‘ Do I have to tell a guy I’m a virgin?’
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 Should this continue, just to support an outdated and exclusive concept?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.
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
■ 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.