Over the past couple of weeks, four of my friends have called to tell me their big news.
These four friends are both females and males, freshmen and upperclassmen, heterosexual and homosexual, from home and from Yale, and they’ve all called me up recently with similar announcements: They played their V-cards — and I apologize immediately for using that expression — on college campuses across the United States and shared with me the stories of their inaugural boinks.
Ah, the memories that come rushing back: first love, candlelit bedrooms, romantic music, sensual kisses and the long and blissful experience itself.
It seems that many people should be remembering a scenario more along the lines of: casual acquaintance, awkward couch, perpetual fear of being walked in on, forgetting everything above the waist and bam-bam-bam. One of my friends thought she was going to get a textbook from her boyfriend: she actually ended up getting a lot more. Another friend hit her head against the wall so hard during the big moment that she had a shiner for days (try explaining that to your parents).
Whatever the details, your first time is probably not something you’ll ever forget. It’s a rite of passage in our culture. It’s a deeply personal and widely varied experience — some people have sex when they are newly teenagers, some when they are newlyweds. It opens a new and sexually active chapter in life. And we definitely treat it with the gravity such a sacrament demands.
Or do we?
Yes, it’s a big deal to have sex for the first time. Each of my four friends thought it was a big deal, which is part of why they kept their virginities until college — and why many friends are still waiting. And yet, all four of them said essentially the same thing when they told me their respective accounts:
“I was afraid I was never going to have sex. It’s good that I got the first time out of the way.”
Got it out of the way? Um, hold up. I get Swiffering the common room, poli-sci homework or calling my grandmother “out of the way.” And trust me, my first time was absolutely not about chores, assignments or geriatric relatives. So how could my friends possibly think that losing their virginities was good because they had gotten something out of the way? And yet that feeling was strangely familiar. In fact, almost everybody I’ve talked to remembers having similar reactions.
Two of my more brilliant acquaintances suggest that this is because our culture puts a huge emphasis on having sex for the first time, but not necessarily on its emotional component. I mean, certainly emotions are important. But we’re young, biologically educated and oftentimes intoxicated. Furthermore, who among us hasn’t cruelly mocked the ubiquitous “101 ways to make LOVE … without having SEX” pamphlets? (Who didn’t love the Record’s “101 ways to have SEX … without making love?)
My point exactly. Emotions? Sure, sometimes. But we’re horny and have access to multiple colors of free condoms.
Moreover, having sex means joining a sort of in-crowd at college. And instead of wearing feces-covered clothing for a solid week (incidentally, that was charming, DKE guys) or streaking across Old Campus, initiation into this group can happen in the privacy of your own bedroom.
I am not suggesting that this is a crowd anybody should or should not join. I really don’t think it ought to be like a facebook.com group invitation: “Help me get in. Help get in me.”
Please. Control yourself. It would be pretty twisted to have sex on the basis of being like everyone else, especially other freakish people. But, that is an incidental consequence. Honestly, I don’t even know what I would talk to the guys downstairs about if not sex. And I did find myself responding to those four friends like they were now members of some de facto “I’ve done it” club. I mean, now we can talk about positions! When it comes to sex, there is a little bit of a divide between the Haves and the Have Nots.
And in discussing this issue with other people, it becomes clear to me that the sense of relief or “getting something out of the way” associated with our first time was probably a response to this divide more than anything else. What you “get out of the way” are really the implications surrounding virginity: Whether they center on religion, social awkwardness, idealistic views of romantic love or just the inability to get some, having or not having your virginity is a loaded implication.
These are not all negative implications. Waiting to have sex (or never having sex) can be a really admirable choice. As much as I mock Jessica Simpson for her Chicken of the Sea antics or her inability to check the price tags before she buys $700 worth of lingerie, I respect that she waited until marriage to have sex — especially that she waited for a guy as dreamy as Nick.
The point is, though, that there are certain cultural ideas about what it means to be a virgin. Once you have sex for the first time, for good or for bad, those associations no longer apply to you. You get them out of the way. There’s no more wondering “when?” Now you can wonder “when next?”
Sarah Minkus would be president of the “I’ve done it” club on the facebook.com — if she were a member!