Over at College Candy, there’s a moving post by a young woman who regrets the way she lost her virginity. In her case, it was with the right person but at the wrong time – in an impetuous moment while she was grieving the loss of a friend. While I certainly sympathize with the anonymous author of the post, I also want to tell her something: it’s not a big deal.
I was 20 the first time I had sex. You could call me a late bloomer, but I prefer “picky and also somewhat indecisive.” Because I grew up in a conservative state where it was difficult to get access to birth control and information about reproductive health, I decided as a young teenager that I wanted to be at least 18 when I had sex, so that I could get on the Pill without my parents having to find out. The idea of being away at college also made my “wait til 18” vow seem like a good one: more privacy, less risk of judgment in a small high school. But my eighteenth birthday came and went. I dated some guys and fooled around, but every time it started to get more serious I freaked out. I wanted losing my virginity to be one of those big, epic, romantic moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a movie. No one seemed right enough. No one seemed special enough. In the meantime, I took some courses in human sexuality, learned a lot about my body and my desires, and talked openly and honestly with some of my sexually active girlfriends about their experiences. I got on birth control. At some point, I decided I was ready to have sex. The only problem? I was missing a partner.
Enter Carl. A fellow English major, he was in one of my classes that semester. I kept seeing him at all the same concerts my friends and I went to, and when you’re in college someone having the same musical taste as you is as good as kismet. Carl liked me a lot. I didn’t love him. But we had a lot of fun arguing about bands and making out, and one night I decided that I wanted to sleep with him. It was a decision I made as casually as deciding to have Thai food for lunch instead of Indian. The thing about my virginity is that I’d been thinking of it as some massive, important, meaningful thing. I’d been assigning so much meaning to my first sexual experience that I wasn’t thinking about my sexuality as a whole, lifelong process. I was influenced by all the cultural associations tied to virginity, even if I wasn’t conscious of it – I was convinced I’d be “different” afterward, in some less-good way. The truth is, I was the exact same person before I had sex that I was after I had sex. It took me a couple of tries to get used to it, and after awhile with Carl I started to, as they say, get the hang of it.
Sadly, though, Carl and I weren’t long for couplehood. It was the person I slept with after Carl who taught me about my sexuality. I was crazy in love with him, but I could also enjoy sex with him without having to freak out about whether it was good enough, whether the moment was special enough, whether he’d care about me more or less afterward. Having my first time with someone who wasn’t the center of my universe kept me from obsessing and over-romanticizing the act. Honestly, I hate the term “losing my virginity” – it relies too much on the language of giving and taking, of conquest and captivity. I prefer to think that by having sex I was just moving from one phase of life to another, making a transition. Tying up too much meaning and identity in one single action or event is a surefire way to set yourself up for failure if the moment isn’t “perfect.” It’s like only thinking about the wedding instead of the marriage. I don’t regret having slept with Carl, and I don’t regret that my first time wasn’t magical. Because a lot of the times after it were.