I remember the exact moment that I decided I wanted to lose my virginity.
It was in college and I was in love. But being an over-thinker, I wasn't 100 percent sure. That changed, however, after I attended a sex-positive event on campus where a fun lesbian speaker told us that sex needs to be something good, something we have control of. She must have been super convincing, because as the stage faded to black and we all filed out of the auditorium, I decided then and there that I wanted to have sex. Not because I was raging with hormones, but because it's something I wanted to do, and my body and mind felt ready to experience it.
I was lucky, though. My parents would have preferred me to wait, but they understood that as an adult, I was free to make my own choices. So, instead of fear-mongering, they armed me with education about condoms, a birth control prescription and knowledge that I needed to be safe and give consent. And I'm glad they did. Because I didn't have the pressure to wait until marriage, I felt no shame about my sexual choices. Instead, I was proud. I did the research, took the necessary precautions and made the decision myself.
When relaying what happened between my then-boyfriend and I to my mom several months later, not once did she refer to my choice as a "mistake." Yes, the guy and I eventually broke up, but having sex with him was what I wanted at the time. And I learned from it. I moved on and felt no regrets.
I wish more twenty-somethings could say they had the same rewarding experience as I did, and that's why I find the phrases "wait until marriage" and "save yourself" problematic. While a seemingly well-intentioned plan, the concept is inherently flawed. As a straight, cisgendered, reasonably privileged woman, my problem with "waiting for marriage" stems from the fact that some religious communities pose "waiting for marriage" as the right choice, instead of just a choice -- and it's detrimental to women and their relationships.
While pushing the waiting for marriage agenda can hurt men, it especially sets women back. The idea that women, and women alone, should be "pure" for their husbands puts all of the responsibly on them. This pressure makes women more likely to feel ashamed, or worse, damaged, if they "fail" to remain chaste. The concept makes it seem like this so-called "purity" is worth more than sexual autonomy.
Don't get me wrong; If people feel compelled to wait, that's their choice, and as a sex-positive person, free-choice -- regardless of whether I'd make the same decision -- is important to me. But spreading the idea that physical love must wait for marriage puts a restriction on the way people express love. It makes women and men seem like they're incapable of making their own sexual choices and being happy with them. Or that it'll be impossible to pick themselves up if and when a long-term relationship doesn't end up as they'd planned. The argument to "wait until marriage" puts sex so high on a pedestal that love and exploration -- what sex is truly about -- are lost to fear and uncertainty. It makes any kind of sex before marriage experience (good, or bad, or ugly) look like a failure when, in reality, those experiences can teach us a lot about ourselves, our wants and our desires.
I live with my boyfriend of two years now, and if we decide to get married, I can go into our lifelong bond knowing exactly what I like or what I don't, and can be 100 percent sure that we have a connection beyond just our sexual needs. Because deciding to have sex and getting married are two different things. Sex is an aspect of marriage, but you also need love, commitment and trust.
Those of us that chose to have a sex life before marriage need to stop being made to feel ashamed. We need to be able to stop justifying our choice with the fact that we're progressive or not religious, and just start thinking of it as just another part of life. And maybe those that believe that waiting is better need to understand that, too. As long as it's safe and consensual, choosing to have sex before marriage for whatever reason doesn't make you immoral. It just makes you human.
This isn't to say that we should throw all caution to the wind when it comes to sex -- Protection and mutual respect are key. However, we need to reframe how we view sex. When it comes to sharing an intimate experience with someone, regardless if it is everything we dreamed about or not, we shouldn't have to apologize for it -- just learn from it and move on.