*Trigger warning - deals with sexual assault* Also contains choice language. If you're easily offended you might want to avoid.
Losing one’s virginity is a rite of passage. A moment that is seemingly so important. The instant you become a woman, no longer a child, full of wisdom and worldly, feminine wiles. I couldn’t wait to become beautifully enigmatic; full of confidence in my own self as a glorious sexual being. If only I’d realised I had more chance of finding that in a cereal box than with any of my initial sexual ‘encounters’. I’m 37 and not only does that ‘glorious sexual being’ still evade me, it’s taken me to this age to actually realise the emotional and psychological impact of my early sexual experiences. Ironically, it was only as I sat to write the amusing anecdote about how I lost my virginity that it appeared to me - an anecdote rather more sinister than I had allowed myself to recall. Anyway, let me start at the beginning.
1994: I remember the anxiety as a teenager surrounding virginity – when the losing of it would happen, and the dread at the idea that it could be me that would be the last. I recall all of us being in awe of Margret, who at 15, had sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend. He was a boy she had met using her CB radio that her older brother had installed in her dad’s shed. In 1994, pre-mobile phones and widely available Internet, this was the height of technological sophistication. It didn’t occur to us that the guys she was talking to were anything but sexy and sophisticated. Most were probably middle-aged, truck-driving prevents, getting off on chatting-up minors.
This boy Margret was having sex with looked like a man. He was a man! He was tall, angular and awkward-looking, with patchy facial hair. He supplied Margret with cigarettes and alcohol and drove her around in his souped-up Golf GTi. He would wait outside the school gates at the end of the day, I can only assume it was to take her off somewhere to have sex in his car. He seemed terribly dangerous to me. But not in an attractive way. More in a paedophile way – he was, after all, having sex with a minor. As a child always afraid of consequences, Margret’s shenanigans with this boy distressed me, greatly. Apart from the fact that she was underage, I was incredibly uneasy about her reckless behavior and the potential strain she was putting her parents under. Why I cared, I do not know. I mean, they were always nice to me when I called for her on the way to school. They would tell me to come and stand in the living room and out of the hallway while I waited for her to finish applying her eyeliner (also against the rules) and chatted to me about an assortment of inconsequential topics or invited me to sit on the couch and watch The Big Breakfast. But I just felt bad for them. I couldn’t understand why anyone would do stuff that might displease their parents. I was such a square. Margret was a bit of a badass though.
And of course, the rest of our group of friends was terribly impressed. Margret, or ‘Magz’ as she’d become since meeting this boy (I assume in an endeavor to sound more edgy) seemed all of a sudden ‘grown up’. Magz, and her illegal and inappropriate CB-radio lover, had set the gauntlet. She had lost her virginity. The pressure was on. The pressure for everyone else to lose it too.
Although, having to do everything by the rules meant that it was not an option for me be having sex until it was actually legal. I had been scarred by the stories in Just Seventeen about teenage pregnancy and STDs. Somehow, despite the absence of anything even remotely resembling parental guidance or sex education, the the notion that I must be ‘ready’ (whatever that felt like), had seeped into my psyche.
I was certain 16 would be the time. Or I should say I was hoping 16 would be the time – opportunities up until that point had been non-existent, even for a clumsy snog or a cheeky grope of my boobs at the school disco. Throughout secondary school I was the dumpy, awkward, self-conscious kid with a really bad perm and terrible spots. I wore overtly masculine and over-sized clothes that were in-keeping with the horrific fashions of the nineties, but nicely hid my lumpy bits. I was also a kid from a really rough estate who was hardly ever at school - the one that swore too much and who, inexplicably, some people were afraid of. Hardly surprising then that I didn’t have a queue of boys waiting to stick their hand up my top.
Anyway, a year passed. After one abortion (Magz), two morning-after pills (Magz) and one trip to the GUM clinic (Magz again), she was finally rid of the creepy pervert and was back to ‘Margret’. I had also started to get a handle on my appearance and looked significantly less beastly. I had grown out my perm and looked rather more like a girl, at least. More importantly, only one other girl in our group had lost her virginity by this point but the awareness was still there – the pressure was almost palpable.
1995. We were coming up to the end of our stretch in secondary school. About to be released into the world of work or college as fully-fledged grown-ups (at least in our minds we were). I had also loosened up. My relationship with rules was significantly more lackadaisical (within my own boundaries anyway). This was also the time we began to go out to pubs and clubs and discovered the ridiculous ease with which we were, as sixteen-year-olds, allowed to do so. The halcyon days where I could go out with a tenner; get shit-faced on six bottles of Hooch/White Lightening; gain entrance to a club and get a taxi home. Sometimes, there’d even be enough for a kebab, from McTurk’s, on the way.
This was also the year I lost my virginity. The year I met my very first boyfriend, Karl. Karl was a really sweet boy. He was 19 (the three-year age gap was fine now that I was legal myself) and he worked in greasy spoon café, making full English breakfasts all day long. He lived in a tiny bedsit above the café: the place that would become my first home when I moved in with him a month later (that’s a whole other story).
I met Karl in a club formerly known as Ritzy. It had recently been re-branded as Destiny & Elite and had been given the moniker Desperate & Easy (an accurate description) by the cooler Indie kids that would sooner set themselves on fire than step foot inside. D&E - one of Derby’s premier nightspots - a completely classless joint that was more like a youth club than a nightclub.
On this particular night in early July, the night we met, Karl and I were awkwardly third-wheeling whilst his (infinitely cuter) friend was copping off with my (infinitely cuter) friend. Karl had a kind face and politely made conversation while our friends swapped spit. I was quietly disappointed that he hadn’t put the moves on me but he was very shy. I liked Karl in a ‘my-standards-are-non-existent’ sort of way. At this point I just wanted someone, anyone, to want to kiss me - to want me at all. So I boldly took matters into my own hands and launched at him for our very first kiss. He didn’t fight me off. This was a good sign.
After our successful snogging session, Karl and I arranged to meet the following Wednesday outside Debenhams. We couldn’t swap numbers or text in those days so I just had to turn up and hope he would too. My mum dropped me off and gave me the talk. I say ‘talk’; she mostly mumbled stuff about not doing anything I didn’t want to do (which, as a mother of a 15-year-old now, I can see must have been the most heartbreaking thing to do). She handed me a packet of condoms. I was quietly impressed with this - at her attempt at being a liberal, sexually open kind of mother. I mean, I’d learned about periods from reading Judy Blume books… after I’d already started my period.
Then off I went. Off to become a woman.
Karl took me to his little bedsit. He had borrowed a little table and two chairs from the café downstairs he worked at, and had set it up in the middle of his one-roomed flat. There was even a gingham, laminate tablecloth and fake plastic carnations in a tiny vase. There were paper napkins and a little bowl of assorted sachets of condiments (also taken from the café). Karl had cooked lasagna in little individual dishes and had made a lemon cheesecake for desert. I was beyond touched. This was it. I’d arrived at adulthood! I was having a romantic, home-cooked meal, with actual wine and candles - with a man!
Suffice to say, after all of that effort, I felt Karl should be the one I gave my virginity to. Everyone expected it - even my mother. So I did.
I remember it being polite and perfunctory. It was still light outside and I was aware of the cars and voices on the street below. There was the inevitable awkwardness given that I didn’t have a clue what the fuck I was doing. I remember thinking that it was nothing like the ‘position of the month’ feature in More magazine, which were always incredibly acrobatic and exotic. It was seriously not even nearly as arousing or stimulating as that magazine had led me to believe. I even found myself at one point thinking about the dizzying array of sauce sachets on the table that had caught my attention again. Thankfully, the whole event was short-lived. I didn’t mind though. He had shown me kindness. He had given me attention. He had wanted me. And that was as much as a girl like me could hope for. And I was grateful for it.
Really Losing It
The night with Karl has always been my ‘Virginity Lost’ story. All of the versions I have of it are pretty much the memory as it exists in my brain – sometimes there’s a little more description of the act and less of the tableware. Sometimes the dialogue (my mortifying attempts at ‘talking dirty’) or the two condom mishaps make an appearance, but this time, writing it down and scouring my brain for the details, I unearthed something else altogether.
It seems that Karl, in fact, was most probably not my first. It seems also that my first time may have actually been rape.
While digging around in my box of dusty memories, I uncovered something distinctly more unpleasant. I have clearly repressed this memory; denied its existence perhaps. Or maybe the extremely patchy and vague nature, only seen through blurred edges and blackouts, I categorised it as a non-memory – put it in the memory reject bin, if you will.
So, here’s what I can remember. It was a Saturday night, several months before I met Karl. I was with two friends, Cara and Margret. Cara’s mother wasn’t as OK with the whole underage drinking thing as my mum. They were staying at my house so that we could do it without her knowing. Of course, we told my mum that it was all totally kosher.
Margret had managed to smuggle out of her dad’s drinks cabinet two big bottles of Gin Fizz - the most amazingly disgusting concoction of green shit I’ve ever tasted. So, of course, the three of us drank the lot. Before we had even gone out.
We topped up our Gin Fizz with several bottles of cheap alco-pops in various pubs around the town before we found ourselves staggering into D&E. On we drank. We danced. We laughed. Oh, we were so grown up! We drank some more, that is, until Cara felt ill. We took her for a sit down in the seated area. There were a group of three or four men there too, quite good-looking, but had a vague predatory air about them. I didn’t think too much of it at the time - I was 16 and shitfaced. What did I know?
Two of the guys came over to check if we were okay. They were probably in their mid-twenties and seemed sweet and genuinely concerned, which was nice. Cara then proceeded to actually shit her pants, I kid you not. Margret, incredibly worse for wear herself, took her to the toilet to get cleaned up. I was charged with finding a payphone to call my mum. Our knights-in-shining-armour were there to help. One of them escorted the girls to find the nearest bathroom and one ‘helped’ me to find a phone.
Only I never actually found the phone. I found myself in a cubicle in a ladies’ toilet – not the bathroom with my friends in. The man without a name was there with me. I was unable to stand. This is where my memory is patchy. Not surprising due to the fact that I was in an out of consciousness.
I remember opening my eyes to someone holding my head whilst trying to put a semi-flaccid penis in my mouth. Why didn’t it occur to me that I had never seen one before? Blackness again, then him undoing my bra and grabbing at my breasts; taking my hand and trying to make it fondle his dick. I’d never touched one. I didn’t even consider how strange this alien ‘limb’ felt. My only thought was that I had a desperate urge to lie down and sleep. Another blackout and then I was being pulled to my feet. I was turned to face the wall. My skirt was now up above my waist and I remember the air against my naked arse. I knew that he was trying to put his penis in me from behind. Given that I was struggling to stand up, this was no mean feat. Whilst I had an awareness that he was trying to have sex with me, I don’t think I told him to stop. I can’t be sure that I wanted him to.
I now know, at 37 years old, that this was beside the fucking point. Did he have sex with me? I couldn’t say for certain but it’s entirely possible. I felt a great deal of something very ugly in admitting that – I’m not sure if I lost my virginity in a nightclub toilet cubicle to a man I didn’t know, because I was too blind drunk to know any better. You see, the shame was all mine.
The encounter ended when two girls, standing on the toilet in the next cubicle looked over while he was interfering with my now soiled body. I just remember their angry voices and then he left. The memories become patchier after but I was left slumped on the toilet, pants around my ankles, my head against the loo roll dispenser.
Somehow, the two women, complete strangers whom I will never know, looked after me. They managed to reunite me with my friends and put us in a taxi home without calling my mum.
The next morning amidst headaches and hangovers, we laughed at the wild antics that we would be telling at school on Monday; stories to make us sound so much fucking cooler than we were (of course, I didn’t tell them the vague memories about the man in the toilet. We also pretended that Cara had not shit her pants and her knickers were not currently taking up residence in my wheelie bin). In reality, it was all bravado. In truth, I believed we were silly little girls, with a lifetime of inexperience, playing a very dangerous game of being grown-ups. But it didn’t stop us.
Over the past 20 years this memory has tried to claw its way into my consciousness. Each time it has, I have squashed it back down. Mainly due, I think, to my own shame at the reckless and frankly stupid behavior that put me in that situation, but also because it’s easier to digest the idea that I lost my virginity to a human. A soul with a name whom I shared an emotional connection with. I suppose I didn’t want to acknowledge that I probably lost my virginity to a stranger in a toilet in a shitty nightclub and that it was my own stupid fault. At least I thought so, until today.
But now I see it differently. Today I learnt of another woman who had a similar experience with a man. Until now, I hadn’t ever questioned the nameless, faceless man’s behaviour. I hadn’t considered that he might have behaved appallingly. How quick we are as women to admonish ourselves and carry that guilt and shame our whole lives, without question; allow ourselves to be treated that way because we’ve been conditioned into believing that if we get drunk, it’s our own fault. How we repress and deny massive events because of how worthless they make us feel.
I am now beginning to disentangle myself from that shame and the idea that I deserved what happened – that I should have even been ashamed in the first place. I now know that it was not my fault. I have a right to be blind drunk and to expect that people will not try to have sex with me. I have a right to not have someone fuck me if I am partially unconscious – whether I have consented or not. Guess what? Unconscious girls are not capable of consent!
Did I lose my virginity to someone who raped me? The years of misogyny in society and the mistreatment of rape victims, the belittling and shaming of women in similar situations, made me believe that I hadn’t been; that my experience was a grubby event that was a direct consequence of my behaviour, and because I hadn’t vehemently declared ‘No!’ or put up an active fight, I believed him justified in his actions.
Yes, I have a responsibility to look after myself. Yes, I would encourage my daughter to avoid situations like that. But I would also be quick to point out that, no matter what, nobody has a right to use your body unless you consciously and clearly consent. An absence of ‘no’ because you’re too drunk to communicate it, is not consent. Sex with someone that is unconscious or partially so, is rape.
I wonder at the number of women out there that find themselves harbouring or repressing what they perceive to be ‘dirty secrets’ and feel ashamed or responsible for various sexual encounters that are tantamount to rape simply because the definition of rape and/or consent are still, even now, so disgustingly ambiguous.
I encourage women to open up. Speak, write it down, do something with the shame you hold on to. Once you acknowledge it, you can begin to let it go.
Published by Kellie Wilson