On the Concept of Virginity

I realized recently that I can’t remember when I lost my virginity. I would have thought that realization would have a much bigger effect on me and feel like a real loss. However, it doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t remember exactly when I lost it (although I do remember with whom). It got me thinking about the significance we place on the loss of a girl’s/woman’s virginity. I was in my friend’s wedding a few years ago, and her sister made her maid-of-honor speech all about how lucky the husband-to-be was because he would be marrying a virgin and how wonderful her sister was for waiting. I felt incredibly uncomfortable about my friend’s lack of a “body count” being discussed for several minutes in front of all her family and friends. However, she was very religious, so I’m sure was viewing it from a different perspective, and she seemed to love the speech, which was really all that mattered in that moment.

Why do we say someone loses their virginity instead of gaining something? To me, this makes it sound as though it’s a rite of passage, chore, or duty a woman must go through, not something she enthusiastically chooses. Is it painted in a negative light to deter women from partaking, to shame them once they decide to “give in?” Granted, men are also said to “lose their virginity,” but the act is not perceived in the same serious, negative light nor loaded with the same often damning connotations. For these reasons, I try to remember to say “started having sex” instead of “lost my virginity,” which is more empowering — a decision I made instead of something that happened to me.

Virginity is not a physical or medical concept. There’s no medical test for virginity, although these are given to women, even young girls, in certain countries. One of these countries is the U.S., where it is legal for a physician to do an exam on a woman or even a girl for the primary purpose of checking her hymen. When you break it down, it is legalized sexual assault and quackery, considering those underage cannot give consent and the exam tells nothing of whether she is a virgin or not. These exams attempt to determine whether the hymen, the skin that often covers the vaginal opening, is still intact. However, the hymen can break in other ways, such as tampon usage, horseback riding, bicycling, or gymnastics. Boys’ sexual history is not nearly as discussed or worried over. Neither is it used as a basis of valuing a boy. Women’s sexuality is always being politicized.

Virginity is a religious concept designed to control women and their sexuality. In Abrahamic religions, a daughter is her father’s property until he finds an interested mate of whom he approves for marriage to his daughter. Traditionally, the woman has had little to no say concerning who she marries. Purity balls are father/daughter dances held by some Christians in which a girl (who in some cases hasn’t even hit her teens) makes a promise to her father she will not lose her virginity until marriage. Similar mother/son purity balls or any other formal ceremony in which boys pledge their chastity to their mothers, to my knowledge, do not exist.

Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, posits that men see women as either pure and virginal or slutty. This can be seen in the way a teenage girl who has had sex is often seen as “fast” or “loose”, while a woman who has entered her 20’s (and certainly her 30’s) without having sex is often considered frigid or a “bitch,” someone who is holding out on giving men the pleasure they deserve. This dichotomy has created generations of women who experience anxiety about losing their virginity, about seeming to come on too strongly, not coming on strongly enough, or passing their “expiration date” by losing it “too late.” By having sex with too many men and coming off “trashy” or by having sex with too few and coming off “weird”, “stuck-up”, “inexperienced”, or “difficult.” It seems, regardless of the timeline a woman feels is right for her regarding when to start having sex, and regardless of her best intentions, she cannot win and is destined to be marked inadequate and perhaps even conniving. I experienced this at 24 when I decided to have intercourse for the first time ever, in the first serious romantic relationship of my life. During that year-long relationship, I was accused of all of the following by my partner: being “frigid”, being (conversely) “a nymphomaniac”, and (by contrast, yet again) of not initiating sex as much as I should.

The concept of virginity seems to be loosely defined, putting a woman’s sexual status up for personal interpretation. Some consider a woman to have lost her virginity only after her vagina has been penetrated by a penis (an overtly heteronormative stance). Some consider any sexual activity, such as giving or receiving oral or being fingered, or the use of a dildo, as a loss of her virginity. Additionally, there are girls and women who have sexual activity forced on them against their wills. Some would still consider them to be virgins until they choose to have sex, some wouldn’t. For many young girls or women who have been forced to lose their virginity and taught it is a gift from God that can never be gotten back once lost, the trauma they face after their assaults is often much worse.

I would challenge anyone reading this to question the way in which we talk to girls about virginity and sex. Although losing your virginity to someone with whom you are in a committed relationship (if not marriage) is often considered the “gold standard,” this is often impossible for girls to reach. The average age of first sexual experiences in the U.S. is 17. Only a small portion of people stay for life with the same person to whom they lost their virginity. This is too high a burden to bear, and girls should not be taught that their virginity status in any way determines their worth as a human being. Boys are not seen as dirtied by sex, and by framing the act as dirtying women, we treat women as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and that loses value as she becomes “used.” It is up to each one of us to change the dialogue and thinking behind these concepts. One way I challenge the concept that a woman’s worth and character should be judged based on whether or not she has had sex (and if yes, how many partners she’s had) is by refusing to answer the question from a dating partner or potential dating partner: “How many partners have you had?” There is no upside to answering this, and the downsides are multitudinous. If your answer is more than they want to hear, you’re a whore. If it’s fewer, you’re a prude or stuck-up. In either case, you have legitimized the question and its underlying misogyny just by answering it.

What do you think? Have you considered this topic? As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the matter!

Subconscious Influence and Its Role in Desire and Decision-Making

I’ve been thinking about subconscious influence and how it covertly affects the decisions I make. For example, for those of you who wear make-up, do you ever ask yourselves why you wear it? I started wearing make-up as a teenager to hide acne and redness. I continued to wear it regularly throughout my early 20’s. I didn’t necessarily see it as fun or as creative expression. I felt I had to wear it to be socially acceptable. I think a lot of women believe it is their own choice to wear make-up without realizing our choices and preferences are not created in a vacuum. Even if we don’t realize it, we are subconsciously being pushed towards certain values and standards and away from others. It’s just something I try to be aware of. Today, I wear lip color from time to time when I feel like it but no face make-up. I don’t like the feeling I am wearing a mask or covering up my own skin. Make-up has also started to irritate my eyes and skin and I just don’t really have the motivation to try mineral make-up. The older I get, the less I care about such things. When it comes to other issues, whether it be my hair, jewelry, the clothes and shoes I wear, or something else, I try to think critically about why I make the choices I make and if they are internally or externally-motivated. What are your thoughts on this topic?

What Do You Like About Yourself?

I find it easy to dwell on the things I don’t like about myself. However, when I consider my qualities and the things I believe I do well, I find several positive things to say about myself. For example, I am passionate, I’m a good writer, I love to learn, I’m a critical thinker, I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, I’m hardworking, I’m loyal, I’m creative, I’m organized, I help others, and I never give up.

What are some traits about yourselves that you admire?

Longing to Be Heard

Does anybody else have the hardest time opening up to others? I long so much to be heard. Yet I feel guilty burdening others with my problems, even when they want me to open up. One coworker divulged to me that even though we had known each other for several months and even though she had told me much about her own life (including the fact that she had been forced by her parents to get an abortion while in college and that as a middle-aged woman she had experienced an attempted rape), that she knew little to nothing about me. I have noticed that people often feel very comfortable telling me sensitive details about their own lives and coming to me for counsel. Yet I don’t feel comfortable reciprocating. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test a few times and always get INFJ as my result. From my research, this personality type is known as “the counselor/advocate” because we are often reticent to share anything about ourselves with others other than a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. We are the “extraverted introverts”. I have always been more of a nurturer (although I have no desire to have children) and abhor the thought of being a burden to anybody. As a result, I end up in a pit of self-loathing, knowing I can’t blame others for not hearing me if I never give them the chance. Thus, the blame lies solely with me.

Why Friendships are Difficult for Me

Friendships are very difficult for me and have been for a while now. Growing up, making friends was easy. They were basically built-in to my church and private school experiences. I didn’t have to go out of my way to find them. By attending church and school (which I didn’t have any choice about, anyway), they basically were offered up to me on a silver platter. After college, finding and maintaining friendships became a lot harder. I had to go out of my way to find people around my same age who held similar interests and values.

Also, as I’ve aged, I care more about shared values than I have in the past. I realize a friend is more than just someone who is fun to be around. A friend’s world view, priorities, and goals should closely match your own.

Friendships must be maintained like a houseplant that needs sunshine and water every day. I often don’t have the energy to put this kind of effort into a relationship with another person. I’ve found distance can make the heart grow fonder, but only when you make the effort to stay in touch. Otherwise, distance often makes the heart grow…more distant.

I hate relying on/asking things of other people. And this is an inherent part of true friendships. You’re supposed to be able to depend on your friends in hard times. While I find myself more than willing to jump in and help others (including strangers), I hate opening up about my own struggles, burdening others with my problems, and asking for favors. I hate the thought that someone would help me because they feel it’s somehow owed to me rather than out of a true desire. I know much, much more about other people than they know about me and often people feel comfortable divulging very intimate, personal details about themselves to me. But I very rarely reciprocate.

Related to the previous point, I’m easily taken advantage of. Friendships for me often end in doing favors for other people. My kindness is often taken for weakness, and, because of this, I have learned I have to be extra careful in who I allow into my life. I am very much a people-pleaser (a trait to which I hate admitting).

I have bad social anxiety which precludes me from striking up conversations with people and being outgoing, especially with strangers. I struggle feeling comfortable at social events, especially where there will be lots of people. And yet it is impossible to make friends without interacting with others. I have considered using one of the online sites that allow you to find and join social groups in your area, but just the thought of meeting up with strangers is overwhelming to me.

I feel discouraged from making friends when I feel my life is in shambles. I feel that I need to have my life “figured out” before I make friends. I don’t want to invite people to a car wreck. I guess I feel I am not currently worthy of friends…

I know how important friendships are for mental health, but finding and maintaining them is an exhausting process for me. Does anybody else struggle with similar feelings?

You’re Not You (and Why This is Freeing)

An important concept to learn, understand, and remember is that you are not you. Knowing this can help you disconnect your self-worth from your thoughts, emotions, and tendencies. Your personality is largely made up of dynamics you don’t control, such as early childhood experiences, family culture, and genetics.

For example, I grew up in a very strict religious family with a diagnosed narcissist for a father. Individualism and critical thinking were not encouraged or tolerated. Religious, mental, and emotional abuse were the hallmarks of my childhood and teenage years. I grew up dreadfully insecure and fearful. As a teenager I developed OCD (never officially diagnosed, as my parents did not seek professional help for me), which included obsessive praying multiple times a day for God to forgive me, obsessive counting, and obsessive hand-washing.

Even at 36, I don’t know to what extent my personality has been shaped by the traumatic experiences of my youth. I very often have identity crises that most people past their teens or early twenties no longer experience. I constantly question what I want and if it’s not actually my trauma talking. I still feel that I don’t know who I am, what I should be doing, what kind of a life I want, or what I believe. It’s even hard to know how I’m feeling sometimes.

In his December 14, 2015 Bustle article entitled 7 Signs You Grew Up With a Toxic Parent and Didn’t Know It, JR Thorpe pulls from Dr. Susan Forward’s book Toxic Parents and says, “Many children of toxic parents find it exceptionally difficult to identify who they are once they grow up. Forward identities three areas in which their self-knowledge falls short: ‘who you are, what you feel, and what you want’…your sense of confusion and distance runs very deep indeed.”

Science tells us that your personality is pretty much set by six years old. It is largely an amalgam of your parents’/early caregivers’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Science also tells us that certain mental disorders have strong genetic links and that trauma can be passed down in the genes of families from generation to generation (epigenetics). But does this mean you can’t change? That you are bound by the mistakes of your parents and the generations before them for your emotions, feelings, reactions, and attachment styles? Thankfully, not. Recent science also emphasizes the neuroplasticity shown by the brain and its capability to create new neural pathways. By consciously making better, more self-caring choices, we can create new pathways in the brain and new defaults for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Eventually, it becomes easier and more natural for us to act and think in ways that benefit us and allow us to take back control of our lives.

I take some comfort in the thought that I am not simply a summation of my personality, interests, and mental issues. My worth does not lie there and cannot be calculated by arbitrary factors such as these. I don’t have to allow these facets of myself to control my decisions, moods, or mindsets. I don’t have to follow my instincts and can instead choose to think and act in ways that are best for me, which will in turn make me feel my best.

The Thought Patterns Ruining My Life

We are not our thoughts. But we are the thoughts we allow to control our lives. And the thoughts we indulge are the thoughts that create ruts in our minds and eventually become thought patterns. Here are my thought patterns and the ways in which they are ruining my life:

Worrying About the Future

I constantly “borrow trouble”. I worry about what the future holds, including those things I don’t have control over. I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and even about negative outcomes that are unlikely to occur. I build them up so much in my mind that I become sure they are going to happen. If anything close to what I fear does end up happening, I see it as a sign that my worry was justified.

Grieving the Past

I go over and over the past, including mistakes I made and mistakes others made that negatively affected me. I dwell on missed and bungled opportunities. I mentally recreate dialogues from years, even decades, past. I yearn for the more positive, alternative outcomes that could have come to fruition “if only…”. I beat myself up for how I used to think, feel, and behave, even though I was younger, less worldly-wise, and hadn’t had many experiences yet. I remember and obsess over dates I find significant (for example, “In the year 2002, this happened” or “May 5, 2008 was the day that…”). I’ve never learned how to “let go”.

Assuming People’s Motivations

I often assume people have malicious motivations towards me which explain their actions. Instead of assuming they are just busy or forgetful or ditzy, I assume they dislike me, maybe even want to harm me, and that is why they do the things they do or don’t do the things they don’t do. I am the guiltiest person when it comes to black-and-white thinking, and this type of thinking does not lend itself well to being able to see context or nuance in any given situation. I have been hurt and disappointed by so many people, I now suspect everyone of malintentions. I feel enraged over the thought that others would mistreat me when I would never mistreat them. Others’ mistreatment of me evokes obsessive thoughts over the matter, which I often whitewash as righteous anger. It is easier for me to claim the moral high ground instead of admitting I mentally and emotionally hold onto these hurts to an extent that is not warranted and that is actually self-destructive.

Trying to Please Others

I constantly try to please others and “fit in”, even when I don’t immediately realize I’m doing so. For example, sometimes I respond in a politically-correct, socially-acceptable way that doesn’t covey my true feelings. This comes to me very naturally and without forethought. Only afterwards do I realize how I compromised myself. It seems although I generally dislike people, I secretly crave their acceptance. This causes me to feel weak and become irritated with myself.

Internalizing What Others Do to Me

I take what others do to me as a measure of my own worth. Instead of thinking of them less, I think of myself less. Even if I get upset with them, it pales in comparison to the way their actions make me feel about myself. In reality, the way someone treats another person reveals more about themselves than the other person. And when a person treats others poorly it’s often a sign they think of themselves poorly.

Trying to Control Things

I try to control my feelings, circumstances, and environment. These are things that are impossible to control. Feelings arise uninvited, but they are generally based on the thoughts I allow to take up space in my mind. Environment can only be controlled to a certain extent, and circumstances often occur unbidden, unplanned, and unwanted. I know that the most peaceful people are those who can “roll with the punches”, let things “roll off their backs”, and successfully adapt instead of trying to mould situations to fit their desires.

Dreaming of the Future

On the face of it, dreaming of the future doesn’t sound like a negative thought pattern. What could be unhealthful about having goals, being excited for what’s to come, and allowing it to lift my mood? While these things aren’t inherently problematic, spending my time dreaming of what “could be” instead of taking the necessary actions to make it a reality only traps me in a sad, unfulfilling present with a false sense of achievement.

Striving for Perfection

Fear leads me to always strive for perfection. I can’t stand making mistakes. I can barely bring myself to read my past blog posts for fear I realize how awful they all are and delete them. I often don’t start something I really should for fear of not doing it perfectly. Past failures, even from very long ago, continue to haunt me. However, the logical side of me knows that progress can be made alongside failures and that those who don’t try, don’t succeed.

Being Overly Sensitive to Injustice

This is another thought pattern that might not sound unhealthful. However, my sense of justice often clouds my better judgment. I end up struggling too long towards a goal I don’t even want due to feeling I deserve it. Realistically, I know that’s my ego sabotaging my peace and contentment as well as my refusal to move past negativity and to accept myself in whatever situation I find myself.

Have you noticed any thought patterns that steal your happiness away? Have you been working on changing which thoughts you focus on in order to change those patterns and find lasting peace?

Fat Person’s Thoughts on the Body Acceptance and Health at Every Size Movements

The Body Acceptance Movement purports to be a movement about loving your body in its present state, flaws and all. The face of this movement used to be people with disabilities, deformities, scarring, skin conditions, and the like. It was an empowering movement that emphasized looks don’t matter; health and self-care do.

The Fat Acceptance or Health at Every Size Movement was founded as a reaction toward the extremely thin figures that started becoming popular in the 1960’s on television and in magazines and that eventually made its way to Main Street, negatively affecting women’s mental health due to insecurity over their own bodies. Nowadays, when people hear body acceptance, the first thing that typically comes to mind are fat people.

In recent years, as the rate of obesity in the U.S. has skyrocketed, the movement has centered moreso around accepting extreme levels of fatness, and the movement itself seems to have grown in popularity and acceptance. This movement asserts that fat and obesity have nothing to do with how healthy a person is, so a fat person should accept being fat and shouldn’t feel the need to lose weight– that the only reason anyone would ever lose weight is to fit in with and please others, which are regarded as non-legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately, this view conflicts with science to a massive (pun unintended) degree. Almost every disease and condition that affects human beings is worsened due to obesity, if not directly caused by it. Since 2013, obesity itself has been considered a disease. And yet, while we don’t ridicule or bully people who have other diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cancer, we also don’t preach that they should be “accepted”, either. Instead, we promote the funding of cancer research, as well as lifestyle changes being instituted by individuals to reverse their diabetes.

I agree that it’s important to love and appreciate your body at whatever state you find it in currently. But self-love will inevitably result in giving it what it needs in terms of exercise and nutrition, not routinely overeating, and not accepting or settling for an obese body. Similarly, a parent who loves their child will make sure to wake them up in the morning, educate them, feed them healthy food, and limit their technology use, not because it makes the child happy but because it is what the child needs. As well, positive psychology has taught us that using positive motivations to change (for instance, losing weight to be able to participate in sports) is more effective than using negative motivations (feeling worthless after being bullied about your weight). If you don’t love and value your body to start with, you won’t care enough to take care of it. There’s nothing refreshing, glorious, positive, or inspiring about a body that is so large normal daily activities such as bending, walking, and climbing stairs are painful. Neither is there about the possibility of high blood pressure, strokes, or death resulting from carrying excessive weight.

I would really love to hear other’s opinions about this topic, especially other fat people’s. Do you think the Fat Acceptance Movement is a long time in coming due to all of the prejudice we have faced historically? Or do you agree that the movement is misinformed and dangerous?

How We Cheapen Ourselves With Our Speech

Speech is so important that the freedom to use it without restriction (excluding putting lives in danger) is codified in the First Amendment. One proverb says, “Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence”. The same principle applies to not opening your mouth if what you are going to say is disingenuous or rash. By not speaking with caution and sincerity, we cheapen our word. By cheapening our word, we cheapen ourselves. By cheapening ourselves, we harm our senses of self-esteem and self-confidence. Constantly breaking our own word (even, or maybe especially, if the promise was made to ourselves) acclimatizes us to not believing in ourselves and feeling powerless to change our destinies.

Speaking carefully also avoids decreasing our motivation right from the get-go when we set an intention. If we are used to “just talking” we are less likely to take ourselves seriously when we make commitments such as “I am going to lose weight”, “I am going to take a walk every day”, “I am going to make my bed every morning”. With every incident of not staying true to our word comes a lessened sense of self-agency and autonomy needed to exact change.

It is important to make sure our words have power. We cannot do this by constantly contradicting them. Being careful before we speak by setting well-thought-out intentions beforehand ensures others stop and listen when we speak. By making false promises, lies, or disingenuous talk, we dilute the potency of our speech. We don’t want our speech, as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it, to be “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Anger is Deceptive

What makes you angry? Have you ever considered what makes that feeling arise? Any qualified therapist will tell you that anger is typically a secondary emotion that hides another more primary emotion. It is often easier to deal with anger than with admitting to suffering from low self-esteem, grief, guilt, etc., and our mind protects us from processing those other more poignant emotions by using anger as a haze.

I have identified the situations that inspire anger to arise in me. I am a creature of habit and do not handle disruptions in my daily schedule (especially at work) well at all. My anxiety immediately kicks in, my chest gets tight, breathing gets rapid, and I can’t think clearly. I begin to panic. Feeling out of control and unsure of the future is awful.

People not responding or acting the way I think they should makes me feel disrespected or taken advantage of. It lowers my self-esteem and compromises my sense of worth. It makes me question our relationship, what I think I know about them, and, consequently, what I think I know about myself.

Feeling impotent is another of my triggers. Often when I’m in an argument I will get so frustrated and emotional that I cannot gather my thoughts and form responses. As a result, my frustration greatly intensifies my anger and overdramatizes the situation. I then make myself even more miserable by later imagining conversations with those people and things I should have said or done differently.

Anger disguises deeper, more specific, less comfortable emotions. Anger is usually directed outward and so allows the angry person to avoid self-reflection and the processing of trauma, confronting of unhealthful coping mechanisms, and acknowledgement of personal weaknesses.

Ultimately, anger isn’t the problem. Nor is it organic or healthy, the way primary emotions are at pinpointing what is wrong and what we need to focus on fixing to live a happy, healthy existence. It’s an unhealthful coping mechanism used as a way of avoiding acknowledging what actually is the problem — in my case, my lack of self-love, my need to always be in control, and my fear of making mistakes. Anger, when handled correctly, is a catalyst for introspection. The most enlightened and brave of us are those people who are able to use the anger, look past it, and ask of ourselves the honesty, effort, and vulnerability that is required for transformative inner work.