‘I’ll be your number one with a bullet.’
– Pete Wentz, Fall Out Boy
My first time was in August 2000. I was just fifteen years old and already felt like I should have done it by now. All my friends had, or at least they said that they had, and I felt like a loser for never having done it. I was at a party when the opportunity finally came and I grabbed it with both hands. If I’m being honest, I should probably admit that I’d always liked the lucky guy’s friend more but it was only the first time and didn’t mean anything. So I did it. I felt ready and I felt safe and I wanted to do it. I crawled across that circle and I kissed him, letting my tongue push slightly between his lips to see what happened. My first time; my first kiss. Maybe I could kiss my crush on the next spin of the bottle…
Oh, was that not the first time story that you were expecting? Why not? Why isn’t this ‘first time’ given the same weight as others?
I’ve never really written about virginity or when I lost mine because it’s always felt like a bit of a non-event. It wasn’t that spectacular and it didn’t change my world. Because of that, I never really thought about virginity and its role or importance until this year when I listened to Jaclyn Friedman and Therese Shechter discussing virginity on one of my favourite sex-positive podcasts – Unscrewed, in the episode ‘First Hump’ – and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
What is virginity and why is it important? Perhaps more pertinently, why is it so important now? In an age of sexual liberation, effective contraception and barrier protection, there are fewer lifelong consequences of extramarital sex and women are less likely to be victims of social ostracisation for having sex.
And that’s the key, and my first issue with virginity – it has historically been used as a stick to beat women. Sex has always been more risky for women with less of a guaranteed pay-off. Even without the risks of illegitimate pregnancies, just the hint of sexual promiscuity could destroy a reputation. When women were treated as property for their fathers to sell to their husbands, it was seen as important and necessary that they were new and unsullied. No one wants a second hand wife, apparently… Women were not allowed to be sexually free or independent, and that sting in the tail still lives in attitudes towards virginity now.
Jump forward to 2002 and I’m actually having sex. OK, not penetrative sex so technically I’m still a virgin but I’ve given hand-jobs and had my boyfriend come on my chest; I’ve had a cock in my mouth and know how it tastes; and I’ve come because of another person’s touch so I have had sex. Except that I don’t see it that way at the time. I was still waiting for the big event. For the moment when I’ll change from being a virgin to being a sexual person. I didn’t feel different yet, I didn’t feel that I can stop and take stock of what I’ve done because I haven’t jumped that final hurdle yet. Once again, everyone else has already done it and I’m still faffing about with foreplay. At seventeen, my virginity hangs like a weight around neck and I can’t wait until it’s gone.
But as I’ve now realised, I was having sex. Fingerfucking is sex, oral sex is sex, a handjob is sex. And this is my second issue with virginity – defining what makes you a virgin requires a definition of sex, and the heteronormative belief that only penis-in-vagina penetration counts as sex sidelines and devalues a wealth of other sexual experience. It suggests that virginity should now be seen as much more nuanced, particularly within queer sex when there may not be a PIV moment to use as a distinguishing act. What are you if you’ve had lots of sex, but never had PIV? Are you a perpetual virgin, because that just seems silly!
In June 2003 I really and truly lost my virginity. And I felt nothing. After all that waiting and all that build up, it really wasn’t good. He was so nervous that he couldn’t stay hard for long, particularly when he inexplicably tried to fuck me with my legs closed as he straddled me and it just wasn’t working. It was kind of awful. But I had a penis in my vagina so I guess that meant I wasn’t a virgin anymore, didn’t it?
But to all intents and purposes, I was exactly the same. As Therese Shechter so eloquently put it to Jaclyn Friedman, we are not changed from innocent to experienced by this one act. The only difference is that I had lost the virgin label.
Except that this didn’t change my fear or nervousness about sex. The boyfriend who took my virginity and I were sexually quite incompatible and our relationship ended with my PIV experience being limited to a few quick and largely unsuccessful couplings. I then didn’t have sex for years and felt like I had to start all over again; that I hadn’t gained anything despite losing my virginity and I almost wished I hadn’t lost it as I felt like I had no excuse for being terrible in bed and scared. After all, I had had sex. I should be better then this!
Quick aside – why do we ‘lose’ our virginity, and why do other people ‘take’ it from us? It’s such negative language and seems to emphasise the transactional nature of the process, which is just not hot!
Nothing much happened for the next ten plus years. I had occasional sex, I tried to get more confident and more capable, but I wasn’t having sex often enough for anything really to change. One night stands and drunken hook-ups were almost as bad as nothing.
Then I met him, my future fiancé, and I started having a lot of sex! Within a few months, I had crossed another sexual milestone. I had lost my anal virginity. Again, I didn’t feel like a wholly different person afterwards but, this time, I could appreciate those nuances that I lacked before. I wasn’t wholly different but I was more faceted, more experienced. I’d accepted that losing my virginity in the traditional way isn’t the end of my sexual exploration – it’s just another sexual milestone – and that this was the next.
This is the idea of virginity that I prefer – that it’s unrealistic, heteronormative and short-sighted to think of just one virginity; that just one event can change everything. I prefer Therese Shechter’s idea of a v-card, whether actual or metaphorical, on which you can tick off every significant experience. First kiss, first oral, first PIV, first orgasm with a partner, first sex without a condom with a partner, first time you felt comfortable naked… There are so many significant sexual milestones that I don’t want to celebrate just one! Therese is collecting stories of virginity for a project called The V-Card Diaries and if you submit a story, she’ll send you your own v-card, complete with ten cherries to tick off. How awesome is that?!
So what are my important sexual milestones? How about the first time I squirted? That changed me and my outlook more than any other PIV! That was when I really truly believed that my g-spot orgasms were real and I began to understand what my body was capable of. What about my first threesome or my first sexual experience with a woman? These fundamentally changed my understanding of my sexuality and sexual preference. Surely that’s more important than the first time I was fucked?
And there’s so much left! My v-card is not nearly full, and that’s a seriously exciting prospect…
This is post #4 of a planned 6 for Smutathon 2017.