Today, I bought ju-jube nougat from the grocery store because I missed my mother.
Today also marks exactly 29 years since I lost my virginity. Not that I lost it, in any sense at all – in fact, I happily and willfully defeated it after months of circling the drain with my loving, patient, lustful boyfriend.
These two eloquent facts about today actually do coincide meaningfully, though they might seem at odds.
Ju-jube nougat was something that my mother always put in my stocking at Christmas when I was a kid. That and ribbon candy and chocolates. I didn’t like the nougat very much; it was something I put up with and ate last, out of all the candy I received. But today, it tasted like chewy heaven when I ripped the wrapper off and consumed it.
I didn’t receive anything from my mother this past Christmas; neither did my two kids. I’ve been estranged from her for – you guessed it – about one year, today. We didn’t get her usual Christmas package full of candy, wrapping paper, gift cards and needless cheap items bought at the dollar store. My kids haven’t received cards for their birthdays or for Christmas this year. They haven’t received a single phone call from my mother in several years.
But back to my virginity . . .
It was some sort of prize, I guess. Everyone treated it like it was – both my parents, our family friends, our pastors at church, even other kids in my circle. The status of my vagina was actually more everyone else’s business than it was my own.
I was supposed to save it for marriage. As if I could run out of sex. As if having sex would use me up, like an old tissue. It was the one precious thing I could offer my husband – the first and only opportunity to feel the inside of my vagina with his penis.
Nobody expressed the slightest concern about what I wanted to do with my own vagina, or how it might feel for me to be valued mostly for this – the prize of first coitus. Nobody asked me what had already happened to my vagina, which was years upon years of sexual intrusion, incest, unwanted touch, and voyeurism.
It was simply of utmost importance that I didn’t use my vagina on anyone but the man I would be attached to for the rest of my life. At least, it was important that people believed this, even if it wasn’t true.
Nobody said, Make sure you want to.
Nobody said, It’s yours. Do with it what you will.
Nobody said, Be careful.
Just . . .
Don’t let anyone get in there before marriage. Or else!
Or else, what?
Or else, bad things would happen. I would be a bad person.
See, I was taught right from the get-go that my sexuality was a dangerous, depraved, wrongful thing. A lot of natural childish things I did with my body were harshly interrupted and chastised by my mother. Sticking my ass up in the air as I bent backwards on a swing . . . Making “mouth farts” on the arms of my friends while we wrestled . . . Getting all excited at the age of 14 while watching a topless Jordan Knight sing that famous song at a New Kids concert.
“He’s basically masturbating you and every other girl in the audience, that’s what he’s doing,” my mother snapped when she heard me mooning over it.
The only thing that could rectify the ugly shamefulness of my sex was if I saved my virginity until marriage. If I chose one perfect man and only shared it with him and only on our wedding night, not before – then I could be a legitimate sexual being. Then I could be pure.
There was no “why”.
It wasn’t because sex is a beautiful, sweet and intimate act that is meant to be shared in a sacred way (which even now I don’t fully agree with anyway – sex can be either profane or sacred, and both have their rightful place).
It wasn’t because I might get hurt by someone with less-than-honourable intentions.
It wasn’t because I was valuable and lovable. The opposite, in fact – it was because I wasn’t valuable or lovable, unless I proved it. And the only way to prove it was to make sure my vagina never felt pleasure with anyone except my husband. I was detestable and worthless, if I explored my own body, on my own time, with whomever I chose.
Those are the messages I received about sexuality. They weren’t the messages I received from my own body, which told me exactly what felt right and good (and from the age of 12 onward, it sure wasn’t virginity).
I was so embodied as a child, it was impossible to hide. I was a nymphet – built for pleasure and intimacy, playful, alive, sensual, emphatic, full of laughter and life, ready to meet.
Before I finally scored with my boyfriend at age 17, I had attempted numerous times to get rid of my virginity. But I was always stopped in my tracks, either by my own horrible shame at being such a slut, or by the conscience of the older boy, who was invariably aware of my family’s religiosity. The shame scent clung to my being, even when I tried to cast it off. I was sort of untouchable.
Finally, in a brand new town with a brand new boyfriend, where no one knew my brother and sister and our weird, hyper-conservative Christian family, I found my chance.
Only, I wasn’t conscious enough about it. I’d only been taught denial, so that is what I practiced.
I spent several months doing everything BUT sex, convinced that somehow I was honouring my virginity promise because I hadn’t been penetrated by a penis. My boyfriend and I became experts at everything oral and digital. The only thing we avoided, in our innocence, was each other’s buttholes.
Every day I woke up saying to myself, “I’m still a virgin. I’m staying a virgin until I’m married, for sure.”
It was a deep state of cognitive dissonance. The curious and fun explorations of sexuality felt great for my body and my spirit – but my mind was laced with the corrosive poison of a lifetime of shame. To admit that I actually wanted to get rid of my virginity would be admitting that I was horrible and depraved.
So, I didn’t admit it.
On the morning of January 20, I rode the bus to school, still convinced of my intention to remain a virgin until marriage. Another 6-7 years of oral sex, I suppose I figured.
That afternoon, when school was out but parents were still at work, my boyfriend and I were playing around in his waterbed. He’d given me a whole bunch of orgasms already that day through various means. I sat right on top of him and said, “I wonder how it would feel . . .” and just did it.
Yes – my first time ever having sex, I was on top. It felt right. Completely fine. Natural. Wholesome, even. No pain, no blood, no shame. Just great. After a little while it became slightly boring, actually. I couldn’t figure out what the big fuss was about.
That night, I felt different inside. I felt opened up, aware, alive and glowing. I felt completely free and rebellious. The main thing I noticed was that I didn’t feel sinful or bad at all – only a defiant happiness.
Several years later, after having sex with plenty of people and enjoying my body to the hilt, I would be once again forced to deal with the stigmatic shame of sexuality within the Christian construct.
But for now, at age 17, I was riding high.
There had been nothing “lost” at all with my virginity. I only found the gains of freedom, embodiment, pleasure and maturity.
It seems like that’s what everyone was trying to prevent me from doing – my mother included. Nobody actually wanted me to be free and embodied; they wanted me to be under control.
And that’s the interesting thing about this coincidental anniversary.
The estrangement from my mother about a year ago occurred along exactly the same lines as my self-activation around sexuality. It came of my unwillingness to be controlled, managed, shut down or censured. The story of my life will not be determined by other people. I won’t remain quiet with my hymen intact until someone else comes along and gives me legitimacy. I find those notions abusive and inhumane.
This freedom does come at a cost. It comes with the call to guarantee your own safety, sometimes by exiting relationships that are not nourishing and secure. It comes with sacrificing false comfort for what is real.
What is real is the taste of autonomy. That is refreshing.
Also there’s the taste of ju-jube nougat, and the memory of it from childhood. And you know, it’s quite delicious!