Deconstructing Virginity: Being a Virgin in University
Sevan Ichkhanian is graduating university in April, and she’s never had sex. Through her art, she’s re-contextualizing what it means to be intimate — and why being naked on the internet is not an invitation to make assumptions about her sexuality.
By Jessica Huynh, Storyteller for RU Student Life
Sevan Ichkhanian is completely comfortable showing skin on the internet. As a fourth-year photography student, Sevan’s visual art explores concepts based on her experiences and feelings as a young woman. She uses her body as a canvas, exploring sexuality & vulnerability, femininity, gender norms, and youth through her work. As open and honest as Sevan is online (and through her art), she’s selective with who she trusts and is intimate with in real life; people are often shocked to learn that Sevan is a virgin.
“It’s interesting hearing about people looking at my art and thinking one thing, then finding out I haven’t had sex [and thinking another] — as if this one thing re-contextualizes everything I make art about,” Sevan said. “Instead of actually taking the time to read [about my art] and finding out who I am, people spin it around and make their own associations about who I am, the things I do, and my sexuality.”
Sevan, a self-proclaimed feminist, challenges society’s generalizations about later-in-life virgins, and insists being a virgin “isn’t something to judge someone for because it’s not a big deal”.
When Sevan was in grade five, she learned about “the Birds and the Bees” from Fully Alive books her Catholic elementary school provided. Fully Alive is a sex education program sponsored by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario. The mission of the program is to teach children the Catholic perspective on human life, sexuality, marriage, and family. Sevan was taught that sex before marriage was a sin and sex was an act committed only for procreation. It wasn’t until she got older that she learned sex was also an experience people did for pleasure. “When I found out, I started understanding all the subliminal messages in TV shows and movies,” Sevan recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, so that’s what they were talking about!’”
By high school, Sevan was well aware of the concept of virginity. Most of her peers were “losing their virginity”, but it wasn’t until her first year of university she realized most of her friends were experiencing the one thing she hadn’t for the first time.
“Around first year of university is when [some] people are moving out of their [parent’s] house and living on their own. They’re adults now so they feel as though they have that freedom [to explore]. There’s also more opportunities, relationships, and different people that you wouldn’t have been surrounded with before university,” Sevan speculated as to why many of her friends were losing their virginity at this time in their lives.
By her second year of university, Sevan realized most people stopped asking her if she was a virgin and assumed she wasn’t. It had become an “unwritten rule” that most people her age had had sex or were having sex. Of her group of friends, she said “maybe 2% are still virgins”. Around this stage in her life, Sevan noticed that the dialogue surrounding her “virginity status” shifted.
“The minute someone is presented with the fact that someone isn’t doing it, it’s a huge shock factor like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you haven’t had sex!’ Just because someone hasn’t had sex doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of having sexual experiences or experiencing intimacy,” Sevan pointed out.
The ‘shock factor’ is so prominent, Sevan said she would be surprised if people reacted in any other way. She noted that many people were quick to assume that she was saving herself for marriage (or jump to other conclusions about why she hadn’t had sex at 21), but it isn’t why she hasn’t lost her v-card yet. Although Sevan attended a Catholic elementary and high school, she doesn’t consider herself religious today.
“I’m not not having sex because I’m saving myself for marriage,” she clarified. “I’m just saving myself with someone I feel comfortable with, [and] I haven’t met anyone I’ve felt comfortable enough to have sex with.”
At 18 years old, Sevan fell in love with the only boy she’s ever loved. He was the first guy she experienced many of her first times with, like sleeping over at a guy’s house. “He was the first person I ever felt comfortable enough to take off all of my clothes,” she admitted. “I have been in intimate situations before where I have been partially naked but never fully. With this guy, it felt easy. It felt like it was the right thing to do.”
“He used to make me feel as though being naked was easy to do, but I was also insecure because I didn’t do things he [wanted] or [wasn’t] the person he wanted [me to be]. I was also self-conscious, and he made me feel self-conscious. He made me feel that unless I was perfectly clean and presented myself in a certain way, that I couldn’t do it with him (…) There [were] times where I thought maybe I could ‘give myself’ to him, but thank God I didn’t,” Sevan recounted.
After the on-again-off-again relationship ended, Sevan realized that her idea of this guy was greater than the guy himself. She later discovered he was being intimate with another girl the same time he was being intimate with her. She ended up becoming good friends with that girl and they discussed the betrayal they felt in-depth. “We talked about him and [we realized] everything he said was just a way to get a reaction out of us, manipulate us, and make us feel comfortable around him even though he didn’t respect us,” she explained.
From that heartbreaking experience, Sevan began to re-contextualize her idea of being naked and what it meant to be alone. Over the years, she focused her energy on loving herself first, prioritizing her needs, beliefs, and comfort before introducing someone new into that aspect of her life.
“I went from being naked with somebody is intimate to being naked with myself is intimate. I’m comfortable with my body now. The people I love have seen me naked and the internet has seen me naked, but there’s a difference between being naked with someone versus being naked for yourself. It’s a different kind of intimacy to share [your nakedness] with someone.”
Being a romantic-at-heart, Sevan has played out a couple of scenarios in her head on how her first time might play out, but she’s adamant she’s in no rush to “get it over and done with”, a response she often receives when she discloses her virginity to acquaintances. Other common and dismissive responses include being pressed on why she hasn’t had sex yet (“Why should I have to give you an explanation if I don’t want to do that?”) and judgmental disbelief (“It’s very discouraging…”). She’s also experienced back-handed comments such as, “Oh my God, but you’re so hot. I can’t believe you haven’t had sex with anyone!” — a response, Sevan explained, that has nothing to do with anything. From these encounters, Sevan became hyper-aware of the concept of reverse slut-shaming, this idea that conservatism of the body is grounds for commentary.
“I didn’t even know that was a thing until I experienced it,” Sevan confessed. “I don’t understand this whole idea of girls not wanting to be called ‘sluts’ and men not wanting to be called ‘man-whores’ but then you’re kind of doing the same thing to people who haven’t experienced [sex].”
Sevan is a big advocate for sexual agency. She argues that as long as you’re in-tune with yourself and respectful to yourself and others, you should never have to justify your actions or decisions to anyone. “There’s nothing wrong with having casual sex just as there’s nothing wrong with not having sex at all. It’s okay to say ‘I had sex with this person I met at a bar because I was horny’, but it’s also okay to say I went back to this person’s house and nothing happenned. That’s totally fine.”
Regardless of this less-than-stellar feedback, Sevan stays true to herself and tries her best to not let these judgemental comments get to her. “There’s a reason why I haven’t had sex and I have to stop letting people’s opinion of me still being a virgin get to my head. Everyone has their own opinion and I have my reasons,” she said confidently.
In fact, Sevan doesn’t mind sharing her reasoning with others so long as she’s asked genuinely. It’s not like this aspect of her life is something she purposely tries to hide. If the topic comes up in conversation, she is comfortable talking about it. If sex is casually brought up, she isn’t afraid to share her own sexual experiences. “If there’s an opportunity for me to contribute about the things I have experienced, I will talk about that,” Sevan said. Although, these days, her virginity is rarely a topic of discussion unless she plans on going home with a date. In which case, she lets them know ahead of time she will not be having sex with them to avoid misinterpretation.
Today, as she looks towards her life as a soon-to-be graduate, Sevan is more concerned about being heard and understood. She says she’s in a great place in her life, allowing herself to take time for herself and be more vulnerable with others — something she has difficulty with because of her distrust of people. This introspection is prevalent in her art, her Instagram captions, her selfies, and her photography. Sevan’s paving her own path to self-love. She’s reclaiming what it means to be intimate and challenging our notions of what constitutes a sexual experience (“Just because I haven’t had sex doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced a sexual relationship with someone”). Sevan wants people to know she’s neither a prude nor empowered for being a virgin. Both, she explained, are merely ways to categorize her into boxes she’s not comfortable being put in. When she is ready to share that intimate part of her of life with someone, she will.
It’s as simple as that.
** This article has been written with the consent and approval of the subject.