Written by: Sammie Lee Wilhoit
Art by: Grace Monahan
Having sex before marriage is a sin. When my friend lost her virginity in high school, I thought her parents would find out. I thought having sex meant giving up on academics and all of the responsibilities of life. I was certain she would get pregnant or ill. Certain that this boy did not care about her and would break her heart.
Red was the forbidden color. When I was three, red was my favorite color. It was the color of fire engines, Elmo, and my favorite superhero, Spider-Man. But when my dad got me a bottle of red nail polish and painted it on my nails, my mom came home and yelled. As she scrubbed the paint off my nails, she gently scolded me saying that, “Red nails are for bad girls.”
As I got older, red lipstick was added to the list of shame. “Look at that girl,” my mom pointed to a 10 year old girl with a face full of stage makeup. “She looks so old. She looks like she’s thirty. You don’t want to look like that, do you?”
In high school it was just more and more and more. If I mentioned going on a date, my mom would want to have them over to ask them questions and make them feel uncomfortable. My coffee dates became frequent coffee outings with no follow through. Long story short, I graduated high school as an un-kissed virgin with no relationship history.
Before I left for college, I sent some of my journal poems to a crush instead of directly telling him that I liked him. He admitted that he had a “physical reaction” and was turned on although he had no romantic desires.
This was the moment I realized I wanted to have sex.
When I got to college, all the way across the country and away from all of the rules and regulations of home, I realized I was free. My first semester of college was full of firsts. My first week, I wore red lipstick and red nail polish simultaneously. I wore a tank top as a shirt and paired it with a jean miniskirt. A year ago this would never have happened.
I became a regular at Urban Outfitters, filling my wardrobe with miniskirts and crop tops. My legs became tan from hiking up and down the hill back and forth from Church Street. My curves were gorgeous and I began to love my little belly until the air got cold and my sweater covered it. I had broken from the list of shame and grown confident.
My first date in college was in October with a tall, pale, skinny, lanky guy with ears that stuck out at the sides. We bought maple cremes at the waterfront and ate them while sitting on a bench swing and gazing across the lake, watching the sunset. After dark, we headed back up the hill and parted ways at our dorm.
He and I texted late into the night. He asked if I wanted to meet him at his dorm around midnight; I said yes and quickly wrote a note to my roommates stating that I was, “Going to a friend’s house. Might sleepover!” I had no idea what would happen and had few expectations except for the feelings of excitement.
“You’re shaking like a leaf,” he said when he let me into his basement dorm room. Instead of trying to kiss me, we talked it over. Eventually, we decided to move on. We took off our shirts and looked shyly over at each other. I laid down on the comforter and he said, “Kissing is weird. Can I kiss you?” I agreed and he smiled and leaned in with a full mouth.
Five or ten minutes after that, we both had sex for the first time. When that was over with, he walked me back to my dorm with his arm around my shoulder.
A few days later, he told me that I wouldn’t want to date him.
A week after that, I discovered the beauty that is rebound sex from a guy with blue eyes that lived in my dorm. We’d made eye contact a few times in the common area and that was enough to know that he was interested.
If the first time is awkward and painful, the second is exhilarating.
After that, sex didn’t have to be tied to a relationship to be enjoyable.
Kissing a girl was different from the boys. We were in her car, just back from a drive-in movie. We were waiting for the engine to cool before she could start it back up and leave. We were talking about our hopes and our past relationships and if we thought we would end up marrying a girl or a guy. Ten minutes later I knew it was time to leave.
“I have to go.” I said, giving her a hug.
“Do you want a kiss?” She asked. I nodded and leaned in and our lips pressed together just long enough to taste the smoky bitterness of weed mingled with the sweet taste of her favorite soda, Cherry Sprite. Then I drew away, blushing, leaving the car and running up the driveway and my staircase back to my bed, cheerful and giddy.
A few weeks ago, a guy who I had not been officially together with broke up with me. We had been talking for over a month and he had spent the weekend at my place.
He stated that he felt that he’d had “too much sex” with me that weekend, that he wasn’t prepared, and most brutally of all that, “sex wasn’t special to me because I hadn’t been in a serious long-term relationship. That hook-ups didn’t mean much to me.”
Sex used to be forbidden and unknown, but now, I no longer need a committed relationship to find it enjoyable. While there are some hookups that resulted in poems about bad sex, others have produced memories that are nice to look back on, like a photograph.
It’s okay that this guy wanted sex to have meaning, but that doesn’t mean that I find hooking up meaningless. It’s more of a journey to find out who I am and what qualities I enjoy in other people. People who are patient; who respect me and my time.
I’m at a place where I’m comfortable with my body and my decisions. I can walk around confidently with red painted nails and feel no shame. Sure, I can be impulsive and make mistakes, but after a good cry I can wear a crop top the next day and smile.