I remember the first time I watched the scene in Love and Basketball where Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) has sex for the first time with Q McCall (Omar Epps). Soft music. Gentle touches. Intense eye contact. A dimly-lit room decorated with both affection and apprehension. The pearl necklace that she never took off.
The term “losing your virginity” never made much sense to me after that because it didn’t seem like she was losing or gaining anything. Monica didn’t lose any part of her identity and didn’t look different after intercourse, so what was there to lose? Conversely, what did the penetration allow her to gain beyond experience with heterosexual intercourse? I don’t ask this in order to invalidate their experience or relationship; this intimate moment warrants respect from the film’s audience. However, it is implied that sex has altered Monica in some ambiguous way.
Let me be clear: these false ideas of virginity as a core part of one’s identity do not only pertain to straight, cisgender people. The example above was only used because it was my first experience with the idea of virginity as purity. Gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex, and asexual people’s fundamental characteristics and psychological makeup are not tainted or altered by sexual encounters. Monica’s worth is not tethered to her sexual history, and neither is that of anyone on the gender and sexuality spectrum.
Again, your mental and moral qualities are not changed after having sex. Sure, maybe you’ll feel less awkward and more experienced but overall you’ll still be you. There are several cultural and religious traditions that equate virginity with purity, honor, and worth, which would suggest that having sex spoils your character. The idea of virginity has long been associated with sexual abstinence and moral implications, so it can be discerned that if you abstain from sex, you’ll remain pure. Funny, I don’t remember Monica becoming a dirty, immoral beast, but maybe I’ll give the film another glance to make sure.
When I think about my own first sexual experience I recognize that I was a very different person back then, but that has nothing to do with the fact that my initial experience happened in a boarding school dorm room at age seventeen. I had braces, was a track and field nerd, and rarely ever caught the attention of boys at the school dances. I was undoubtedly awkward, but still comfortable with myself because my strengths were my passions and I had countless people in my life who genuinely loved me. Despite being less physically desirable, according to myself, than many of my peers, someone still wanted to have sex with me. Maybe he was genuinely interested in me; however, the fact that we’ve barely spoken in five years suggests otherwise.
My encounter comically conflicted with Monica’s. The Rick Ross poster taped haphazardly on the wall next to us fell off right as a Spotify commercial for Clorox interrupted his Jamaican dancehall music playlist. No soft music, no gentle touches, no dimly-lit room, no pearl necklace.
I remember waking up the next morning in my friend Shana’s room. My first thoughts were: “When can I fit in my long run today? Can I do eight miles in between dinner and study hall?”. Pre-sex Addis was post-sex Addis in almost every sense, except for the sole fact that I now knew what it felt like to have sexual intercourse with a boy. I was still naïve, I was still terrified to go to college, I still had braces, and I still thought it was cool to pretend to be super drunk to fit in with everyone else at parties. (It’s not, by the way).
It is worth acknowledging that for some, their first sexual episode is absolutely life-changing, especially for those who are deeply in love or have been sexually assaulted. However, sex is not a universal cognitive modifier. It is as individual as it is personal.
You can be a virgin with terrible character; You can have over fifty sexual partners and a heart of gold, and you can be anywhere in between. However, the moment you have sex for the first time does not dictate where you reside on this supposed “morality spectrum”. You will not immediately lose your standards, innocence, dignity, morality, or self-respect after sex.
I’m not a sex expert, just someone who has had a diverse set of experiences, but my fear of life changes and lasting passion for running indicates that I’m still somewhat similar to the awkward seventeen year old girl in the boarding school dorm room. Monica Wright lost her virginity to Q McCall and she still made it to the league. Sex changed nothing about her character or mine.