I was seventeen when I lost my virginity. I hate the term lost, as if I was forgetful, or I simply misplaced it. I knew exactly what I was doing, even if it was a spur of the moment of decision.
For some, seventeen sounds young. Yet, at the time, I was one of the last people I knew in high school with an intact hymen. Missionaries were more plentiful among fifteen year olds in southern Kentucky than in outposts in Central America. As a writer for the school newspaper, in my junior year I submitted an article on the almost epidemic numbers of gonorrhea of the throat in our local middle school and rumors of the rainbow game* at the movie theater. Because of my article, when senior year began, several ‘friends’ wanted to pass out flyers warning fellow students not to use the toilets or water fountains after the matriculating freshmen. The older students found it hilarious, the teachers and administrators not so much.
As repellant as those kids were, there was a hypocrisy to our judgment and, in my case at least, a sympathy. We lived in the middle of nowhere. Boredom was the most common mental illness, and it made people do some crazy things, repeat: Rainbow Game! My friends and I, we tempered this boredom with drinking, some minor drug use, but mostly random adventures for music, movies, or good food. I added my own obsessions with reading, writing, and getting the hell out of Kentucky. We were lucky though. We had cars. We had motivation.
Those poor pre-pubescents couldn’t see beyond their own genitalia. Some might see this as a failing in society, a reflection in over sexualized entertainment and technology for our children. I see this as negating the responsibility of parents to actually talk about sex with their kids. Let’s face it, the pathetic videos we got in gender separate rooms in sixth grade just didn’t cut it. Relying on schools to step in is about useful as asking an elephant to tap dance. However, my parents are case and point for divided mentalities on sex education.
My mother never acknowledged that I was becoming a woman except for a few select occasions. When I was ten, she handed me a pack of maxi pads and told me it would be a good idea keep some of these around from now on. A year later white training bras with pink bows in the middle showed up randomly in my underwear drawer and I was told to start wearing them. They felt like straightjackets and I had nothing to fill out the pooches of fabric, which meant triangle patch wrinkles poking through my shirts. Obviously, I didn’t wear them. The only subsequent reactions I got from my mother about my ‘change’ was when she discovered I didn’t do any of the things she told me. She’d feel through my shirts to tell I wasn’t wearing my bras, get angry and say ‘fine, but they’re going to sag later on if you don’t care of them now’. I didn’t understand. What was going to sag, my ribcage? The worst was when I was thirteen, the summer before I started high school, and I finally got the period she never warned me about. Thank god for Judy Blume and “It’s Me, Margaret” or I would have been fucked. When I explained what had happened during her teacher’s meeting, she followed through with her usual response and got angry. Somehow, my mother was baffled that I hadn’t spent three years carrying around maxi pads and went stomping around the school bathrooms searching for a pad, chastising me for being unprepared. I would end up crying in the bathroom alone when we got home. For the next few years, until I had the money and the gas to make my own Wal-Mart runs, I would never not feel the awkwardness of asking her to buy me pads and tampons.
My father on the other hand, I’ve lost count of how many times I sent him on Kotex runs. He is far and away the main reason I developed into a normal woman, in fact, a better than a normal woman because he worked hard to beat out any insecurities and obligation I might feel to men. While my mother preferred a ‘show, don’t tell and actually on second thought let’s not show but just preach Jesus’ policy to sexuality, my father was as straight up as two fingers of whiskey.
The beauty of this situation was that my parents had divorced when I was six or seven. No surprise there. So, he took advantage of that he didn’t have to go through my mother before discussing the birds and bees with me. I was maybe eight and less than twenty minutes after picking me up from my mother, he asked if I knew what sex was. At first, I thought it was a trick, that somehow he knew about my Barbies’ wild sex lives based on the commercials for late night HBO and Cinemax that I caught between movies, and I was about to be in serious trouble if I didn’t claim to be oblivious. Yet at the same time, the idea of making myself sound less intelligent than I was truly appalled me. So, I admitted that yes, I did. He wanted to me to explain it, even worse. I based it on what I knew he wanted to hear, that it was about love and that good Christians waited until marriage like I was. Although in the meantime my Barbies were total whores, and no, that isn’t derogatory, they were literally strippers or hookers when I played.
In a move that would forever change the course of my life, my father told me I was wrong. “You can wait for marriage if you want,” he said, but I didn’t have to, I didn’t even have to be in love. All I had to do was know that I was ready to have sex. Ready, according to my father, meant that it was my choice and my choice alone, that I knew who I wanted and why I wanted them, that I was doing it for my enjoyment, not to please anyone else and not manipulate anyone. Sex should be fun, he said, but when you’re ready.
Mind officially blown.
The conversation didn’t stop there of course. They continued, every other weekend for the next few years. We discussed contraception, S.T.D.s, and getting tested. He made me promise that as soon as I wanted birth control or if I need a place to safely have sex, to come to him and he would help. Honestly, we talked about it so much that I kind of got sick of it. He made sex average and every day, something that I could talk about. It lost that scandalous allure, and I didn’t need to actually have it to feel grown up, because I already knew everything. So much of that is what those middle school students seemed to be missing, someone to unshadow the mystery.
As much as possible, I knew what I was missing, so I didn’t miss it. What my father gave me, besides the lowdown on condoms, was the confidence to have patience. Since I was not a terribly unattractive girl, over the years, I entertained several possibilities. The first time I was offered the chance to have sex, I was thirteen and it was a slightly older, cute boy. I turned him down without hesitation. I considered boys from academic team and drama club to a bass player from a local band, who was six years older than me and had a reputation for getting around. A few girls were jealous, but even more baffled when I told them not so much as a stitch of clothing had come off. We never even kissed, but the bass player still loves to say hi when he sees me around. When I got my first job, I flirted with the entire kitchen staff. One catholic boy there, older of course, with a motorcycle tempted me. But I continued to say no to all of them, especially the married son of my boss who propositioned me in the dark next to the prep table. Their feelings were never hurt and even if they were, I didn’t care. It wasn’t about their feelings. They were responsible for their own, like I was responsible for mine.
When I finally chose to end the string of declines, it was for Duke Ashton, my ultimate high school crush. He had sandy brown hair, a corduroy jacket, and was kind enough to never mock me despite how blatantly I wanted him for two years. Our first and only date is one of the sweetest memories I have. It included vanilla bean cheesecake and meeting his grandmother at Red Lobster. He was a perfect gentleman, except that he liked to break the speed limit on the interstate. At the end of the night, he invited me to Fall Formal and I agreed to go. However, after talking to my dad who gave the okay, I suggested we have the night to ourselves at my place for a movie and whatever else occurred. He said maybe, which turned out to be a no.
We didn’t go to Fall Formal or have a second date. I found out later from a mutual friend that though he liked me, he didn’t want to be my first. Duke was afraid that, like many girls, I would regret it or him, if we didn’t live happily ever after. He just wasn’t ready to be that for someone. It was honest. Though disappointed, I respected his decision because like my father said, someone has to be ready.
Duke’s married now and a little bit chubby. I still think he would have made a perfect first.
*Rainbow game: where boys attempted to get the most colors of lipstick from a girl putting her mouth around their penis in a single night. Clearly, the boys aren’t familiar with the normal connotation of rainbows.