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When I Lose My Virginity Is Up to Me
Hande Erkan
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When I started high school and became close with the popular girls, they pressured me to lose my virginity, since I had already been dating my boyfriend for a year. But at 14, I felt I was too young to have sex. My boyfriend understood that and wanted me to have sex only when I was ready.

His best friend was another story. Once we’d been together for six months, he pestered my boyfriend, saying that I didn’t love him because I didn’t want to have sex with him. Fortunately, my boyfriend didn’t take him seriously.

I want to have sex when I feel it is the proper time for me to do it with confidence. “It’s my life and my choice,” I’d tell my friends. “Why is my sex life so important to you?” But they made me feel like my decision was wrong. I felt insecure.

In Turkey, where I’m from, women get the opposite pressure; they are expected to remain virgins until marriage. I’m from Istanbul, which is pretty cosmopolitan, but in the eastern part of my country, like many other parts of the world, women are still forced to undergo virginity “tests” to prove that they are still “pure.”

If they don’t pass this test, sometimes they are killed by men who stone them to death. A lesser punishment is divorce by their husbands, which is deeply shaming in this conservative part of Turkey. However, men face no consequences for having sex before marriage. Instead, they get a pat on the shoulder for becoming a man.

Mixed Messages

Even though I don’t like being pressured about whether or not I’m still a virgin, I think that the culture around sex in America is better than in Turkey. For example, here you often get educated about sex when you are in school. In my country, they don’t have condoms in school and although we are educated about the human body, sex and sexuality aren’t covered.

Yet, there are still mixed messages aimed at girls surrounding virginity and sex here. On one hand, we’re made fun of if we’re virgins. But on the other, if we have sex, we risk getting labeled a “slut” and are shamed for being sexually active.

There’s this drama among American teenagers surrounding virginity, too. We’re told our lives can be ruined after we lose it because our current or future partner won’t respect or trust us. Also, we hear that once you have sex, your partner will feel like they own you. But I don’t want to be owned by anyone. I’m with my boyfriend because we want to be together—that’s not ownership.

For guys the message is clearer in both cultures: They are encouraged to have sex to get “experience” and then brag about it. Still I think there may be disadvantages to this pressure; it can push a guy to lose his virginity with someone he doesn’t love. Or if a guy is a virgin, it can make him feel insecure because he hears his friends bragging about sex.

I can’t help but wonder why, in 2017, most teens in the U.S. get educated about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and condoms, but we don’t learn much about what to expect “the first time.” It’s a taboo subject. Why do so many people say sex is natural and that we should be free to talk openly about it, but then they don’t? In my science or health class I’d like to hear from teens who have had sex about what’s positive and negative about it.

Powerful Virgins

I recently watched a documentary called How to Lose Your Virginity. It explored why we feel so many pressures and anxieties around virginity, and why there are so many myths. I found the film inspiring.

image by YC-Art Dept

I was surprised to learn that virginity means different things to different people. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, virginity is “the state of never having had sexual intercourse.” But the film pointed out that people define sexual intercourse differently. Some think you’re not a virgin anymore if you’ve had oral sex. To others, masturbating means you’re no longer a virgin. Some people think that lesbians are virgins forever since they don’t have sexual intercourse involving a penis.

Some women in the film who were still virgins in their 20s and 30s saw their virginity as a source of power. These women found that when they date guys, they had more power in the relationship if they didn’t sleep with them, and guys showed them more respect. These women were also open about their virginity, and seemed confident in their choice to abstain from sex.

I read that virgins in ancient times were often considered strong. Many Greek goddesses were virgins and were viewed as powerful because they were independent and didn’t need men. Consider Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, justice, the arts, and war. The Romans also thought that virgins had magical powers.

Today, in American culture, it seems virginity no longer holds such special status. But at the same time, our culture hasn’t moved past those old negative views toward women who do have sex.

21st Century, Not 1st Century

The movie also mentioned a website called Scarleteen, which answers questions from teens and young adults about sex.

One 19-year-old girl wrote to the website about losing her virginity, which was an upsetting experience for her. After her first time having sex, her boyfriend accused her of having had sex before with someone else, because he thought her vagina felt more “loose” than his previous girlfriend’s. The girl was so upset about his accusations that she wanted to be examined by a doctor to prove to her boyfriend that she hadn’t had sex before.

Here’s a newsflash for that boyfriend: According to Scarleteen, when a women feels eager to have sex then her vagina becomes more open. However, if a woman is feeling less aroused or nervous during sex, her vagina may close up and stay tighter. Also, women’s vaginas come in different sizes and shapes, so no two are going to feel the same during sex.

But more importantly, why did her boyfriend care so much about her virginity while he has already done it with someone else? Hearing that example made me angry for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t think this girl should have to prove anything to a guy, and second, why is it so important for her to be a virgin if he isn’t? Our culture only expects the woman to be a virgin.

It’s terrible that women feel pressured emotionally about our virginity. It’s ridiculous that people have to hide their sexual experience—or lack of it. We live in the 21st century, not the 1st century.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control found that 41% of high school students surveyed had never had sex (defined as heterosexual, penis-vagina sex). Even for people aged 20-24, 12.3% of females and 14.3% of males were still virgins. I think these numbers are higher than people think.

Sometimes it can also be your partner who puts pressure on you, but my boyfriend has never done that to me. However, if he did, I would stop seeing him. He and I talk about it and I agree that it is normal to be uncertain.

I can’t do anything about the pressure I get from others around me, but I can try to encourage them to be more open-minded and respect my decision about when, how, and with whom I want to be sexually active—or not.

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(NYC-2017-05-07)

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