Written by Anonymous
Graphic by Chloe Davison
This piece was originally published in ‘Pleasure and Danger’, Bossy’s 2020 print edition.
CW: discussions of sexual assault, abuse.
About a year and a half ago, I was surrounded by people who placed far too heavy a value on a social construct we all know and love: virginity. I was told that sex wasn’t a big deal, that everyone else was having it, and that it was a necessary aspect of being taken seriously. Being the youngest in the group by a matter of months – as well as a virgin – I was seen as nothing more than a child: uneducated in the ways of the world and clearly unable to measure up to the rest of the ‘adults’, whom I had considered my peers and friends. Eventually, this would lead my naïve nineteen-year-old self on a quest to earn the respect of my friends. But all I would end up finding was two toxic relationships – one with a boy, and one with sex.
I remember almost choosing to have sex with a friend of mine and telling another friend the next day. She looked at me with a mixture of shock and disdain. “Don’t you want your first to be with your boyfriend?” I could do nothing but shrug and change the subject. I didn’t understand. If sex didn’t matter, why was it of concern who I slept with for the first time? I ended up being sick of the endless condescending ‘awws’, and lost my virginity to the boy I was (unofficially) dating. I bristle at the word ‘lost’. I don’t want to feel like I’ve lost anything to him. The truth, though, is that I lost my innocence, and my idea of a perfect relationship – not to mention that after I told my friends I’d had sex, I still was not treated as an equal. Rather, I was now a child who had made a poor, uninformed decision.
He’s not even your boyfriend yet.
I can’t believe it!
My first time didn’t hurt because I was ready for it.
It started off well. We got along great: he was funny, charming, friendly, and outgoing. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that a dark side began to show. First, during a dinner with my friends, he joked that if I worked in the red-light district, maybe I would be better in bed. I laughed it off, knowing that I couldn’t possibly be a Don Juan after only having had sex a few times. Later that night, he told me he was interested in someone else. When I started to become visibly upset, he told me that he loved me. Over the next few weeks, he told me that my body hair was gross. That my body itself was far less than desirable. That I could not compare to other girls he had slept with. I laughed it all off, and internalised everything.
I stayed with him through disparaging remark after disparaging remark. I thought love was putting up with everything. I thought he was perfect for me – until he told me that I was too ‘culturally different’ for him. This was the moment that I thought, if he couldn’t love me, no one could. I had fielded the accusations of being damaged goods for so long… until this comment finally made me feel fundamentally and irreversibly broken.
I was not enough for my friends, my family, or my boyfriend.
This was the moment that I started to let him dictate when and how he wanted my body. This was the moment that I learned a skill that too many women seem to have: how to dissociate from my physical being and tap out of my own mind when someone was having sex with me. I felt nothing but disgust at every aspect of my being. My body was no longer mine, but merely a tool for someone who didn’t care about my thoughts or experiences. I was already feeling isolated from my friends, so I figured that a few minutes of uncomfortable human contact were better than feeling nothing at all.
I would also soon learn the importance of continued consent, and the damage that can be caused when a person’s withdrawal of consent is not respected. By this point, however, I had learned how to tap out – so, one night, as he started going down on me (he had made me feel uncomfortable about it before), tap out is exactly what I did. As a result of nights before, I had learned every minute detail of the ceiling and the strip lighting in his room, and I focused my entire mind on them. I’m lucky, I know I am. I knew then and I know now that other people have had it so much worse. But I could not shake how disgusted and violated I felt at the thought of what had happened.
Nine slow months passed after that relationship ended. By the tenth month, I had made a series of choices that would be deemed questionable by many. It is still frowned upon for women to have multiple sexual partners – but there are also a plethora of contradictions that come with it. Too many partners, you’re a slut. You’re easy. You’ve got no self-respect. Too few, you’re a prude. You’re inexperienced. You’re likely bad in bed. Ultimately, it was the comments about my supposed inexperience and lack of ability from those with opinions on my sex life that got under my skin. And so, in about thirty-one days between October and November, I ended up with two separate dating apps and a few one night stands under my belt.
My indelicately named ‘Hoe Phase’ was the first time I’d had sex since my first relationship ended. It was the first time I was able to dictate who, when, where, and how. Most importantly, it was the first time in God knows how long that I hadn’t tapped out. Even if I could have stopped the Phase after the first one or two nights, I didn’t want to. All I wanted now was to feel in control, which was not a luxury I had been afforded in my last relationship. Sleeping around had become less about the sex and more about the power I felt. The only issue I considered even slightly was that I had sacrificed any regard for my safety in exchange for this power trip. I started to meet guys for the first time at their homes, or got into their cars, or told them my address. This is obviously What Not to Do When Online Dating 101 – but for the first time in my life, I felt invincible. Or maybe I no longer cared.
I feel as if I have three distinct selves – the Virgin, the Slut, and the In-Between. I often catch my present self, the In-Between, trying to distance herself from the other two. I cringe at how innocent and unknowing the Virgin was, but recoil in horror at the thought of the Slut nonchalantly walking into the house of a man she had met in person barely three minutes before. Neither label can be considered entirely black or white, of course. Life is rarely so simple. I can wistfully imagine a life before sex as the Virgin; and simultaneously admire my own boldness as I regained my bravery, improved my body image, and overcame my fear of sex while being the Slut. The In-Between is the product of the Virgin and the Slut, no matter how she may shudder and cringe and shake her head at the memories of both. She holds the insecurities, the anxieties, and the people-pleasing manner of the Virgin. She has the confidence, the ability to say no, and the self-respect of the Slut.
My Hoe Phase is not typically something I advertise. There are far too many disapproving opinions that could be made about it. However, I am not sorry to say that far from making me into damaged goods, it gave me back my autonomy. My courage. My strength. It gave me the ability to enjoy being with a man again. And it led me to my current boyfriend.
Sometimes I have flashbacks and think that I never want to be touched by a human again. I retreat into a bubble, surrounded by invisible walls, and cry at the thought of even the gentlest hand. At least I don’t have nightmares anymore.
An unexpected side effect of that month was my development into a far less judgemental person. I made the choices I did for highly personal reasons, and it stands to reason that other people are bound to do the same. Of course, I am no longer the girl who was so easily swayed by the opinions of my friends – but I should not have had to deal with their harmful opinions in the first place. I will, however, concede that I put myself in harm’s way during my Hoe Phase. If the opinions on my sex life had been centred around my safety rather than my supposedly depreciating value, maybe I would have listened.
Nevertheless, in choosing what to do with my own body, my month of nights spent with strangers helped me find a way to heal and move forward from a toxic relationship. I used to sneer at people who slept around. Ironically, it turned into the very thing that would help me overcome a number of fears and ultimately lead to my present state of mind. To some, I would be considered a slut. To others, I would not. Regardless, it is not up to anyone else to dictate how another person should choose to use their body. While this period of my life helped me heal, it may not necessarily do the same for another woman in the same situation. But between the cringeworthiness of my virgin self, to my first relationship and the one night stands, I do not regret a single thing.