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Too Easy, My Aunt Fanny.

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Charleen B. asks:

Me and my boyfriend have been dating for about a year now. I am 16 and he is 18. We live in Egypt. In the first 2 months I used to ask him embarrassing questions about sex - I thought it would break the ice between us. He used to say that he does not want things to go too far, at least not for now. I kept asking those those questions, feeling pushy, but he started asking me if it was okay if he touches me and so on...I said that it was okay. From the 4th month and till now we have been having regular anal sex - as he wants me to stay a virgin - yesterday he said that he does not want to do any more sexual activities with me. He said that he still loves me and that we are still together and that he does not want any other girl but he said that I was too easy - I know that I was easy but it was only because I truly love him - Did I do anything wrong?!?

Heather Corinna replies:

The core of what you're asking about is a biggie, one whole books have been written about. As someone who tends to be verbose, I could certainly write you a book, but I'll spare you an encyclopedia, aim for a summary and will probably land somewhere in between.

Based on what you posted, I don't see anything you've done wrong. What looks wrong to me here are some ideas about gender and sex that are very problematic. They may just be his, or both of yours, but no matter whose they are, they are ideas bound to leave people feeling mixed-up and confused, and relating to each other in mixed-up, confused ways because they are, themselves, mixed-up and confused, especially if we want gender equality and sexual relationships of quality and equality.

Let's clear this first: purposefully pushing someone's expressed boundaries when it comes to anything, including sex, is not okay. If you did that, especially with the intent of pushing against your boyfriend's limits to try and get something you wanted, then that is very much not okay. But it doesn't sound like you were doing that. If you were, we'll deal with that later.

What it looks like to me is like you were sexually curious about your boyfriend, who you love. You were flirting and trying to satisfy some of that curiosity, and maybe also trying to drop hints about your sexual interest by asking those questions. It seems he was at least somewhat receptive to them; he didn't ask you to stop asking, and he then asked some of his own questions to actively pursue sexual activity you said you also wanted and you also consented to doing. You two had various kinds of sex for the last 8 months. It now appears he had a change of heart when it came to continuing that sex, one I think he has inappropriately attributed to you instead of to his own feelings, ideas and issues.

Asking people questions about sex isn't necessarily pushing them into any kind of sexual action or interaction unless you're asking questions of someone who told you to back off or who is clearly not welcoming those questions from you. You say you felt pushy, but within the kind of dynamics you're talking about, my guess is you probably weren't being pushy, but felt pushy because you were being sexually assertive as a young woman, something that may not have been what your boyfriend was expecting. So long as sexual questions or talks are welcomed, asking sexual questions is okay. Candidly expressing sexual desires you feel to people who seem open to hearing them is also okay, and so is choosing to have any kind of sex with someone who wants that, too, and who you have at least some care for, if not big love.

The way the two of you are defining sex and virginity, and the way he's making this about you being too "easy," speaks to ideas about gender and sex that have long been big problems, and which, if you ask me, everyone should have evolved past long before now. I was telling my 60-something downstairs neighbor about this post, and she was all "Seriously? They STILL have to deal with that!? Lordy!" She was shocked. I'm not shocked, just perpetually sad that anyone does still have to deal with this stuff, because I think everyone deserves better.

Let's start with the anal sex. If both people involved are consenting, and both people are seeking out pleasure, anal sex is sex. If anyone who has anal sex has done so by choice and out of a place of sexual desire -- not via rape or other abuse -- they have been having sex. I want to make sure you also know that anal intercourse poses the same kinds of risks as vaginal intercourse. Whatever you two call it, from a health and perspective, it's most certainly sex. While the pregnancy risks it poses are lower than with vaginal intercourse, potentially considerably so, the risks of sexually transmitted and other infections are actually higher. If you haven't ever had testing for sexually transmitted infections and you can get that, I'd put that on your to-do list, okay? It's important, especially if your boyfriend hasn't been using condoms. It also carries all the same kinds of emotional risks, something you're experiencing now.

There is no one definition of virginity. Virginity is an idea some people have, and just like ideas about who, what (or if) God is vary, people's definitions of virginity vary. Figure that for as many countries, cultures, religions, life phases and periods of history there are and have been, the number of definitions for virginity is probably at least ten times that. If either of you thinks virginity is about who has and who hasn't had sex (rather than about hymenal tissue, a notion that has its own flaws), I must tell you that it sounds like you both have been having sex. So if you're addressing these issues as if you have not had sex together, I don't think that's a sage approach.

Now, I'm not sure why he has preferences about YOUR sexual status, but not his own. Whether or not you want to stay a virgin -- whatever that means to you -- should be about you and what you want, not what someone else wants for you. This is your body, your life choices and your sexuality, not his. He's got his own body, his own life choices and his own sexuality to put his standards on if he wants to. He's supposed to be your partner, not your parent. But even though I think it isn't his place to make decisions about your virginity, if he "wanted you to stay a virgin," having sex with you seems like a very unusual way to try and achieve that goal. If he was very invested in you not having sex, I just don't understand why he was having sex with you.

On to the not-so-easy business about "being easy." What does it mean to be easy? What does it mean not to be easy: isn't the opposite of easy hard? Does that mean that we should to make something that's supposed to be about shared desires and pleasure purposefully hard for someone? Why? Doesn't a term like easy suggest that sex -- in this case, and usually with this way of thinking -- with women is something men must "earn" or pay for? Or that sex is supposed to be some kind of reward? I don't know about you, but I consider consensual sex between people who want to have sex together for the purpose of sharing mutual pleasure to be something people share and co-create, not something one person gives and the other takes away, or one person gets like a biscuit because of being a very good dog.

Why is a term like that almost always only applied to women, anyway? Why is anyone making value judgments about one person with choices they both made, mutually agreed upon and put into action together?

This business with being "too easy," also comes from a way of thinking about women called -- often with a long, tired sigh -- a virgin/whore dichotomy. If you're not familiar with that term, it's a way people have historically (and some do still) classified women in regard to sex, usually before we had any rights or were viewed as something other than property. In this framework, women are one-dimensional. We either get to be perpetual virgins: asexual, non-physical, submissive, naive, chaste, innocent, never-maturing, more like mothers, daughters or sisters than lovers; or whores: sexual, physical, dominant or assertive, sexy, experienced, like more like lovers or prostitutes than mothers, daughters or sisters (despite the fact that some people's mothers, daughters or sisters are prostitutes or lovers). No matter which we try to choose, we fail, because no one is one-dimensional like that. One idea that often goes with all this is the idea that a girl you love and take seriously is supposed to be different than the girl you have sex with. It's a very simplistic view of women and sexuality, and certainly not a sound or respectful way of thinking about women or anyone else. This whole set of ideas also kind of requires a mindset or belief that sex is innately dirty or wrong, especially where women are involved.

Digging deeper still, and getting to an icky heart of the matter, if he's saying this wasn't okay because you were supposed to do was be resistant to his sexual wants and desires instead of actively and assertively consenting and participating? Yipes. That way of thinking is a slippery slope. It can or does imply you're not supposed to be fully consenting to sex or to have your own sexual desires, but only do what one person wants for themselves as an answer to their sexuality while they are also pushing you in some way. Those aren't the dynamics of sex: they're the dynamics of rape and abuse.

There are people out there who think in these ways who know they think this way, who know how disrespectful it is, but still hang unto it because they just have that little respect, have that much shame and fear; because they think those dynamics and ideas are right, or because they can use them to hold other people responsible for their own behavior. But I'm pretty sure most people who think this way, especially when they're young, don't really understand they are conceptualizing things like this, and don't realize how utterly screwed up it all is underneath, especially if it's what they have grown up hearing and haven't ever really challenged or been given room to challenge. I don't know your boyfriend, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and figure he's in the latter group, not the former. (If you do think he really believes in and likes these ideas? My advice is to just get out of this relationship. This way lies badness.)

I wouldn't leap to the idea that he supports rape, wanted to have sex with you only while you were fighting him off, or that he literally thinks of all women as virgins or whores, and can't figure out which one he wants you to be. But I do think these concepts are things you need to discuss with him if you're going to stay together, because they clearly have been part of what's gone on and they're not likely to help either of you have a healthy relationship.

I can't tell you exactly why he had the reaction he did. The person who knows that is him, so these are all things to ask him about and talk through together, probably in more than just one talk. I'd ask a lot of questions. I'd ask what he means when he says "too easy," and how he thinks that might make you feel about yourself and your relationship. I'd ask him what he thinks the alternative to "easy" is, and if he's thought through what that actually suggests and where it all logically leads to. I'd suggest that it sounds like he may be expressing it was up to you to control the sexual behavior of both of you, and if that's so, to ask him how that's fair or why you don't each get to be the full boss of yourselves.

On top of talking about the kinds of things I said up there, I think if you want to keep going with this relationship, there are some other things to talk about. I'd ask him to define virginity, ask why he defines it that way, then ask why he cares so much about yours, and seems not to care about his. If he has double standards about virginity -- ideas that apply only to your body, but not his -- I'd talk about those. I'd ask him if he thinks it's possible none of this is about you being too easy, or you needing to be a virgin, but about how he feels about his own sexual choices, and if he maybe had a sexual relationship when it just wasn't the right time or situation for that to be right for him.

Since it sounds like he's voiced a lot of ideas he has about women and sex, I'd also ask him to talk about what his ideas with men and sex are, too. That would be a smart thing to know and talk out. I'd also ask him what he ideally feels would make a sexual relationship right for him, both so you can know (and make your choices accordingly) and so he can better know that for himself. I'd voice your own thoughts on all this, too, so you can both see if your wants and ideals even fit together at all.

His reaction to this might be because he got the idea female partners would be in charge of putting the breaks on for everyone, or only respond to his lead, not have any desires of their own. Now, that's messed-up, but many men have been raised to believe that. If someone thought that was how things go, and a woman stating her own sexual wants, being forward, and clearly sharing sexual desires, then he might have a hard time knowing what on earth to do in that situation. Especially because if he thought that, it also probably meant he was in no way prepared for the reality of sex that's wanted by everyone where he has to speak up about the pacing he wants, and put the breaks on for himself if he feels like he wants or needs them. He may also have some guilt, fear or shame he's dealing with in all of this. None of that, however, is your fault or is because you did what felt right for you, and what he also chose to take part in.

Your boyfriend likely had the sex he did with you because he wanted to, even if he found out later it didn't feel right for him anymore. Sometimes we want things we don't yet feel totally right about doing just yet. We might say yes to them because we worry we won't have the opportunity to say yes later. We might say yes because we feel like we're supposed to, even if some part of us knows what we're doing is what we want and feels good, but doesn't feel as right or good for us as it could some other time. We might say yes because we do want to very much, but don't realize we may need to first deal with iffy ideas we have or were given about sex or people we have sex with before we can feel good about it.

In relationships of all kinds, we may experience false starts or missteps in places we take a relationship to. It's common enough for someone to make a relationship sexual, and feel like that's what they wanted or was right, but to discover it's not what they really want, not what they expected, or not what's right for them at the time. Sometimes we have a good idea of what we want and are ready to handle in advance, but that's just not something we can always predict, especially when we're new to whatever it is we're exploring and don't know yet what we need to consider to determine what's right for us. Just like with other things in life, we may only find out once we try it. It may be that your boyfriend has experienced a false start with his sex life (and is putting it on you because he doesn't have the self-awareness to deal with that). Maybe he thought sex was what he wanted and felt ready for, but found out it's not. It happens. But if and when it does, and we've made all our choices freely and actively, we need to own that, not put it on a partner.

If he feels that way because you did, in fact, push his boundaries, then for sure, some of that is on you, not because of being "easy," but because of exerting pressure. Again, that's never okay for anyone of any gender to do. If you you were earnestly pushy at all with sex or his boundaries in talking about it, I'd open your talks about this by taking responsibility for that and being clear you respect and honor his decision to be sexual right now, and are NOT trying to change his mind: you just want to talk about this to work it out. But if by feeling pushy, you just meant he was wiggy about you bringing up sex he was also interested in talking about, that's not pushing. That's just talking.

I know you love him and you've been together for a year; that's a long relationship in your teens. If these talks go well, this may be something you two can actually turn into a pretty big epiphany and improve your relationship with, getting a lot closer than you could have without unpacking all of this. But if these talks don't go well, or you don't even feel like you can have them, my personal advice is to give serious thought to moving on.

Thing is, this guy sounds like he just might not be ready for sex or this kind of intimate relationship -- even without sex in it at all -- and like before he is, he's got some growing to do. Not everyone is ready for these kinds of relationships at a given age or time of life. Maybe he's a good guy who just needs some time and education to do that: that might well be all it is. But if he does, I'd suggest you consider letting him take that time and space alone, with you moving forward in your own life, maybe even seeking out partnerships with more enlightened dynamics right from the start. I know that might sound harsh, but if things are going to stay like this, with these bad ideas in the mix, this is not a great scenario, and you can find relationships with people who don't think this way or put this stuff on you. You said he says you're still together, but remember, just like with sex, that's a choice for each of you to make, not just one of you.

I wish you the very best of luck in sorting it all out, and in those talks together if you have them. This was a tricky one for me to answer, so if you feel like I mucked it up, as all our users can do, feel free to drop me a line and I'd be happy to talk more with you about it or to try and come at it from a different direction.

written 11 Jul 2010 . updated 18 Aug 2010

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