Virginity. The state of never in your life having had sex.
It means different things to different people. It means different things in different circles. It has so much baggage and causes harm around the world. Many very sexist views are rooted in ideas about it. Shame can be so intricately tied to both aspects of how and when virginity was lost or to the fact that by a certain point in someone’s life, it wasn’t.
While celibacy has been written about a number of times in the asexual blogosphere, I’m pretty sure virginity hasn’t been written about quite as much.
On celibacy, I mainly agree with all the points outlined on Asexuality Archive here back 6.5 years ago:
Elsewhere on the internet you can find a lot of other nuance to this topic if you search deeper into other things written on how asexuals who are not sexually active feel about categorizing themselves as celibate, including information from the ace community census on the topic. (Or, you can at least see how they felt at a snapshot in time, a few years ago.) The word “celibate” has a lot of connotations and implications for a lot of us native English speakers.
“Virginity” is even more fraught to try to talk about, given all the cultural context of the concept, which I think is why a lot of asexual bloggers often avoid the subject. Not all of us avoid it, and certainly it comes up occasionally, but often I feel like it’s “talked around” instead of being the focus of a conversation.
I do really like Jo’s post on A Life Unexamined from 2012 on the topic. Also, Sara K. from The Notes Which Do Not Fit has written some good posts about virginity too (in 2012 & 2014).
The Carnival of Aces this month, May 2018, is themed around “Nuance & Complexity“.
Elizabeth, the host, says,
This month, I want us to focus on those things that we tend to avoid talking about, for fear of being misunderstood, or anything that we may have felt we can’t quite (openly) articulate.
This is my first but probably not my only submission for the carnival this month, as I have multiple (completely different) ideas that fit this carnival topic! But for now, I want to dive more into the topic of virginity.
I think I probably sound like a broken record sometimes, because I repeat so often, both on my blog and even in offline, in-person, situations, that before I learned about asexuality existing, and before I identified with it, I assumed I was an “inexperienced straight person”, and the inexperience felt paramount. I placed less emphasis on heterosexual, and more inexperienced. I had this sense of self concept, of identity, all around my inexperience. I clung tightly to the idea that everything about my experiences that “didn’t really feel quite heterosexual” but obviously were not gay could be explained away by my inexperience.
Basically, I already knew on some level that I was non-libidoist, sex-averse, and asexual, but the only way I knew how to frame it was “inexperience”. Virgin was a word that covered some of it. Yes. Especially why the idea of nudity and sex would make me so uncomfortable. I would think, I’m a virgin a.k.a. I’ve never had sex. My virginity explains all these feelings like not wanting to be sexy/not ever feeling sexy. It also explains why I don’t even know what arousal would be like for me as a cis woman.
But “virgin” wasn’t my primary identity per se. That was just a subset of “inexperience”. In addition to having never had sex, I also had never “been in love”, “been kissed”, “been on a date”, or “been in a relationship”. These were all pieces of the same bigger whole, bundled together as such an intrinsic part of me.
And then things changed. After graduating college, at age 22 I tried going on dates and tried kissing(/making out). At age 23 I finally had my first romantic relationship – my first boyfriend. With him, as outlined in a post I linked above, I tried having sex, around 2.5 months into dating him.
I was proving to myself that nothing would “turn me on” physically, nothing would make me not feel sex-averse mentally/emotionally, nothing would make me start feeling normal and give me any heterosexual experience at all I could hold onto, even in a gray-asexual/gray-heterosexual sense.
I was coming to understand myself as the specific type of asexual person I’d been all along. How I’d never even had a trace of heterosexuality in me, how I was completely non-sexual despite the society I grew up in never acting like adult humans could possibly be such.
During the course of my experimentation with kissing and experimentation with sexual things, I didn’t have intercourse. I didn’t do much that was sexual at all.
I was not aroused. I felt averse to/I felt repulsed by the thought of with my hands or mouth touching my boyfriend in any sexual way, so I preferred to let him try those types of touch on me. I felt averse to even looking at his naked body so I barely did. I felt uncomfortable with him enjoying looking at my naked body but I chose to get naked with him. I wanted to try it at least a tiny bit before giving it up for life. While I was also averse to prolonged kissing with our very open mouths and our tongues, I chose to do that act basically as a compromise for the sake of his pleasure, while he was masturbating and both of us were naked.
Our sexual experiences happened 4.5 years ago, on two separate occasions about a week apart. They were undoubtedly sexual, and yet… It wasn’t exactly the thing people think of when they talk about “having sex”. I’m sure my boyfriend didn’t really consider it counting as an experience of losing his virginity. We broke up, and he was still a virgin. I had never touched anyone else’s genitals, including never touching his.
Those two times getting naked, I had experienced more than enough sexually to know with confidence I wasn’t missing out on some magical thing that you needed to be naked with someone to “get”. I cared deeply for my boyfriend, I felt comfortable and safe with him, he was in love with me, and doing sexual stuff was the final straw that led to our breakup. I felt much more intimate with him in every situation we shared that WASN’T remotely sexual. The attempts at sexual intimacy made us feel more disconnected from one another than anything.
My “inexperience” excuse for why I couldn’t imagine sex with giddy glee, why I had no lust deep within me, was gone. I now had concrete memories to explain my problem with the whole “sex” thing. I now knew from experience that I still wouldn’t like it, even with “the right person”, not even a little.
I didn’t feel like a virgin anymore.
I became more sexually experienced than most virgins, including the asexual blogger “virgin role models” I eventually came to read and respect who are out there who are older than me! I have now linked to four of them throughout this post so far, but those are just the first to come to my head.
I’m not exactly not a virgin, either. I’m not really an ace who has had sex.
I still feel, all these years later, like if I claim that I’m am ace who’s had sex that I’m a fraud. Or I don’t really count.
I need to add caveats or else I’m sure the person I’m taking to will misunderstand what I mean. I’m not an ace who likes sex, I should’ve been a “virgin-for-life” ace, but I just internalized too much toxic compulsory sexuality and shame over the idea of being a virgin for life that I talked myself into kinda sorta (Barely, I swear!) trying sex.
I didn’t have as much sex as most aces who try to have sex. I didn’t have it in a super long term relationship or marriage – I told this guy after our first kiss that I might be asexual and knew going into the sex about asexuality.
Maybe the account I’ve seen that I relate the most to is redbeardace’s from Asexuality Archive. He now hasn’t had sex in 15 years. He is of course very different from me in some respects, but his account of “Asexual Intercourse” was all about pushing back against how “The only story we hear is that consensual sex is wonderful and amazing, when it’s not always wonderful and amazing for everyone, even in the best of circumstances.” I too had some great circumstances and it still was just… not wonderful nor amazing.
The vast majority of what people do when they have sex I have never experienced and never will. There’s so many acts including intercourse but also countless others that I really am a virgin in respect to.
It kinda matters to me sometimes that I’m so far outside the realm of knowing what this or that would be like to experience. It means when I read amateur fanfiction with a sex scene I don’t even know if it’s physically/anatomically (im)possible! It means I cannot imagine or write scenes about certain things. It means certain conversations might go over my head, certain jokes I might never get. It means I’m lucky to have never had tons of had sex experiences to think about and relate to when editorial pieces come out about all the bad sex women often subject themselves to, and instead those types of writings make me “feel very asexual”.
But I can’t call myself a virgin. Not when the “who knows; maybe I’ll be indifferent to sex or even like the sensations?” ship has sailed so instead my current online dating profiles proclaim loud and clear “I’m sex-averse asexual and planning to be celibate for life”. Not when a response I can give if someone says “how can you know you don’t like sex if you haven’t tried it?” Is “well, I gave it the best shot I could…”.
And… Not when I never plan to “lose” this virginity, either. I think a key piece of this is that the term “virgin” also means “young person” in common vernacular but I plan to remain in this state of sexual (in)experience for the rest of my life, even once I’m an old lady! “Virgin” has all sorts of connotations, from naivete & youth to pathetic loser who should feel shame and none of those connotations apply at all to me. They apply less and less as I approach age 30 as a confident asexual activist. They are unfair connotations to all virgins, but the point I’m making right now is just… I have extra reasons to not identify with being a virgin like I once did.
(I also don’t identify with inexperience like I once did.)
But still. I see virginity as this concept that is very relevant to asexuality, and conversations about virgins that forget asexuals will always feel like they’re forgetting about me.
(See where I mentioned this a couple months ago in this post:
Heck narratives in society of people who don’t have sex but still want to get pregnant still barely acknowledges asexual people (see how the word “asexual” isn’t mentioned at all until the final paragraph in this article: The Truth Behind “Virgin Births” — And What It Means for New Moms). And there are a surprising number of articles these past few years published on the topic, so I guess there is beginning to be a narrative there.
And actually other articles I found on the topic didn’t mention asexuality at all.)
Before I had the word for my orientation, I had the broken feeling of being “a 23 year old virgin”. I felt it at 22, 21, and other ages too. And like I said earlier in this post, I should’ve been able to just let myself be a virgin for life. That would’ve been my ideal life.
As an asexual activist and blogger, I relate strongly to queenieofaces’s post last month about building a better future for asexuals, about hope for the next generation of aces.
So this probably explains why there’s a piece of me who finds it very important we change how we treat virginity in my culture going forward!
It’s all such a complicated thing to talk about. But I think it’s important not to just forget about it.
I haven’t covered nearly everything there is to say about virginity. There are HUGE harms the concept causes folks that really are… So much bigger than the ways they hurt asexual people in particular. But this Carnival of Aces topic was a time for talking about topics that maybe feel overwhelming. It was also mentioned in the call for submissions that asexual people “sometimes have a tendency to elide nuances about our experiences” and this was a chance to explore some of that nuance in depth. I had fun thinking this all through for the sake of this post, and writing it was kinda my way to figure out what it even was I think about some of it.
(I hope some of you find it a worthwhile read. Thanks for sticking with me till the end.)