The Virgin Diaries: The Sexiness of Abstinence

twilight_vampire_kissOur contributor Katherine Chen, a sophomore English major at Princeton University (check out her personal site here), is penning a series of confessions for EMandLO.com collectively called “The Virgin Diaries.” Here’s her third installment:

These days, every girl between 10 and 50 seems to be obsessed with the Twilight Saga. You’d think it was because a story about an intense love triangle between a teenage girl, a vampire supermodel, and a buff werewolf must have a ton of great animalistic sex in it, right? Wrong. Stephanie Meyer’s four-part story seems to appeal to millions of readers and moviegoers precisely because it doesn’t have any illicit sex in it.

Some movie critics have argued that “Twilight” is the latest form of abstinence-only education — after all, it’s not that Bella and Edward are incapable of having sex; they choose not to until they are married. But there’s no denying that by delaying their gratification they make the moment of their first union so much more meaningful and, yes, special. And that aspect of “Twilight” reflects my own views about virginity and abstinence.

Now before anyone classifies me as a Twihard who dreams about being Bella Swan at night, I just want to set the record straight regarding my feelings about the Twilight Saga: Hate vampires. Hate werewolves. Hate the whole damsel in distress business. And I am not a fan of androgynous good looks. Got it? Okay, we’re moving on.

Virginity has always been a very significant part of who I am. I can’t deny my mother certainly influenced my perspective on sex: she raved about how all my female classmates were sluts and whores just for going out with a boy on Saturday night. But I’ve also had two friends get pregnant and then undergo abortions before they turned 18. The pain and agony they went through by taking a chance on someone they hoped was Mr. Right (who turned out to be Mr. Wrong) did not seem worth it at all. One turned into a total recluse, to the point where her parents were forced to take her out of school. She told me later on that even though she was ashamed of what she had done, it was the gossip and accusations being made at school that truly got to her. My other friend attempted suicide a few times and eventually landed in a hospital after her family threatened to disown her. At one time, these two were the most vibrant, funny, and energetic human beings I knew.

Studies have shown (see here and here) that when women don’t receive the relationship they anticipated after losing their virginity, they feel like their sexual power has been taken away from them. Of course, there is also the emotional and spiritual devastation that comes with feeling deceived, even if that was not the intention of the other party. I believe good sex isn’t just about physical reciprocation, but emotional reciprocation — and that’s not something you can get with a fling or someone as emotionally immature as a student in high school or in college. It may not even be something you can get before the kind of commitment that comes with marriage.

Despite my fairly old school views, I don’t think virginity should be viewed as a treasure, much less a curse or a stigma. The fact that female virginity is so prized among certain (if not all) cultures confirms that women are still viewed as sex objects. I’m not down with that. Nor do I think losing one’s virginity should be considered an automatic rite of passage for young people, like attaining one’s first driver’s license or graduating from high school. When the situation and circumstances are genuinely right, it can happen quite naturally and in its own sweet time, but until then you should have the right to protect your feelings and your body without undergoing external pressures to conform to any arbitrary sexual standards — whether that’s doing it before you hit a certain age to avoid being seen as a freak or not doing it until you get married because of some religious ideology.

Virginity is a one-time thing. You lose it, and you won’t be able to get it back. Stephanie Meyers knows this, which is why it took her four books to get Bella and Edward in bed. Why rush something so sweet? It’s more exciting and ultimately satisfying to take the time to make sure the situation and the person are right for you. Or should I say, right for me.

Katherine Chen


  1. Pushing 30…still a virgin. I have a great job, close with my family, not a social reject and no one is the wiser. I think there is a bit of shame still associated with it, but all in all life is good. Great article.

  2. In responce to audity’s post, different countries have different expectations and social norms for women and men. I’m from Maine where they were the first state to give out birth control to middle school students. I personally believe that it was a great decision because the average age for girls to start having sex is 13, and boys 14, which would be when they are in middle school. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I think oral sex and kissing is not regarded as the same, a kiss is intimate but oral sex is very personal but also reguarded as casual in this country, which is just my opinion. Everyone is different and has different opinions and values which is why this country is so great. I feel that in order to give oral sex, I’d have to know the person really well and I couldn’t just do it to anyone. I’m in highschool and oral sex is “no big deal”. Most of the students that I go to school with have already lost their virginity, or have gotten pregnant, or have had an abortion. I don’t get direct social pressure, but being a virgin is somewhat embaressing or so they make you feel that way. It’s been really hard to hold back and wait because of the social pressure and hormones. I’ve had about 3 boyfriends and I havent had sex yet and I’m 17, about to be 18. I’m with someone that treats me with kindness and respect and I can see myself being with him for a long time and he feels the same. I’ve never met anyone like him, someone who is so open and caring and just amazing. I’m really considering having sex with him and talking to him about it. But I won’t do anything I dont want to do, and he supports whatever decision I make.

  3. hello, read the article and other comments. i am from an Asian country where virginity is highly esteemed and it is suggested that women must be virgin before wedding. But, tradition and modernity are now having tug of wars as women are getting higher education, coming to seek career and hence getting married in a much late age than their predecessors. So, complications are there. But, still what we try is to remain virgin although some of us might experience kiss or getting embraced. I myself has been kissed or embraced but never allowed anybody to have total physical union with me because I am still unmarried. In our country, sex education is rare. In fact, I am not sure that what is ‘oral sex’ although I have crossed thirty. Is it unbelievable? Does ‘oral sex’ amount to ‘kiss?’ Please, forgive my ignorance. I am yet to see any naked man…I fear I would get fainted if I see any. I won’t be able to see that hard scene. I have not yet seen any porno movie or magazine as women in middle class families are very much protected from sight of all evils. We cannot go for date in Saturday and we don’t think it proper to go. So, if anyone of you can ensure me if ‘kiss’ amounts to ‘oral sex,’ I would feel informed. In our society, even a woman cannot discuss these things with another woman until both are married. I have not yet seen any packet of condom or birth control pills although I crossed thirty several years ago. Is it unimaginable to you? And, yesterday I read an American feminist’s book where it has been mentioned that if any woman does not enjoy sex, then she is frigid. I recall two of my past boyfriends who kissed me but I felt myself impure. Thanks God that I did not get totally carried away as they later did not prove to be trust worthy. Although I was mentally injured, I feel physically okay.

  4. This has been a fascinating discussion to read. I love all these different POVs.

    I do still have issues with the term “lost” virginity. I personally think it’s gift you give someone not something you lose. I see sex itself as a gift you give yourself and another person.

    Yes, the first time is special but so are many other times you’ll have sex. Why is the focus only put on the first time? True, it can only be your first time once but there are lots of first in our lives. I don’t think any mother will tell you that the second time she gave birth was any less special than the first. I doubt most people who’s been married twice will tell you that their first wedding was more special than their second.

    I’d really like to see the focus taken off of “saving” your virginity and put on the gift of sex itself. Focus on the giving and receiving of pleasure, emotional connections, and psychological effects of having sex for the for the first time. I think the younger generations would fare much better with this information.

    Just my 2 cents! Thanks for a great conversation.

  5. Elizabeth said: “And that’s why I was upset, because I felt like you were attacking the idea that sex can be special and powerful.” Oh, wow, NO. I think sex is one of the most special, powerful, wonderful things one can do in one’s entire life!

    I’m glad you understood where I was, though. The info about the concept of virginity not existing in societies were young women are not “sold” to a man is SO telling and so true! What movie was that where the guy goes, “How many cattle for your daughter?” Animal House?

  6. Yep, I def. read the article more like the way Elizabeth did. I can identify with the writer’s feelings. But like Madmoiselle L pointed out, she’s a virgin…so it’s a relatively limited and one-sided perspective. But no one is entitled to criticize the choices anyone makes about their sexuality because it’s their own body. And I agree with figleaf…she’s not pointing fingers at anyone else…she’s just explaining her own choices and the freedom she can exercise by making those choices for her own personal benefit.

    That’s a really interesting factoid about virginity, by the way. Did not know that.

  7. Deciding to have sex or not to have sex is extremely confusing. I agree that it’s important to make sure that it’s the right situation for you before having sex with anyone for the first time but sometimes it’s hard to know. The mixture of sexual desires and logic can be confusing. As someone who has never had sex but is seriously considering it even though I am in a casual relationship I don’t know what to follow: my desires or my fears. The interesting thing is that likely the only reason why there is any conflict is because the concept of virginity has such a high value in this society. It’s seen as far less of a big deal to have other first experiences with someone such as kissing, oral sex, or simply being naked. All those things are intimate but yet they are all less terrifying and confusing. Perhaps deciding to have sex for the first time for women is difficult because it may be painful and the person your with has to understand that. Perhaps it’s because it is a much more intimate act. The truth is it all depends on the person and some women feel the same afterwards or perhaps they are treated badly and can’t feel good about it. Also, I don’t agree with the statement “losing one’s virginity” it indicates that something is lost and cannot be found. Having sex for the first time is having a new experience. Nothing is actually lost. I also think less things should be compared to Twilight. They didn’t have sex most likely because of the writer’s religious beliefs. Besides it basically underwrites the power of women in that the main character cares more about being with a guy than about her own life.

  8. Madamoiselle – Sorry I misunderstood you. I think we were both looking at her article in different ways. While I saw her anecdotes about women who were traumatized by the loss of their virginity, to me, her article spoke more about the power of sex (not the first time, but every time) and that she wanted it to matter.

    I have only been sexually involved with one man, who I intend to marry in a few months. And I like that. I like that he is the only person that knows me that way. And I understand that other people have VERY different views on this subject – and I am quite okay with that, as long as they aren’t going to attack mine. And that’s why I was upset, because I felt like you were attacking the idea that sex can be special and powerful.

    An interesting aside here: Did you (all) know that the concept of “virginity” does not exist in societies that do not have transfer of property or titles based on bloodlines? Some sociologists believe that virginity was developed as a way to prove that the child in question was in fact the progeny of a particular man. Hence the issues with “illegitimate” children.

  9. Hi Katherine,

    I think this is a really cool post. Also an important one because you’re locating the gratification of abstinence in yourself instead of the usual (basically universal) way of locating the gratification in someone else.

    The word “sex-positive” gets tossed around a lot and there’s obviously some disagreement about it’s meaning. In its most original sense it doesn’t mean being open to everything early and often. Which is great because that would rule out a lot of people’s positive experience of their sexualities. Instead it meant being tolerant of other people’s sexualities and comfortable with and able to express your own (non-coercive, obviously) sexuality *whatever* that might be. I’ve pointed out in the past that that means making room for asexuality. What you’ve done is make a great case for abstinence as it’s own form or anticipation and enjoyment and as an expression of one’s own sexuality. That’s cool.

    Quick, really important note… actually really important in terms of the discussion here: abstinence doesn’t have to equal virginity. Which brings me to the most important part of your post.

    “Studies have shown … that when women don’t receive the relationship they anticipated after losing their virginity, they feel like their sexual power has been taken away from them.”

    I think that’s right, and I think it’s really critical to get how much that belief in the value or “power” of women’s virginity influences our notions of “innate” gender difference. Because when you’re raised nearly from birth with the expectation that you’ve got this… property value that’s independent of, and maybe even more important that, everything else about you it’s going to overload your actual experience of it with all sort of cultural and emotional freight. Even if it’s not always treated as an outright ‘treasure’ it’s still something you’re expected to assess every potential partnership in terms of whether this is the person you’re going to “bestow” or “give” it to. Or who will “take” it from you.

    And since you’re only allowed one chance (remember, traditionally virginity is valued way more than abstinence itself) you’re just wonderfully setup to have that feeling of loss of power — it really is just sex, the next day you really do still have to “chop wood, carry water” as the Zen guys say about enlightenment.

    And once it’s gone it’s gone, and if the lights don’t flicker all over the Eastern Seaboard when you stop being a virgin then you’re setup to feel screwed.

    And here’s my main point: whereas you can “lose” one’s virginity only once, one can resume abstinence the next day. (That’s another problem with the standard virginity/wait for the right man theory — once you stop being a virgin you’re supposed to lose not just your virginity value but your ability to own your sexuality at all: you’ve given it to someone else!)

    A lot to think about. So I really appreciate your post.



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