‘v’ for virginity: guidelines for pursuing your sexual journey
What lies at the core of stigmatization on sexual exploration is the definitive language used to describe individuals exploring their sense of sexual self. Sexual exploration is an infinite spectrum, with no defined minimum or maximum, yet universal sexual standards have us bisected into virgins and nonvirgins — a cis-centric, heteronormative binary that enforces outdated patriarchal values of purity on us.
The guilt and shame casted on individuals who explore anything sexual may hinder them from asking questions, seeking help and learning how to explore their sexual selves in a way that is healthy, pleasurable, and consensual. The fear of being labelled ‘nonvirgin’ in a society that tells young women (and especially, women of colour), to protect their biological virginity goes hand in hand with the lack of understanding on best and safe practices for sexual exploration.
The first step in safely pursuing sex-based acts is reframing the toxic idea of virginity into ‘sexual exploration’ or pursuing one’s ‘sexual journey,’ which opens doors to people who identify across other genders, sexualities and experiences, and gives them the freedom to define what sexual exploration looks like for them. Sexual exploration does not make any one impure; it makes explorers more knowledgeable about themselves and those with whom they share their journey.
While it is difficult to reframe and unpackage centuries of conditioning that has told us our values — as women, as women of colour — lie in our reproductive abilities, we can take steps for ourselves to unlearn, relearn, and teach each other what it means to be independent, sexual beings.
Define your motivation.
The ambiguity of goal setting in the realm of sexual exploration can be confusing. What is important is that you identify why it is you want to pursue your sexual journey; pleasure, curiosity, connection to your erotic inner self, and desire to feel intimacy are some reasons for this pursuit. Comfort is key.
Explore and solidify what consent and boundaries look like for you.
Knowing what you are comfortable with is something only you can decide for yourself. If your sexual exploration is done in a way that involves another person, have a conversation on consent and how to maintain boundaries, what language to use to signify something is uncomfortable and how to give each other feedback. Some things you can say include:
- “I’d love to talk to you about feels good for me and what I’m comfortable with, and what would feel good for you, too.”
- “I like it when you do X.”
- “Can you do X like this; it hurts/ is uncomfortable when you do it the other way.”
- “Is there anything you would like me to know about what makes you feel comfortable?’
- “It would make me feel more comfortable if you X.”
This Teen Vogue article makes a great start at teaching individuals how to establish consent. My favourite aspect of it is how it talks about how different consent looks like for individuals and their partners. While the aforementioned statements are great and have worked for me and some others, this is not an exhaustive list in any capacity. You choose how to establish consent, so as long as it makes you and your partner comfortable. Mutual consent is what matters.
Know that the emotions you will feel are okay.
Sexual exploration can be affected by your spirituality and your cultural beliefs. This can be difficult especially if you are like me, a first generation woman of colour, who has always struggled to see myself fit in Western culture, but also in my ancestral culture. Culture has ties to my religious beliefs; being in a different culture has caused me to lose touch with religion, and that has guilt associated with it anyways.
When I started to explore my sexuality and sex life, I felt even more guilt; I felt like I was pursuing a cultural and a religious taboo, in addition to already deviating from religious norms. I can’t say I’m over it, but I do know that the decisions I make are for myself. If you feel similarly or you have found that your sense of sexual self has been influenced by your religion and culture, that is okay.
You may feel guilt or shame for trying something new, and you may identify that some of your actions do not coincide positively with spiritual and/or cultural guidelines. Self-reflect and think about what you believe in, why and how you can work to balance your curiosity and growth with your spirituality. It was not until my post-high school life that I found that there were other women, young, brown and Muslim-raised, who felt similar things to me. There were female writers, like Fariha Roisin, who identified with similar communities that I did who spoke openly about their sexuality and sexual experiences. At my university, there are whole centres dedicated to sexual and diversity studies, women and trans people, and gender. Resources on consent were readily available and handed out at student fairs and events, and the people representing some of these causes looked like me. While I have often felt isolated in the community I knew growing up and even in my own family, I saw other individuals like myself thrive and exist and stand for things I did not know I was able to. This was validating, and showed me that I could thrive like them too.
Go to a doctor beforehand.
I have personally found it incredibly hard to find a doctor who I felt was not judging me for my sex-based decisions. That’s why resources like Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health In Women’s Hands Community Health Centre are great places for resources on medical check ups.
If you are choosing to explore your journey with your partner, do a check on vaccinations, pre-existing conditions, and take any precautionary steps like birth control. Learn about the various forms of contraceptives available to you. Remember to ask questions about the side effects of medication; for example, the antidepressants I take do not mix well with certain oral birth control methods and cause drastic mood fluctuations for me. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions.
Keep going to the doctor.
If you identify as sexually active, seeing a doctor for regular (read: annual) physical check-ups is important to ensure you get tested for things like Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). You have may to go in between annual checkups if you ever encounter a Uterine Tract Infection — one of the most common infections that you do not need to have had sex to contract. STIs are contracted by 50% of sexually active individuals by age 25, so regular check-ups and knowing there is available treatment is a must.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to explore your sexual self.
The idea that sex is only vaginal is heternomative and false. (FYI: The intactness of hymen is not an accurate indicator of whether people are exploring their sexual side or not.) Many individuals identify themselves as sexually explorative if they are trying different forms of masturbation. Others pursue different kinds of relationships with different types of sex. Sex looks different for different partners, and there is no one way to go about it. Remember your intentions and remember the grounds of consent in all of your pursuits. Sexual exploration is subjective and you take charge of it.
When you take your first steps in exploring your sexual journey, remember that you have resources to support you, and everything you are feeling is okay and valid, no matter where you are and who you are.
Sexual Journey: advancing one’s sense of sexual self, in any means they see fit, be it penis-in-vagina sex, kink, BDSM, masturbation, change of thought with regards to sex, change of sexual identity, etc.
Scarleteen — Ready or Not? A Sex Readiness Checklist.
Scarleteen — Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist
Teen Vogue — What to Know About Losing Virginity
Everyday Feminism — 5 Reasons Why We Need to Ditch The Concept of Virginity For Good
Teen Vogue — Consent 101
Immigrant Women’s Health Centre — Sexual health services in Toronto
Sex and You: General sexual health information and resources
Was sexual health a taboo subject while growing up? Here is a quick guide for all those unanswered questions about…medium.com