The Sexist

Sexist Beatdown: Rethinking Virginity Edition

On Monday, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown will speak at Harvard's "Rethinking Virginity" conference, a summit on the state of sexual purity.

But before she Rethinks virginity, Sady must first Think it! Accordingly, I have volunteered to help Sady pop the proverbial cherry of Virginity Thinkin', a rite of passage every ladyblogger must endure, and which readers of this blog must endure as well!  It is awkward! It is sometimes painful! And it goes on far too long! In this edition of Sexist Beatdown, join Sady and I as we recall That Time It Almost Went In, mourn the loss of the Precious Treasures, and devolve into a fit of terrible sexual puns.

SADY: LADY! I think it is time for me to lose my Having This Particular Chat Virginity! As opposed to my Oral Sex (Receiving) Virginity, my Oral Sex (Delivering) Virginity, my Various Other Stuff Virginity, and my Virginity Virginity. All of which are gone already. I HAVE SQUANDERED MY PRECIOUS TREASURE!

AMANDA: Oh wonderful! Well I'm personally excited to commence Rethinking Virginity ... out of existence! For it has never really worked for me.

SADY: Oh, no? Please do detail the manner in which it failed to work!

AMANDA: "Failed to work" may actually be the operative term here? Because if someone were to ask me When I Lost My Virginity, they would then be subjected to a series of stories about Those Times It Almost Went In, But Didn't. I tried REALLY HARD to lose my virginity! I was like, Out, Out, Damned Virginity! But it just ... it just didn't work. Physically. For a long time. And now I don't fucking know/remember when it happened. It was late.

SADY: Right. The definitive moment at which you become an Anti-Virgin is hard to peg! In fact! And, honestly, gives too much credit to the first person to definitively Stick It In. Like, it's not like no-one has visited these territories before! Those dudes are like Christopher Columbus. They, like, Claim This Land for Spain, but fail to notice all the people who were already there. Uh. Sort of.

AMANDA: RIGHT. (?) And everyone pretends it's this really objective moment that's defined from the outside, but I've found for most people you just have to Decide when it is, and pretend that that time syncs up with whatever everyone else is talking about. I count myself as lucky to not have a very intimate relationship with Virginity and Non-Virginity, though. Fuck that noise.

SADY: Yeah. I mean, I myself was at one point one of those girls who went around telling everybody that I was totally not going to sex it up until I met the dude I was going to marry. And people would laugh at me, and I would be like, "WHY MUST YOU DEVALUE MY MORAL CHOICES?" But then something magical happened, which was that I went to college. And there were like three dudes with whom it could very plausibly have happened, and I was just so tired of trying to figure out which one was going to be my husband (HINT: None) that I had sex with the WORST ONE just to get it over with. Which is also not a choice I recommend!

AMANDA: Haha! STRATEGY. I waited a long time to (try) to have sex, and it wasn't for some sort of sense of morality. I was never surrounded by any religious influences or anything like that growing up. But I did feel really, really, really, really uncomfortable with the idea of having sex, and a lot of that had to do with stuff imposed on me on the outside about how sex was bad. Like I was worried about getting AIDS if my boyfriend's penis got too close to me.

SADY: Yeah. That is also part of it. Like, there are so many risks to sex — AIDS, all the other terrifying illnesses, etc — that delaying sex can feel, really, like the best of all possible options. And also, there are other risks of sex If You Are A Lady, which include: Getting Knocked Up (I would basically consider this to be a terrible illness, in my current circumstance) and Getting Called a Slut. But here is the magic thing: All of these things can happen to you EVEN if you are not a virgin! And I feel like the emphasis on virginity, or the lack thereof, encourages everyone to place the emphasis on this ONE sexual encounter, your FIRST (and hopefully not last), instead of being like: Sex! You're going to be doing this eventually! Here's a realistic risk evaluation!

AMANDA: Exactly. And the emphasis on virginity didn't really help what I was going through either. The message was, "Don't have sex! And if you do, just wear a condom!" Which didn't speak to any of the issues I had with sex, or how to decide how to do it and when and with whom and why. Like, I am very much anti-abstinence-only education – and in high school, having sex was NOT going to be a productive option for me, in the place that I was. I was a VIRGIN and wanted to stay one, for a while. And still the emphasis on the virginity stuff really did not help me.

SADY: Right! And, like, a while ago, there was this headline all over the place, which was "Abstinence Only Education: Totally Works!" And what it actually WORKED at, apparently, was delaying vagina-to-weiner intercourse for a few years among the preteens. Good job! But also, this magically effective abstinence-only education program taught abstinence this way: Don't have sex until you are totally comfortable with having sex and know how to make good sexual decisions for you. This program that worked? NOT TEACHING ABSTINENCE, actually. What it was teaching was SEXUAL CONSENT. Like, "Hey, when you decide to have sex, your decision should probably be full and informed!" Uh, OK. But feminists have been teaching this for approximately FOREVER? I guess we never thought to call it "abstinence." I guess that's why we don't get the credit for our revolutionary sex-education technology!

AMANDA: Exactly. SEX ED EDUCATORS: PLEASE TEACH CONSENT. Because honestly, I've been having sex for a while now, and it took me a long time to be "totally comfortable" with it. A lot of that had to do with body-image stuff and all the connotations that went along with not being a virgin anymore, and so being a slut, but some of it had to do with people not respecting my right to make decisions about when I have sex and when I don't.

SADY: Right. I mean, I think my thing is: My first few sex experiences were kind of HORRIBLE, which I think had a lot to do with choosing the worst of all possible contenders so that I wouldn't have to think about being a virgin or not being a virgin any more. Because when I say "the worst," I mean we were at TWILIGHT LEVELS OF AWFUL. But also, I think they would have been awful anyway, because I had been taught "don't have sex," and I had been taught about the importance of putting a little rubber outfit on his apparatus if I ever DID have sex. But what I had NEVER been taught, apparently, was how to respect what I wanted, and to ask for it, and how to say "no" if I did NOT want something he wanted. I mean, I didn't even know how to say "ow" or "yikes." My impression was that one could Have Sex or Not Have Sex, and so my first few experiences were like, "oh, so apparently sex is AWFUL? It seems weird that people are so into it! But, OK! I am Having Sex!"

AMANDA: EXACTLY. GOD. I very much had the experience of something like, happening to me—-"Having" "Sex"—not participating or enjoying something, but like, enduring it. And part of that was necessary to come to a time when I would figure out how to like it, and assert myself, and that stuff. But surely, we can do better about the way we talk about things and prepare people for them, and how to know when Bad Sex is not bad sex and when it's Rape. We don't do enough of that.

SADY: Right. And I think it goes back to what we were talking about before, which is: Sex being defined as this very heterosexual experience of having a Penile Apparatus stuck into our Vaginal Apparatus in an Act That Could Potentially Produce Offspring (if you don't make his weiner wear an outfit, or whatever). Like, OK: There are a lot of things that are pretty darn sexual, which this description of Sex does not cover! And I am struggling to say this without sounding like some kind of creepy Tantric sex instructor, but: If you're like, "OK. So somebody is going to stick that into the other thing, and then you will Have Had Sex," you're missing out on (a) much of what makes sex fun or enjoyable, (b) much of the potential complications, and (c) the fact that sex, ideally, should not be some sort of terrifying Bene Gesserit test of fortitude? Like, that thing where they stick Kyle McLachlan's hand in the box and are like, "WITHSTAND THE PAIN OR DIE" so he can't take his hand out or the space nun will kill him instantly: Sex should, ideally, have little or nothing in common with this experience. Why can't we all just enjoy ourselves? By, like, respecting what feels good and what doesn't?

AMANDA: Right! And I'll add that making the definition of "sex" "Penile Apparatus stuck into our Vaginal Apparatus in an Act That Could Potentially Produce Offspring" also includes "rape" as a thing that is "sex," and so perhaps we should move toward a definition that includes shit that people want to do, and also expels the word Virginity from existence, because it doesn't mean anything and it's stupid.

SADY: RIGHT? Okay, so: Here's another reason why making "virginity" important is scary. There was, some time ago, an Ohio-based abstinence education group, and they had this little online "game" for students. This game, it was kind of a downer! In that it was about deciding whether a lady had been raped or not! So, lady SAYS she's raped. And, as we all know, rape accusations are totally fun to make for kicks! So you have to evaluate the testimonies of the people she knows, about her character. And one of them — A GIRL CHARACTER! IN THE GAME! I BELIEVE! — mentions that she's had sex before, and is thus probably a liar. Guess which conclusion you are supposed to draw?

AMANDA: UM. That she's a liar?

SADY: YES. Like, the idea that you can either want NONE of the penises or ALL of the penises: That is an idea that is taught! By "education" "groups!" They had to take the game down. But we can't take it out of the equation, when we look at the cultural ideals around virginity.

AMANDA: Well I know that there's a direct correlation between how much sex I'm having and how much I lie about everything!

SADY: LIAR. I mean, I would classify several of my experiences, especially early experiences, in the "consensual but not okay" zone of sexual activity. Not to make this a big downer of a chat. But, the idea of Sex or Not Sex means that sometimes you don't say "no" because you don't totally have it in your mind that you CAN say "no," because you don't have any idea in your mind that Sex is not just one big package that you are either OK or not OK with. So, like: You go along with it, and you even say “yes,” so there is consent although it's not enthusiastic, but that is in large part because Boundaries are not really a part of the understanding you have of Sex. Or maybe that is just me! Maybe I am just a people-pleaser! But I don't think I am! Because I please very few people, really, on a daily basis.

AMANDA: Yeah, well, you either want to Have Sex (slut) or you want to Not Have Sex (virgin), and so if you decide to have sex, then—"SEX"! Sometimes, you don't really know all the possibilities of what that could mean, but you do know that you've consented to It, Sex, and that's as far as the conversation goes.

SADY: Right. And I think a lot of girls struggle with it. Like: My frequent yelling about slut-shaming and my frequent yelling about rape culture are actually the same yelling. Because the devaluation of female sexuality devalues female pleasure which in turn devalues your ability to say, "I don't like this, but I do like something else, can we do that instead?"

AMANDA: And some people who have had sex many, many times, when confronted with the opportunity to pass judgment in a rape case, still believe that. Even though it's plainly obvious that sex is not all or nothing.

SADY: Right. Exactly. That's where it gets really kind of scary. And, I mean, if I look at my various virginities: Every time you do something new for the first time, you are basically a virgin at it. You have no idea how anything works and you are probably kind of bad at it and you just sort of muddle through. Like this chat! Which for some reason I am terrible at expressing any ideas within!

AMANDA: We are virgins at rethinking virginity! It's OK! But now we're rethinking virginity sluts. And there was much rejoicing.

SADY: Yes. Next time I do this, hopefully I will know more about what is happening, and be able to contribute! Or something!

AMANDA: Instead of being like, Ow! You are inserting your opinions into mine quite vigorously, and in a way I am unprepared to respond to! Can we try this on e-mail!

SADY: I am just sort of lying here. I am like, "okay, you take it from here, I'm just going to scope out the whole operation." I didn't mean for this to end in a really inappropriate sex metaphor between two heterosexual ladies with dudepartners, Amanda. IT IS JUST PART OF THE PROCESS!

AMANDA: And I'm like, ouch, my position ... on virginity is beginning to form a cramp, in my brainparts. OK! I have finished! After dragging this on for far too long, after you have grown bored with it!

SADY: Yeah. I think we're done. And now, to go on and have Rethinking Virginity Chats... WITH MANY OTHERS! Truly, after doing this one-on-one, the only other option is to do it with four other people. Simultaneously! In public! And possibly on film! THEY WERE RIGHT! THEY WERE RIGHT ABOUT THE ABSTINENCE! THE DAM HAS BROKEN, THERE IS NO TURNING BACK NOW.

Photo via MRBECK, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Yazzo

    My favourite part of the discussion was the Dune metaphor.

  • Theresa

    Hey, I thought I was the only one who remembered the Lynch "Dune." Patrick Stewart in a crazy wig, anybody?

    Fear is the mind-killer, ladies. ;)

  • Kristina

    Dune reference. I did a little happy dance after reading that. My Friday has been made better.

    Also, abstinence-only education is ridiculous in all of the very many ways mentioned.

    And The Time It Almost Went In. OY.

  • Kristina

    ALSO, Dune is available on Netflix to watch INSTANTLY. This is a very, very good thing. Anyone who doesn't get the space nun reference, get thee to a nunnery! Erm... get thee to Netflix...?

  • kza

    I almost watched that yesterday when I saw it on netflix. I haven't seen that movie in years.

  • mdesus

    hahahahahahaha you can want none of the penises or all of the penises. It is important to remember the true advantage to humanity of remaining a virgen. Namely, that you can become a vestigal priestess and absolve my sins. That and cure AIDS if you live in subsahara africa.

  • notavirginanymore

    My first sexual experience was non-consensual.

    I prefer to think of The Time I Lost My Virginity, instead, as the Time I Had Sex Because I Wanted To, Even If It Kinda Sucked.

  • SophieK

    Despite also being a 'heterosexual lady with a dudepartner' (a phrase I am smitten with, but am pretty sure aforementioned dudepartner is going to get quickly bored of hearing) reading this chat has left me with a massive crush on the both of you, and a slight cramp from the laughter (albeit laughter tinged with painful recognition). Many many thanks for putting all those complicated feelings into words.

  • Melissa

    "But, the idea of Sex or Not Sex means that sometimes you don’t say “no” because you don’t totally have it in your mind that you CAN say “no,” because you don’t have any idea in your mind that Sex is not just one big package that you are either OK or not OK with. So, like: You go along with it, and you even say “yes,” so there is consent although it’s not enthusiastic, but that is in large part because Boundaries are not really a part of the understanding you have of Sex."

    THIS. Times 1000.

  • Jess

    This is one of my favorite Beatdowns so far.

    I actually went back and revised history... I had sorta-almost penetrative sex with one boyfriend, who got spooked by tales of pregnancy caused by wiener-vagina proximity and couldn't close the deal. When the dude of my second attempt turned out to be, as Sady put it, "Twilight levels of awful" (sneaking into my email account to watch me sleep, or whatever), I decided that no, actually, I lost my virginity to the guy who didn't get it "all the way in" but who I still liked. (And successfully had sex with many times after that.) By that point I also had slightly more enlightened/expansive ideas about what constituted "sex."

  • cindy

    If you act like sex is breathing, why shouldn’t people think you want ALL the penises?

    I chuckle at how many 20-somethings in the “abstinence sucks” crowd had terrible first sexual experiences, yet are still convinced they are “sexperts” and spout advice. There is a huge difference between preaching ideology and teaching values and it is quite dishonest to neglect the distinction. Just because “waiting until marriage” is absurd, doesn’t mean sex is not a BIG deal. Thank goodness my mother shared this with me, as my first sexual experiences were marvelous in part because of her.

    Growing up, my dad was an avid scuba diver and she always likened sex to this.
    “It’s fun, adventurous, but serious stuff,” she would say. "Be careful whom you partner with, always pay attention to your surroundings, and be prepared." We also had frank discussions about peer pressure, using sex to get boys, and guys being stronger etc.

    So when I did have sex (17), I was with my boyfriend, neither of us had been drinking and it wasn’t Prom. How disgustingly non “hookup-ey”! And go figure, it was amazing!

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