I spent my last Thanksgiving night on an empty campus with a guy. He saw my posts about snowboarding and DM-ed me saying that we should be snowboarding buddies. I went over his Instagram posts and felt like he was a cool guy. “Sure,” I said to myself, eager to make more friends as a freshman. We set up a time to hang out.
I was taken aback when, right after we met, he suggested that we should go to his dorm room. We each took a few shots of vodka and then started to ask each other questions. Just as time began to elapse in slow motion around me, I suddenly got woken up by a question I heard:
“Are you a virgin?”
To be honest, the alcohol had begun to mess with my head, and I was not sure if that was actually the question he asked. But I felt too embarrassed to ask him to repeat himself, and I decided to just randomly nod or shake my head.
But then, the more I thought about that night, the more I realized that maybe it was not a question from him. It was a question that came from within — one that I had always wanted to ask myself.
I was raised in an Asian country with a social practice of judging the character of a woman by whether she still possesses her virginity. Ever since I was little, a belief was instilled in me: A woman should guard her virginity — as if virginity is not something that belongs to herself, but something that she owes to the person that she will marry one day.
I didn’t begin to doubt of these beliefs until I studied abroad and stepped into late adolescence. I realized how many of my female friends had lost their virginity along the way. I felt alone in a mysterious pilgrimage that consecrates virginity, heading toward a destination of which I wasn’t even sure of the existence.
One day, I decided to free myself from such absurdity, from such prejudice against women’s liberty to enjoy sex, from a belief imposed upon me without any reasoning. I believed that once I got rid of the label of a virgin, I would be free to enjoy sex any time, without having to endure the pressure brought forth by the concept of “the first time.”
But my plan of “freeing” myself failed. I always backed down in the end. I simply couldn’t.
The truth is that, the more I wanted to get rid of the label, the more I cared about it — the more I felt oppressed by the counterforce of fighting against a social norm.
During that Thanksgiving night, when I heard that question within myself, I suddenly realized what I wanted — I wanted the freedom to let go. I needed to let go of the false beliefs in virginity and my resistance against them.
Virginity has been one of the sensitive topics that few people from our generation would discuss with the older generations. As a result, there is a gap between the connotation of virginity instilled in us by the older generations and the one actually faced by the younger generation in reality.
Women in our generation are being pulled by two forces. The traditional way of thinking is that, the first-time experience is a significant one, as it affects a woman’s chastity. It is essential that a woman needs to guard her virginity until dedicating it to her true love.
However, with the rise of women’s power in the modern society, virginity is being viewed by more young people as a fictitious social construct that means nothing. Under this mindset, virginity is an unreasonable restraint on women’s sexual desires and their enjoyment of sex. For some, it is a shameful label, a source of mental pressure. As “hookups,” one study notes, “are becoming progressively more ingrained in popular culture,” it suddenly feels like premarital sex has become the new norm.
This split of our perceptions toward virginity has caused a doubled stress to young women. In the past, they suffered from the pressure to keep virginity. Nowadays, pressure comes from both sides — we’re expected to both keep and get rid of virginity.
But I don’t think women need to deliberately guard their virginities just to conform to social norms. And I don’t think they need to deliberately get rid of their virginities to fight against social norms either. Sex should be a natural, spontaneous expression. It is a revelation of feelings, rather than an act of tokenism.
Women need to protect their own bodies, so as to avoid any physical or emotional traumas associated with the first-time sex experience. But protecting themselves is not for the sake of virginity. The effort should only be made for them to love themselves better, to love other people better, to fearlessly express their feelings in their entirety.
Am I a virgin? There’s no answer to this question, because I no longer believe in such a thing as virginity. I lost my virginity by simply losing faith in it.
Contact Raina Yang at [email protected]l.org.