A friend told me how she recently attempted to lose her virginity: to a man who sounded really creepy and manipulated her into letting him have intercourse with her after she cried when he told her, "I don't go out with women who won't have sex with me by the third date. Clearly it means there's no spark, and no potential." I felt really sad for her that her first time almost was with a creepy guy who clearly didn't care much about her or her best interest. I'm sad that she chose to date this creep even though the warning signs were so clear that God might as well have swooped down and said, "Run!"
I've been thinking a lot about virginity lately because I've fallen in love with Alan Ball's HBO series True Blood. In season 1 episode 6, the protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, loses her virginity to the sexy Civil War-era vampire Bill Compton. Everything about that scene (and the beginning of episode 7, which is the post-sex hot-tub cuddle) is perfect. The setting is gorgeous: Sookie and Bill are in front of a fireplace with zillions of candles lit around them (of course!). Their tenderness and passion are balanced perfectly. But what really takes my breath away in this scene is how this couple interacts when Bill's fangs come out because he's one turned on vampire. The actor, Stephen Moyer, looks at Sookie (played by Anna Paquin) with such a look of fear and vulnerability. Her response is incredible. No more spoilers for you -- off to your Netflix cue!
But I digress. I've watched this scene now more times than I like to admit, and it's made me so grateful to the first man I slept with. He was a trusted friend; kind, gentle, sensitive, and knew the gravitas of what I was doing. Basically, he treated me and the situation with the respect it deserved. Sex is difficult enough without the burden of having a lousy first time! I can't imagine how messed up I'd be about sex if my first experience with intercourse came about from fear and coercion like it did for my friend.
In my informal interviews with friends about their first times, it seems clear that losing one's virginity is an important life passage that has the power to affect future sexual experiences for better or for worse. I used to think only women could be traumatized by their first times, but I've heard men talk about their disappointment with less-than-ideal encounters.
Because it's a pretty momentous occasion that I believe has the capacity to influence one's future sex life, people and society need to treat virginity seriously. Men and women should choose their first partner (and hopefully other partners) carefully and try to set the stage for a positive first experience with intercourse. However, Americans also have taken respect for virginity too far. There are virginity parties where teenage girls pledge to their dads that they'll be sexually abstinent until marriage. This seems yucky to me. Besides the pledging to their fathers part, this type of thinking holds virginity out as some holy grail. Worse, it seems to directly connect girls or women's' self-worth with whether they're virgins. Hopefully parents will love their children regardless of their sexual choices.
It would be interesting to see how I would handle this issue if I had children. I don't really believe in waiting until marriage to make love for the first time; if you plan to stay married for life, I can't imagine signing up for a lifetime of bad sex. I think you can get a good idea of how someone is as a lover from intense fooling around, but most of my religious friends who hold out for marriage aren't seriously fooling around with their fiances. It just seems like purchasing an expensive car that would be a huge hassle to return without taking it for a test drive, so I can't see exhorting a son or daughter of mine to wait until they're married. But, I still would want a child of mine to make sex-positive decisions about whom to make love to and when. I would certainly counsel them that most teenagers (meaning under 18) are unprepared for the intense emotional issues that come up when you make love. But, lots of people have sex much younger than that and end up ok.
I also don't know how realistic it is to ask kids to wait until marriage. Do parents forget the intensity of puberty? Your whole being is basically radiating, "Go forth and propagate this species," and most parents either conveniently forget to acknowledge it, instill their kids with shame about sex, or tell them to subordinate the desire without offering an outlet. I can say for sure that I could not, in good conscience, try to defend or endorse Judaism's prohibition of male masturbation. All I can think of is this from Monty Python's Meaning of Life: "Every sperm is sacred/Every sperm is great/If a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate ... Let the heathens spill theirs on the dusty ground/God shall make them pay for each sperm that can't be found."
I wish I could wrap up this post in some nice little package. In summary, virginity needs to be kept in perspective: it's important, but not all important!