I had sex for the first time at 18. I was one of the last of my friends to cash in their v-card, and it was something that I was embarrassed by and worried unnecessarily about. I had this twisted idea in my head that because I held onto it longer than most people that it was somehow correlated with my self worth. But honestly, I could have had sex when I was 16. My first boyfriend was 2 years older and I knew he wasn’t a virgin, so I assumed that he expected it, but I held out anyway. I didn't really like him that much and I viewed my virginity as something special that needed to be given to someone special, and even though I lowered my standards just so I could have a boyfriend, I still wasn't willing to go that far.
The guy I ended up giving this so-called “gift” to was the first boyfriend I ever believed I was in love with. He was what I considered special, the one I naively thought I’d be with forever. We met in my freshman year of college. He was in my Philosophy class that I skipped more than I attended, so one day I saw him in the library and asked him for his notes - a real classic move. Somehow we ended up exchanging numbers and eventually he asked me out on a date. It was my first real date where a boy picked me up at my house and drove me to dinner and a movie. We started officially dating a couple of weeks later.
I told him upfront that I was a virgin, and he didn’t seem to care, but that was probably because I made it clear that I wanted him to be my first. I wish I could say that it happened organically - something romantic ripped from the pages of a movie script - but I planned pretty much every detail of it. I knew we would be spending the night alone after the New Year’s Eve party we were attending, so I bought a cute little nightgown and pretended like that was what I always slept in, because I was very smooth.
When it finally happened, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be some magical experience that would be my defining moment of womanhood, but the reality was that it was kinda painful and awkward and I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I was too busy worrying about whether or not I was doing something wrong. When it was over, I went to the bathroom and texted all of my friends to tell them the news. I rang in the new year with a bang, literally.
Our relationship only lasted maybe a month after that night. I was absolutely devastated when he broke up with me. I cried and screamed and begged him not to do it, told him that if he could just tell me what I was doing wrong that I could fix it. He coldly insisted that nothing could change his mind. I told him that I couldn’t believe he was doing this to me after I gave him everything. That comment was the only thing that got him to apologize for breaking my heart.
I’m already clinically depressed so I deal with sadness regularly, but after that breakup, I slipped into one of the darkest periods of my life. I didn’t eat. I slept all the time, sometimes for days straight. When I would reach the point that I physically couldn't sleep any more, I would steal my stepmom’s Klonopin and sink back into my depression coma. I skipped class so often that I almost failed a few of them, especially the ones we had together. And if I did go, I barely got dressed, which was a major change for someone who previously planned outfits weeks in advance. I lived in t-shirts and athletic shorts, and I didn't even play sports, so I wasn’t fooling anyone. Eventually I got to the point where I had cried so much that I wasn’t physically able to anymore. I looked and felt like a zombie, just wandering aimlessly through life. All of this over a stupid fucking boy. Looking back on it now, I wonder if I would have felt the same way about that breakup if I hadn’t lost my virginity to him. But more than that, I wonder if I would have felt that way if I hadn’t taken the idea of virginity so seriously in the first place.
While I never personally believed that I would wait until marriage to have sex, I grew up in an environment that highly encouraged abstinence. I was involved with the youth group at my church, and during my sophomore year, they created a “Sexual Purity” class. The class was, of course, separated into two groups - one for the boys and one for the girls. They gave us a book to read that talked about how your body is a temple and you should honor it by saving it for your future husband and a bunch of other bullshit. It discouraged kissing or touching of any kind between opposite sexes. It even said that masturbation was bad. Being stimulated sexually, whether it was of your own doing or someone else’s, was a sin unless you were married.
Even though I didn’t buy into the whole idea of waiting until marriage, I still took part of that philosophy and applied it to the idea of virginity. Some argue that virginity is a social construct and that it doesn’t really exist, because there are different definitions of what line has to be crossed in order for it to be lost (for example: if you’re a straight, cis person, sex is typically defined by a penis penetrating a vagina, but it’s not so easily definable if you’re queer). There’s a lot of room for interpretation regarding the validity of virginity, but for me personally, I knew what had to happen for me to no longer be considered a virgin.
Once I was finally rid of that annoying label, I started being much less selective about who I slept with. This was mostly because I was still reeling from being dumped and was trying to fill the void, literally and figuratively. And college was just a weird time for me in general. I was hanging out with frat bros and being the absolute worst, trying to catch up on all the rebellious shit I didn’t do in high school. But while I had my fair share of long-term relationships from that age up until now at 27, I’ve never been shy about having one-night stands whenever I was single. All of the pressure I put on myself to keep my body sacred went right out the window as soon as that first sexual encounter was over, and I was okay with it.
Being sexually active for almost 10 years has given me many new perspectives on the dangers of preaching abstinence, but none as much as when I shared my story about being raped at 19. I was flooded with support from friends who praised me for having the courage to speak out, and had several people reach out to me personally to share their own experiences simply because they knew they weren’t alone anymore. It was a powerful feeling to be able to help people in any aspect after feeling so helpless for years, so I didn’t see anything wrong with what I did. Unfortunately, some of my family members didn't view it that way. I was berated for “writing about my sex life online” and told that I need to be more selective about who I “share my body with,” as if I had any choice in that particular situation. Gotta love victim blaming! I think knowing that I was already sexually active somehow diminished the severity of my trauma in their eyes. I’d be willing to bet that they would have reacted differently if I were a virgin when it happened, because at least then I would have been pure to begin with.
Knowing that the story of my pain and suffering could be met with so much negativity reopened some old wounds, but in the end it reinforced my belief that sex shouldn’t be presented as something so sacred. It’s harmful (and honestly pretty sexist) to insist that virginity should be saved for someone special. Teenage boys don’t deal with the same kind of pressure to save themselves. They don't have to worry about someone accusing them of not being a virgin because their hymen is broken, or worry that they won't be considered pure by their future wives. But more than that, sex is not a gift that you give someone else. The idea behind “giving” someone your virginity implies that the act is not about you at all, which is a ridiculous notion that will sadly take decades of feminist work to even begin to undo. Sex involves two people who should both expect to get pleasure out of it, and that shouldn’t be up for debate. I'm not discouraging anyone from deciding that they’re going to wait for the right person or until marriage, but the more we preach that this practice is the only way to avoid sin or that it somehow makes us less whole, the more we make it acceptable to shame women for owning their sexuality.
I’m also not implying that sex shouldn’t be taken seriously as a matter of health. You should absolutely take precautions to avoid STD’s and pregnancy, but we don’t need to be teaching teenage girls that they have to abstain in order to avoid these consequences. We need to teach them how to properly protect themselves for when they inevitably make that choice, and we need to stop putting so much pressure on them to delay it for religious or sexist reasons. Because when that happens, what we really lose is the freedom to make choices about our own bodies and, ultimately, our self-respect.
Meredith Galyon moved from a small town in East Tennessee to participate in MTSU’s Recording Industry Program. She graduated in 2013 with a degree in Music Business and made Nashville her home shortly after, where she now works for a social media marketing company managing accounts for music venues. She loves to write and draw but is too much of a procrastinator to make either of those a full-time gig, so she settles for having them as hobbies. She’s the proud mom of a rescued Greyhound named Titus and a cat named Luna, and if taking pictures of them were considered real hobbies, those would be on the list, too. You can follow her rants and bad jokes on Twitter @worstnightmere and various happenings on Instagram @_worstnightmere.