Girls are still being pressured into sex while ill-informed.
BY EMMY GRACE
Sitting amongst my friends as they talk about sex is one of the most uncomfortable things for me. It isn’t because I don’t like sex--actually I desire it just as much as everyone else. But, it is only because I am still a virgin. I finally said it. I’m a 22-year-old virgin.
Most of my girlfriends and I have known each other since high school, and we’ve bonded through so much. As the years went on, we’ve walked our own paths. Every time we reunite, the bond is still there, but our conversations slightly change. They’ve matured into goddesses while I’m still bound to Earth. Puberty has long since passed, yet I still feel as though there is still a milestone to be reached. It is as though I am not fully realized "adult." I’m always the observer. I’m afraid that if I enter this other phase, that I won’t be ready.
Throughout my life, I have always struggled with my weight and self-confidence. Middle school was the worst emotional period of my life. Once I reached high school, I was obese and I hated my body. Thus, I believed no one else could either. However, by senior year I realized the self-hatred dug me deeper into a place I did not want to be. My depression and anxiety was consuming me, and I had to get out. I lost over 30 lbs before my senior prom, and lost another 20 lbs once I reached university. My self-confidence improved some, but no amount of weight could heal my emotional problems.
Although I kissed my first girl when I was eight, I kissed my first boy at a fraternity party freshman year. It was awful. I laugh about it now, but then I was in total shock. Afterwards, I used college parties and bars as a way to experiment with kissing without having to pursue a relationship. I used grinding--the dance--as a way to be intimate with the person on the dance floor without having sex with them.
All that time, as I lost the weight and became more confident, I had hoped I come across 'the one.' My soulmate. It sounds silly, but I want my first time to be with the right person. Over the past few years, I talked with guys, but the connections are simply not there. These reasons are primarily why I am still a virgin today. But, there is such a stigma that comes with being a virgin. The United States pressures teenage girls into becoming sexual, and condemn those who are not. Meanwhile, women who generally are too sexual, they are shamed as well. What is expected from other women around the world? I had the chance to observe and study from one country’s perspective.
Last year, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, through my university. It truly was a life changing experience as it was my first time traveling outside the country. It meant that I had the chance to reinvent myself before graduation. I did in several ways, but part of me wanted the chance to have sex. I went out to bars and clubs, and had several opportunities to engage, but I never pursued them.
I was between wanting a romantic first time and wanting a one-night stand just to get it over with. I never revealed my virgin status to the female students I traveled with. It was the first time I had to conceal it amongst other females my age. My friends naturally always knew. As I lived with the other girls for 15 weeks, for the first time, I had to lie about myself. Someone asked me how many partners I had. Two--it seemed like a realistic number for myself, based on my history. I believe I did more damage to my self-image and esteem than I thought I would by lying.
In some ways, the emerging adults in Cape Town are similar to how emerging adults are in the United States. We both have abandoned the belief systems the previous generation had about race, gender, class, and sexuality. We are both modernized, and want a more united society. This made it easy for my comrades and me to socialize and connect.
However, South Africans live a slow paced lifestyle. This was something I was not used to, but grew to love. While they finish tasks on time, they appreciate down time. Friendly conversations and taking in the scenery are valued. But, hidden behind the beauty of the rich coast are the lasting effects of the South African Apartheid—on the dry Cape Flats. During the Apartheid, those classified as Black, Colored and Indian were forcibly removed from their homes into restricted underdeveloped areas, losing their homes and property. These 'townships' still exist today, all over the country.
While I studied abroad, I had an internship at an alternative school. Usually, I would help in their support office and do outreach work. Once I traveled to the Delft Township, one of the many townships in the Cape Flats the students come from. The Delft community fights against many issues from informal housing, gang violence, rape to HIV/AIDS. Its situation is not unique as the surrounding townships combat against the same problems; however, it is still devastating.
One issue that caught my attention was child prostitution. It is not uncommon for mothers to sell their young girls for money in order to put food on the table. I had the chance to work with some of the female students who lived in the hostel by the school. The hostel was simply decorated but had a personal touch as I saw the dorms of the girls and boys. Before helping the girls with their school work, they had the opportunity to ask me questions about my life in America. I proceeded to show them pictures of my life from my phone. Naturally, they were enamored.
After discussing myself, I wanted to know about their backgrounds. I was shocked when I learned they were from the Delft Township. After my visit there, I could not believe they had to go home there on the weekends. I regret to admit, I started to pity the girls as the afternoon went on. Every day, I always felt guilty that when I was done for the day I went home to our nice house by the scenic green mountains while these students lived on dry Earth. One girl went to go watch television as the others went to study. A music station was on showcasing American music videos--the American Life. I wondered if that little girl thought it was glamorous as it seemed on television. Were the girls in this country impacted by what society demands as I was when I was younger?
Virginity is often paired with innocence, and innocence is in relation to childhood--in this case 'girlhood.' Innocence, in this case, is defined as a person with no sexual experience. However, some individuals incorporate childhood innocence or naivety in this definition. I say this because some individuals connect loss of virginity to being adult. So does that mean if you are sexually assaulted at a young age, does that make you into an adult? No.
In my opinion, sex and adulthood are correlated, but are not related. Being a virgin, individuals assume you are innocent--uncorrupted. Still, just because your body is ready to have sex, it does not mean you are prepared in other aspects. The girls I worked with are faced with the reality every day that their sexual agency will be taken away. Those who have had it taken away embark on other emotional and spiritual journey entirely. Their childhood naivety is affected by this assault, and it requires a great amount of healing. In general, it is for the individual to decide whether they’ve reached their new level of maturity. It is important to know that it is common for South African youths to engage in at young age. Girls are just as pressured by media to engage in sex early just like American girls.
According to a study performed about adolescent girls in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, age 16 was the common age to begin having sex, but only a third of the woman used contraceptives their first time. The South African government has made attempts to incorporate sex education in secondary schools. But, many still have unprotected sex putting themselves at risk for STIs, HIV/AIDS, and teen pregnancy. While curriculum emphasizes those things, youth are not informed on physical and mental wellness, and life skills. Girls are still being pressured into sex while ill-informed. That is not fair in the slightest.
The fight for sexual autonomy worldwide is more real to me now then it was before I traveled abroad. For women, if one is too sexual too soon, or one is virgin, it seems it is both unattractive to the male species. There appears that no middle ground exists. I do not consider myself heterosexual, but this debate comes from a hetero/cisgender dynamic. I am not entirely familiar with the LGBTQ stance when it comes to the shaming of both virginity and promiscuity, and would love to learn more about it.
Overall, individuals should have the liberty and the room to explore their own sexuality. They should not be chastised for any decisions they make regarding it. Speaking as a virgin, I do not want feel shamed either. We all have our own reasons for being who were are--this is my story. We are not as small of a population as you think.
Emmy Grace is an aspiring artist and writer, with a bachelor's degree in Human Rights and Human Development & Family Studies from the University of Connecticut. Emmy is planning to publish her first graphic novel series Earth Soul, a science fiction/fantasy novel delving with issues concerning race, class and spirituality. Emmy’s interests range from baking, films, alternative therapy and the stars. She hopes to incorporate her art and passion for helping others in her future career path.