I idly stared at the TV screen.
The afternoon news was running – there wasn’t anything else that was more interesting. I suppressed a yawn as it broadcasted the war in Afghanistan.
I was bored and underwhelmed, filled with a profound ennui that only teenagers seem to experience. Behind me, I heard him awkwardly dress. I could almost hear him bracing for the forced pleasantries to follow.
I didn’t know what to say to him, but I had a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction. As I showed him out the front door, I saw the disappointment in his face.
Probably, he felt the same as I did, perhaps he felt worse. He didn’t know I was fifteen until the sweaty, clumsy sex was over; he only asked while we were trying to make small talk.
“You’re fifteen? Shit! And this is your first time? Why!? You don’t even know me!”
I shrugged – I didn’t want to tell him that I just wanted a stranger to solve the issue of my “virginity”, someone I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. I didn’t want to have to deal with the social consequences.
Also, I loathed the idea of “rewarding” a man for “popping” my “cherry” after a protracted and predatory pursuit.
If I was going to experiment with my sexuality, I wanted to do it on my own damn terms. At fifteen, I’d been curious for more than half a decade about how proper penetrative sex would feel like. But now that I’d tried it, it felt anti-climactic (haha).
Aside from mild discomfort, I felt absolutely nothing.
Well, not nothing… I was slightly mortified at having to share the moment with someone even more confused and inexperienced than me. He was three years older but seemed to know nothing about how human bodies work.
I didn’t even get an orgasm. Hell, I never even got to ‘feeling hot and bothered’.
That was my first time, but it was just… unexciting and clinical. There have been many other firsts since then, but this milestone – the one that was supposed to matter – well, it mattered the least to me.
Half a lifetime later, in retrospect, I realise that I’ve never once in my life been able to buy into the concept of “virginity” – and here’s why you shouldn’t either:
The concept of virginity comes from the practice of commodifying women
Our society obsesses over virginity. Most of us, before we knew better, probably were brainwashed by our culture and upbringing to feel the same way about that “first time”.
But does anyone understand why that is?
Female virginity is valuable to society – but it’s better for a man’s social status if he isn’t a virgin. It’s bad enough we have to deal with this double standard, but what’s even worse is that all this originates from the fact women were (and sometimes still are) considered property.
When women got married, they were passed on to their husbands from their fathers, just like property. In such circumstances, a woman’s sexual purity became a commodity.
Her value was in the fact that she would only have her husband’s children.
Basically, her father was marketing and selling her off as a fertile womb. One that would only produce offspring that were her husband’s. Daughters… or human livestock?
Perhaps that might have been acceptable in the past, but today, women shouldn’t be viewed as property to be commodified!
No one should have the right to police other people’s bodies
Sexuality is often also regulated by religion, which decries it as shameful and taboo outside of marriage.
Virginity is a social construct that was formed to make people feel bad about their sexuality and sexual experience. It polices other people’s bodies and passes judgment on how they use them.
It is a way of controlling and subjugating women, and the idealization of virginity contributes to slut-shaming.
What’s wrong with slut-shaming, you might ask. Doesn’t that encourage moral behaviour?
Slut-shaming takes away sexual freedom from women and constrains their behaviour and choices by placing these expectations on how they should go about being sexual (newsflash: they shouldn’t, according to society and religion).
How is it moral to oppress a person’s freedom of choice and take away their control over their own bodies and minds?
Women are biological creatures which aren’t exempt from sexual desire either. So why should anyone tell them what they should or should not do about their sexuality?
Oh wait, there’s this thing about them being the property of their fathers and husbands which makes such subversive thinking a Very Bad Thing because a woman who follows her desires is often one that isn’t as easily controlled.
More and more we recognise women’s rights, yet this toxic concept of female virginity is still allowed to pervade.
Just look at some of the comments Malaysian men make on the topic of women and female sexuality. It’s shocking how many men seem to think it is fine to make creepy, rapey comments about women while simultaneously deriding female sexual agency.
On Lowyat.net alone there are dozens of forum threads with comments that range from ignorant to downright nasty.
You might defend conversations like these by saying it’s “normal boy banter”, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are unequivocally wrong.
People have absolutely no idea how female bodies work
Six months after the first time I had penetrative sex, I was assaulted by an acquaintance. The experience was brutal, and it was also the first time I bled, despite having had sex that one time before.
He raped me because he’d heard about how I chose to lose my virginity. He told me I was a “defiled woman” who “wouldn’t mind giving it up anyway” – another reason why this whole concept of virginity is harmful and dangerous.
If bleeding is a signifier for loss of virtue, I suppose I never lost mine the first time, and then I somehow lost it multiple times following that, when my “friend” subjected me to incidence after incidence of forced sex and blackmail.
I bled each time he looked me up – until the day I told him I was no longer going to acquiesce to his threats and was going to the police.
It would surprise you to know that there is no medical or biological definition for virginity. Many people believe that you can tell someone isn’t a virgin by their “maidenheads” not being intact.
This “maidenhead” is the hymen, a tiny membrane over the vaginal opening. It is often broken even before sex, through sports or even injury. Some women are even born without one.
Some women do have a fully-sealed hymen. This is rare and causes complications, especially when she starts menstruating, and will require medical intervention.
“Virginity” only applies to penis-in-vagina sexual interactions
The hymen issue aside here’s the biggest problem with the idea of virginity: there’s no real way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t.
I say that because this idea of virginity is a concept that only applies to straight men and women. Many people will define the “loss of virginity” as a sex act where the penis penetrates the vagina.
Where does that leave homosexual people? A friend of mine is currently dating a man, but all her previous partners were women.
Does this mean she was a virgin up to the point she finally decided to have sex with her current partner?
Does this mean that all strictly gay men are also virgins? How do we really define virginity then?
Virginity is really an undefinable concept
Some people will say that performing any sexual act means losing one’s virginity.
But does it mean that anyone who’s kissed someone of the opposite sex is no longer a virgin?
How about the act of showing or touching each other’s genitals, without progressing any further? If that is considered a loss of virginity, all a woman needs to do to “lose it” is to go for a gynaecological examination.
That makes as little sense as saying that virginity can only be lost through penis-in-vagina sex!
Female sexuality shouldn’t be a threat
My first boyfriend was the third person I engaged in sex with, and he always agonised about the fact he wasn’t my “first one”.
We had a pretty good sex life – we were young and lusty teenagers, after all, and everything was novel and experimental. He was a lot of “firsts” to me – we tried so many new things together, and really liked them – but all he could fixate on was the fact I didn’t “give” him my “cherry”.
He told me he wanted to marry me – but also mourned the fact he would never have the chance to have me when I was “perfect”.
His idea of a perfect partner was one that was clean and unsullied by other men.
This whole obsession with virginity took away so much of both our enjoyment of sex. It also made him constantly insecure and jealous.
In the end, I had to leave him because things escalated to the point that he tried to ban me from hanging out with my female friends. He’d found out that girls talk about sex to each other and was afraid that my friends would be a bad influence.
All that insecurity because I wasn’t a virgin. Because I was too curious, too exploratory.
I wanted to tell him I would have been perfectly happy exploring everything exclusively with him, but he didn’t trust me. I realised that to him, female sexuality was a threat – it was a concept that was as alien as it was terrible. My sexuality was as terrifying as a gun to his head.
Even though he enjoyed sex with me, the idea that I could also enjoy it scared him because it just didn’t fit with his ideal of women being virginal and virtuous.
I suppose he realised that it meant that I could also feel desire for other people, which frightened him, even though in the first year of the relationship he cheated on me. He excused that by saying, he was just acting on his “male impulses”.
We have an infinite capacity for sexual experiences as long as we live
I was almost twenty when I finally met a boyfriend who enjoyed our mutual pleasure. I learnt something wonderful – we had a lot of amazing “firsts” and kept having lots of them over the course of our relationship.
And this is what makes sense to me – we have a lifetime of new experiences yet to be explored, and it shouldn’t be constrained or overshadowed by that silly “first time” which means very little in the grand scheme of things.
I experienced a lot of first times in the early years of sexual exploration, but today, even as I enter my thirties, there are still plenty of new things to try, even with my partner of almost three years. I don’t see us ever hitting a limit on novel experiences in the bedroom, even when we finally get to our first decade together.
We never stop living and learning – why should the “loss of virginity” be the most important one for our sexuality?
Also, why consider women who are familiar with sexual exploration as “used up”, when there is no limit on new experiences a person can share with a partner?
That first time I had penetrative sex with a boy – honestly, it was so underwhelming that I spent the next few days sadly reflecting on my other firsts prior to that occasion.
Discovering masturbation and experiencing orgasms – those were more life-changing experiences.
For all the first-times which didn’t matter, I clearly remember the ones that did: some of my fondest memories about my sexuality are all the firsts where I felt empowered to make my own choices with my body.
There were many significant breakthroughs in what I knew of myself and many partners who were patient and considerate. I learnt better communication with the people I shared experiences with, and that translated into improved self-confidence in other aspects of my life.
All those were the firsts that felt healthy and satisfying, and the only firsts I realised I should have focused on instead.
“Virginity” has become a socially-acceptable fetish
Just look at any Malaysian forum online – you’ll see pages upon pages of people discussing and fetishising virginity.
This obsession with virginity is precisely one of the biggest reasons why some men opt for child marriages.
We need to stop this preoccupation with virginity – it is creepy and predatory to obsess over the very young and very inexperienced. This fixation often goes hand-in-hand with the idea of being able to control them and mould them to behave in certain ways.
It also encourages the idea of violence against defenceless women.
It sounds like a joke – but the implication of violence against non-virgins is troubling.
Women are objectified as things to “corrupt” and “train” with no ability to give or refuse consent.
This thinking also means that those who are already “loose” make for easy targets – because they have already lost the one valuable thing they had which should have been preserved.
Like it or not, we are still commodifying women.
Nobody bats an eyelid at such banter because it has been so normalised, which is alarming if you consider the prevalence of child marriages and incidences of sexual abuse of children in Malaysia.
And women aren’t even permitted the rights to abort even if they get pregnant as a result of rape, because decisions over what women do with their bodies are not for women to make.
Virginity is a myth
Virginity means nothing – it is merely a social definition unless you choose to put a value on it. If a person decides to keep their first sexual interaction as an important occasion, then it’s entirely their right. But it should never be society’s choice to enforce it on anyone.
Someone once pointed out that we don’t have nouns for who/what we were before we hit any other life milestones. That there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk, talk, read or write – all of which are arguably more important achievements than getting laid – and yet we focus so much on the first time we had sex.
Perhaps this obsession with virginity is a symptom of our discomfort with our own sexuality.
Malaysians have such unhealthy, disordered thoughts on sex in general. Our society and culture make it taboo to acknowledge sexual relations as a perfectly natural part of life and seeks to suppress it.
Yet, almost every single one of us is the result of two people having sex.
So tell me, fellow Malaysians – why are we still making a big deal out of virginity, and why does sex have to feel so wrong?
This should be the discussion we should be having right now – not about whether women are lying about their “value” or are delusional about their “virtue” – but about the reasons why we still use this damaging term when we should know better.
For more articles by Audra, read I’m a Feminist Who Is Also a Submissive. This Is How I Reconcile Being Both, and I Used to Work in the “Service” Industry. It Was One of the Most Empowering Experiences of My Life.