Like a Virgin
I lost my virginity at age 15. In that year the term virgin had become something of an affliction. I was eager to get rid of it yet I wanted to lose it to someone cool, someone I would feel proud to say I lost my virginity to. At 15 I found someone perfect for the job. He was a senior, gorgeous, popular and cool, I was totally giddy over him. I lost it on a snowy school night in December. Sneaking out of the house around midnight, I held my shoes in my hand as I nervously ran to his car.
I remember him hoisting me up to tumble into his bedroom window, I remember the blacklight lamp and the Ginuwine album that played on repeat (not the one with “Pony” but the one with “So Anxious”…pivotal in setting the scene) Afterward, we cuddled up naked and I gazed into this eyes with a rush from my heart, feeling scared and excited. This was something huge…a turning point in my life and I wanted to remember every moment. He turned to me looking straight back into my eyes, “Want a Capri Sun?” He asked.
Virginity faces girls with some serious contradictions. It is something that is hugely built up. The messages we get are all about virginity being a precious gift. Something that should be held onto tightly and given away with reverence and gravity. Yet in the teen world virginity was something that my friends and I were more than ready to get rid of. Strong cultural expectations come into play as well, we are supposed to be “good” girls yet are also taught to be sexy, creating a sexual dilemma. Personally, I thought of losing my virginity as a crucial experience, a profound part of growing up, a symbol of womanhood and childhood left behind.
After I’d done it, my giddy crush quickly escalated into an obsession. At first I tried to play it cool, pretending to not care when he wouldn’t call but planning weekend nights around the possibility that he might drop by. When he stopped calling my cool melted into a fury, I became a mini-mess of a lady scorned. It was over Christmas break and I had a lot of time on my hands. I wanted to call him every 5 minutes… so a mere 5 times a day seemed totally okay. I was finally met with “Please stop calling here” from a sibling. I was hurt, angry I began to feel dark and hopeless, spiraling into a depression.
Dr. Laura M. Carpenter conducted a study about what happens when people lose their virginity. Dr. Carpenter says whether we had a good or bad experience comes down to one question: What were our expectations? Dr. Carpenter groups virginity loss into three different categories. The first are the “gifters.” These people seek romance, they want to give their virginity to someone special and they want it to be perfect. When these expectations are not met they are devastated. Next are the “Stigmatized” who we culturally associate with men. They see virginity as a burden that needs to be shed. Those who deal with virginity loss best though, according to Carpenter, are the “Processors” who see virginity loss as a rite of passage and are more likely to plan out their virginity loss.
However, my experience was not this black and white. I had a bit of each of these parts in me. With the contradictory messages we receive I think losing your virginity is rarely able to be boxed totally into categories like these, I think most everyone is influence by all three.
An old friend of mine didn’t lose her virginity until age 21. This was hard to believe as she was a teeny, tan, party girl who went out to clubs every night for the sole purpose of meeting men. She seemed to be set in the “gifter” category. Her virginity was something she’d held onto through highschool and most of college. However her virginity was also a burden. She often told me she felt torn, she’d held onto it this long but she really just wanted it over with. The topic brought her big brown eyes to dewy anime proportions and intense nail biting would ensue.
In the end she decided to just get it over with. She was at a concert seeing an indie-dance band who were pretty popular in the mid 2000’s during that whole indie boy-band thing. He was the lead singer and her neon AA mini-dress got his attention. I knew it was trouble when she called me the next day from his vacant hotel room. “And he told me he would move to the South of France with me” she cooed. At the time her situation seemed opposite of how I lost my virginity, but neither of us were totally boxed into categories, we were both meshed with wanting something special and wanting to get it over with. And neither ended well.
So what about boys? Virginity is something that carries a lot of gender stereotypes. The messages from our culture tell us girls want to hold onto their precious flower but boys are constantly trying to get rid of their virginity. I don’t think this is true and studies back that up. Carpenter found in her study that there really is no difference between the guys and the girls. A report by teen specialist Dr. Jennifer Austin Leigh found that after losing their virginity to someone that they felt didn’t value it, 30% of teen guys were depressed or anxious, some reporting self mutilation.
When I set out to write this post it was with the thought of “Why did I become a crazy-stalker after I lost my virginity?” I know a lot of my friends have recounted similar stories, of writing long embarrassing love letters or drunken explosions at parties. Ann Meier at University of Minnesota recently conducted a survey finding that not everyone falls into a depression after losing their virginity, but a distinct percentage do. People who lose their virginity at a younger age (girls before 15 and boys before 14) and people whose relationships dissolve after sex are far more vulnerable to fall into depression.
Losing my virginity was a personal and momentous experience and I don’t think I would take it back if I could. A part of me still remembers the details fondly, feeling soft toward the situation, even though I began to deteriorate into depression afterward. This December will mark the 10-year-anniversary of the loss of my virginity–which kinda just makes me feel either really old or really slutty. Losing my virginity became another one of those hardships that get buried in memory. Processing and trying to understand what happened now does make me feel more at peace, in control. It is truly never too late to start working through the past.