The Toxicity of Virginity: Impairing Communication and Enforcing Heteronormativity
Trigger Warning: Heteronormative sex and sexual activity
I had been with my at-the-time partner of over two years (on and off, but on for a while now, and committed to staying that way). During that time together, we had both decided that we weren’t ready to have sex yet. In the beginning, he had decided that he wanted to wait until he was married first, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was waiting for, only that I wasn’t ready yet. We both held the same heteronormative view on what we defined as sex. Everything on one side of that line was fair game, and everything on the other side was capital-S Sex. After months of inching closer and closer to the line, we decided that we wanted to get as close as possible without crossing it so that we could express more physical intimacy with each other while still maintaining our virginities. We discussed at length exactly where the line was that we weren’t going to cross. We planned every aspect of what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and how long we were going to do it for. The discussion itself was intense and exhilarating, it was like planning a bank heist. And when we had detailed out exactly how much we could “get away with,” the only thing left to do was to actually follow through.
The social construct of virginity molded most of the decisions I made about physical intimacy, before and after I finally crossed that line. I struggle to think of any positive impact this way of thinking has had on the way I describe my sex life or sexuality, but I've counted at least seven ways it’s had a negative impact:
1. Before “losing my virginity,” I struggled to articulate what other types of sex that I was uncomfortable with. I was persuaded into crossing a lot of lines that I may or may not have been ready for at the time because there was only one line that mattered.
2. The idea of virginity is inherently heteronormative. According to the definition of sex that I had subscribed to, the only way that I could ever have sex would be with a cisgender man. I knew that I wanted sex to be a part of my life, and this made it really difficult for me to come out as bisexual until I had learned to think of other types of sex as what they are: other types of sex.
3. By prioritizing a certain type of sex as special above all others, I prioritized my male partner’s pleasure over my own, and so did he.
4. By buying into the idea of virginity as a physical/biological reality, plus by not considering “foreplay” a part of sex, I allowed myself to be convinced that pain during sex is normal and that I just had to deal with it if I wanted to experience intimacy with my partner. (Spoiler alert: If you’re feeling pain during sex, something is wrong! You're Not relaxed enough, or you aren’t lubricated enough, or you need to change positions, or there’s something medically wrong. Your partner should listen to you when you tell them you’re in pain. Your doctor should listen to you if you feel the need to bring it up with them as well.)
5. I allowed myself to be convinced that if I didn’t marry the person that I “lost my virginity to,” then I would be less desirable to any future partners and that I would be someway inherently less valuable as a woman.
My partner and I had a romantic evening together, and then we went to bed. We began, exploring that uncharted territory together, *almost* breaking the rules, going further than either of us had ever gone before. And then, he crossed the line. Just for a moment, but he crossed it. Probably a mistake, I thought to myself. But then he crossed it again. I had been thoroughly enjoying myself, enjoying him, but the intense positive emotions I was feeling began to turn negative. And then he crossed it a third time. “What are you doing?” I asked, starting to panic. “Just let me do it one more time,” he whispered, “Please.” “Ok,” I agreed. He crossed the line two more times and then stopped. He climbed off of me, wrapped his arms around me, and told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too, and we fell asleep together.
6. “Losing your virginity” is supposed to be some big special event, and this made it really difficult to think of my experience as a negative one. I immediately dismissed the ways in which my partner had crossed the line without my permission, and when I later told my friends the story of my First Time, I gave a highly edited version, in which I entirely erased my discomfort and reluctance. This was also the version that I chose to believe myself.
The next morning, we both woke up early. “So that was really great,” he told me, grinning. He didn’t care about staying on one side of the line anymore, he said. He didn’t care about waiting until marriage anymore. He wanted to have Sex, and he didn’t want there to be any reason to stop. Well, I thought, we already crossed the line. I didn’t think about what I was comfortable with, I didn’t think about what I was ready for. I didn’t think about the days we spent discussing the plan that he threw away seconds after being on top of me. We already crossed the line. I already gave him my virginity, so what would be the point in taking a step backward or slowing down? And so I agreed.
7. Once I had “lost my virginity,” I couldn’t take it back. So I couldn’t consider whether or not I was comfortable continuing to have this type of sex with my partner; I convinced myself that it wasn’t a problem. Throughout the rest of our relationship, I continued to excuse things he did to me that I was uncomfortable with, under the justification that if we had done it before, there’s no reason to not let him do it again.
The idea of virginity and the idea of sex that comes along with it left me unprepared to handle the realities of sex that I came to experience, both the joyful and the highly uncomfortable. I used to think of sex as something that a man does to a woman, and that way of thinking robbed me of my ability to express my own agency and be an active participant in my own sex life. I was unprepared to ask for what I needed when my needs weren’t being met, and I was unprepared to stand up for myself when my boundaries were being violated. It took me a long time to untangle the elaborate justifications that I set up to convince myself that I was ok with what happened that night, and what happened on subsequent nights. And I’m still learning to recontextualize my sexuality in a way that gives me the freedom to move forward with having a healthy sex life, in which sex is a physical conversation between the bodies of two people who respect and trust each other, and who are ready and excited to experience that intimacy together.
I tried a couple times to write this article without any references to my own experiences because even though I do try my best to reject the idea that sex is shameful, I still do feel this shame in somewhat publicly admitting the status of my virginity. But I’ve decided to face that shame head-on as best I can, and I’d like to ask you to join me in rejecting the concept of virginity and Heteronormative sex entirely.
It’s time we stop telling young women that their value lies in some antiquated idea of sexual purity. It’s time we stop telling young men that sex is a form of conquest. It’s time we stop telling everyone that sex is just one thing.