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When Was Your Real First Time?

December 18, 2008

A while ago, I wrote a post about how we define “sex,” with an emphasis on the notion that “counting” partners did not have any real purpose.  At that time, I hadn’t yet finished the book.  Now I have and I’ve read Hanne Blank’s essay, The Process-Oriented Virgin.  In it, she says she was at first resistant to young women who toss out “objective” or generally accepted definitions of virginity and simply construct their own based on their subjective experience.   And she writes that she has come, years and many stories later, to embrace the power of that subjectivity:

What they were depending on, on the other hand, was revealingly modern and female-centric. . . . [A] lot of the process-oriented virgins I talked to are working with criteria that closely mirror the goals of twentieth-century feminist sex reform.  The sex that counts, for these young women, is sex in which they are involved and invested.  For some, that means the first time they instigated sex because they really desired it.  For some it means the first time they had an orgasm during sex with a partner.  For some it means the first time they felt fully emotionally invested and present during sex.  Indeed, it might even mean simply that it was the first time that they felt like they genuinely knew what they were doing.  Sex “counted” the first time it felt like sex that was good for women, not just for men.

Color me flabbergasted — again.  The thought that these revisionist historians of their own sex lives are radically redefining virginity on the basis of a bottom line that is fundamentally derived from feminist sex-reform philosophy was a stunner.

YMY at p. 293.

I’m even more convinced, after reading Blank’s essay, of the power of defining one’s own experiences — something men often take for granted and women are so often denied.

With that in mind, I’ll throw a question out there. What was your first time? Not what other people say, not what “counts” by anyone else’s definition; but your own.

To put my money where my mouth is, I’ll start; but I’ve been thinking about my answer since I woke up this morning and I’m not entirely sure of it. Certainly it was not the first time I had PIV intercourse, which didn’t seem like a milestone to me. It was with a long-time FWB, we were not good for each other, and it was physically pleasant but I think emotionally distant for me and probably alienating for her. Besides, by that time I’d been in an MFF and a MMF threesome and identified as a kinkster; I hadn’t had PIV intercourse mostly because I was busy doing other things. What makes the most sense to me is the first time I gave a partner an orgasm. It felt like what adult sex feels like for me. I wasn’t in love, certainly, but I wasn’t using her and she wasn’t a conquest. I cared about her; I wanted to be sexual with her in large part because I wanted to be intimate with her, I cared how she reacted to my touch and I wanted her to come because she would enjoy it. I’m not saying that sex must be about or defined by intimacy; just that that connection, whether the context is romantic or more situational, is much of what I look for in sex, and that’s the first time I found it. So there we are.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2008 3:13 pm

    My very first ever time with PiV was my “real” first time, mostly because my (SINGLE, unmarried, and more-or-less feminist) mother had pressed into my head that sex was a choice that I make, and no one else, and I should choose it when it is meaningful to me. None of this “good girls wait” BS.

  2. Ashley permalink
    December 18, 2008 4:02 pm

    In light of this, what do you think of ‘technical virgins?’

    The only time in the past oh, 3 years, that I’ve had a discussion about whether or not someone was a virgin was with a friend who’s trying to remain a virgin until marriage yet has had two pregnancy scares. She’s an otherwise fully sexual being, but because she hasn’t had PIV sex she’s still a virgin (don’t ask about the pregnancy scares, it’s inane) in her mind, and therefore more pure than other people.

  3. December 18, 2008 5:18 pm

    Ashley, I’ll always have a problem at the “more pure” part. And I am not really a fan of any model of sexuality the puts PIV on a pedestal. However, I’m really on board with anybody who has a sex life they are happy with without certain activities; whether because ze doesn’t like them, or because they’re outside zir risk tolerances, or whatever.

    Personal story: my big college relationship, which lasted years, was with a woman who had never had PIV intercourse. She was a religious lefty of sorts and started out as sort of conventionally abstinent, but as she found her own path, she developed a very open-textured and broad sexual palette, and the “technical virginity” thing became more of an in-joke. I’ve never particularly privileged PIV anyway, and we were poly so we both had other partners …

    When I hear about younger folks avoiding PIV in favor of other activities, usually it’s in a “moral panic” context, and that makes me angry. I worry that because they’re not having PIV they may not be thinking seriously about STI risks; but I think avoiding PIV is a perfectly valid risk-control strategy.

  4. December 19, 2008 1:02 am

    can I ask how old y’all are? I was a “kinkster” at one time to use a twist on a term I’ve not heard elsewhere, but I’ve been married now a long time and have a much more conventional sex life now…i feel like I’ve wandered into another world with all these acronyms…am I old or just totally unhip now? by the way I was born in 1965…

    anyway…wandering around here has been fun…

  5. Anna Nonymouse permalink
    December 19, 2008 9:30 am

    Thank you for this – as someone who counts oral and finger sex as… well, sex… (my logic being that nobody can call lesbian lovemaking anything other than sex!), it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that the act done to me during my sexual assault counted as sex in my head. I thought that meant that my virginity had been taken against my will. Lots of therapy followed.

    The fact that this post is here makes me feel much better. My ‘real first time’ ended up being the same act as the assault, however this time I was completely willing and ‘in the moment’… I hadn’t been waiting for marriage, but I had always wanted that kind of intimacy and emotional involvement for my first time.

    When I tell my partner that my first time with him was my first time, I mean it on a far deeper level than him being the first person I had PIV sex with.

    Again, thank you!

  6. December 19, 2008 11:03 am

    giannakali, I’ve put 35 behind me. I have a bunch of small children, a spouse and a mortgage payment, and I’m younger than you but within shouting distance. Marriage had no effect on my sex life, though my long and deep relationship with my spouse, which was very serious for a while before we married, did have an effect: the better we knew each other, the more we could push emotionally deep scenes. We got kinkier as we became more of a part of each other.

    Parenting did change a lot, because of time and tiredness, and because of the social isolation that comes with having a smaller social circle; we’ve been each other’s only sex partners for a good long time now — though in theory we’re good for whatever with whoever if we’re both interested, those opportunities are few and far between for us now. And parenting changed frequency. Quickies and goodnight handjobs are easier to fit in; real 90-minute BDSM scenes that require advanced planning and a lot of energy don’t just happen once or twice a week like they did before we have kids.

    But we didn’t become (to use your term) “conventional” because we reproduced. We just became constrained.

  7. December 19, 2008 11:11 am

    Anna, Hanne Blank’s piece references, of all people, Augustine of Hippo, and late-Roman Christian theologian, as an early example of the line of thinking that the body is not the sum of the experience, and assaults don’t count. My view on it is, if you’ve been assaulted, you didn’t deserve it or ask for it, but you have to live with it: so you own it, in an intellectual property sense. You can define it however you want — sex, not sex, lost/didn’t lose virginity; talk about it or stay silent; get angry, get sad, or refuse to spend a minute being angry or sad because of what someone else did against your will — you didn’t want it, but as long as it’s been thrown at you, it’s yours and you can do with it whatever works for you.

  8. Sara permalink
    December 19, 2008 8:17 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. Until today I considered “my first time” being the first time a penis entered me, which was without my consent. (Sorry for the analytical/removed description, but it certainly was not “sex” and definitely not “love.”) When I was 15, an older guy who I’d met off the internet forced himself into me, knowing I didn’t want it, because he “knew [I] was a virgin and just couldn’t help [himself].” At that time I thought it was a semi-valid excuse, and after he pleaded, “You’re not a virgin anymore so you should let me finish what I started,” I lay there, watching “Toy Story,” for about 45 minutes until he decided he was done. Unfortunately, I think THAT first time is similar to many females’.

    I had consensual sex with a great guy about 14 months later, but I think I was mentally not there during it, as I can’t remember anything about it. Interesting.

    My first REALLY real time that I can remember being fully present for was with a 19-year-old guy I met in December of my senior year of high school (2002) when I was 17. We met online (on Makeoutclub, an “indie”/hipster social networking site that pre-dated MySpace and used to be a pretty small community) and decided to meet up for a show maybe a week or two later. I would not say sparks flew, but there was an attraction, and flirting/touching at the show led to hours of sex later that night. THEN the sparks flew. ha! He was the first person who made sex fun, the first time I was really present and enjoying it. He definitely viewed me as more than an object, a receptacle, a body, or any of the sum of my parts. Not only did he not make me feel insecure about my body, he made me feel incredibly secure, comfortable, and open. Coercing and demanding are simply not in his operative. That first night was the beginning of an oft-happening and richly-rewarding sexual experience that lasted for months.

    I have since had many(?) more sexual partners and only a handful have been on his level. It’s about way more than “chemistry” but about how both of you view sex, sexuality, gender roles, and what you expect out of each experience. (Some men have tricked me into thinking they “love women” when really they “love sex with women” which are DEFINITELY not one in the same! Even misogynists can love sex, yeah?)

    About that “REAL” guy from above: I am happy to report that we are still friends with benefits six years later! :)

  9. Suslin permalink
    December 20, 2008 7:56 pm

    Shit. This is a hard question. I used to consider myself not a virgin after the sexual abuse when I was a child. I thought my first PiV meant I was no longer a virgin. Even that was ambiguous because it took many tries. I had a thick hymen. Ow.

    The first PiV was awful. He was an ex who was cheating on his new girlfriend (whom I did not know about at the time) when me. Stopped short of what would have been my first orgasm. Refused to finish me off. Kicked me out of the house shortly after. A pregnancy scare ensued. FUN!

    So, a very good friend defined “good” sex as sex where you’ll be fully there emotionally and physically. And that’s virginity for me. I’ll never have that. You think I’m cynical, but I have interstitial cystitis. No cure. No treatment (people always ask, which is annoying). It causes great pain during sex. Lame. And the only way I get turned on is to think of horribly violent and exploitative thing because of my violent past. So I’ll never lose my virginity. My thoughts? Meh.

    People place too much importance on sex. they behave as though my life is over because I can no longer enjoy this activity. It’s really insulting, actually. It’s like that idiot who said “rape is murder of the soul”. Yeah? I’ve been through that. And guess what? MY SOUL ISN’T FUCKING DEAD! Thank you.

  10. jane permalink
    December 20, 2008 11:43 pm

    in light of this article i would definitely still consider myself to be a virgin. i’ve had piv sex in the past, which really didn’t do too much for me. i recently realized that i am a lesbian. i know with all of my being and consciousness that this realization is truth, but i have yet to have sex with a woman. people may ask how i can know this without having sex with a woman, which is ridiculous to me since sexuality encompasses so much more than one act of intimacy. in my mind i haven’t really had sex yet.

  11. December 21, 2008 7:38 am

    Suslin, if you can’t have PIV, you in particular don’t have any good reason to privilege PIV. I’m asking this question not to get an answer, but just as food for thought: are you capable of fulfilling, non-penetrative sex with a partner, and is that something you want? Because PIV being out of the question is not, by a long shot, the same as sex being out of the question.

    Jane, if you know, you know. I think most lesbians and gay men know before they start having partnered sex. There’s a wonderful woman out there for you somewhere.

  12. SecondBeach permalink
    December 21, 2008 3:17 pm

    My real first time was my ‘technical’ first time too. And the more I’ve talked to my female friends about this, the more I realize how lucky I am; so many girls regret, didn’t enjoy, or were even forced into their first PiV. We had dated for over a year and been best friends for over eight, and are still together a year and a half later. I think what made it great was how well we knew each other, loved each other and wanted the other one to enjoy it to.

    And I’m grateful to have a guy as concerned with my orgasms as his, and who realizes there’s more to sexuality that good ‘ol PiV!

  13. December 21, 2008 10:03 pm

    One way in which I am quite old-fashioned is I don’t discuss my sex life on the internet (heh), so I won’t be answering your question, but I love this post and your point and am linking it at my place.

  14. Gaia permalink
    December 21, 2008 11:23 pm

    Hmmm. My first time always seems to be changing for me. haha.

    I’d say the first time I’d really had sex was 3 years and 7 partners later. is that allowed? too bad. Up until that point sex was quite boring, and every person was another sort of “oh, glad YOU enjoyed that” with me doing all the work to please them. I stepped back for a bit and started seeing someone who was in love with my vagina (and me) and was actually able to make me orgasm. His patience and attention to my reactions were just what I needed to come and to want to reciprocate 100%. Sex should always be like this… What I’ve learned lately is that if you have to force yourself to enjoy it, or just do it, then that’s not sex, that’s being used. I lost my virginity when I stopped thinking about my performance and just FELT for myself, and brought that to my partner.

  15. December 22, 2008 1:51 pm

    This is so interesting.

    I lost my virginity to social constructionism when I was 27! (And yes, it was good for me.)

    I had had a number of sexual experiences, but never PiV, and saw myself as a virgin, until I began to think more about it. Then I retrospectively decided that my ‘first’ was the college boyfriend I had at 20. It was my first reciprocal sexual relationship, and the two of us both had a few milestones together.

    I still consider my earlier unwanted sexual experiences to not count. I did at one time consider some drunken FF experimentation not to count, but I changed my mind about that.

    I suppose I began to question to nature of my past relationships and how I had always seen them through the traditional perspective of what sex was. People take their clothes off, there are orgasms. Why is that not sex?

    I had previously embraced the idea of no-sex-before-marriage, virginity and perfection fed to me by my mother, who is very religious. It wasn;t all bad, as it gave me the confidence to set boundaries I felt comfortable with around my relationships and weeded out the people who were only in it for a shag, rather than getting to know me. I was then proud to see myself as a virgin, even when over time I became an atheist, and later lost interest in marriage. That was the point when I saw myself as maybe a bit brainwashed.

    The label had some benefits as well as costs. Some boyfriends saw it as a novelty, or a turn on, or a challenge, or an insult. I wasn’t really interested in PiV until my mid-twenties, so I don’t feel like I missed out particularly, other than it would have been a nice experience with my ‘first’, but I obviously wasn’t ready.

    I do admit that as I got older there felt like an escalating stigma attached to the label, as if only a freak still would be a virgin at 27. But more importantly I decided that adhering to a patriarchally constructed, hetero-normative definition of virginity was no longer fitting or beneficial.

  16. Suslin permalink
    December 24, 2008 12:50 am

    Thomas: Good point. Reasons I privilege PiV? It was the activity that brought me the most physical pleasure. It’s the activity that turns me on the most. The rest of society seems keen on privileging it, so that will just be one more slap in the face whenever I’m confronted with my inability.
    Plus, most future partners will most likely want PiV. I know, I know, fuck them if they can’t accept me. However, it puts a cramp on a young woman who wants to date, have fun, and be “carefree” the way every young woman should have the chance to be. One more anxiety to add to the pile, ya know?

    As my wise friend said though, “You’re young. You just have not had good sex.” Trust me, I most likely never will. I wish people, young, old, and of all experience levels would shut up, let me speak, and stop acting horrified when I talk about my issues. Makes me feel less than human.

  17. Blue_Sky permalink
    December 26, 2008 2:44 pm

    I love this article! I love the idea of owning and defining my own sexual experiences, and this is a new sort of framework for me in my ongoing process of doing that.

  18. Bumerry permalink
    December 27, 2008 3:51 am

    (((Suslin))) – I want to make a friendly but not exact comparison and don’t want you to feel alienated by me or less than human, because while it isn’t the same experience, I feel it’s similar.

    I’m an agnostic who married into a very religious set of friends (whom I love and respect and they are not prigs at all) and then moved to their very religious community after our twins were born and we couldn’t afford to live outside the city in Chicago, which sucked. Religious faith is so integral to their experience that they just can’t comprehend how I could live without it. But it is not a part of who I am, for a number of reasons. I admire religious people, I do wish that I could make myself really believe in any religion, but I just can’t. And because I just can’t, I really am not interested in finding some sort of substitute, as far too many scientists slip into. It’s not the real thing to me, and I’m cut off from the real thing, and family, friends and strangers have the same sort of “you just haven’t found the right one” reaction. It’s maddening. No, I’m not going to find it, and I don’t want to look, and when it comes down to it I just have no interest in something that 90% experience so profoundly that they can’t conceive of why I don’t bother. I don’t have any plans to look for or participate in the activity, and I am perfectly satisfied living an agnostic life. So I really empathize with the feeling that we are somehow not fully human without these experiences that are so important to others. I feel like screaming, “No, REALLY, just take my word for it – I know who I am!”

    We live in such a sexualized culture that it is a core social belief that everyone should participate. Which leaves exceptional people like you stigmatized. I’m sorry that this happens to you. You can certainly live a full and happy life celibately (is that even a word?), and I wish you joy on your path. And it DOESN’T mean you can’t be partnered in an intimate and fulfilling way, so don’t give up on that!

  19. chouflur permalink
    December 29, 2008 8:07 pm

    This is interesting; I have several lesbian/transman friends who insist I am in no way a virgin because an ex boyfriend went down on me. It is deeply frustrating that they don’t see the irony in them trying to force their definitions onto my sexuality.

    But the boyfriend and I were very clear on the fact that we were in no way having sex, that due to my experience, we were merely exploring; any time anything veered into feeling too close to a next step, we stopped. And, oddly, nothing that was too intense resembled PIV sex at all, so go figure.

    I feel that intent is pretty important in the whole thing. I could easily see counting oral sex as the “no longer a virgin” point with a future partner if that was my mental, and probably voiced, intent behind that particular act.

  20. Suslin permalink
    December 29, 2008 8:24 pm

    (((Bumerry)))
    I really, REALLY appreciate the parallel! Thank you for sharing that. I always get the sense that people feel sorry for me when I tell them. I understand that this is a natural reaction because I’m struggling with these issues. However, people feeling sorry for me is not going to help me. I’m not some fragile tragedy princess, I’m a human being who is just going through something.
    When you have a terminal illness, people will feel sorry for you, but they won’t feel superior to you in some way. I get the nagging feeling that people think it’s all in my head. That if I’d just try thing x, my problems would be over, or that I can somehow feel good physically. That I’m just not trying hard enough.
    they do this because they’re terrified they might someday confront something like this. that there’s no way around it, and they’d have to deal with this in a hyper sexualized world that puts all your worth on whether or not you’re moaning in bed, having amazing, “explosive” sex. After all, all the women in Cosmo and porn experience it… so it’s like, super important! *colossal eyeroll*
    I used to feel derision and annoyance at people who complained of sexual problems (I felt they were not trying hard enough to overcome them). So now that I have one that’s physically impossible to overcome, I feel the world is disgusted with me.

    Anywhore, I’m rambling now.
    thanks for letting me ramble, even though this is kind of off topic. Thanks bumerry… that’s a whole new way of looking at it. Priorities. that’s all it is.

  21. March 9, 2009 12:51 am

    First time for what? Sex has never been a single act for me, but a bunch of acts that collectively make “sex”. Anytime you are doing something that helps you to sexually connect with someone, that’s “having/doing sex”, to me at least. I suppose you can “have sex” with yourself, too in a way. (Despite what my Christian peers think of it, I have to admit masturbation seems a most efficient way to get to know yourself and really have an in-your-body-experience.)

    So, along my sexual journey, I’d have to say that intercourse didn’t necessarily mark the end of the road. There were things before it and things after it and the first time it happened was sentimental, but not necessarily a whole lot more than any of the other ways we’d explored each other. The first time I had intercourse with my husband, yeah, it had it’s own place in my sexual experience, but it was by no means “it”.

  22. Turtleducks permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:27 am

    Oh Lord, your article about what constitutes sex made me so happy, because I have a friend who seems to think that PiV is the only type of sex to count, because it’s the only sex where there’s a risk of pregnancy. It boils my blood to think about it, because, as a lesbian, she’s pretty much saying that I’ll never actually have sex unless for some reason I decided to have sex with a man.

    My “real first time” was a few weeks ago, actually, after my high school’s Christmas formal. There was a terrible snow storm, and there was a mutual decision between my parents and my girlfriend’s parents that I would stay overnight at her house (a very strange and one-time-only decision, considering both sets of parents knew the two of us were dating) and would sleep in the same bed as her. She’d had sex before, but I was a complete virgin and had no ideas of what to do, so she helped me along. I didn’t climax, and, in fact, we’d had sex a few months prior where I’d come closer to orgasm, but this time counted more. I think it’s because I was telling her where to touch, what to do, and it was a much more emotional and connecting experience.

  23. Wendy permalink
    August 19, 2012 10:56 am

    My first time changed, actually. I was a virgin (as in no previous PIV sex) when I married my husband, as was he. After years of telling boyfriends “no,” and saving myself for marriage, my now-husband and I both “lost our virginity” after dating for merely four months in college. As I learned more about my body and about sexuality in general, though, I now have to admit my “real” first time was oral sex with the guy I dated long-distance before I dated my husband. I went to visit him over fall break, we had a glorious three days together, and the next month he dumped me. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever confessed to my husband exactly how far my physical relationship with this previous boyfriend went – my husband and I have had so many other “firsts” together, if I haven’t explicitly told my husband he probably assumes he was my first orgasm as well.

    The sad thing is, the oral sex was my first orgasm ever. At age 20. Why is it when people talk about masturbation, they never mention that women can do it too?

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