How Old Were You, When You Lost Your Virginity?
How many times have you been to a party or a small get-together where the topic of sex has come up? Seemingly innocent questions like “when did you lose your virginity” or “how old were you when you had sex for the first time?” can (and often do) land really hard for a sexual assault survivors.
For me personally, my most hated question/topic, for most would be innocuous; for me, it’s a trigger. When the topic comes up I look for a place to take cover, I look for a place to go to remove myself from the conversation. Sometimes there is no safe space available, no way to politely excuse myself, so I hang my head not sure of what to say or do, tied in emotional knots that my lack of poker face undoubtedly displays (and goes unnoticed).
“How old were you when you lost your virginity?”
It’s like a fond story contest game. It’s like a set-up of judgment if you were younger than the expected norm. For me, it is a solid lose-lose.
I was 12.
Let me repeat that.
I… was… 12.
In the days where that was my one and only response, it would always be met with three reactions.
For the women:
They would either look at me with shock-filled disdain, and there would be a silent dust-off, a physical movement where distance would be created—the statement was clear; I wasn’t good enough to be in their presence.
Or the reaction would be an immediate sadness, I could feel it before I could see it. The physical space would become tighter, the reaction of a fellow survivor—we can pick each other out across a crowded room.
For men, there would only be one reaction:
A look of glee would pass over their faces. The physical space would dissipate as fast as the respect that was probably never there. Those men would treat me like I was an easy mark, and “open for business.” Almost across the board they were ready to high-five me. Ohhhhh, you started young! A total ignorance to yes, I started young; I was STARTED young.
No matter the reaction, they were all breath-stealing moments. In my younger years, when that question was asked (which should never be asked as it's nobody’s business) I would wish for the ground to swallow me whole. I would become nothing more than a shame-filled little girl standing with nowhere to go, fighting back tears while standing as stone-faced as she possibly could; bracing herself for the ensuing questions and comments.
To say that these were cringe-worthy moments does not do my feelings justice. These were moments of devastation.
I was raped when I was 12. I lost my virginity to rape. I didn’t know I was a virgin, at 12 I didn’t know what that word meant.
I wish there were words to adequately describe how that question still rocks my world. How much it reminds me of the power (I did not know was mine) I lost. I never learned how to say no. I barely learned how to speak. I didn’t know how to have my own opinion. I was the product of over-sexualization as a play-thing for my grandfather. I was made into nothing more than a sexual shell solidified into place by a lifeguard that utilized my grandfather’s ground-work when I was nine. At 12, all I knew was that my body was the only thing I had to offer as value, and that it was not mine to govern.
By 12, I was ripe for any predator that crossed my path. My body existing as my commodity in combination with starving for acceptance translated into me being the perfect victim. I did not know how to fight back. I was too scared to fight back. I didn’t know I had the right to fight back.
I was 12 when I ran away to a mall, trying to escape some impending doom about to be laid upon me by my mother. My only pennies were spent on bus fare. I sat in the mall by a carousel arcade, which was a play area by day that turned into a teen disco in the evening. During the transition time from play-area to teen-disco a 20-something man approached me. I can still see him in his tan windbreaker, blue jeans, and button-down shirt approaching me. He had blue eyes and a little stubble that matched his dirty blond hair. His name was Louis. He was nice. He said I was beautiful… and smart. It took no time at all before I was in his car en-route to get something to eat. I was starving. I had been at the mall all day without money. I had no plan. He was nice. Until he wasn’t.
Louis took me to a wooded area near the beach. I followed him willingly, believing we were there to pick something up. As we walked into the woods, me behind him, I noticed a blanket tucked under his arm. In an instant… the instant that my inner alarm bells began blasting… he was on me. I froze. He had his tongue in my mouth, I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. He laid the blanket out as I stood watching him too stunned and confused to move. He pulled me down, he pulled at my clothes. As he weighted himself on top of me my tears flowed uncontrollably. I begged for him to stop. I pushed on him in a futile attempt to move his weight off of me until I gave up, frozen by the pain he was inflicting on me. I begged continuously, “please stop, it hurts, please stop.” This went on all night with small breaks in between.
How old were you when you lost your virginity?
The only appropriate part of that question is “lost.”
Sexual history (virginity aside) is a sticky topic for more people than we realize. Every 92 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. Read that again. Every 92 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault—that stat only includes U.S. numbers.
These seemingly innocuous questions re-victimize sexual assault survivors, because when you ask about a person’s sexual history (even though sexual assault is a crime of violence, not, sex ) it brings into play memories of moments that were forced upon us. It puts pressure upon us to share or not share—AND IT SUCKS.
For someone who doesn’t have a sexual past thrust upon them, there is no way you would understand the impact. For non-survivors this kind of talk is just entertaining small-talk or a seemingly harmless, tantalizing icebreaker question. I totally understand that. I wish that I was in your shoes and was allowed the perspective you have. But I am not. Neither are one in four women. Neither are one in five men.
For resources and information about sexual assault go to www.Rainn.org