This post is part of my sex-ed series. To get these posts in your inbox sign up here.
First off, if this title offends you in any way, don’t bother reading any further. Seriously don’t. Unless of course you’re looking to have your judgement converted. In which case, read on.
At age 14 I lost my virginity. Yes this was younger than the average age of my peers. And for that of Lucy Mangan, Stylist columnist who recently confessed that she was 26 when she lost hers. (I want to link you to her article, but for some reason, it can’t be found.)
The year was 1999. I was entering a new chapter in my life that very fall – high school. We both were, in fact. My boyfriend’s name was Kyle. I can’t recall how long we were dating, but I think it was roughly around five months. We went to separate schools, but had met at a basketball tournament. We were both in the same grade, but he was 13, turning 14 in August. In other words, he was my peer. This is a very important part of the story, so take note.
We were infatuated with each other, as hormonal teenagers tend to be in their first serious relationship. He had a single mom and two little brothers living at home. The mother, god bless her, was living life on her terms, not giving a fuck. I was allowed to sleep over (never in the same bed I should mention), and well, she wasn’t around a lot. She was a nurse, and frequently had different boyfriends. She was very independent, and I don’t think she put up with much crap. Looking back, I can’t help but have respect for her. My mom on the other hand…well, you can guess she was not comfortable with me hanging around this woman’s house. But back to the story.
Being the older child, she trusted Kyle to be responsible and independent. And he very much was. He played on the basketball team, practiced skateboarding, didn’t do drugs or drink (at this point anyway), and had recently took on a paper route that he was very excited about. He liked the idea of working hard and making money. Basically, I could have done worse.
Now, before I go on, you need to understand the 14-year-old version of me. I would like to say that not a lot has changed, but I will let you judge for yourself.
By age 12 I had smoked my first cigarette, been drunk a handful of times, and smoked my first joint (albeit not properly as I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of inhaling). I was stealing alcohol and cigarette butts from my parents. We would walk downtown after school on a Friday night and ask someone on the street to buy us a pack of Rothmans. I even used the line, “I forgot my ID, can you please buy me some smokes” once. Oh it was thrilling!
Now you’re probably wondering, “Where the fuck were your parents?!” They were very much there. I liked to think I was good at hiding, but my mom knew what I was up to. Lets just say it didn’t last long. After she cleaned my room and found all the paraphernalia, I got the shaming of a century. Anger came first, sheer and utter disappointment next, then finally, sadness and fear that I was a soul that had lost its way. My sources has run dry, it was uncomfortable as hell at home, and the shaming came to be so much that it was not worth the rebellion. I also wasn’t clever enough to throw it back in their faces – the alcohol and cigarettes came from them, afterall. (If you’re reading this mom, you got lucky).
It’s also important to note that I was the ringleader. No one was making this choice for me but me. I was not afraid of adult-like things; I was just excited to experience them. In fact, not only was I the negative influence on the boys and girls in my grade – but I was negatively influencing the grade ahead of me, too. No victim here. Just a 12-year-old trapped in a 16-year-old mind.
By the time I was 14 I had dried out. I became the teacher’s pet again, and was really interested in doing well in school. I was on all the sports teams, competing in dance, and chairing many of the clubs at school. I was even filling in for the school secretary towards the end of the year. I won the Principal’s Leadership Award, and the Athletics Award. I tell you this not to brag, but to let you know that I was a good kid with a clear head on my shoulders and loads of experience behind me for my age.
There’s one more piece of the puzzle that you need to understand, and this is the crux of my story so listen closely. My mom was more open than other moms when it came to talking about sex. I presume she was anyway based on the fact that she would make penises out of Playdoh (circumcised, and uncircumcised varieties), give us condoms to play with, show us anatomy books and use words like “intercourse”. It may not have been the most thorough in sexual education, but it laid a foundation upon which I would later build my own knowledge. More importantly though, it taught me that sex was natural, that we were all sexual beings, and that it was ok to talk about it. Those early lessons played a key role in helping me to feel comfortable in my own sexuality.
If my early education came from my mom, then my later education came from popular culture, but not the deranged Nicki Minaj version we see now (thank god). By the time I actually started having sex I had amassed a sophisticated knowledge base from Seventeen magazine and the weekly night-time television show Sex with Sue.
Seriously, I knew all the forms of birth control and their corresponding effectiveness rates, I knew all the different STDs, their symptoms and treatments. I knew the technical terms for all my genitalia and his (i.e. vas deferens, labia majora), and the difference between fellatio and cunnlingus. I was basically just a walking, talking sexual health library. The only thing I didn’t know and the only thing they don’t teach you – which is a big fucking gap if you ask me – is the female orgasm. (But that’s a whole different story that I’ll address in another blogpost – watch for it).
Reading horror stories about the sex lives of teenage girls just a few years older than me was an education in and of itself. I grew to understand what high school was like for girls, and what horrible experiences awaited me if I wasn’t smart with my mind and body.
Fast forward to the summer of ’99. I was willing and eager to have sex for the first time, and Kyle was happy to oblige. We talked about it, not at length, but it definitely came up. We planned it as far as we planned a trip to the druggist to buy the condoms. I remember the brand was Lifestyle Condoms (my older sister’s friend had once said they were the best, as if it made much of a difference). I wasn’t on the pill, so I elected for the purple pack, which included the nonoxynol-9 spermicide, which is basically bug repellent but for semen.
We did it one evening when no one was home. It was hot as hell outside and fortunately he had an air conditioning unit in his room. I will go as far to say that it hurt, but more like a dull pain, and not like those unfortunate stories where the young woman bleeds. Because losing one’s virginity as a woman is so often turned into a spectacle – why else are we all more likely to know what a hymen is than a clitoris, and why do common phrases like “pop your cherry” exist? – I was aware that there would be pain. I don’t recall much more other than that it was pretty satisfactory as far as first times go.
I have absolutely zero regrets from the experience. In fact, I’ll always be grateful to have had that experience, during that time of my life, and with that person. (Not that I know where he is now or that we ever stayed friends. But still, it was all good.)
That is, until my mom found out. Actually, I changed my mind. This is the crux of story, so again listen closely. If you or any of the women in your life were like me at 14, then you’ll know that irregular periods are sometimes a fact of life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant, but it may cause you to think you are. And somehow moms just intuitively know when you’re having these thoughts (call it maternal telepathy). She asked me if I had sex, and I told her the truth.
Despite how open she was about sex in the past, her reaction was closer to when she found out I was a 12 years old and destined for rehab. She was horribly disappointed, which never really sat well with me. I could understand her point-of-view when I was 12 and consuming carcinogens, but this? This was different. I was educated, I knew what I was doing, and I was 100% ready. What’s more, I was doing something that she had once told me was a natural thing to do.
She asked if I used a condom, and I said yes. She asked if I used two for good measure, and I explained that the friction between two latex condoms could cause tears, thereby reducing their effectiveness. (Ha! Who’s smarter now mom?)
In all fairness, it couldn’t have been easy raising a self-righteous teenager like me. She reacted in the way I’m sure any parent of a young woman would: She even went to our GP for advice. I had to go in for a physical examination, and was promptly put on the birth control pill. Despite the fact that my mother and GP were both women – and surely had seized being virgins at one point, too – I never felt more judgement and shame directed at me. I could just feel the absolute horror they felt towards my actions, as if I was murdering small animals or children.
The adjective “fallen” has three meanings in the dictionary: 1) soldiers who die in battle, 2) those having sinned (in the context of theology), and 3) a woman regarded as having lost her honour through engaging in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.
I felt like I was being treated like a “fallen woman”. (For the record, I hate that term and what it represents. There is no equivalent word for men or corresponding perception for that matter. Collectively we should put that term, and its corresponding views, to death.)
But more good things than bad came from losing my virginity when I did. You’ll recall that Kyle was my peer. We experienced sex for the first time together. Both of us were beginners with no legacy, no ego and nothing to prove or social stature to gain. Having this experience early on was hands down the best offensive strategy when it came to navigating the sexual politics of high school. No way was I ever going to be fresh meat in the shark pit. In a school where older boys dated younger girls, I was never going to be anyone’s conquest. If anything, I was going to be the conqueror.
For those who may be wondering whether an early sexual experience is a gateway for high-risk behaviour – I’m a testament to the fact that it’s not. I’ve never become pregnant or contracted an STD. And I’ve never had a bad (read: uncomfortable, unpleasant, or violent) experience. I’ve been really lucky, but I’ve been really smart too. Thanks in part to my mom for having that sexual dialogue with me early on.
But there is so much work to be done around how we educate young children about sex. I know my experience was an anomaly. I know most parents leave sexual education up to the schools to teach, or at least, this was the case for most of my friends, past and present. But it’s not enough. The school curriculum doesn’t teach the importance of the female orgasm or masturbation (or at least it didn’t in my day). And I question whether the use of condoms is ingrained from an early age? So often we believe we need to prevent pregnancy, but what about disease? Why is menstruation only taught to girls and not boys? Shouldn’t that be a joint part of the curriculum?
There are so many ways that we let down our young women when it comes to their sexuality. We apply a double standard to all things from the onus of birth control to menstruation. We fail to socialize both girls and boys on the importance of equal pleasure. And worst of all, we judge them when they embrace their sexuality. Look at all the words we have to describe sexually active women (slut, whore, skank, easy, promiscuous), and try to think of the words we have to describe the same for men (player, stud…I can’t think of any others).
Until we start parking our perceptions about young girls who lose their virginity at 14, we will forever be trapped in a cycle of sexual inequality.
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***I’m not a sexual health expert, doctor or health practitioner. The advice I offer here is simply what I would do if I were in your particular situation and is based on my personal experience. I advise everyone to seek out medical help / support / guidance when it comes to practicing sex as this is a key step to making sure it’s safe and healthy.***