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shame and guilt

Ask Trixie: I want to have sex, but the guy says he's nervous that I'll regret it. How do I get him to understand I won't?

Hi! I've been talking to a guy & I want to have sex, but he's getting nervous. He says he doesn't want me to regret losing my virginity to him. I grew up in a catholic family that slut shamed but 75% of children in my family were born to 17 yr olds & I realized I don't care about virginity. I think of it as a way to pressure girls to save themselves for that *one lucky guy*. IDK how to get him to understand this but also how to be comfy with myself since I have gained a few pounds –fbgc

Hi fbgc!

I’m reading a few different issues in your question so let’s take them one at a time:

1. There are lots of considerations when you’re deciding to become sexual, and you’re the only one who can decide if you’re ready. Sex can be a part of our lives in different ways: maybe we experiment with different partners, or we wait until we get married and have sex with one partner. There’s no right answer to this, but it is important to think it through for yourself. It sounds like you’ve done that, but if you need a bit more to chew on, check out something I wrote called How Will I Know I’m Ready?

2. It sounds like your potential partner is genuinely concerned about your happiness, but he also sounds like he’s projecting his own ideas about virginity onto you. It would be interesting to ask him why he thinks you’ll regret it. Is it because of his own religious beliefs which you might no longer hold? Is it subtle slut-shaming on his part because you don’t buy into the ‘saving yourself’ messages? Or is it because he thinks his penis is so magical, that it has the power to irrevocably transform you simply by sticking it into your vagina? Knowing why he’s worried that you’ll ‘regret’ it, might actually affect whether or not you even want to do it with him. I mean, who wants to have sex with a guy who’s thinking you’re a slut the whole time it’s happening (if that’s the case)?

3. Let’s say you decide you want to have sex, and the guy you’ve chosen is cool enough to be worthy of you. I’m going to beg you not to get hung up on your body, and whatever pounds you feel you’ve put on. Our brains have been poisoned by toxic messages about what women’s bodies should look like, and the worst thing would be to get uncomfortable about being sexual because you feel like you don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Any guy who rejects you because of your body has done you a huge favor, saving you wasting your valuable time and energy on a total jerk. I know it sounds like a cliche, but please try to appreciate your body’s remarkable ability to give and receive pleasure, whatever size it is.

4. You might think it all through, feel great about your decisions, have sex, and then still regret it. Because life is like that: not everything works out the way we think it will. Then you need to learn from the experience, and try to make the next time better. The ‘first time’ is just that, the first of (hopefully) many sexual experiences you’ll have for the rest of your life. If you want to read some stories from people who had similar experiences, go to our V-Card Diaries project, click on ‘enter, and then click on ‘It Gets Better’ in the left-had column.  And let us know how it works out!

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here 
Find Ask Trixie here on most Mondays.

Ask Trixie: Does just the tip count as sex?

I was hooking up with a guy and we were both drunk. He had whiskey dick so he wasn't fully hard so when we tried to have sex it wasn't working... But I'm pretty sure the tip went in a little... Possibly even up to half way... But I'm thinking it was more just the tip of anything.... Does that count as sex? I thought it didn't... But since I can't fully remember what really happened it worries me. I don't want to have to count it. But I'm not sure if it really does or not. Thanks. –P

Hi P and thanks for writing! I'm reading two issues here so let's start with the first one. Some people ask a 'does this count' question because they want to know if they've lost their virginity. Others want to know how to talk about what happened with a particular person. I'm not sure which you're asking about, but I've answered a similar question before, so I'm going to incorporate part of what I wrote then.

Firstly, based on my own encounters with a 'whiskey dick,' it doesn't usually go up anywhere. But your question has more to do with what 'counts' as sex, and this kind of question is always tough to answer because different people have very different ideas about that. Is it a penis in a vagina? Is it getting naked with someone? Is it thinking impure thoughts? Is it masturbation? Based on definitions of virginity that people have sent us, sex means very different things to different people. 

The question I want to ask you is why is it important to know whether you’re you've had sex or not? Is someone making you feel bad about having (or not having) sex? Do you think it changes your value in some way, depending on what the answer is? (If you’re living in a community where the answer to your question can have serious consequences, I’m so sorry. All I can say is you need to do what you can to keep yourself safe until you’re away from that community and have more freedom.)

You've probably been told different things about what having sex might mean. Please know that it doesn't make anyone clean or dirty, pure or used, hot or not. So maybe you had a penis tip inside you, or maybe you didn't, and if you feel it doesn't count as sex...it doesn't. There's actually no rule book, and furthermore it's nobody's business but your own. Personally, I don’t believe there’s one specific magic sex moment that suddenly changes us. It's just part of a long series of moments, some good, and maybe some we wish hadn't happened.

Which brings me to the other issue I want to mention (putting on my concerned Aunt Trixie hat) which is the fact that you and your partner were so drunk you're having trouble remembering what happened. That means you were probably too drunk to give each other proper consent for what you ended up doing, too drunk to think about safe sex of any kind, and too drunk to remember anything else that might have happened, sexual or not. Believe me, I've been there, and we both know that it makes any situation riskier, no matter what you're doing.

I hope this helps put things into a bit of perspective, and please write back if you have any follow-up questions! 

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie hereind Ask Trixie here on most Mondays.

Only Connect...

The other day I was re-reading our V-Card Diaries stories, and I was reminded that people who have never had sex are sometimes dealing with personal issues that go beyond the lack of physical experience. So I was struck by this excerpt from Vivian Gornick's New York Times essay on British author E. M. Forster, author of Howards End, as well as A Room With A View, A Passage to India, and Maurice:

Forster was 31 years old when “Howards End” appeared, at which time he was a closeted homosexual and a virgin who knew nothing of how erotic relations worked — with any combination of partners. His ignorance weighed on him, and in his imagination sex achieved a mythical power that became symbolic of all in human existence that one could feel but not express, imagine but not realize. His fearfulness was such that until now he had known neither passion nor love; what he did know was yearning. This yearning energized his work but also limited it. In time he lost his virginity, but sex alone did not provide experience. Anxiety — that frozen sea within — still made it impossible for him to dive deep into the kind of desire that leads to self-knowledge; and without self-knowledge all remains murk and isolation.

V-Card Diaries: Adrian "By the time I graduated from high school, I had managed to completely bottle up my sexual impulses (a very bad thing!)"

A little about myself:

I'm a 21 y/o genderqueer college student from Florida!

How I define virginity:

I think that virginity is a state of never having had loving, safe, consensual sex before. But it's not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things - whether or not you've has sex before doesn't make you more or less of a person.

Here's my story:

When I was younger, I was obsessed with staying 'pure' because of the influence of my church and my parents. I was taught that being 'pure' meant keeping away from not only the physical act of sex, but also thoughts and self-inflicted actions that would stimulate sexual thoughts/activities. This was all fine and dandy until I got to 10th grade. It was like a switch had been flipped in my brain, and then suddenly every day was like terrible, horny, torture. I realized at that time that I was sexually interested in people of the same sex as well as the opposite sex, and a lot of people in-between. But I was too anxious about being judged by the people around me, so I kept it bottled up, and the more I tried to hide it the more those repressed thoughts came out to haunt me.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had managed to completely bottle up my sexual impulses (a very bad thing!). But then I moved away to college, and the new, sex-positive environment unraveled all my 'progress'. I fell into a deep depression, feeling as if nothing in the world was worth living - all because I couldn't keep my thoughts 'under control', based on what other people thought I should be doing with my body and mind! As you can tell, I was in a bad place, all because I had never given myself a chance to really understand and accept my sexual thoughts. I was stuck like that until I came across Scarleteen.com, a website that teaches young people about sex in a gentle, accessible, inclusive way. Exploring that website got me started on my journey to recovery.

Fast forwards to today, and I'm still a virgin. But I no longer beat myself up over thoughts that, through therapy and other activities, I've realized are natural. I don't put that much importance on virginity or 'purity' either way, as a positive or negative thing. My virginity 'is what it is', and when I feel like I'm close enough to someone to have sex with them, then it'll happen. I know that the day that happens won't be some magical event, but I hope that at the very least it'll be bearable! In the meantime, I'll keep working to improve my health, my friendships, my hobbies, my confidence, my career, and many more things.

If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

V-Card Diaries: Susie-Q "As a president of a sorority I hide away the fact that I haven't yet had sex"

A little about myself:

I'm a 21, female, from the Pacific Northwest in the United States. I am the president of a national sorority and have never had sex.

How I define virginity:

No penetration of the sex organs.

Here's my story:

I've never been on a real date and have never kissed a boy while sober. I feel the need to have sex with someone before I leave college in order to be able to have real relationships with men without wondering about that first time. I feel the need to get it over with but I want a close relationship with him and not just a random hookup. But never being romantically involved with someone makes me SO scared that I am out of control of this situation.

As a president of a sorority I hear the stories of so many that have had sex, and I really hide the fact away that I haven't because it seems like something I should be ashamed of.

If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here

Ask Trixie: How can I pretend that it will be her first time with me?

I been seeing this girl for 5mos now, we're very open to each other. She's not a virgin but she only had sex with one guy and it was 8.5 mos ago. I am, and we plan on having sex soon, in 3mos. She never came with the first guy and she wasn't in love with him like she is with me. We both agreed that her first doesn't count because she wasn't in love and it was a stupid choice in the first place, and pretend that it'll be her first time with me. But it's really hard to pretend. Any advice? – Anonymous

Hi Anonymous – I get that there's a certain romance in being each other's 'first' but I'm feeling like you're also judging her. Why are you hung up on what she did before she met you? Do you think the fact that she had sex with someone else changed her in some way that makes her a less worthy partner for you? Have you done anything in your past you wish you hadn’t? 

Maybe you two can think about that first experience she had as a trial to see what she liked and didn't, and that experience will make sex between the two of you all that much better. Knowing what doesn't work for you can be as important as knowing what does.

You’ve got long lives ahead of you with lots of sexual experiences and (possibly) other partners. Yes, the first time can be special and important, but it's more important that the two of you have a great relationship. So, stop pretending, get over what’s in either of your pasts, and focus on the present. You love each other, which is awesome. You’re attracted to each other, which is also awesome. Enjoy being with each other and the pleasure that will bring you both.

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here.

Watch the video for the new poem "Thank God I'm A Virgin"

From the upcoming album, "All Prodigal Daughters and Sons" "Thank God I'm a Virgin" is an exploration of the logical consequences of a Christian purity culture that places undue emphasis on the status of one's virginity, especially female virginity, over against one's character and heart.

Our twitter friend Emily Joy just shared her powerful new poem with us, and we want to share it with you right away. We often talk about how the choice of waiting until marriage to have sex is a very valid one, but should never be made based on shaming, double standards, or bad science threats of disease and death. The poem from the upcoming album, "All Prodigal Daughters and Sons" and here's how she describes it:

"Thank God I'm a Virgin" is an exploration of the logical consequences of a Christian purity culture that places undue emphasis on the status of one's virginity, especially female virginity, over against one's character and heart. It seeks to correct and indict those who would set themselves up as judge of who is in and who is out of the kingdom and community of God on the basis of their sexuality.

Lyrics:

Well thank God I’m a virgin!
Or he probably wouldn’t want me.
I thought as I listened silently
While he told me
That he just couldn’t be with someone
Who had been with someone else,
Which is like 90% of adults by the age of 25,
So your already limited pool is shrinking very quickly,
But don’t let me discourage you.
Carry on.
Tell me how you saved yourself.
How you saved up enough points with God
To buy an unspoiled bride
And you will not settle for less.
Tell me about her white dress,
How it will “mean something.”
Tell me what it means.
Tell me what it’s like to have nothing you regret,
To have made it through life unscathed
By either bliss or pain.
What does that feel like?
Is it very lonely?
Or does it just feel safe,
Like keeping your cocoon heart all wrapped up and tucked away
Hoping to God someday it becomes a butterfly
Before it dies from the frost. 
I hope whoever she is,
She meets all your expectations.
I hope enough of her heart is intact
For you to feel like the wait was worth it.
I hope she never knows you wouldn’t have wanted her
If she wasn’t a virgin.
Cause everybody knows a girl is only as valuable
As the men who haven’t touched her.
Only as desirable as the experiences she hasn’t had.
But baby, when you get to her,
She better know what to do in bed.
She better satisfy your wildest pornographic fantasies,
Know all the right ways to move
Body parts she has never had the chance to use.
Cause God would never fail you, right?
You waited on his timing, now he owes you.
Anything less is not the bill of goods they sold you.
So I hope it works out for you.
I really do.
But if it doesn’t, just remember what I told you.
That a heart cannot be divided into pieces
And given away till there is nothing left.
That the greatest gift you can give
Has nothing to do with your flesh.
That love is really just grace.
That a lifetime of avoidance
Does not prepare one for a lifetime of joy and pain.
That “virgin” is not a sexual preference,
Nor is it your birthright.
Baby, your insecurity is showing.
She chose you.
What more do you want?

Professor live-tweets her son's abstinence-only sex ed class

We cannot imagine a more delightful combination of words! This is a must read if you still aren't clear about what goes on in these hideous classes that your tax dollars fund. And here's her prose version for more detail. 

V-Card Diaries: Alisha "We broke up on numerous occasions to keep ourselves from sin yet ached for each other"

Today we're highlighting Alisha from Utah who was taught that virginity was key to her salvation. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.A little about myself:

I am a 22-year-old female, now married and not religious although my husband is still Christian. I was raised Mormon in Utah and therefore taught that my virginity was almost essential to my salvation.

How I define virginity:

The naive state where you are expected to simultaneously avoid things that are sexual yet also not know anything about sex in the first place.

Here's my story:

My boyfriend and I were both virgins and fighting to keep it that way. We even broke up on numerous occasions to keep ourselves from sin yet every time we found ourselves aching for each other and then going a little further. I don't know the exact moment when we went all the way but I let my boyfriend (now husband) claim it was a year after the fact.

V-Card Diaries: Sully "I'm a guy, so why is it so difficult for me to remove this social stigma?"

Today we're highlighting Sully in Potsdam, NY. First he chose to wait to have sex until he is able to take care for a girl if she gets pregnant, but now he feels like virginity is an awkward cloud looming over him. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

A little about myself:

I'm 27, male , I live in Potsdam NY... I work in a restaurant as a cook, went to college, but dropped out for financial and family reasons.

How I define virginity:

Orgasm via vaginal or anal penetration

Here's my story:

I'm a guy, I shouldn't care what I look like or if the girl really cares for me, so why is it so difficult for me to remove this social stigma...I started with noble intentions, I wanted a career first, so if I got said girl pregnant I could at least be responsible and take care of her and "seed", but then it just became this awkward cloud that loomed over me, people treat me like I'm some kind of freak, which in turn makes it only more difficult to talk or do anything about it.

V-Card Diaries: Chloe "I don't feel pressure to have sex, and I don't know that many people who have had sex."

Today we're highlighting Chloe in New Zealand, who kind of wants to have sex for the first time just for the experience, though she's been told she will regret it. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 17-year-old New Zealander.

How I define virginity:

Having sexual experience involving another's genitalia.

Here's my story:

I'm currently a virgin, and I'm still undecided whether I will wait until I have a bf I like, or if I will just have my first experience with someone I do not romantically like. I've never had a bf so part of me wants to just get it over and done with, do it for the experience. Though I have been told I will regret it/feel guilty/shouldn't waste it...So I don't know who to believe!

I don't feel pressure to have sex, and I don't know that many people who have had sex. I was so surprised to learn the average age was 17!

Dear Young Men: Don't get hung up on the V-Word

Two great articles speaking directly to men about virginity and sexuality. We ladies cover this topic a lot on the blog, and I also enjoyed sharing similar ideas in an interview for an upcoming documentary on male virginity. Unfortunately, we ladies sometimes get a bit of pushback when we weigh in on this topic, but luckily, here's the same straight dope from a couple of actual dudes. So listen up and seriously, read the whole stories at the links. They are both super smart. From "Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a 'man' are a load of rubbish" in The Independent

At about age 14, boys feel like they have to start bullshitting about their sexual exploits in order to survive. The pressure on these kids is just too great for them to speak frankly about it. Ignore what everyone says about their sex lives. They are lying, all of them, at least a little.

Forget the word “virgin” as a descriptor for both yourself and others. It’s an archaic, irrelevant word, meant to stigmatise and shame people. It oversells a person’s first sex act as some grand, transformational experience, which supposedly vindicates a young man and spoils a young woman. It’s an obsolete, religious, judgmental word. Let’s leave  it behind.

From "The Problem With Male Virginity" in Paging Dr. Nerdlove

Your value doesn’t come from who you have or haven’t slept with. It doesn’t come from where you fall on the bell-curve of starting sexual activity, whether you were precocious or a late bloomer. Your value as a person comes from how you act and how you make others feel. It’s about what you bring to the table as a whole person, not how many vaginas you’ve managed to talk your way into.

Don’t spend your time focused on getting laid for the first time, spend your time on becoming a better person. Cultivate an amazing life. Learn to connect with people, to build relationships. Don’t throw your hands in the air and just assume you’re uniquely cursed, work to fix things. Practice your social skills – getting good with women, getting good with people, is a skill that you can learn. Yes, you may have problems. You may have circumstances in your life that make things harder for you. But harder isn’t impossible, no matter how daunting it may seem.

h/t to our virginspotters @OliveMercies and @j_aallan !

V-Card Diaries: Violet "I know that I will probably be a virgin forever. I've never even kissed a guy."

Today we're highlighting Violet who internalized a lot of shame about female sexuality, and it's made her feel she'll never have a relationship with a man. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 30-year-old virgin who lives in Oklahoma.

How I define virginity:

Participating in a consensual sexual act with another person.

Here's my story:

I always knew as a child that I would have a difficult time ever finding a boyfriend. I would look in the mirror and try to convince myself that I was decent looking, but no boys paid attention to me unless to insult me by calling me masculine or ugly. In my teens, I exaggerated my flaws (& still do) to the point where I couldn't even imagine someone getting close to me. Today, as I age, and become even more aware of my worthlessness in mens' eyes, I know that I will probably be a virgin forever. I've never even kissed a guy. Once, a guy tried kissing me, but I couldn't relax, so I walked away.

A lot of my issues have to do with the shame my mother taught me about female sexuality. Virgins were worth something while non-virgins were whores. This rhetoric was repeated by other family members too. I heard this all from a young age, probably starting at 5 or 6. For me, I thought I wouldn't have any worth to a man if I lost my virginity because I had nothing else to offer.

Another problem I have is that I can't filter out the negative comments I hear men say about women in general and about their former gfs/wives. How can they date someone and say they were in love, but say such mean statements about the woman's appearance and even insult her sexuality and genitals? I think I've heard too much now to ever really trust a man at all.

At 30, no one wants to have patience with an inexperienced person. Even if I could overcome the issues regarding the shame I was taught and work on improving my self-image, it's still unlikely that I could find a good man. I don't sit at home crying about it, but there is a deep frustration that I will probably never be able to love another person. I'm damaged goods.

Editor note: Many women and men feel the way Violet does, and we want to recommend spending a bit of time at You're Not Alone, a really wonderful community of adults who haven't been able to form intimate relationships. They offer support and advice on changing that situation.

V-Card Diaries: Molly "My Christian ethics class taught me that virginity was more valuable than my weight in gold"

Today we're highlighting Molly who was told losing her v-card would be like losing her soul, but she doesn't feel bad or different.  If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

So, I'm 19, almost 20. I live in the prairies, (800 people in town and 4 active churches) I grew up going to church, sunday school, opting for the Christian ethics class instead of sex ed in high school. I always was taught that virginity was more valuable than your weight in gold, that if you have sex outside of marriage "you're not special anymore" "its a sin." I agree to a point but it was kind of brainwashing.

How I define virginity:

I don't know how I would define it. I started dating a boy and just had sex there was none of that "technical virgin" stuff. The act of sex has got more... cluttered for some people

Here's my story:

I guess what I really wanted to share was how its affected my identity. My v card story is I met a boy I really liked and trusted and respected and had sex with him, and he respected me by being considerate to me and not going too hard or fast and hurting me, and it was a good night. But all my life I thought that whether a person was a virgin or not had a hold on who they are. I've listened to countless hours of youth pastors conference speakers an alike. For a long time I thought that losing your v-card was like losing a piece of your soul and telling kids that is wrong. I am not a different person, I'm not a bad person. I'm a person without a hymen.

Women feel less guilty about losing their virginity, but is that the conversation we need to be having?

Note: Another story on this study just came out, so we're reposting this response.  

Image via Rise, Rebel, Resist tumblr

As someone who's been working for years to bust mythologies and change the conversation around virginity, I give a serious hooray for reducing guilt around first intercourse for women. Writing about a new study,  Salon reports in "Science: Losing your virginity isn’t as awkward as it was 20 years ago":

"According to a study from the University of Illinois, young adults have felt better and better about their first-time sexual experiences for the past 23 years, with the difference between men’s and women’s emotional responses to early sexual intercourse decreasing over time."

And this:

"The researchers discovered that gender differences in response to virginity loss diminished greatly over time, which they suspect might be “because of a reduction, in general, of social regulation of female sexuality and in the double standard” of sexual expression for each gender."

It's no surprise that women are feeling less guilt and shame around becoming sexual. They have more agency to choose how, when and why they'll become sexual. (Thank you, Feminism) Women know more than they ever did about their bodies and how to get pleasure from the experience (Thank you Scarleteen and the other fantastic online resources). And maybe, just maybe, the guys are paying more attention to women's pleasure as well. (Thank you again, Feminism).

But, as writer Jenny Kutner points out:

"It’s important to note, though, that men do still exhibit more positive responses and experience more pleasure than women — also because of the “reduction” in the policing of women’s bodies and not its complete obliteration."

Reduction, not obliteration, and I'd argue in the last 8 years, some significant increases. There's the $1.5 billion worth of inaccurate, sexist shaming  from Abstinence-Until Marriage programs, and the near constant stream of slut-shamingrape cases dismissed or hushed up, and legislative attacks on women's reproductive rights and resources. Young women are also facing more pressure to have sex (call it prude-shaming?) and then get a steaming pile of mixed messages like the always-popular 'be sexy but don't have sex."

Even comprehensive sex classes don't talk much about how both women and men can get pleasure from sex, or how to ask for and respect consent. A woman having pre-marital sex may be more acceptable than in the past, but so is having your own bank account and keeping your last name.

One thing that continues to be frustrating is using intercourse as the sexual benchmark for these studies. Why are we measuring the start of sexuality by a penis going into a vagina? First,  it's a heterosexual framework, leaving out a chunk of the sex-having population. But also, our V-Card Diaries story collection is full of young women writing that everything they did pre-intercourse was pleasurable, but intercourse itself was a let down.

No surprise: that's not how most women orgasm, especially when they're first starting to have sex. But the study insists on measuring women's pleasure by how much they enjoyed intercourse, and then they're actually surprised that it's so low. Please let's stop selling intercourse the big sexual prize for women and recognize there are lots of ways to have sex that don't involve a penis in a vagina. 

The progress is great, but we need to keep working to change the conversation about women, virginity and sex to one that's not only non-judgmental, but also recognizes diverse sexual experiences, and puts consent and pleasure at the top of the must-have list.

MagicWand

[Get more graphics and gifs here]

Women feel less guilty about losing their virginity, but is that the conversation we need to be having?

 

Image via Rise, Rebel, Resist tumblr

As someone who's been working for years to bust mythologies and change the conversation around virginity, I give a serious hooray for reducing guilt around first intercourse for women. Writing about a new study,  Salon reports in "Science: Losing your virginity isn’t as awkward as it was 20 years ago":

"According to a study from the University of Illinois, young adults have felt better and better about their first-time sexual experiences for the past 23 years, with the difference between men’s and women’s emotional responses to early sexual intercourse decreasing over time."

And this:

"The researchers discovered that gender differences in response to virginity loss diminished greatly over time, which they suspect might be “because of a reduction, in general, of social regulation of female sexuality and in the double standard” of sexual expression for each gender."

It's no surprise that women are feeling less guilt and shame around becoming sexual. They have more agency to choose how, when and why they'll become sexual. (Thank you, Feminism) Women know more than they ever did about their bodies and how to get pleasure from the experience (Thank you Scarleteen and the other fantastic online resources). And maybe, just maybe, the guys are paying more attention to women's pleasure as well. (Thank you again, Feminism).

But, as writer Jenny Kutner points out:

"It’s important to note, though, that men do still exhibit more positive responses and experience more pleasure than women — also because of the “reduction” in the policing of women’s bodies and not its complete obliteration."

Reduction, not obliteration, and I'd argue in the last 8 years, some significant increases. There's the $1.5 billion worth of inaccurate, sexist shaming  from Abstinence-Until Marriage programs, and the near constant stream of slut-shamingrape cases dismissed or hushed up, and legislative attacks on women's reproductive rights and resources. Young women are also facing more pressure to have sex (call it prude-shaming?) and then get a steaming pile of mixed messages like the always-popular 'be sexy but don't have sex."

Even comprehensive sex classes don't talk much about how both women and men can get pleasure from sex, or how to ask for and respect consent. A woman having pre-marital sex may be more acceptable than in the past, but so is having your own bank account and keeping your last name.

One thing that continues to be frustrating is using intercourse as the sexual benchmark for these studies. Why are we measuring the start of sexuality by a penis going into a vagina? First,  it's a heterosexual framework, leaving out a chunk of the sex-having population. But also, our V-Card Diaries story collection is full of young women writing that everything they did pre-intercourse was pleasurable, but intercourse itself was a let down.

No surprise: that's not how most women orgasm, especially when they're first starting to have sex. But the study insists on measuring women's pleasure by how much they enjoyed intercourse, and then they're actually surprised that it's so low. Please let's stop selling intercourse the big sexual prize for women and recognize there are lots of ways to have sex that don't involve a penis in a vagina. 

The progress is great, but we need to keep working to change the conversation about women, virginity and sex to one that's not only non-judgmental, but also recognizes diverse sexual experiences, and puts consent and pleasure at the top of the must-have list.

MagicWand

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V-Card Diaries: Cheeky Charmer "I thought I had tempted my rapist by showing skin. I was eleven years old."

Today we're highlighting Cheeky Charmer in Pennsylvania. She blamed herself for a rape that happened at a young age based on teachings from a week-long Christian purity seminar. She now knows that her choice to have sex or not does not define her worth. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 22-year-old female from Pennsylvania.

How I define virginity:

 It's a life long journey of finding identity through new experiences.

Here's my story:

I was raped. I don't say that to be pitied; save your flowers and sympathy for someone who needs them.  I say it so that you understand my story. When I was eleven I was innocently lying in bed and someone I trusted and loved dearly took away the part of me that I valued.

The week after it happened I attended a retreat called Pure Freedom; a seminar to help Christian girls seek out God through pledging abstinence. We were given assessments, books, and tests to measure how “modest” we were. The whole weekend was devoted to the new transformative meaning of that word “modesty.” We were informed how our clothing would appear to men. They told us that men cannot help themselves because they have the fight or flight system in their bodies that causes arousal by a woman who bears skin or wears tight clothing. The whole day was spent learning techniques on how to wear modest, God-approved clothing. We took tests on what we watch, what we say to men, and how we dress, and we were given clothing tricks to assist men in their journey to Godliness. We were responsible for men’s relationship with God based on how we carried ourselves.

The speaker stood in front of an audience of five hundred girls and told us that modesty wasn’t just about what you wear but how you carry yourself, how you talk to other men, and what you do with other men. We were told that God wanted us to wait until we were married based on what the Bible said. We were told not to be the “hoe of the universe” by engaging in sex before marriage.

The whole week I couldn’t help but think that I was what caused my rapist to attack me. This Pure Freedom was actually what felt like a prison; guilt swelled like a balloon about to burst. I realized that I had tempted my rapist. I was wearing only a bra and underwear that night and it was my fault. I remember thinking that God was punishing me for showing skin that night.  It was only natural for a man to see my skin and be aroused. The rape was entirely my fault, and God was punishing me for what I had done. I was eleven years old and I was carrying this burden for a decade.

After ten years of believing this myth, I made the conscious effort to take ownership of my sexuality; it never belonged to this organization that brainwashed me into thinking that my value was in my virginity, my clothing, and my future husband. My value does not have a scale that is virgin or slut. God loves me whether I have sex or not. I am not an object: I am a woman with the right to choose when, where, and who I have sex with. My sexuality cannot be bought by people who make young girls feel inadequate to sell a book and a T-shirt. I was raped and that doesn’t define who will love me. My virginity is mine and I define what it means; it does not define my value.

V-Card Diaries: Suzie-Q "As a president of a sorority I hide away the fact that I haven't yet had sex"

Today we're highlighting Suzie-Q from the US Pacific Northwest in the US, who feels out of control because she hasn't been able to get romantically involved with someone. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 21, female, from the Pacific Northwest in the United States. I am the president of a national sorority and have never had sex.

How I define virginity:

A virgin is a man or woman who has not engaged in sexual intercourse with another person. Penetration of the sex organs.

Here's my story:

I've never been on a real date and have never kissed a boy while sober. I feel the need to have sex with someone before I leave college in order to be able to have real relationships with men without wondering about that first time. I feel the need to get it over with but I want a close relationship with him and not just a random hookup. But never being romantically involved with someone makes me SO scared that I am out of control of this situation.

As a president of a sorority I hear the stories of so many that have had sex, and I really hide the fact away that I haven't because it seems like something I should be ashamed of.

I Was A Dress Code Harlot

dresscode [Poster via thecatsmeow90]

Ah, dress codes. A week doesn't go by without news about sixth graders being condemned for wearing shorts or female reporters being kicked out of court rooms for going sleeveless or nursing students being told to cover up so as not to distract from the learning environment. Even though I'm already a rising junior at an art school and don't really have to worry about a specific dress code (except to look ~*~super fly~*~ of course), it’s still something I think about when I hear stories from my younger sister and her friends.

Looking back at my high school’s dress code, it's clear how sexist the rules were. Even though there was no specific reference to “female students,” the focus on cleavage, skirt lengths, and cami width was obviously gendered. Trans* girls had it even rougher; their dress code violations were for performing an “act that shocks social conscience,” or in other words, wearing skirts or dresses (exact phrase from the old handbook...sad, but true). Appallingly, my school’s handbook considered  repeat dress code violations of the same caliber as dealing drugs, bullying, and committing arson.

Photos of my "slutty" high school self

One of the biggest enforcers of this policy when I was in high school was my chemistry teacher. (Hi, Ms. Esselman!) Her favorite phrase: “modest is hottest.” I think she spent more time scouting for teen cleavage than bullying or drug use. Unfortunately, I was one of those teen cleavage offenders. Above are of some of the outfits that got me in trouble. It wasn’t always intentional, though; as a girl who, um, filled out at a pretty early age, sometimes the most basic boatneck t-shirt became slutty.

Throughout my time in high school I was forced to swap my shorts for sweatpants from the lost-and-found box, wear a sweatshirt to cover my shoulders and cleavage on a hot day, and adjust my bra straps so they weren’t showing. It was incredibly humiliating to be called out for dress code, particularly because it demonstrated that your teachers were looking at you “that way,” and so each day I crossed my fingers before class that I would go unnoticed. Kind of hard when you’re trying to actively participate in the classroom, though.

Speaking up is an important way to be involved, demonstrate that you’re smart, and interact with the class material, but it’s also a good way for a teacher to notice that you’re wearing shorts because of the 90 degree weather outside. A lot of women in my class were forced to choose between speaking up in class and being called out for “immodest dress” or staying silent and potentially avoiding reprimand. Many people may wonder, “So why not fully cover yourself and avoid getting in trouble?” Well, we could always wear burqas, but then our scandalous ankles might show!

But here's the real issue with this line of thinking: It forces women to address a situation they are not in control of–namely, the way other people perceive and interact with their bodies–instead of addressing the origin of the issue itself. Female bodies are neither inherently sexual nor exist for guys to look at, exposed shoulders do not warrant disrespect, and the female body is not shameful.

Fortunately for my harlot self’s sake, Ms. Esselman took it easier on me once I finally wedged my way into her heart. I worked hard in class and stayed afterward to ask questions and participated often despite the threat of being sent to the office to change. Instead of shouting at me like she did with most of the other young women in the class, she just made a very excessive gesture at me to cover up. Still incredibly awkward, but much more bearable. She never learned that what she was doing was sexist, though; I think she allowed herself to see me as a person rather than as a sexual object, which made it easier to interact with me like like a human being. Some might think that was an improvement, but it still didn’t alter the current system in place.

There has been more backlash against school dress codes recently, but most schools aren't interested in altering their policies anytime soon. Going back to visit old teachers is still stressful. As I walk through my old halls, occasionally I’ll get a questioning up-and-down glance from an administrator, and I’ll attempt to telepathically convey, “Hello, yes, I am a grown-ass woman and no longer attend this school. Please do not stop me because I am having none of it.”

Think your dress code might be sexist? Here's a handy dandy guide to help you out.

Moriah is a student at RISD and a summer intern at Trixie Films. You can read more about her here.

You have one more week to celebrate National Masturbation Month!

In honor of National Masturbation Month, we're reposting this essay by our former intern Judy, which originally ran May 21, 2013. And you really can't get too much Egon Schiele in your diet! "Wally in Red Blouse With Raised Knees" by Egon Schiele

Judy P. is an art history student at Brown University who is interested in the intersections of art, politics, race, class, and gender. She is proud to be a woman, though she thinks it’s not always easy to be one. Check out her other posts here.

May is National Masturbation Month!

In celebration, Philadelphia's sex-positive groups, ScrewSmart and GALEI's (The Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative) Pleasure Rush, have been hosting a “Masturbate-A-Thon” all month ending on May 27th. For this fundraising project, participants are asking sponsors to fund every hour spent, ahem, intimately with themselves. The proceeds will go toward ScrewSmart's and Pleasure Rush's efforts to support sex-positive and pleasure-based education and prevention, and to "reduce shame and stigma around sexuality, promote sexual health, [and] create a community dialogue around the importance of pleasure."

I know that this can be an embarrassing or uncomfortable taboo topic, but that's what this event is about. GALEI's executive director Elica Gonzalez says: “We are hoping that by having folks participate in the Masturbate-a-Thon, that they will help to destigmatize the behavior – and reduce stress and get a glowing complexion all the while.”

Masturbation was a touchy (no pun intended) subject growing up. I discovered the sensations of self-pleasure pretty early, I'd say when I was 6 or so. I was surprised to learn that many of my friends started masturbating in early childhood as well, which goes to show that children can be sexual beings.

Coming from a religious background, however, I always felt naughty and guilty every time I did the deed. I'd imagine God looking down on me, shaking his head in disappointment, and crossing my name off of his “Heaven-bound” list. I'd even picture my dead grandparents observing me from above (creepy), and I thought I was somehow letting them down by getting to know the ins and outs of my vagina when I was taught it should be locked up and ignored forever, or at least until I got married and had to make mini-mes.

I asked my friends about their experiences with masturbation, and they shared a few similar initial feelings of shame and guilt:

"I would look at myself in the mirror and cry and then get down and pray."

"I always felt dirty after ejaculation."

Even though uncomfortable thoughts and images plagued my mind, I still continued to masturbate regularly. I guess nothing quite beat the thrill of an orgasm, even if it meant disobeying the Big Bearded Man-in-the-Sky. When I grew out of my religious phase, I would even masturbate openly in the presence of our family's austere, wooden cross in my living room, mostly because it was impossible to avoid (the living room was my favorite spot because that's where we kept our vibrating handheld massager. TMI? Sorry!). I also did it because I had the liberating feeling that I could; I wasn't scared or full of shame and repentance anymore.

Masturbation is the only form of sexual pleasure I have at the moment. I will definitely climax from self-play, whereas partner sex usually yields not much pleasure and no orgasm. Now I know this isn't the case for everyone (partner sex can be amazing! I'm waiting for that day, fingers crossed), but I know many women who don't come from partner sex at all. Many women (and men) don't even know much about the anatomy of the female body, i.e. the treasure den of the clitoris. As a friend of mine put it, “Masturbating teaches you what you like and how you like to be touched. I believe if you can't learn to let go and make yourself come, no one can.” Just take a hint from Betty Dodson, the queen of self-love/ pleasure [video link].

Sometimes, masturbating still makes me feel a little weird, like I'm not ready to announce myself as a sexual adult yet. That's a part of my sexuality too, those religious, social, and cultural influences that have shaped (or stunted) my sexual growth today. It's always going to be a process for me; getting over the complications of sex, feeling comfortable in my body, being okay with feeling sexy, and discovering all the movements/ rhythms that make my body pulsate, twist, and shout.

You still have a little over a week until the end of May to take part in Masturbation Month, so get masturbating! And, of course, the fun doesn't stop there.

So what's your relationship with masturbation, especially for those of you who don't have sex or have never had sex? Do you remember your first time? What are your favorite techniques? How often do you masturbate? How does masturbation play into your sexuality/sex life? What do you think about when you're masturbating? Do you think at all? Why do you masturbate? etc. Share in the “Comments” section below.