Peggy Orenstein has been writing about girls for 25 years. Her last book focused on what the Disney princess craziness was doing to her daughter. Her daughter is now 13 and coming of age sexually, naturally she turned her attention to teens and sex. In her new book Girls & Sex she spoke to young women candidly about sex, searching for answers on how better to teach her daughter about without ruining them forever.
In an interview with Terry Gross she brought up the idea of “multiple virginites.” She offers it as a way to perhaps reframe how we understand intimacy between girls and boys and it came from an unlikely place. A lesbian teenager:
“One of the things that was really great was in talking to a gay girl, I asked her, “When did you think that you had lost your virginity?” And she said, “Well, you know, I really have thought a lot about that, and I’m not really sure.” She gave a few different answers and then she said, “You know what I think? I think a girl loses her virginity when she has her first orgasm with a partner.” And it completely knocked me out. I thought, “Wow.” I know we’re not going to dismantle the idea of virginity, but what if we could broaden it to think that there’s multiple virginities, and what if that was one of them? That would totally shift our ideas of how we thought about girls and boys and sex.”
Thinking about different kinds of virginity makes sense. If instead of the wildly awkward story of your first time, teen girls would might start saying things like, “I lost my vaginal virginity to this guy, but I lost my orgasm virginity to that guy.” Might we be able to take the pressure off of that first experience as being the be-all and end-all sexual act? Maybe then we can help teens to understand that sex is really about trust and mutual pleasure, not a checked box. That might be due in large part on how sex is sold to us. Teens learn from porn culture now more than ever. The lure of Kardashian sexuality is packaged and sold. Careless, drunk, male-focused sex finds it way into the bedroom — all to the detriment of women.
The good news is there are all kinds of good porn out there. And as the millennials get older their more sex-positive version of virginity will get taught to their children. Then perhaps America could start to look more like scandinavian countries, who reportedly have great sex…and much lower rates of abortion, STDs and teen pregnancy. They start young and the stigma around sex is gone. In America, we have dismal sex education (or in some places no sex-ed) and in the vacuum drunken hook-up culture thrives. We would easily change that culture that in many ways causes all kinds of problems simply by being unafraid to talk to our kids. This is how sex is taught in Sweden to three year olds:
The idea of multiple virginites might sound a little funny to our ears so tuned to binaries when we think of sex. But once you understand what really good sex is like, it’s easy to look back at your teenage self and shake your head. Now instead of that weird drunken story you have in your memory, replace it with the first time you had a mutual orgasam with someone you loved. Now imagine that’s your “my first time” story. That story is the honest sex we all desire as adults. It’s time we start imparting that wisdom to the younger generation with smarter culture of sex.