Being a woman seemed to come with rules, even when I was small. Most of it hinged on being a 'lady'. You know, “Ladies don't run in the hallway. Ladies don't climb the monkey bars. Ladies don't get their clothes dirty. Ladies don't fart at the dinner table.” I always thought that as I got older, I'd have fewer rules. Instead, more came. And these rules seemed to be hinged on just one idea.
You'll get a reputation.
That was always the reason I got for why I shouldn't have sex before I was married. I didn't really understand the problem. A reputation? Wasn't I always told that I shouldn't worry about what other people thought about me? Wasn't I always told that I should live my life so that I would be happy with myself? And if having sex made me happy, and I could do it safely, I didn't understand why I shouldn't do it.
More to the point, the thing that really seemed to cling to me was the fact that my brother, older than me by two years, wasn't told this. He had no concern for getting a reputation based on his sexual experiences. It seemed par for the course that he would have sex before being committed to someone. Being the younger sibling, my sense of inequality between the two of us was sharp, and I instantly asked my mother why it was different.
The simple answer was that he couldn't get pregnant. I pointed out that he could get someone pregnant, and I didn't see how that was too much different. My mother just mumbled that it was different. It was different in a way that she couldn't say. In a way, I completely understood the physical ramifications of getting pregnant, but I didn't understand why me getting pregnant was worse than my brother getting someone in that predicament.
And then I knew without my Mom saying it out loud, it was because I would get a reputation. I would get a reputation as a slut. I would be a girl who just spread her legs. Like my worth would be less because I slept with someone when I was young and a child came of it. Like me getting pregnant would release the elephant in the room that I was having sex, and that was a source of shame.
Words can't even begin to express how much rage I felt at that. Why is there shame in a young woman having sex before marriage, but not a young man? For that matter, even when you go back, a woman had to be a virgin when she was married. Otherwise she was dirty, she was wrong, she wasn't worth marrying. In short, she was worthless.
I've been mulling that thought over and over in my brain since I found out I was having a girl. Why is worth attached to being a virgin? How do I feel about my own daughter having sex before she's signed a piece of paper saying that she and another person are committed to one another?
As shocking as it is, I've realized that I just don't care. I don't believe that I am in charge of my daughter's virginity. When she has sex, it's her choice. I can explain to her that I feel sex is an important decision and should happen when she's ready for it, and just because you're physically able to ready, it doesn't mean that you're really emotionally ready.
At the same token, I had conceived her outside of marriage, a fact that I'm certain she'll realize, being that math exists. How can I tell her that she should not do something that I did? This can't be a case of 'Do as I say, not as I do'. I will not tell her that I made a mistake, either. I don't regret my actions for one second. For that matter, I don't regret any of the people I had sex with. My sexual experiences were experiences, and I learned from all of them. And more than that, they are my own. They are not for anyone else to judge. No one else knows where I was, or how I felt when I slept with those people. I can't tell my daughter that I was wrong for expressing love the way I did, when I did. Because I don't believe that I was wrong.
How can I tell my daughter, my beautiful daughter, who even so young is smart, and funny, curious and kind, my beautiful daughter who is everything I ever dreamed of.... How can I tell her that if she has sex with someone she loves when she's seventeen or eighteen, when she's twenty five or thirty, it'll be wrong if she's not married? How can I tell her that it's the wrong decision, and that if she does that, no one will want her after that? How can I tell her that everything she is only has any weight if she's a virgin?
How do any of us tell our daughters that? How do we tell them in one breath they can be anything they want to be—as long as they're pure? And why do we define pure as not having sex? Why do we tell our daughters that they need to keep their legs closed, that they need to be the one to tell their partner no? Why aren't we reaching out to our sons and telling them the same thing? I still don't understand, and it still enrages me in a very primal way.
Everything I am is not hinged upon who I have or have not had sex with. It never was. I realized that when I was eighteen. Sex only has the meaning that we attach to it. And honestly, the reality is, it isn't anyone's business who you sleep with. I learned that no matter what, I was wrong when it came to sex. If I didn't have sex, then I was a prude and I led my date on. If I did have sex, then I was a slut.
It's like I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't, before I could even make the choice. Someone will always have a problem with what you do. Someone will always be mad, or think they could have decided better for you. At the end of the day, you have to go to bed with your own choices, and you have to live with all that you have done and not done.
If someone doesn't love my daughter because she's slept with someone else, that's their problem. If someone condemns her for choices she made when they weren't there, that is also their problem. As long as my most beloved daughter makes choices that keep her healthy and happy, that's all I can ask for. That's all I need. And if she gets a 'reputation', then I will tell her to hold her head high. No one has to live in her shoes but her, and I will love her no matter what. To me, she's worth more than diamonds.
(Image: Zelenenka Yuliia/shutterstock)