‘ Do I have to tell a guy I’m a vir­gin?’

The Irish Times Magazine - - ADVICE - ROE McDERMOTT

Dear Roe, I’m a 23- year- old woman, and I’m a vir­gin. This isn’t be­cause of re­li­gion or any­thing, I just wasn’t very con­fi­dent or suc­cess­ful with guys when I was younger, but be­ing in col­lege and hav­ing a good group of friends has helped me hugely over the past cou­ple of years.

There’s a guy in col­lege who I’m friends with, and we’ve kissed and fooled around a cou­ple of times. I’m not re­ally look­ing for a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with him, but I trust him and we get on and I’m think­ing of hav­ing sex with him.

I’m won­der­ing if I need to tell him that it’s my first time? I’m wor­ried that he won’t want to have sex with me be­cause he’ll think I’ll turn out to be clingy or in love with him or some­thing. But I won’t! I do gen­uinely just think he’s hot and it’ll be fun. So can I just not tell him?

I’m gen­er­ally not a huge fan of the con­cept of vir­gin­ity, be­cause its his­tory is one of misog­yny and con­trol, and its cur­rent def­i­ni­tion is still very lim­ited. Our het­e­ro­cen­tric def­i­ni­tion of vir­gin­ity still only re­ally recog­nises pe­nile- vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion. It min­imises or ex­cludes the sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences of many, in­clud­ing the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity or peo­ple who can’t or don’t want to have pen­e­tra­tive sex due to med­i­cal rea­sons, dis­abil­ity, etc.

Re­duc­ing vir­gin­ity down to pe­nile- vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion is thus a weird and some­what ar­bi­trary mea­sure that posits that pen­e­tra­tive sex is the pin­na­cle of all sex­ual ac­tiv­ity, even though many peo­ple find other acts more in­ti­mate or plea­sur­able.

Us­ing this def­i­ni­tion of vir­gin­ity as the ul­ti­mate marker of a per­son’s sex­ual com­ing- of- age also un­der­mines the fact that pen­e­tra­tive sex is only one facet of sex.

A per­son could have ex­plored their sex­u­al­ity in myr­iad ways, com­ing to truly un­der­stand their emo­tional and phys­i­cal de­sires and plea­sures through a se­ries of dif­fer­ent acts and part­ners and ex­pe­ri­ences, with­out ever hav­ing had pe­nile- vagi­nal sex. Do we re­ally think this per­son is less sex­u­ally ex­pe­ri­enced than a teenager who has one brief and clumsy bout of pen­e­tra­tive sex?

Or if a per­son’s first ex­pe­ri­ence of pen­e­tra­tive sex is the re­sult of rape, are we re­ally go­ing to ig­nore their agency and de­sire and right to self- def­i­ni­tion by claim­ing that they’ve lost their vir­gin­ity? Be­cause peo­ple do. Peo­ple shame sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence all the time. Should this con­tinue, just to sup­port an out­dated and ex­clu­sive con­cept?

I don’t think so. And so while of course we must re­spect any­one’s view and ex­pe­ri­ence of their own sex­u­al­ity, and un­der­stand peo­ple’s de­sire to ac­knowl­edge per­sonal and sex­ual mile­stones, there should also be room for ex­pe­ri­ences that fall beyond our com­monly held be­liefs around vir­gin­ity.

So trust me when I say that I un­der­stand your fears about this man pro­ject­ing some pa­tro­n­is­ing, misog­y­nis­tic non­sense onto your vir­gin­ity, and buy­ing into the idea that you will be more ro­man­ti­cally or emo­tion­ally in­vested in this ex­pe­ri­ence than you ac­tu­ally are. We, as a cul­ture, en­able this kind of nar­row- minded stereo­typ­ing.

How­ever, I don’t think this means you should avoid telling him; I think it means you should have an open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion with him where you ex­plain what you’re hop­ing for from this ex­pe­ri­ence. This is for a few rea­sons.

Firstly, some­times your first time hav­ing pen­e­tra­tive sex can hurt a lit­tle, usu­ally just be­cause nerves kick in and you can’t re­lax fully. And as with any time sex­ual ac­tiv­ity hurts, you need to be able to speak up and tell your part­ner. Be­cause sex should be both plea­sur­able and hon­est; if you’re scared of “out­ing” your­self as a vir­gin, you might not com­mu­ni­cate any dis­com­fort you’re hav­ing.

Se­condly, while ide­ally all the sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences you will have in your life will in­volve open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a lot of ten­der­ness, and a mind­set that al­lows you to be fully present with what’s hap­pen­ing with your own and your part­ner’s bod­ies – some­times peo­ple can rush sex.

No judg­ment – quick­ies can be great, too. But for your first time, you may want to take it slow, to en­sure that you’re re­ally com­fort­able with ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing, and so that you can en­joy ex­plor­ing this new sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence. A part­ner who knows this is your first time and knows what you want from the ex­pe­ri­ence might be more mind­ful of this, and it will likely be more sat­is­fy­ing.

Fi­nally, hon­esty and vul­ner­a­bil­ity and in­ti­macy are im­por­tant as­pects of sex, and by avoid­ing talk­ing to this guy about what sex would mean for both of you, you’re miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity to make sure your mu­tual de­sires align. Telling him you haven’t had sex be­fore but value him as a friend and think sex would be fun also of­fers him the op­por­tu­nity to tell you his feel­ings. Maybe he feels the same and is happy that you trusted him enough to con­fide in him. Maybe he ac­tu­ally likes you ro­man­ti­cally and is more in­vested than you know, which means ca­sual sex with you mightn’t be the best move for him, emo­tion­ally.

And maybe he re­veals him­self to be a bit im­ma­ture and sex­ist, and does de­cide that he doesn’t want to have sex with you out of fear that you be­come a “Stage Five Clinger” – in which case, bul­let dodged. You don’t want to have sex with some­one who can’t re­spect you. Not the first time, or any time.

Con­sider this ex­pe­ri­ence as a way of set­ting the tone for the rest of your sex­ual life: hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion wins out, ev­ery time. Start as you mean to go on.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Ful­bright scholar with an MA in sex­u­al­ity stud­ies from San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity. She is re­search­ing a PhD in gen­dered and sex­ual cit­i­zen­ship at the Open Univer­sity and Ox­ford.

th‘ a‘

Trust me when I say t I un­der­stand your fears about this man pro­ject­ing some pa­tro­n­is­ing, misog­y­nis­tic non­sense onto your vir­gin­ity

If you have a prob­lem or query you would like her to an­swer, you can sub­mit it anony­mously at irish­times. com/ dear­roe

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCK

■ Sex should be both plea­sur­able and hon­est; if you’re scared of ‘ out­ing’ your­self as a vir­gin, you might not com­mu­ni­cate any dis­com­fort you’re hav­ing.

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