#thetimeisnow

When you need to “prove it” How constructions of sex and virginity have influenced my queer identity

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Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

By Julia Healy, Contributor

CW: Mentions sexual violence

Sex and I have a fraught relationship with one another. As a girl growing up as a lesbian in a fairly conservative religious environment, my parents, teachers and peers frequently insinuated that queer attraction, particularly attraction between women, was attention-seeking and a phase. This stereotype made me constantly doubt my feelings and kept me securely in the closet during my high school years. But, once I left home and entered the secular world of university,  I was determined to come out. 

In first year, I began to feel like I had missed out on a lot of romantic experiences by remaining closeted for so long. While I hadn’t even tried flirting with a girl, my 2SLGBTQ+ friends would tell stories about their past high school flings and recent hook-ups at parties. One story that that I would hear and unfortunately internalize starred straight girls who had supposedly just wanted to “experiment,” and had left my queer friends feeling heartbroken and used. 

Being told that my sexuality was “just a phase” by people back home and by society at large was enough to make me doubt myself. Having this sentiment seemingly confirmed by the experiences of fellow members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community was terrifying. I internalized the idea that I could be misunderstanding my feelings, and that I was just constructing these attractions to seek attention, or approval from my 2SLGBTQ+ peers. I became fixated on the need to validate my identity and thought that having sex with a woman was the only way to settle the nagging fears inside my head.

I became fixated on the need to validate my identity and thought that having sex with a woman was the only way to settle the nagging fears inside my head.

Unfortunately, as an awkward first year who had never even kissed anyone, this plan was easier said than done. I worried that I would somehow mess up and embarrass myself, or, even worse, that I would realize I was straight all along. This idea made me so anxious, I didn’t even try to date. First and second year went by without a single a kiss to show for it. 

In the summer of second year, my sexual life completely shifted. After just one lacklustre date with very little chemistry, I went back to a girl’s apartment and stayed the night. She didn’t know that I had experienced my first kiss and had lost my virginity  within minutes of each other that night, and she didn’t seem to care about my nervousness. Although, in hindsight, I recognize that this encounter was not very healthy, I felt immense relief at the time that my attraction to women was not a figment of my imagination.

Despite this experience, I still hadn’t fully dispelled the negative stereotype about seeking attention, or the fear of falling behind on sexual experiences, from my brain. I started to seek out sexual encounters to validate not just my identity, but also my desirability and my self worth. The fears that I held onto have led me into some unsafe situations. I’ve rushed into sex with people before I was ready, to prove that I am, in fact, a lesbian. I’ve had sex with people before talking about STI status because I didn’t want them to feel like I was stalling out of disinterest, or for them to lose interest in me. I’ve never been able to properly communicate not being in the mood for sex, wanting to slow down or wanting to stop, even with partners who I knew would have  respected my boundaries. I’ve had people hurt me during sex and, perhaps most damaging of all, I have frequently verbally consented to situations while my brain screamed at me to run away. 

My lack of sexual experience once seemed like nothing but an obstacle between myself and the formation of a healthy queer relationship with a loving partner. However, after ignoring my own boundaries for so long, I feel like I’m farther from forming whatever a “healthy relationship” is than ever before. 

My lack of sexual experience once seemed like nothing but an obstacle between myself and the formation of a healthy queer relationship with a loving partner. However, after ignoring my own boundaries for so long, I feel like I’m farther from forming whatever a “healthy relationship” is than ever before.

The unhealthy attitudes that I have developed towards sex started with the desire to not only  validate my lesbian identity for myself, but to have that identity recognized by other queer women. My conservative upbringing started my self-doubt, but it was ultimately the emphasis placed upon sexual experience and the suspicion surrounding virginity within my own community that pushed me to seek validation through sex. I am only beginning to unlearn my unhealthy attitudes towards sex and to reconcile with my identity on my own terms.

At the intersection of sexism and homophobia, queer women face a lot of pressure from society to perform our sexuality in specific ways, often for the gratification of others. Rather than reproducing these pressures within our spaces, we as queer women should uplift one another, no matter where on our sexual journeys we happen to be.  

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

 

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