Healthy sexuality takes proper education, self reflection

By AmberMeade

I can’t recall any moment I learned about sex. I never received “the talk,” and attending Catholic school for six years wasn’t helpful on that subject.  All I remember from elementary school “sex ed” was learning about a woman’s monthly cycle one year too late. In my all-girl high school, an attractive man was invited to speak to an assembly about abstinence. My female peers drooled over him afterward as he passed out chastity cards. You were supposed to sign and date the back of these as a symbol of your purity and patience until marriage. You could also whip it out of your wallet when you needed to remind your boyfriend you were only going so far.

I understand why “saving yourself” until marriage is important, but the message obviously didn’t get through to some girls, as there were a few who got pregnant. Besides, the first person you have sex with doesn’t necessarily have to be your spouse.

Virginity is often portrayed as a stigma in the media, especially for males. Sadly, if you’re a guy and haven’t “gotten laid,” you may have been ridiculed or simply kept it secret to prevent this. On the other hand, female virgins are either perceived as prudes or they’re accepted and their innocence is seen as erotic.

In “Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences,” a book published in 2005, Laura M. Carpenter interviewed men and women. The stigmatized were among them. Ashamed and afraid they would be scoffed at and mocked, they hid their virginity from acquaintances, sometimes friends and even their first-time partner, who was often someone they just met.

Compared to the two other types of people Carpenter interviewed—gifters,  who held great stake in losing their virginity, and processors, who believed it is just an inevitable part of growing up—the stigmatized were more concerned about pleasure their first time. They were also more likely to engage in unprotected sex their first time because they were afraid of being mocked by their partner if they admitted to being a novice.

Knowing the possible consequences of unprotected sex—such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections—it is frightening to think there are individuals who would rather take that risk than openly admit their virginity because they were afraid of being laughed at.

Virginity shouldn’t be seen as a fault, and that’s why I admire the gifters in Carpenter’s book: They were proud of their virginity. They did not want to lose it during a random hookup, yet, like the stigmatized who had high expectations about pleasure, gifters saw virginity loss as promising them an emotional bond with their partner. This is important for your first time, but gifters seemed to believe they would be with that person for the rest of their life. Investing yourself so much into a single person because you think you are life partners is unrealistic.

Processors were more practical—they didn’t expect to receive pleasure, and although the person they lost their virginity to was often a boyfriend/girlfriend or friend, they did not expect a life partnership with that person. They believed losing their virginity was simply an inevitable transition from youth to adulthood.

Being a 20-year-old virgin, I never viewed it as a stigma nor did I feel pressure to “get rid of it.” My choice to wait for “the right person” was most likely influenced by my Catholic education.  Still, I would’ve appreciated a more in-depth sexual education then.

Among the groups in Carpenter’s book, I’d consider myself a processor because virginity loss is only one aspect of healthy sexual exploration’s beginning. But what constitutes healthy sexuality?

You should first be comfortable in your own skin, exploring your wants and desires. That way, you can communicate them to your partner. defines healthy sex as a conscious, positive and mutual expression of our sexual energy that enhances self-esteem, physical health and emotional relationships. There are times, though, when sex is used for harm.

According to the website, one in four women are raped at some point in their life, and one in three females and one in six males are sexually abused as children. This is when sex becomes destructive and exploitative.

Sexuality is a natural part of us, so we should become more aware and discuss all aspects in schools. But most of all, parents or guardians have to be open as well.