A lot of us know that college is a time of exploration. People change their hometown identities like clothes and sometimes find new ones or go through many. When I started I was paired up with a senior through one of their freshman mentoring programs and knowing what was in store for me, she gave me all the advice she could in that one year. She took me to “Take Back the Night” rallies, told me about this thing called “feminism”, gave me tips on how to manage my homework load, and confided in me about her relationships. I’m sure at some point it had come up that I was a virgin. So over beers at the local Mcmenamins where, at 19-years-old I had not been carded she gave me the most important advice I’d ever get. I come back to it often when I feel conflicted: “Do it when YOU are ready, not when you think you should do it. Do it because YOU want to.” This particular time though, she was talking about sex.
As the years passed, and crushes came and went, there were no prospects for a boyfriend, and boyfriends mean sex, so as I got older, I felt the cultural pressure. I was quickly coming up to this line that once I crossed, it would go from “it will happen” to “what’s wrong with you.” At one point, I even thought I was a lesbian because girls liked me more than boys. That’s silly ideology, I know, but my fragile self-esteem was heading into that unhealthy direction.
When he hit on me that night at the bar, I was taken aback. He was as pale as a vampire with pointy teeth to match, deep blue eyes with heavy dark lashes, tattoos up and down his arms. It so happened he was half Mexican, which is a bit surprising in Eugene, OR in the early 2000s. We small talked about tequila and *NSYNC. He scribbled his name and number on a bar napkin and two nights later I went to meet him, roommate and friend in tow. He and I chit-chat and I determined that he was safe enough to go home with. I told my girls, who were hesitant but supportive and off I went. I was very honest with him and I told him I’d never done this before nor had sex. He was, for all intents and purposes, a gentleman. I slept in his bed, but was fully-clothed. I still remember the sound of my shirt as it crinkled like paper when I moved. I think I had also kept my shoes on! We continued seeing each other, though he was clear we were not dating and never pressured me to have sex with him.
It was Valentine's Day the night it happened. My roommate tried to make me promise not to sleep with him and that infuriated me. My senior friends’ words came into my head at that very moment “Only do it when YOU want to.” Throughout the night, my roommate’s request kept popping into my head like annoying tune. If I ended up doing it, she’d think it was out of spite. Back at his house I thought “why not”, so I asked him if we could and he made sure I was sure. I was. So we did. How was it? It hurt, and I was sore and I interrupted us a lot with the need to pee. I got nothing out of it except for I had finally done it, I had “lost the V card” as the young kids call it. I had no regrets.
The weekend after it happened, I decided in addition to the condoms, I should also get on the pill, just to be doubly safe. I’m a stickler for safe sex. I thought even if I don’t continue with him, I’m likely to continue with someone else because it can’t just end here, right? I shed some old skin and felt like I could now participate with the rest of the world. I looked at things differently and felt a responsibility I hadn’t before felt. I could create life. This was as empowering as it was scary. Nonetheless, I was ready and excited for what was ahead. That next Monday morning, I left my apartment and walked toward the UO campus health center. I wondered if anyone noticed anything new about me. I picked up the pace, smiled and shoved my hands in my pockets, willing the cold and grey spring morning to be a warm spring afternoon.
I entered the brown brick building of the student health center and checked in. I waited anxious and excited that I was finally “that girl”. I smiled to myself as I thought of the previous weekend’s events. When my name was called I sprung up from my chair and quickly walked over to meet the doc. I sat in the exam room and was excited to reveal the reason I was there. She asked me about my past sexual experiences and I said, it had just happened. I just had sex for the first time and I wanted to be safe and get on the pill. She looked at me and looked at her paperwork and said, “You just now started having sex?” My excitement began to fade and I felt a heaviness begin to build.
“Yes…” My window of confidence slowly began to close like a far away tunnel.
“Wow, this late, huh?”
I sat there with my eyes cast at the floor feeling ashamed and stupid. She quickly wrote me a script to be filled at the pharmacy and was gone. I slowly pulled my clothes back on and walked out of the exam room. I looked around once again to see if anyone noticed it this time, if anyone could see the shame and embarrassment.
I fought back tears as I went to the pharmacy to fill the script. My once excited and responsible self was now a blubbering whirl of doubt. What’s wrong with me, why DID it take me this long? Why should I even bother with the pills. Who’s gonna wanna have sex with someone who just lost her virginity? And just as the thoughts entered my brain, they called my name. I went up to the counter and grabbed the little baggy filled with pills. I rolled it up like a school sack lunch and headed back the way I came.
I got home and pulled the pills out and read the instructions. I put them back in the bag, shoved them in my desk drawer and never pulled them out again. He and I continued to see each other but things had changed. I felt shame about sex for the first time and this prevented me from relaxing or even wanting to do it. We had sex one more time and it was more of the same. Spring break was right around the corner and I think we were both relieved for the break. When I got back from break in Portland and gave him a call, his phone was disconnected so that was that. I wasn’t sad however my shame was replaced with a deep sense of paranoia since he had revealed to me before it ended that used needles back when he was a street kid in Portland.
My period had never been regular and I often skipped months at a time but this time I was extra vigilant. I noticed my period was fine, but I had a new burning and itching sensations so of course my mind went to the only logical place: STDs. Though I was freaked out, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the UO health clinic again. I went through the rolodex in my brain for another solution. I could go up to Portland to see my regular doctor, but then my mom would wonder why I was there and I preferred to keep this to myself. Then I remembered a place right behind where my brother used to live when he went to UO called Planned Parenthood. I looked them up and made an appointment to see them as soon as possible.
When I stepped into the clinic on the day of the appointment, I felt an instant sense of ease. Everyone was friendly, the office was bright with empowering posters about female reproduction, rights and smiling women and babies. I had no idea about health insurance but the kind receptionist said “oh, pay what you can” so I wrote them a check for $20 bucks. When they called my name, I was nervous but hopeful. The OB was friendly and warm. While examining me she exclaimed “You have a very lovely vagina!” and continued to chat with me like we were old friends. I told her my symptoms and she listened patiently. She determined that what I had was something called Vaginitis which was simple irritation of the skin. Since we had already gone over my limited sexual experience, she asked me if I was allergic to latex. I had no idea. She wrote me a script for some cream and came back with a handful of latex free condoms. “Try these and see if it helps next time,” and smiled.
Though this was a positive experience, the feeling of shame from my very first encounter has colored how I view and respond to sex and myself. Even to this day, as a happily married woman and soon to be momma, I still have to fight my default “shame” setting. Because of this, my wish is to teach our son that there is nothing wrong with waiting and there is nothing wrong with not. I, too, want him to do it (or anything he’s nervous about) when HE is ready even though this particular conversation is still still many many years away.