Published in Catalogue, 2016
I lost mine at sixteen with my first long-term boyfriend watching Club Dread Uncut. One friend lost it at fourteen in an abandoned house near her boarding school, another lost it at fifteen in the pitch black cloak room of a party in Newcastle, on a pile of other people’s bags. It’s strange how the loss of one’s virginity is such a profound aspect of our sexual narratives that I’ve absorbed these memories from almost all of the women around me – an encyclopaedia of first times lodged into the deeper recesses of my brain.
But none of us ever lost anything – not really. It’s not as though we were boldly discussing our Blockbuster membership cards, Nokia phones or even our dignity (which, by the way, is rather easily compromised when trying to have sex to Club Dread Uncut). And yet it’s the same question we’ve heard a million times, “How did you lose it?” that surfaces in television shows, movies, amongst friends, or possibly from me at 2am, slightly buckled on white wine and looking to expand my database.
It is 2016 and I think I can state as a genuine fact that the only time I have ever alternatively been asked a less circuitous version of that question such as, “When did you first have sex?” has been from my gynaecologist in order to establish when my first pap smear was due.
The term ‘virginity’ is so troublingly loaded with a history of female subjugation, misogyny and shame that it’s really quite spectacularly weird for us to continue its usage so casually. Of course we tend to use the idea of virginity to refer to one’s first sexual encounter because it’s linguistically uncomfortable to touch on the concept of sex even when we sincerely want to discuss it (what we might call The British Approach to language) and “losing virginity” is a far more poetic and floral occasion than the scrambling teenage desperation that we would inevitably envision when we think of “having sex for the first time”.
And yet, maybe this is a semantic adjustment that we should all be attempting to make, because underneath that flowery, white-sheet-over-the-bodies kind of reassurance is a much darker notion that looks down on women’s bodies and slips into the conscience of questioning adolescents who don’t know how to approach their own self-worth.