I’m not a fan of reality TV, but for some reason I am obsessed with USA’s new show Chrisley Knows Best, about Atlanta real estate mogul (I think) Todd Chrisley and his tow-headed, picture perfect family. Last night I watched the premiere episode on demand, and something Chrisley said to his son has stuck with me. They were discussing sex when the son asked Chrisley at what age he lost his virginity. Chrisley replied:
“I didn’t lose my virginity. I gave it away.”
All I could think was YES. This is how we should be discussing sex and virginity with our teenagers. It got me thinking about yesterday’s post regarding Camille Paglia and her Time Magazine opinion piece on sex ed, and in particular about abstinence only education. I think the general consensus in America, in regards to virginity, is that it’s something we lose as young adults. But sex isn’t some battle waged against us by a weary foe. It’s usually a choice made between two consenting people. And the best way to ensure that teens make the right choice is to arm them with the right information.
I had sex for the first time at age 17, just two months shy of my 18th birthday. I would absolutely say that “I didn’t lose my virginity. I gave it away”. Or rather, I made a choice to have sex with someone I trusted (who later became my husband and the father of my oldest daughter). I don’t regret it for a moment.
I want to make something clear. I absolutely think that lessons about the benefits of abstinence have a place in sexual education for teens. I think this is obvious. Abstinence is the only way to ensure that you don’t get pregnant or catch an STD. In a perfect world no teen or young adult would have sex before they were both emotionally and physically ready for it. But we don’t live in a perfect world. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 62 percent of teens will have had sex by the 12th grade. Those teens need to know the facts, and framing virginity as a badge of honor that is lost is a terrible way to being that process.
Not only that, but the virginity loss fallacy and resulting shame are something placed almost exclusively on the shoulders of young women. When we talk about virginity as something that can be lost, or refer to women as “the cow that men won’t buy if they get the milk for free,”, we take away any chance for young women to have agency when it comes to their sexuality. Virginity is nothing more than a concept. When a person has sex for the first time, they are making a choice. Nothing more and nothing less.
Young adults are asked to make a lot of choices during their teen years. They often have to choose a college or university, which in turn determines much of the course their lives take. To make that choice, we try to give them as much information as we can because we know how high the stakes are. Well, the stakes are high with sex as well, and with teen pregnancy rates as high as they are, we need to get rid of the moral hand-wringing and do the same damn thing for sex.
(Photo: Getty Images)