In My Words: I'm a virgin living in hookup culture
The night that I thought I was going to have sex with my freshman year “exclusive situationship” (whatever that means lol, Barbie got it right), I ended up in the hallway of my dorm building naked, drunk, crying— and still a virgin.
What is a situationship, you might ask? The situationship meaning explains being with someone that you're not quite dating, but you're not totally meaningless to each other. You might start formally dating, you might not. Way too much gray area for me.
He stopped talking to me the next day, because he had matched with another girl from our school on Tinder. He was scared I would get too emotionally attached if I lost my virginity to him. I have been living with this label of “virgin” for years now, and it seems to grow in weight as I get older. That guy was not the first person, or the last person, who has dumped me over my lack of sexual experience.
My confidence in my virginity comes and goes. While I am confident in my choice to not have had sex with the men I have casually dated, I do feel insecure that I am defined by that label. I constantly feel the need to justify myself and explain that I do, in fact, want to have sex. Just not with anyone I have met.
“You’re my innocent friend, Emma.”
My friend casually said that to me last week and it stung. There is nothing innocent about my complex relationship with sex, and certainly nothing innocent about the sexual experiences I have had. I have been virgin-shamed and slut-shamed before, but this felt different. Being called innocent was not accusing me of being a prude, but instead I felt like she was calling me immature and a non-adult. Why did my virginity affect how she viewed me and change who I am as a person?
Being a virgin in a culture that promotes casual sex, I am constantly reevaluating what sex means to me, and understand why moments like that one make me feel so offended.
In high school, I never had a boyfriend– I had my first kiss at seventeen, which made me a “late bloomer” among my friends. For years, I grappled with an intense jealousy of the women I was surrounded by. Women who seemed to effortlessly attract male attention. I felt invisible, feeling like I wasn’t having a “normal” teenage experience and not being able to contribute anything of interest to conversations at the lunch tables. I was deeply insecure thinking that my beauty was dependent on what men thought of me, and mostly whether they wanted to have sex with me.
After I graduated high school and into my freshman year of college, I decided I was going to play catch up. I was determined to be part of the hookup culture that I believed I had missed out on. I ignored what I knew of myself (that I get emotionally attached, I value commitment, and I fear the vulnerability of sex) and “rebranded” myself as anti-relationship and open to casual flings. I would go to parties and bars with the sole purpose of finding a random person to make out with, hoping it would make me feel better physically. But it only made me feel lonelier.
Interestingly enough, no matter how much I thought I wanted it to happen, I never ended up going home with anyone. I would kiss strangers, only to return home, stalk them on social media, and wonder if they were obsessing over me, too.
My resounding loneliness and desperation for intimacy quickly became a self-destructive cycle in which having “meaningless” interactions with men became my solution to having meaningless interactions with men. It took me months to really realize I was using male validation as a nonpermanent “fix” and placing my self-worth in the hands of men who were looking for nothing more than a body. And it was making me feel worse.
After that first “exclusive situationship” ended, I began to question my true desire to have sex. Why was I trying so hard to be intimate with people who I knew only wanted me for one reason?
If making out with strangers had already made me feel disposable and objectified, how would I react to "meaningless" sex with someone I had just met, or with someone I truly cared for?
Like I said, it still hurts when people (especially friends) reduce you to being nothing more than what you have or have not experienced. Although I want to have sex, I remind myself that I would rather live in my “virginity” than lose self-respect over hook ups, exclusive situationships, and men that do not care about me. I don’t desire sex outside of a relationship.
Virginity is a construct in the sense that regardless of how much sex a person has had, their worth extends beyond their sexual experiences. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to ignore the pressure of needing sexual experience, especially with social media amplifying those insecurities. But in hindsight, being naked in a hallway, being dumped, and being ghosted was more valuable to me than sex with him would have been.
So, I'm collecting my takeaways as a 20-year old virgin.
- It is okay to feel lost – insecurity and sexual exploration are inevitable and a critical part of growing up and into yourself.
- You have more to offer social situations than what you have (or haven’t) done sexually. Your body count does not change your intrinsic value. Do not surround yourself with people who make you feel otherwise.
- There is no correct way to be a part of hookup culture. Try things out, change your mind, just honor yourself and your limits.
- You are your own worst enemy. If you have confidence in your conviction, and try to limit the self-shame, you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
- Most of all, it is not sex that leads to empowerment, it is pursuing your desires that do. Do what works best for you, sex or not!
Really, the idea that there is a correct way to participate in hookup culture is a fallacy. Growing up and discovering what sex means to you will always be confusing, no matter your choices. So you do you, sis. I’m rooting for you either way!