For most girls growing up in communities that don’t guard their virginity as sacred, the question of when they decide to have sex for the first time is something with which they struggle for a long time before their first experience. And sometimes for a long time afterwards too.
The question of when to consent is not as simple as waiting for marriage. With the age of marriage rising and the popular idea that having a range of partners is essential to gaining sexual understanding before settling down, abstinence until marriage – as an ideology – is not only irrelevant, but it leaves young women ill-prepared to define the criteria to make her own decision about when they are ready.
Despite the constant barrage of reports and anecdotal claims that girls are having sex earlier and earlier, there is also a trend of empowered, informed females that are waiting – not for ultimate love, but long enough to make their sexual debut, well-prepared.
Irene is a 22-year old Londoner and student of social work who recently had her first act of intercourse. She has been sexually active in other ways for six years. She had never planned to wait into her twenties, but then she hadn’t particularly put an age on the time that she would feel ready for any particular level of intimacy.
Although she had boyfriends from age 16, Irene had not felt that she was ready enough for “full-on sex”. Around age 15 or 16 there was a bit of peer pressure, as all the girls started reporting and boasting a variety of new adventures. It took some courage to get through this period with minor participation. Years later she was to realize that some of the stories were fictional, others were embellished. “After that, my friends just accepted me as I was and I didn’t feel any pressure until my body started to tell me that I wanted sex to happen”.
When she eventually decided to have intercourse, she approached her then-boyfriend who, at 25, she thought had been incredibly patient by not pushing for more than she wanted. As it turns out, he was quite happy with the status quo. “I think he is gay and deep in the closet”. Her virginity was not only quite comfortable for him, but it was his cover.
Irene was speaking out about a phenomenon that is almost as closeted as homosexuality. Twenty-something virginity is more common than we realize, because no-one wants to be the first to admit that they are one. Irene has a handful of stories of men she discovered to be virgins, who seem to have been attracted to the inexperience she embodied without self-consciousness. Some took their time to tell her, some never actually came out and said it. But she was comforted that she was far from the only one out there.
So what did she feel she gained from the wait? Irene went into sex knowing everything she could be expected to know about contraception and STD’s. She also knew all about her own anatomy, about how women experienced or didn’t experience orgasm with a partner, and a lot about possible sexual effects and ill-effects. She has no regrets, only a few indiscreet laughs about the night in question.
Irene did experience the pain and awkwardness of her first time in the way that most other girls do, whether they are 16 or 26, married or single. She wasn’t protected from the tension of the occasion, the weird feeling that clung to her for the days that followed or the ups and downs that sex brings to a relationship. But she knew how to ask questions and discuss her feelings with friends, and she didn’t for a moment feel that anything she was going through was strange.
Some people say you never forget the first time, but then many people do their best to forget the details. Others make up the first time because they are just so intent on getting past it. If there is anything we can take from hearing such a positive rendition of “my first time”, it is to get the timing right.