I’ve long thought the phrase ‘losing your virginity’ odd. No one wants to be a loser. Losing sounds a bit careless, a bit bloody insipid.. Surely, you are gaining something – something amazing, something powerful, something good. Losing meant someone else was taking – an implication that there was some kind of hierarchy or combative game. In my teenage years, discussions about virginity did not focus on female pleasure or enjoyment of the physical act – it was something that had to be saved for someone you loved, or else you were classed as, well, a bit ‘easy’. And so it went. I did end up keeping my virginity for someone who I believed I loved. But I wished I hadn’t. It was – pardon the pun – an anticlimax.
The idea that I’d been peddled throughout my schooling (which was a rather buttoned up religious kind of place) about preserving virginity at all costs now seemed more than faintly ridiculous, and along with my burgeoning awareness of feminism in my late teens, I started to finally realise that sex should be something to be enjoyed on equal terms, and not given away as a ‘special’ gift to someone else.
It was also around this time I spent a bit of time in France. I loved their attitude to pleasure and sex was not something to be ashamed of or hidden away. In France, sex was rich, hot and full. Attitudes to sex in Britain, by contrast, seemed meek and coy, and just a little bit pathetic. I think that the French writer, Voltaire got it right when he said “It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge”. That knowledge now makes me wish I’d actually lost my virginity earlier and to someone else.
My first missed opportunity, I had just turned sixteen. Until then, the snogs and furtive fumblings with other boys were just a functional step to what was to come. I had enjoyed the chase, the glow of being liked, and the hot flush of first touches, but once the initial thrill had passed, anything more physical felt gauche and a bit lacklustre. Until I met The Scot, that is.
I was on holiday with my parents. I met The Scot’s sister first. She was a sweet, quirky girl, a year or so younger than me with neat, dark, shiny bobbed hair. We arranged to meet that evening after dinner to go to the local disco in the resort. When we met up, she seemed embarrassed that she had her older brother with her. Their parents didn’t want two girls going out alone, she told me, so he had to come along.
The Scot was nearly eighteen, quiet and had the kind of shyness that comes off as arrogance. He was also good looking. And Scottish, which added to the allure. After his sister went to bed, he walked me back to my hotel room and it felt new. My head was buzzing and hot when he leaned over to say goodnight.
The next few days, his sister found other friends her own age and The Scot and I began to spend more time together. Each evening we would find a secluded place to talk, and kiss, and explore each other. One afternoon, we ended up going back to the room he shared with his sister. She had gone out for the afternoon with his parents so we knew we wouldn’t be disturbed. Having spent previous times with other boys batting away their heavy, awkward advances, I wanted it to happen. We got lost in each other for a while, and I orgasmed for the first time, but he was also nervous and we stopped short of having sex. He told me I’d regret it if I lost my virginity to someone I’d met on holiday. Suddenly that logic burst the afternoon. All the proclamations from my religious headmistress, my teachers, even my grandmother, that there should be no sex before marriage, no fun, no desire, came flooding back and the moment was lost.
We wrote for a few months after we got back home, he sent me a bracelet and a couple of letters. He was kind and sweet and caring, and even when our correspondence eventually dwindled, I wouldn’t have regretted it if he had been my first.
The second opportunity happened a little under a year later. I had been having a long standing flirtation with K. He was a friend of a friend and a barman at a pub I used to go to. I remember fetishising about his inner arms which were outlined with veins from working out. He wasn’t particularly good looking, but he exuded a confidence and charm that made me feel desired and excited. He was a couple of years older than me and more experienced, but those voices from before held me back again. He was not the type to want a relationship and it fizzled out as other girls came into the picture. I knew I’d missed my chance.
A few months later, my parents were going away for the weekend and I planned in my head to ask K to come over for the night, no strings attached. I had it all mapped out – what I was going to wear, say, do. It felt good. I felt in control. It was what I had decided and wanted. I knew he didn’t want a relationship and I was ok with that. It felt liberating. A few days later I bumped into him. I wasn’t prepared for seeing him. Before I could even think about declaring my intentions, he told me he was about to go travelling for a year. The control I felt before suddenly ebbed away. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. He left the next week without knowing my intentions.
Not long after that I met the boy who I would end up spending the next part of my life with throughout university and into my first job. He was funny and popular, and he said he loved me, but after the initial thrill of it all, it was, in all honesty, quite dull. I ended up having sex for the first time in his bedroom after a few glasses of cheap white wine to the sound of his parents chatting in the garden below. He was a virgin too. I don’t regret the sex or my relationship with him, and I did love him in my seventeen-year-old way, but I do regret the abject mediocrity of it all.
There could have been worse experiences, of course. A close friend’s first time was at fourteen. Her boyfriend forced himself on her in her own bedroom, surrounded by her posters of her favourite Brat Pack films. She told me she remembered, paralysed with confusion, looking into the eyes of the American actors on her wall, trying to work out what was happening to her. Another friend didn’t have sex until she got married, after which point it was too late to realise that sex with her husband was -and still is - abhorrent to her. Other friends have said they were too drunk to remember much about their first time, or so eager to lose their virginity through peer pressure that their first experiences were not memorable for the right reasons either.
I guess I could be wrong, though, that I’m throwing a rose- tinted light over these missed opportunities, and maybe they wouldn’t have been as good as I’ve imagined. Maybe I should just be content that my first time passed relatively without event. However, I guess the essence of this is that I wish I’d listened less to what others thought and expected and been more confident about what I wanted.
I’m a mother now, and in the not too distant future, I will have teenagers of my own. Many parents will recoil at the idea of having the ‘sex talk’ with their kids but I don’t think it has to be so crude and simplistic. I believe the journey starts in the everyday. I’d like to think that I’m already bringing up my daughter to respect her body, be confident and curious but critical in her choices in every aspect of her life – and that this will carry her through to adulthood and the adult choices she will one day need to make. This equally applies to my son, who will inevitably have to make similar choices along the way. Whilst I don’t expect their teenage years and the choices they make will always be smooth, at least I know, I hope, they begin from a more enlightened place- and that they gain something, not lose it.
image source; http://forthequainthearted.blogspot.co.uk/