Reader Submission: The Virginity I Prized Was A Scam
I was 16 years old when I had my first boyfriend. Our relationship had no other dynamic outside of obnoxiously holding hands in the hallway, staying up late on the phone having juvenile conversations, and asking our mothers for permission to visit each other. We did everything most couples did– except have sex.
At the time, being a virgin was something I prided myself on and stood firm in. It was how I earned my respect as a young lady. It was how I advertised myself to be “wifey-material.” Not only was I unknowingly suffering from “pick me-ism,” I was doing damage to my self-image along the way.
My commitment to virginity was not spawned from a healthy conversation that encouraged women to use our sexual agency however we want, but rather the outcome of a girl who, at a very young age, internalized misogyny. I was only 7 years old when I started to compartmentalize women. I vividly remember watching a top 10 countdown music video show when Nelly’s “Country Grammar (Hot Sh*t)” aired and my mother, who meant well as a concerned parent of a young girl watching BET, added her two cents to what I was watching. She scoffed in disapproval at the array of video vixens fixated in the background who were twerking in front of the old-school Chevy cutlass, but showed approval of the lead woman who was positioned at the forefront of the video and whose demeanor was the least sexual. The way the women were positioned in the music video symbolized a lot and I absorbed her commentary like a sponge; I trusted her sound judgment being that she was a wife and a mother of four children.
That early lesson of respectability politics introduced me to the idea that women’s, but more specifically Black women’s, sexuality was taboo. It proposed the idea that there were two different types of women: wife material and hos. Women who are wife material are respected and defended because of their modesty, whereas hos are typically treated as disposable, dismissed and silenced because they nurture their sexual desires. As a young girl navigating her impressionable preteen and teenage years, I aspired to be the former.
Defining my worth involved seeking validation through the eyes of society and, perhaps more harmful, through the eyes of men. My fragile reputation as a young woman was contingent on my sex life, and if I wanted to be perceived as respectable I had to refrain from sex– even with my own boyfriend. I clung on to any semblance of innocence I had because I was conditioned to believe that my worth was centered around my sexual behavior. As a result, I disassociated myself from girls my age who were sexually active and I gained a false sense of superiority because I was still a virgin.
My boyfriend at the time, along with many other influences, reassured me that my decision to remain abstinent was the right one. And I felt gratified through statements such as:
“I like that you’re a virgin, that means no man has touched you”
“You can’t turn a hoe into a housewife”
“Remain a young lady, no man wants a woman who gets around”
“Boys like the fast ones now, but one day they’ll be wishing they had a girl like you”
“Don’t make it too easy, girl, don’t take it too fast” – Drake
“I don’t want it if it’s that easy” – Tupac
These exact conversations surrounding sex almost always framed it as a disgraceful act that happened to women but benefited men, i.e. “I took her virginity.” Even the word virgin in most contexts implies that something is pure and has not yet been “exploited.” Growing up, I never engaged in a positive dialogue that enforced the fact that women have agency and encouraged us to exercise it however we please. Instead, there was a bizarre obsession with knowing a young woman’s body count and, conveniently enough, straight men were acquitted of receiving the same shame.
I co-opted virginity as a defense mechanism to avoid the shame and ridicule I witnessed men inflict on sexually active women. The harsh reality was that I was not immune from receiving that same toxic treatment. Virgin or not, I soon realized I was prone to being objectified in a heartbeat. Me being a virgin did not stop my then-boyfriend from suddenly abandoning our relationship without an explanation. Me being a virgin did not shield me from being inappropriately touched by men when I attended college. And me being a virgin certainly did not prevent men from calling me a ho when I didn’t want to give out my number.
I internalized a falsified idea of what it meant to be respected as a woman. It took me until my early 20’s to realize that I was aiding the same patriarchal system that conditions heterosexual men to respect women only when we are someone’s little sister, mother or wife. I overvalued my virginity which adversely affected the same women with whom I co-exist and share similar experiences with underneath a patriarchal society. By disassociating myself from other women, I compartmentalized us,which fundamentally perpetuates slut-shaming and rape culture.
Overvaluing my virginity also shifted power into the hands of heterosexual men who then got to dictate who is and who isn’t worthy of respect, which should be a basic human right. Respect for women should not be conditional and the conversation surrounding our sexual decisions should be more receptive. Women deserve to feel confident and comfortable rather than regretful after exercising their sexual agency in whichever way they choose to. Now, I no longer use the word virgin to describe myself because I realize it is a social construct which paints sex in a negative light. Sex with a sexually compatible partner is a beautiful experience; suppressing sexual freedom is not.
Kira is dedicated to empowering women one article at a time. Don’t ask her about her love for Beyoncé or Michelle Obama unless you have a few hours to spare.