This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here.
The night I lost my virginity, things didn’t go the way I’d planned.
As a straight woman, sex was daunting. When I listened to the stories of other straight women losing their virginity, the words “painful” and “awkward” were brought up far more often than “hot” or “fun.”
Almost every woman I knew regretted the way she lost her virginity.
For years, I listened to sex horror stories from friends who hooked up with men. I heard about men they barely knew critiquing their bodies in bed, men who expected oral sex with no intention of reciprocation, and men who lied to get them into bed and then ghosted them the next day.
I assumed hookup culture was the root of the problem, so I avoided it at all costs. I presumed the men I heard stories about were able to objectify and abuse women they hooked up with because they didn’t have to see them outside a sexual context.
I was going to wait to have sex with someone who knew and cared about me. I always assumed this would come from a long-term relationship, but when that relationship began to feel unattainable, I altered my expectations.
I wanted to have sex. I felt like I was part of a club dwindling in membership, and I didn’t want to be the last member standing. Despite my friends insisting that I shouldn’t lose my virginity just to get it over with, I’d made up my mind.
So, carefully, I chose the man I was going to lose my virginity to.
George* was a close friend of mine with lots of sexual experience. We were good friends in high school and had remained in contact despite going to different universities.
George checked all the boxes for someone who I felt comfortable having sex with. He understood my situation and he respected me. I loved him—at least as a friend.
On a couch in a basement, George and I had sex. It wasn’t enjoyable.
I tried to vocalize my discomfort and pain to him, but was quickly shot down.
“This is kind of a lot,” I said, trying to readjust. “I don’t know if I can handle this.”
“That’s kind of the point,” George replied.
I realized then that my discomfort turned him on.
Things only got worse as the night went on. At one point, George spent approximately 10 minutes pushing me to try anal sex, only dropping the idea after over a dozen refusals.
George and I had fundamentally different ideas of what sex should be.
I thought sex was about love. I had internalized a narrative that sex was the purest form of intimacy, and I was convinced if I had sex with someone I loved, or someone who loved me, the sex would be inherently good.
George didn’t share that point of view. Like the men from my friend’s stories, he pinned me down and ignored my requests to take things slower. I wanted to have sex, but he wanted to hold power over me.
In his eyes, my consent to have sex with him also constituted my consent for him to have complete control of the situation.
I felt used and dirty. I felt like an idiot for feeling used and dirty because the entire night had been my idea in the first place.
The next day, I thought about where George’s idea of sex came from.
I wondered how many hours of porn George had consumed in his lifetime where women were handled by men with violence and appeared to enjoy it.
Up to almost 90 per cent of porn videos have been found to portray physical or verbal violence or aggression. The victims of this violence rarely appear upset about it, with 95 per cent of the victims in porn videos responding with pleasure or indifference.
Porn is so inaccessible to women that an entirely new industry of women-owned, women-centered porn is gaining traction in part on a promise to center women’s pleasure in its content.
Still, I couldn’t blame the entirety of my experience on porn. There was also George himself, who maybe wasn’t as kind as I’d assumed.
I had naively thought the terrible men I’d heard about existed somewhere far away from me. In reality, the men in my life who I trusted and cared about were always going to be the terrible men to somebody else.
George is just like the men in my friends’ horror stories.
I thought I could avoid the men in my friend’s stories if I only picked the “right guy,” but I’ve discovered my personal relationship with a man doesn’t make a difference if he has a deep-seated, misogynistic belief that sex is about power.
My worldview shattered when I had sex with George because I realized men who cared about me were still capable of objectifying me. The problem isn’t with hookup culture, or a select few men—the problem is that misogynistic sex is rooted deeply in our society.
From porn to pop culture, we see a narrative of women being submissive by nature. We are taught that it’s natural for men to dominate us.
I thought love could trump a lifetime of societal conditioning and override this narrative. However, my experience with George proved that a culture of misogyny cannot be undone by love or trust.
I haven’t given up on good sex, but I will never again think that a man will treat me with respect only because he loves me. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but a man can love a woman and still objectify her.
I now know I can’t make every sexual experience perfect, no matter how hard I try.
The next time I think I might have sex with a man, I plan on having an honest conversation about what sex means to him first. The actual ‘right guy’ I was looking for is the one who will happily have that conversation.
*Name changed for anonymity due to safety reasons.
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