I take issue with the term “lose your virginity.” I take issue with the verb, with the idea of loss. Having sex for the first time isn’t a loss, it’s a gain. You gain an experience you didn’t previously have. You gain an aspect to a relationship. You gain a connection with someone, no matter how fleeting it may be. Right down to the terminology we use to talk about it, the first time we have sex is framed as a predefined concept, as something that inherently is a certain way—and that we have to feel a certain way about it. Terming it a loss is only the beginning of the problem.
When I was 19 years old and a freshman in college, I was dating a guy who was completely wrong for me, and dating him was quintessential proof of the bad decision-making that often goes on during one’s freshman year of college. It was the first time I had thought seriously about having sex, even though most of my friends had already experienced their first times. I had waited, because all my life I had been told that sex and love always came hand in hand, and anything else was wrong. I had waited, watching my friends fall in love and have sex around me, wondering when the hell my “right person” was going to show up. Because that was the way it had always been presented to me. That when you met the right person, that’s when it was okay to have sex.
He was not the “right person.” Clearly not the “right person.” But we had been best friends since school started and we had dated for two months and I thought I might be ready to take our relationship to the next level. When my parents came to visit in April, they met him at an utterly disastrous dinner whose colossal level of discomfort has not yet been reprised in my life. It was abundantly clear to both of us that my parents did not approve of him or our relationship. Later in the evening, my mother said something to me to the effect of “Oh, you’re not thinking of sleeping with him, are you?” as if it would be the most ridiculous and terrible decision in the world. And without the approval of my mother, I suddenly began to question my plan to have sex with my boyfriend entirely, crying in the hotel bathroom while my mother tried to talk me out of it. “This just isn’t what we want for you,” my mother said. “We just don’t want you to regret making the wrong choice.” What I didn’t realize then was that even if sleeping with my boyfriend would have been a mistake, it should have been my mistake to make.
Sex had been presented to me as this terrible mistake that was likely to ruin you as a person. The idea that when it came to sex, especially to the first time, that there were very distinct “right” and “wrong” decisions shaped the way I thought not only about sex, but about almost everything else, too. I began to approach my life with a deep, lurking fear that I was about to irrevocably mess up, that I was about to make a mistake from which I would never be able to recover. And so, terrified that sex was going to be this giant regret in my life, I waited for a “right person” that was never coming. Or at least, certainly not any time soon.
The worst part about the way sex was portrayed for me was that it was so vastly dependent on factors outside your control. When the right person came along, then and only then could you have sex. When you were in a relationship, you could have sex. All of these stipulations. These conditions. What if I was just an adult woman and I wanted to have sex? What if I wanted to but I wasn’t dating anyone and I wasn’t in love? Should I have to deprive myself so that I wouldn’t have sex in the “wrong” circumstance with the “wrong” person? Who was to say that there was a right and wrong person anyway? As long as I went in aware of what I was doing, comfortable with the decision I was making, did it matter who it was?
I was 21 when I finally did it. Of of all my friends I was the only virgin left, and I was sick of it. My virginity loomed over me like a curse, like a weight I desperately wanted to get off my shoulders. It was not a gift to bestow upon a worthy receiver, it was not a talisman of my pristine innocence. It was a burden. And I was beginning to think neither the weight nor the wait was worth it. I was 21 years old. I was in my goddamn prime. And I was sick and tired of wasting it.
So I slept with someone. I slept with a grad student I had made out with a couple times. I slept with him on a night in early April, in his apartment a few blocks away from campus. It was a decision that was in no way premeditated, it didn’t hurt, and I walked home the next day with my shoes in my hand, laughing at the fact that I had waited for some mythical Prince Charming for my entire life and then essentially fucked a rando. And the thing was, it was fine. I wasn’t in love with him. We weren’t dating. He wasn’t the ying to my yang, the man of my dreams, or my soulmate. He was just a guy who I happened to be seeing at the moment I decided I was ready. Maybe that’s all that should be required of the first person you sleep with. Maybe having sex for the first time isn’t so much about the right person as it is the right time. When you’re ready. When you feel comfortable. When you understand what you’re doing and want to go through with it.
My first time wasn’t magical, but it also wasn’t life-ruining. I didn’t feel regret. I felt relief.
It’s been almost three years since I had sex for the first time and I have never regretted it for even a second. Because I was ready, because I was confident about the decision I was making, I never looked back. Was he the “right person?” Only because he was the person who was there when I decided I was ready. I knew what I was getting into when I slept with him. I knew it wasn’t going to be this earth-shaking transcendent experience. I knew we weren’t going to fall in love. It was just an experience that would allow for more experiences in the future. It wasn’t about him. It was about me.
Having sex for the first time is exactly and only that: the first time. It isn’t the one and only person you can ever have sex with in your life. There will be others after that, if you so choose. At some point in your life, you should have sex with someone special. You should have sex with someone you love who loves you back. But that special person does not necessarily have to be first person you sleep with. That’s an enormous amount of pressure. And in this day and age, that might mean waiting until we’re well into our 20s or even 30s, and—pun intended—but fuck that.
There might be all kinds of different sexual partners waiting in your future, good or bad. And somewhere down the line, hopefully there will be magical, world-shifting, bed-rocking love sex, and it will be awesome. But it’s not the only kind of sex there is, and it’s not the only kind of sex that’s right or okay. Sure, if you choose to have sex outside a stable relationship, you risk having awkward stranger sex and sloppy drunk sex and you’re-a-complete-douche-who-doesn’t-acknowledge-me-in-public sex, but you can also have wild, impulsive sex and so-wrong-but-feels-so-right sex and travel fling sex. And there’s something to be said for having a fuller pallet of experiences having had those kinds of sex too. So if you’re 21 and ready and no closer to finding The One than you were at 15, there is no reason in hell why you shouldn’t just go for it. Don’t lose anything. Gain a sense of empowerment. Own your agency in your first time. And in every time after.