Losing Your Virginity-Let’s Take a Deeper Look

Let’s talk about “losing” your virginity.  What are we implying by using the term ‘to lose your virginity’?  The implication is one of passivity. A statement that reinforces the notion of girls and women as powerless. Society continues to render young women powerless by denying them accurate sex education and promoting abstinence.

All the talk of virgin pledges and purity parties blows my mind and really irritates me. This seems to be purely about controlling  female sexuality. What about purity balls for boys? Are they posing with moms who are protecting them? OF COURSE NOT. Because we encourage boys to go out and ‘be boys’. 

 

purity balls, virginity, chastityI found this article about David Magnusson and his work as I searched for information on ‘losing your virginity’. Magnusson’s book Purity is about young girls who have made a pledge to keep their virginity until marriage and their fathers who pledge to help protect them during their journeys.

“Magnusson admits he had a strong reaction when he first learned of the purity balls. He thought mostly of gun-wielding fathers trying to protect their daughters. He began to explore the idea of the balls further, reading everything he could find, and reaching out to various balls to see about photographing the fathers and daughters.” 

There’s something creepy about these photos of girls in formal dresses posing with their fathers’ hands wrapped around their bodies. In some of the photos they have their eyes closed in a semi-rapturous pose. 

First off, are these  father-daughter rituals designed to subtly brainwash girls into feeling so powerless that they choose to turn their virginity over to daddy? Are they restricting girls until the right man comes along to marry her, replacing daddy? Is it simply fatherly love and devotion or an attempt to control her sexuality? 

Second, isn’t there something just a little odd about the sexual implications of this movement?  That’s one of my first thoughts as I look at the portraits photographed by Magnusson. Are these young, impressionable girls being turned into semi-sex slaves, in the guise of virgins, to their fathers?  Feels rather Oedipal to me. 

I am totally in favor of young women delaying sex until they find a partner who respects them, their body, and their wishes. Young women should be given the tools to help them make decisions about when having sex feels right.  Most young men and women below the age of 15 are viewed as too young to possess the emotional maturity for emotionally sound, mutually satisfying sex.  Chances are that a too-young woman is either responding to pressure from a guy, peer influences, or because she feels sexual desire and isn’t sure how to deal with it.

Wouldn’t all of those reasons be best dealt with by offering quality sex education and open communication about sex? Having daddy lock her up in a figurative chastity belt and convincing/manipulating her to wait until marriage is soooo not a good idea!  And researchers agree with me. Columbia University’s Peter Bearman co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality. He says, “Sex education doesn’t cause all these negative outcomes. What causes these negative outcomes is kids who are having sex and aren’t protecting themselves.”

The downside is that, when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex,” says Bearman. “So all of the benefit of the delay in terms of pregnancy-risk and in terms of STD acquisition — poof — it just disappears because they’re so much less likely to use a condom at first sex.” (CBS News, 2005)

Based on those interviews with more than 20,000 young people who took virginity pledges, Bearman found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage. Sadly, 9 years later we’re still denying our youth full access to sex education. And we’re now promoting Purity Balls, keeping alive the notion that virginity is our salvation as women.

Magnusson had a change of heart after he started interviewing the fathers and daughters.  “He learned that many of the young women were independent thinkers and their fathers were simply trying to protect their loved ones the best way they knew how. Magnusson sent portraits to everyone who participated in the project and said they were all very happy with the results.”

I’m not convinced.

If I could go back to my teenage years, or offer words of advice to my granddaughters when they grow up, it would be to delay intercourse and other sexual acts like oral and anal sex (rising in popularity as they’re not viewed as ‘real sex’). Acknowledge and play with your sexual desires–get to know your body and how you respond to touch. Learn to cherish your body and treat it as a thing of beauty. Then as you go forward with a possible partner think about how you want your body to be viewed and touched. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this person really interested in me?
  • Is he just looking to have sex and move on? 
  • Does he respect my wishes if you ask to slow down?
  • Are the two of us comfortably talking about sex? If you can’t talk about what you want then chances are you’re not going to get the sexual experience you deserve.
  • Will he wait until I feel ready?
  • Are we talking about contraception and sexually transmitted infections?

These are questions we should all be asking of potential partners at any age. But, when teens aren’t given the right information, thanks to abstinence education, and don’t have the self-esteem or comfort in their own bodies, they’re susceptible to boys who don’t really care about them. They are likely to lose their virginity instead of making a conscious choice to give up their virgin status. There is a big difference.

There is much to lose when we disempower young women around their bodies. They become easy targets for predators–sexual abusers and boyfriends who don’t respect girls.

If you have a daughter and you want her to wait before having sex–talk to her! Don’t shut her down, don’t take away her voice, don’t deny her education. Information is the best tool for making careful, fully informed decisions. Sheltering girls and turning them into daddy’s little chaste princesses isn’t the best solution.  

But then, these men and the women who support this crap already know this don’t they? They don’t want empowered girls. They don’t want women to own their sexuality. They want women to get out of the board room, stay at home, raise the kids and be the good wife. 

I want to say this is a sad case of parental involvement gone awry, but I think it’s more insidious than that.

 

Let’s End Violence Against Women

I live in the central Virginia area. That means I’ve been surrounded by the fears and concerns and hopes for the young woman who disappeared almost 2 weeks ago. It’s a terrible reminder of how vulnerable women, in particular, are in the world today. As a mother, my heart weeps for the parents. As a grandmother, I want to grab my two little girls and protect them from a world that still treats women as objects, victims, targets.

We are all feeling a little skittish right now. The helicopters have been hovering overhead looking for this young woman, Hannah Graham. And last weekend there were almost 2000 volunteers scouring the community, searching for details as to her whereabouts. There is a heightened awareness of the dangers in our world that don’t often surface in our lovely small college town.

The suspect has been found and will be extradited soon. So, we wait and we pray. And, we try to stick to the facts and leave wild conjecture behind. There is a lot of gossip and speculation going on right now. People are making up stories, hypothesizing on what the alleged perpetrator did, and they’re creating stories out of thin air.  It’s what happens when we have big dramas–the media are just as guilty.

Reading some of the online comments this morning I was struck by our need for conclusions, for endings. It’s hard to sit in the face of discomfort.  We want to wrap it all up neatly in a box–no matter the cost. Because we’re uncomfortable with our ‘not knowing’ we try to create the story as a way of managing our fears. How do we seek the truth, or be still, in the absence of facts when things like this happen? How do we sit with a story and hold back that tendency to place blame?

The victim blaming hasn’t fully sprung forth yet, but it will. We like to blame women for things that aren’t within their control. We ask them to wear more modest dresses so their male teachers won’t be tempted. We tell women they can’t go out at night alone because it’s dangerous. We tell girls they can prevent rape by not drinking or going to parties. We tell women not to talk about their sexual desires because it isn’t proper. We don’t want women in high offices because they are emotional and therefore unsuited for positions of power (only in the United States).  We blame women for the demise of the family, and fault them for failing to produce home cooked meals. We tell women it’s not OK to enjoy sex, to want birth control and we tell women they don’t have the right to govern their own bodies. Confident, assertive women are labeled “Bitch”.

We are telling one half of the society to take on the added burden of protecting themselves from the small percentage of predators in the world. Eve caused the big fall. Hester ruined the state of marriage. Marilyn tempted the President. Emma demeaned men by calling for gender equality. Women encourage rapists by daring to drop the veils and live independent lives.

Heavens Forbid that these men try and curb their criminal tendencies.

Yet in spite of all these fears and concerns. In the face of countless sexual assaults, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, public shaming, and death threats where is the call to responsible action–for men to stop their violent behavior? Their criminal actions.  Where are the denunciations of these perpetrators? Where is the condemnation and outrage about rape or domestic violence? Why is the other half of society sitting by and watching this happen without acting to bring about necessary change?

I’m tired of this. After a number of years working in the field of violence against women, and more recent years on the sidelines, I’m not seeing a significant change in attitudes or a decline in violent attacks. Yes, there are many more men working side by side with female allies to stop sexual and domestic violence. But there are more men cheering their buddies along and more men producing violent movies, sexist ads, and standing on the sidelines catcalling and harassing and telling demeaning jokes and supporting the ‘boys will be boys’ crap.

It’s unfair to pit the men against the women-but it reflects what our society does. There are female predators and there are a significant number of good men working to change this culture. I applaud them and happen to call some of them friends, colleagues and allies. Just this weekend I met a man who is involved in a national movement, One in Four, to educate about sexual assault.  But those who perpetrate evil or in lesser cases, abuse their male privilege have more power than the rest of us—or so it would seem.

What will it take to end violence against women? What can we do? As mothers, parents, grandparents, concerned citizens, educators, elected officials and workers in the field?

What will it take? What will you do today?

Embracing and Reframing Sexuality – CatalystCon West 2014

sex-positiveI met so many fabulously mind-blowing women and men at the Catalyst conference last week. So many wonderful people who willingly push the edges in working together to build a strong, safer and more sex-positive world. I had many conversations with attendees and sat in on informative and entertaining sessions on all aspects of sex education and awareness. And, was honored to be presenting a session with Will Fredericks as well.

The conference closed on Sunday afternoon with a stellar presentation focused on the history of the sex-positive movement. Who doesn’t want to spend a Sunday afternoon listening to former porn stars and prostitutes talk about their lives? Don’t judge quite yet. This group of talented women, ranging in age from their early 50s to late 60s (or older) presented stories of love and companionship, activism, pushing boundaries and reveling in their sexual pleasures. The closing ceremony at CatalystCon featured Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera and Candida Royalle, women of beauty, wisdom and amazing dedication. They are the women of Club 90, women who met and joined together in the mid 80′s to support each other as friends and as professionals working to bring about positive change in the sex industry and the world of sexuality. Sunday’s interview by Jackie Strano, of Good Vibrations, focused on NYC in the 80s, the sex industry and the work that each woman has done over the last 30 years to help shape the conversation around sexuality.

Several of these women have PhDs. Some work in the film industry behind the camera, making sex-positive, female-focused movies. They lecture, write professionally, teach classes, do research and contribute to the field of sexuality. All beautiful in their own skins and totally at ease sharing some wild and funny stories about their time as sex workers. This was by far the most positive, uplifting presentation I’ve attended in a long time.

This was my third CatalystCon conference, and my second time as a speaker. Each conference has its own unique flavor. The West Coast conference draws a different crowd than the spring conference held in the DC area. I meet many individuals who are sex workers–broadly defined. I met educators and writers, coaches, sexological bodyworkers and others. It was inspiring and energizing to participate in the networking and collaboration. It is the work of Dee Dennis, the conference founder and organizer, as well as many others who work behind the scenes.

I was honored to be surrounded by some of the elders in the field who continue to lead the way in creating ways to educate about sex-positivity. It all makes so much sense. Regardless of sexual/gender orientation or identity, skin color, hair color, kink, and all the other things that define us, the message is universal. Our sexuality is unique and glorious. There is nothing dirty or shameful about the natural expression of our desires–it’s all about how we pursue those desires and interact with partners.

Consent, trust, communication and respect are the most important aspects of a sex-positive approach to life, relationships and sexual activity. There are few places you can go and find so many people talking about sex with smiles on their faces. It’s fabulous.

As one of the women on the stage noted, she’s not ashamed or apologetic about her choices. She expressed sorrow that her children might have been impacted by her choices but she has no regrets. It was that acceptance and positive approach to living a sexual open life that made me a little emotional.  It’s awesome to see women of age and energy so committed to their vision.

Here’s the thing. Humans enjoy having sex, as do other species on the planet. Two people engaged in consensual sex is a lovely thing, natural and not harmful at all. And, yet in the United States we’ve set rules and conditions. We’ve said that two people have to look a certain way and have to behave in a certain way. We’ve restricted and criminalized sexual activity. We preach about the morality of sex while embracing a media, and a culture, saturated with sexual violence and constant degrading of women and those of “other” gender identities. The two are not compatible. Why can’t we acknowledge that sexual activities bring people pleasure. And, as with any enjoyable or pleasurable activity it’s natural to want to feel and give pleasure. In a consensual, sex-positive world there is no harm. I saw people talk about the power of sexual expression, the benefits, the delights, the healing and the overall well-being that comes from expressing one’s desires freely. It’s completely natural.

And then the conference ends, we pack our bags and go home to a world where violence mimics sex, where women are degraded and humiliated, gays are persecuted and religion is twisted to justify negative behavior. Sad.

I applaud those four women who shared their journey with us on Sunday. They shine a bright light on the power of the individual to affect positive change. If there was bitterness over the hardships and discriminations they faced, it didn’t show. These women are powerful instruments for change–a catalyst.

I was honored to be in their presence and I commit to continuing the work year-round to create an open and accepting sex-positive world.

Nice Is Over Rated, No More Nice For Me

PurpleTraining someone to be ‘nice’ can be a way of silencing that first voice.

Justine Musk’s writing often strikes a chord for me. That was just what I needed to hear.

NICE.

I was raised to be nice–it’s what they did to good Southern girls in the 50s and 60s. I don’t think I want to be nice anymore. Is it too late at age 60 to abandon nice? No.

No more nice when it comes to sex.

 

What do I mean by that? Well, I’m pretty outspoken and open about my desires. But there was a day when I sacrificed my needs by not speaking up. So I lay there. Played along. Tuned out.

Nice is overrated.

What’s the point in having sex that is one-sided? Why play nice when you can create a wonderful sexual experience by speaking your truth? Because what I think Musk means is that by playing nice we give up too much. She’s mostly talking to women (the context of article makes that apparent), but I suspect men play nice sometimes. One might assume that no more nice means I am also opening myself to a wider range of sexual expression!

No more being the Nice one when it comes to expressing myself and living an intentional life.

 

Being nice in my childhood meant being quieter and more compliant. Submissive if you will. Boys rule. Be the proper little girl–which meant not being too smart or too assertive. It’s easy to lose yourself in that situation, particularly if everyone around you is buying into that notion as well. And, what if there is no role model for strong and independent?

My grandmother, who died in her mid 60s was a wonderful, bright and vibrant woman. I spent a lot of time with her as a child; she was my role model. Brightly colored clothing, jet-setting around the world and engaged with a large circle of friends, she seemed ideal to me. She died when I was 12 and it felt for a few days that my world might just end. Somewhere along the way I forgot about her strength and vibrancy. I started being nice. You know—the good wife, the good mother, the nice one who played along, etc. Nice.

Maybe I’m ready to fully embrace this single life and let loose. Wear purple when I feel like it. Take off for destinations unknown and create adventures.  Let go, live loudly. Say a big Fuck You to being Nice. Gasp, I said Fuck in an article. Twice.

Musk is really talking about finding one’s voice, as a brand, as a writer and in life as well.  The true voice of who we are and what we want, down deep in our innermost parts. It takes some people years to figure out what they really want. Each phase of life brings its own challenges—what we want and need changes as we move through life.  And maybe, just maybe, this is our strongest and best time to find that voice.

It is my time.

Baby steps. On my birthday I was dining alone at the fabulous Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe and spotted a man dressed from head to toe in purple. Longish silver curly hair and lots of silver jewelry. My first thought was of my mother, who forbade me to wear purple as a child. Purple was a tacky color and God forbid that we be mistaken for Tacky! During dinner I thought about this as I watched this guy…curious. I shared with a friend, via text. Yes I was texting, briefly, with a girlfriend while at dinner! She was sending birthday wishes.  She urged me to speak to him, so I did. I got up and went to his table, politely interrupted, and asked him for a photo. He was a bit reluctant to give in to the crazy woman but his dinner partner jumped at the offer to take our photo so he agreed. They invited me to sit for a few minutes and we had a delightful conversation.

Last night sitting in the bar at my hotel I saw a lovely woman across the room in a deep violet-purple silk suit. It was very stylish and almost formal, there must have been a fancy occasion in the hotel. I sucked up my courage and went across the lobby to tell her how gorgeous her suit was. I think she was very touched, maybe more so because this younger white woman had gone out of her way to offer a random compliment? She blessed me and I felt it.

I was pretty pleased with myself. I was being nice—on my terms. I was responding to what brought me pleasure and doing something out of my normal routine. This is more about feeling comfortable in my own skin and reacting spontaneously. Because part of what growing up nice entails is always being aware and vigilant.  Being on guard and a bit censored. Thinking more of others as opposed to my own emotional well-being. I can’t begin to count the number of times I felt tamped down and shoved in the box of conformity as a child and youth…as an adult and woman.

I talk about sex a lot now days. Totally comfortable with that. I’m thinking about sex a lot too….from a personal angle. Maybe I’m no longer content to do what I’ve always done? Maybe I want a little less proper and a little more bohemian in my life? I want experiences and things I don’t even know I want yet. Sometimes I fear that I’m too late…that my chance to get a little wild should ideally have happened in my late 40s. I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t the person I am now.

It’s never too late. Each day is a whole world unto itself. There are an infinite number of possibilities. It’s just a matter of embracing them.

For me it will mean less NICE and more authentic sensuousness and freedom. More saying NO to things and pursuing opportunities to say yes. Play with more vivid crayons. Start drawing and painting. Continue to let go and open up.

What about you?

photo credit: Luz Adriana Villa A. via photopin cc