realized that everything I read about giving the man pleasure told me nothing about receiving mine. I was extremely disappointed and a bit ashamed of myself. I lost my virginity and "purity" — but felt confused and unfulfilled by the experience. How was this supposed to be some mythical occurrence? It made no sense and I didn't actually look or feel that much different. And, if my stepsister was to be believed, this would be an event that never left me my memory.
I think she vastly overestimated my memory. Almost seven years later, I barely recall anything except that it hurt and didn't last long. I haven't kept in much contact with the guy after we broke things off, so his face isn't fresh in my mind either. When I think about sex, I don't picture him. I think of my long-term boyfriends, of wild flings, of pleasurable nights.
All in all, I think the expectation that losing my virginity would be this amazing, life-changing event actually worsened the experience. Very few encounters, for me, have lived up to that hype. Having good sex with a person takes time — you have to learn what you both like, and be willing to give and receive pleasure.
And what is virginity, anyway? I had always wondered — if a woman only has sex with other women, is she still a virgin if an actual penis never enters her vagina? That seems ridiculous to me. And how far does a guy need to go into you before you "lose" your virginity? The old, nonsensical standard was when he pierced the hymen, which is a membrane that partially closes the opening of the vagina. Yet, the hymen is frequently broken long before a girl has sex. Sports, tampons, everyday living — these things can get rid of the hymen. Did a tampon take my virginity, then?
Years later, when I began to study sociology in undergrad, I learned that virginity is a social construct, which means, "an idea or notion appears to be natural and obvious to people who accept it but may or may not represent reality, so it remains largely an invention or artifice of a given society." Our social construct of virginity is the state of never having sexual penis-penetrating intercourse, along with the characteristics of being naïve and inexperienced. But that isn't a scientific measure.
So what could possibly be the point of making virginity such a big deal? I think there is one main reason — control over women. You "lose" your virginity or have it "taken," words that convey a sense that you do not have power. Historically, and still prevalent in other cultures, women lose their value as prospective wives if they have sex before marriage.
Losing the mythical virginal state means you are not pure anymore, which is a woman's highest currency, we are told. This treats women as objects, ones that are tarnished if someone else plays with them first. This message also serves to exert control over a woman's body, telling her to forgo sexual relations, to ignore what she wants. That hurts us, overall, as women—and leads to disappointment when the First Time doesn't live up to the impossible hype.
So we shouldn't put such a huge value on losing our virginity. Like any sexual experience, we should promote doing what is right for each individual. It doesn't have to be a big deal, you don't need to only have sex with people you love. But you can. You can have sex to feel purely physical pleasure, to express your love for another person, simply to experiment...there are so many reasons. And we shouldn't shame women for exploring their options. For having hundreds of partners. Or just one. Being sex positive takes letting go of our deep-seated, harmful social constructs and asking ourselves what we actually want and what feels good.
My first time did not matter, but if I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be: Don't worry about what anyone else is doing or saying. Whatever you decide, do it for yourself, not to please others.