I’m 23 years old.
Depending on who you ask, I’m a single woman or a wife, "sex-crazy" or sex-positive, a slut or a virgin. Obviously, I can’t be all of these things... but just as obviously, the wide variety of people and institutions I interact with throughout my day-to-day life are defining these terms very differently than I do. So let me be more clear, and maybe help you clear up some of your own confusion about what labels you “have to” use, and what labels you want to proudly claim for your own.
About four and a half years ago, my girlfriend Katie and I had what we would have called our "first time." Since we’re both women, we don’t have the ease of understanding or assuming what "losing your virginity" is that someone paired with another person of a different gender might have. After a lot of conversations, we came to the decision that we didn’t want to be completely naked together until we had a room where we had a right to close and lock the door without anyone questioning us- in other words, until I could travel to her dorm room at her college rather than just seeing each other when we were both on break in our hometown. It was sweet, sometimes awkward, incredibly meaningful, and overall a wonderful "first time."
But that’s not the end of the story.
Over the next several years of our relationship, we grew and changed in ways that humans tend to do. We decided that, honestly, anything we did together that caused orgasms really counted as sex, and so while we’ll always love our "first time," we’d been having sex for quite a while before that.
Simultaneously, we faced a world that doesn’t really know what it thinks about lesbians and sex, other than that it’s probably bad. I heard in so many ways how my relationship wasn’t valid. I had a bulletin-board conversation with one of my floormates about how I couldn’t really ever have sex, only "sexual acts," since no penises were entering any vaginas. (This caused an awful lot of running jokes among my friends from that point on- "Are you and Katie going to go have not-sex now? Did you have tons of wild, wild not-sex over your Valentine’s Weekend trip?")
I even had a leader of a fairly nonconformative group on campus tell me to my face that, "Of course I was still a virgin." As headstrong and self-confident as I tried to be, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that maybe these people were onto something. Did this really not count?
Nearly three years after that first idea of a first time, I was still dating Katie and we’d exchanged engagement rings. We’d also been talking more and more about polyamory, and had finally taken the first nervous step of indicating our interest to another engaged couple in our social circle who were generally known to be open. That first poly relationship had more rules than I could shake a stick at- and a lot of them had to do with what we were calling sex, and how we felt about what we were doing. Yeah, we were all having sex, but only certain kinds with certain people at certain times- and it got even more complicated when I (confirmed, out-and-proud lesbian harboring confusing bisexual tendencies) was interacting in EXTREMELY AWKWARD ways with the male person in that couple. Emotional and intimate issues eventually led us to separate from them.
So now who was I? I’d slept with two people besides my fiancee... sort of? But everyone consented, so it wasn’t like I was a cheating hussy or anything. But I still liked girls better. Yeah. That’s right.
Then, of course, I had to go and fall in love with another man, and the tangle of that relationship could take a novel all of its own. I was head over heels for only the second time in my life, and I thought I’d found the solution to my fears about sex with men: someone kind and gentle and ostensibly pure; a very Christian, definitely virgin, partner.
Suffice to say, polyamory only works when everyone involved is honest not only with each other, but with themselves, and can clearly state their own needs and issues. He was dealing with a lot of shame and self-loathing about the concept of sex in general, and we spent several months in the surreal state where he insisted that we weren’t having sex if it was just dry humping, and I assured him (not just quietly, but firmly, more than once) that it sure felt like sex to me. In the end, our differences tore us apart in a very messy way - I said unfortunate things in public, Katie cried (an occasion of once a decade or so), and this guy turned up what had previously been an annoying tendency to wheedle into full-out emotional manipulation and abuse. When he left, I told Katie that I was done with men. They just hurt me.
But here we are now. I’m typing this letter to all of you sitting in bed next to Katie (who is now my wife, according to my church and everyone who matters), the smell of our boyfriend still clinging to the pillows, and I can see our girlfriend’s hairbrush where she forgot it on the bookshelf. Turns out that while Katie and I were learning about maturity, heartbreak, and what a really bad relationship looks like, John and Emily, that first couple we were with, were learning their own lessons. Emily doesn’t let her insecurity keep her from enjoying her bisexuality to the fullest. Katie is more willing to trust human beings in general. John is much more conscious about balancing his now-wife’s needs with caring for the other women he loves. And I have finally gotten over my own guilt trip about loving men enough to finally REALLY enjoy sex with him.
Today, I went to Planned Parenthood to get fitted for a diaphragm so I can feel as confident as possible about minimizing pregnancy risks before I do what a lot of people call losing my virginity.
When I filled out my new client paperwork, I cringed as I marked my marital status as single, because according to the government, Katie doesn’t count. When I added my emergency contact information, I proudly listed Katie’s phone number, and noted under relationship the word Wife.
Finally, I went into my appointment to get fitted for birth control. I was incredibly grateful that the clinic staff seemed entirely uninterested in questioning these discrepancies - I really didn’t want any delays.
I’m planning to have intercourse for the first time as soon as we can manage a good stretch of time, because otherwise we might just pounce each other like animals in the middle of cooking each other a nice dinner some night this week. It’s unbelievable how good and healing it feels to finally be having the kind of relationships I want, in the ways that I want, and for the most part on the terms that I want. I can’t change the world, but I think I’ve finally got a handle- at least for the moment- on how I see myself.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, whoever you are, whatever you are or aren’t doing with whatever people of whatever gender in whatever numbers or combinations: it’s okay.
Seriously, it’s okay. You can call yourself a virgin if that word has a lot of meaning for you, but don’t let people use it like a measuring rod or a judgement from on high. You can call yourself a lesbian, bisexual, straight, ace, whatever; but don’t let that stop you from admitting when you love someone, because you might just be missing out on some amazing experiences. You can build whatever relationship structures you like, as long as they’re working for everyone involved. More important than definitions or rules is your own comfort, your own consent, and your own desire.
So go out there and love freely (and safely!), and be who you want to be. And only you get to decide whether or not you’re a "virgin."