For the past two weeks, my husband and I have been binge watching the show Jane the Virgin on Netflix. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's an American dramatization of Latin American telenovelas which follows the ways in which main character (and virgin) Jane Villanueva's life changes after being accidentally artificially inseminated. It's witty and funny and for me, weirdly relatable. Jane is a 20-something year old virgin who struggles with keeping her promise to her grandmother to abstain from sex until marriage and keeping her physical desires at bay. Anytime Jane seems prepared to finally have sex, she flashes back to a childhood memory of her grandmother making little Jane crumple a flower to demonstrate a pure, beautiful thing can never go back to the way it once was. This memory never fails to freak Jane out and change her mind about what she's about to do. And SPOILER ALERT: When Jane does eventually lose her virginity, it's a bit of a let down and she ends up crying about how she feels like she's lost a part of her identity.
I was just like Jane Villanueva. While all my friends were losing their virginities during the start of high school to try to assert that they possessed a level of maturity that we didn't actually have at 14 and 15, I convinced myself that I was going to wait until I found 'The One'. This was no doubt in part because of the abstinence program, RESPECT, that took over our science class once a week during middle school which taught us that to wait to have sex meant you were respecting your body. Obviously I wanted to respect my body - and being called a slut as a teenage girl was one of the most mentally and socially damaging things you could be branded - so I assured myself that I was more than happy to wait. But as I entered my twenties and sexual feelings had long since flourished inside of me, I started feeling an immense amount of shame and self-consciousness surrounding my virginity. It became less of me not wanting to do it out of self-respect, and more of me not doing it because I was just so scared that it was this life-changing thing that I couldn't do over.
I started dating someone in my early twenties, and I use the term dating loosely. Everyone around me kept telling me he was the absolute worst and the way he was treating me was terrible, but I was convinced that I loved him. (I would later realize I just loved the idea of him.) After about eight months, I decided that I was ready to lose my virginity to him, and so I did. And similar to Jane, 12 seconds later when it was over, I found the whole thing very underwhelming. I remember laying there staring up at the ceiling thinking, That's it? That's what all the hype was about? I don't feel any different at all.
The day after I lost my virginity, the guy I lost it to broke up with me. I know, such a classy guy. I instantly went into a deep depression over this sense of betrayal and loss of identity I felt. I had kept this special part of me for so long just to give it to someone it meant nothing to. Devastated wasn't even close to describing how I felt. But five years on from that experience, I realize it wasn't just that shitty guy who made me feel shame, it was society. The same society that praises men for their sexual conquests, but slut-shames any woman who enjoys sex. My virginity meant so much because I was led to believe it was synonymous with my value as a person.
Having a penis inside me does not determine my worth. It does not make me any better or worse as a person. If someone wants to wait, that's awesome! But can we be a little more sex positive across all genders? Is it so wrong to assure girls that what they're feeling is normal and educate them on how to have safe sex rather than only teach them the abstinence side of the coin?
As an adult woman, I realize that sex is a big deal if you want it to be a big deal. There's nothing wrong with wanting it to be special, but for the sake of the Janes and me's of the world, can we stop teaching young girls to equate it with their identity and self worth? It's far more mentally damaging than it is helpful.