Today we're highlighting 25-year-old Sarah, who talks about where her sexuality is rooted and why she doesn't want others to define it for her. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself: I am 25 years old and studying creative writing in New York City. I grew up in Texas, and until a few months ago, I was a virgin.
How do you define virginity? I know the definition I grew up with: that a virgin is someone who has not had penis-in-vagina sex. Now, I find that definition unsatisfactory for lots of reasons. It is not just that this definition applies only to heterosexuals, but I'm not sure that it works for heterosexuals either. When we talk about virginity loss we are not simply talking about a physical change, but something far more complex, an intangible, filled with deeply symbolic meanings. The categories of "virgin" and "non-virgin" fail to take into account the richness of sexual experience. It invests so much in one single moment (the moment in which a penis first enters a vagina) as this moment of profound change in our lives–when we pass magically from girls into women. We are taught that this moment will somehow determine the rest of our sexual lives and it's a decision we take cautiously, because (as women especially) we are told that when and how we lose our virginity has a lot to say about the people we are.
Why did you wait and why did you stop waiting? As a girl, I grew up hearing that for women sex is profoundly emotional. We must be careful, we must protect ourselves, and we must be very, very certain that the decisions we make about sex are the right ones. Why? Because the emotions that accompany sex for women might be too difficult or overwhelming if not shared with the right person at the right time. When I did finally have sex it was with a guy, a friend of a friend, who I knew for about twelve hours. They were a significant twelve hours in my life, and they were not devoid of emotion; in fact, they were full of emotion–excitement, aliveness, and loneliness too–but I did not fall in love as I knew I would not, nor did I fall apart (as had for years been subconsciously told I could). Recently, after hearing I had had sex, the a male friend said of the guy: "I am not sure this guy was deserving of that." An older friend said to me, "Well, you are still emotionally a virgin." My younger sister, outraged at my one-night-stand said: "Sarah, if a guy is worth it, he shouldn't care about your past." These comments, though meant well, have a somewhat disturbing message underpinning them: that my sexuality is somehow not my own. That I threw away my virginity too easily. That somehow the sex I had was meaningless because it was not shared with a partner. That I had sex for my future partners or just to get it over with. When in fact, I had sex because I wanted to. I found a deeper truth I had known for a long time but was finally giving power to: Each sexual encounter is an expression of my sexuality, but my sexuality has to do with so much more than who I have sex with, or how much sex I have, or if I have ever had sex before. It has to do with my own relationship to my body. My sexuality is deeply rooted in me. I can trust in my own desires, my own emotions and move with them. Experiences don't have to fall on the categories of "right" or "wrong" or "mistake". They are simply expressions of myself–among many I will make over the course of my life–some of which will feel more authentic than others but all of which matter and are important and true.
Any thoughts on virginity in our society? Perhaps the most lasting message girls get is that sex is powerful, scary, and has the potential to hurt you if you are not ready for it. I think back to my brother and the messages he he received. Decide when you are ready and be safe. Boys hear, in essence, that they are able to make their own choices; that they should trust in their own intelligence and are aware enough of their desires to make responsible decisions about sex. What a girl hears is very different: That her emotions and desires are not to be trusted but that she should be protected from them. That she is fragile and could make a bad decision that will leave her harmed. It perpetuates this notion that our sexuality is defined by external factors. I think of sexuality differently; as something internal whose movement outward takes many forms of expression and sex itself is only one of those. In this I find great freedom and confidence and joy.