I lost my virginity the summer before my senior year of high school, at the ripe old age of 16. Even then I thought that was a stupid phrase. I didn’t lose anything or give it away like some carefully wrapped maraschino cherry. I had sex, because I wanted to. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Among my semi-wild friends, I was the last of the dying virgins. I suffered their teasing and listened to their escapades with a critical ear. Most of my friends first sexual experiences were with boyfriends, in the context of love and commitment. The love usually ended when they discovered that their boyfriend’s idea of commitment meant he only fooled around with other girls from other schools. That was not the experience I sought.
I wanted to have sex. I wanted to fall in love too (actually, at 16, it’s more accurate to say I wanted someone to fall in love with me) but I didn’t see the two things as inherently connected. Love is complex and illusive; sex is everywhere. I wasn’t looking for The One. The idea of having only one sexual partner for life never appealed to me. I simply wanted a safe and enjoyable experience with someone cute and nice. I looked around and picked the older brother of a close friend. He was 19, cute in a hickish-jock sort of way, funny, and a bit of a player who flirted with me constantly. It happened one hot summer night, after skinny dipping at the reservoir, in my bed, in my house, with protection. It was alright. 16 year-old girl + first time + 19 year-old guy… never = mind-blowing.
Afterwards I thought, “Okay. That was that.” I didn’t want to be his girlfriend and I’d satisfied my curiosity. Two days later when he showed up for more, I told him thanks but no thanks and that I preferred to just be friends. I was a well-informed teenager, but clueless about the power and fragility of the male ego. He was stunned and mad. He accused me of lying about having been a virgin, saying that no virgin could break up with the guy she’d just lost it to. He repeated this statement to everyone I knew, for the rest of the summer. I went from prudish virgin to lying slut in a few short weeks.
Slut is a very subjective term. The Oxford English dictionary defines slut as: a slovenly or promiscuous woman. (Slovenly?? Don’t even get me started on how there is no correlating term applied to men.) Over the years many women, including myself, have reclaimed this term to mean something positive and empowering. One of the definitions for promiscuous reads: consisting of a wide range of different things. I’ve called myself a slut many times and always in reference to my love of new and different experiences, as well as my inherent right to choose sexual partners based on a variety of merits and moods. Once I figured out what works for me and how much fun that work is, why hold back?
Women I know get this; men I’ve known have a harder time letting go of the old definition. More times than I care to recall, I’ve been with men who were initially attracted to my sexual confidence and appetite, but eventually grew to resent and ridicule it when the relationship became serious. I’ve been accused of cheating simply because “there is no way a woman can like sex so much without sleeping with other guys.” (I should clarify that I don’t mix promiscuity and commitment. I have always been monogamous in my relationships. Monogamy comes very naturally to me; I prefer it and it turns me on.)
I’ve been with men who kept their judgements well hidden until, stripped of their clothing and inhibitions, they unleashed a bucket-full of degrading remarks that reached back to the puritan definition of slut. The result was an unpleasant lesson in how quickly a hot naked chick can disappear from their life and bed.
When it comes to concerns about fidelity, my natural tendency is to reassure my partner. But this is a slippery slope and often leads to jealousy, control and isolation. In my 20’s I found myself in a relationship with a man who accused every waiter of flirting with me, forced a car off the highway because he thought the driver was checking me out, and frequently embarrassed the crap out of me with other Neanderthal-type behaviors. Soon after, I dated a sweet and sensitive guy who was everyone’s friend. After a year together he sat crying in my bed, begging me to tell him who else I was or wanted to sleep with. Same story, different dude.
At 38 I get that these experiences have everything to do with the male ego, and nothing to do with me. The media and our cultural norms tell us that men should want and enjoy sex more than women. So if I’m in the mood and he isn’t, the only way for him to maintain his sense of masculinity is to make me feel like a freak of nature. Right? Likewise, accusations of cheating reflect his own insecurities and/or struggle to keep it in his pants… not mine.
I get all of this… on an intellectual level. Emotionally, it’s a bit harder to reconcile. As I reenter the dating world I worry that this issue will come back to haunt me. Is it simply a question of my previously poor taste in men? (I’d like to add that I haven’t only dated jerks and fools… there have been some good eggs in the mix and they know who they are.) Or is suffering these judgements an unavoidable side effect of female sexual confidence and empowerment? Have men evolved beyond the sexual double-standards, or are they just better at hiding their inner cave man? Have I evolved beyond letting past experiences contaminate present relationships? Obviously not, but I’m working on it.