I never expected to have premarital sex.
I also never expected my father to die suddenly when I was 21.
But when G-d threw a wrench into my existence, it shifted how my life played out. For years I could never stop wondering what my life would have been like if my father wasn’t stripped from me suddenly at the age of 21. I felt like my path took a paradigmatic shift. There was the “old Gila” and the “new Gila.” The old Gila was on the ball; she was on the straight and good path. She wasn’t perfect, but she was on top of things. The new Gila was a hot mess. She was lost and directionless and much more vulnerable to poor decision making.
The way that I dealt with my father’s death (and everyone handles their personal situation differently) was to live in denial of the enormity of what had occurred. I clung more strongly than ever to my academics and I didn’t skip a beat in my coursework. Not surprisingly, my response was not entirely sustainable and I got burnt out. Deep down I had a ton of anger and resentment toward G-d. But instead of openly facing and acknowledging it, I repressed it and acted out in other ways. For me, that meant pursuing a dating relationship with someone who was not my usual type—someone far more adventuresome and worldly than I, and far more sexually experienced.
Have I mentioned yet that I’ve struggled with low self-esteem my whole life? (That was rhetorical.) One of the cornerstone characteristics of needing others’ approval to feel good about oneself is being a people pleaser.
I was so afraid to lose my boyfriend. Plus, if we broke up I would have to face the infinitely massive abyss of abandonment and sadness that developed when my father passed away.
So, long story short, by the end of this relationship I had lost my virginity.
Now, here is why the term “losing one’s virginity” sucks:
It makes one think that after they lose it, there is nothing left to protect—and that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Sexual experience is not black and white as the term “virginity” seems to imply. Sexual experience is a spectrum. Years after this initial relationship where I “lost my virginity” I would look back and realize how much more sexual experience I had accrued. All because I felt so ashamed for no longer being a virgin, and I didn’t feel like I had anything left to protect.
Now, let me just note here that there are people who have sex outside of the context of a healthy long-term relationship and they lead very happy, fulfilling lives. That is great for them. I am just not one of them.
My original intention was to save sex for marriage, and in the Modern Orthodox Jewish world of which I am a part, marriage can happen as early as 21 or 22 (or even earlier!). I wanted to get married at some point in my early-to-mid-twenties. Now if I was still not married around age 25, and I was in a healthy, committed relationship, I may have decided at that point to have sex before marriage. But I will never know what would have happened in that hypothetical scenario, because that’s not the way my life turned out.
What I do know is that when I had premarital sex at the age of 21, I was clueless about how to do it in a physically safe and emotionally healthy way. In school, they preached abstinence, at least indirectly, by not having ANY sexual education classes whatsoever. Sex is discussed in the context of marriage [e.g. Kallah (“bride”) classes which are taken AFTER one has already gotten engaged], but otherwise it’s all hush-hush.
So basically, there is a HUGE gap where the period between one’s teenage years and marriage (at whatever age that ends up being) is virtually ignored.
Well, that is, until now 😉
I wrote my book to advocate for discussing sexual education during this crucial period of life. And it’s not just about safe sex and STD prevention (which is super important!), it’s also about how to pursue emotionally healthy relationships—e.g. having healthy self-esteem and self-love BEFORE seeking out love from another.
You never know where someone’s life will take them and we have to prepare all youth for how to handle sex in a mindful and responsible way. I don’t want others to have to endure the pain and heartbreak that I did.
Let’s talk about sex.
2 thoughts on “Dating Series #4: Why the Term “Losing One’s Virginity” Sucks!”
GIla, You are amazing to be so open especially in the world you socialized in. Your courage is extraordinary and has given hope to many young woman who have struggled with their sexual identity thru-out their 2o’s and 30s..
How much you are continuously adding to the world of growing up!.
It is an honor being your friend even though we are years apart.
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Thank you so much, Edith! I really appreciate you saying that.
And I am honored to be your friend as well.