How Signing a Purity Pact Ruined My Sex Life

When I was sixteen, I was a debutante. Yes, literally, with a white gown and etiquette lessons and everything. It was like the balls from Gossip Girl or the O.C, but with way less coordinated ballroom dancing.

Being a debutante was supposed to be about coming of age. It was a public statement that us debs were well-behaved and philanthropic, esteemed members of the community. Naturally, being a debutante involved a purity pact.

This was around the same time that Teyana Taylor, The Jonas Brothers, and Miley Cyrus were all wearing purity rings. Jessica Simpson’s entire aesthetic until like 2002 was being a sexy virgin and when Justin Timberlake outed Britney Spears for having sex with him during their two-year relationship, it was front page news. Purity pacts were just as representative of the early 2000’s as AOL Instant Messenger.

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In signing my own purity pact, I’d started to believe so many false notions about sex and dating. I was taught to consider how marriageable my sexuality made me. I thought that being a good person or an intelligent person came second to being a non-sexual person. Since female virginity was presented as being so important, I believed that a woman’s role was playing defense to men who would constantly be playing offense. For years, I put up with unwelcome sexual advances from men with an eyeroll and playful swat. “Boys will be boys.” I didn’t even understand that women were supposed to find sex enjoyable. After all, we were portrayed as gatekeepers because only we had the strength to say no.

The year after the pact, I avoided having penetrative sex with my boyfriend even though I thought oral was a-okay. One of my best friends would tell me that she was maintaining her virginity by having anal sex only and we’d pat ourselves on the back for being teenage geniuses. We weren’t alone: most women who sign purity pacts are more likely to engage in oral and anal sex as an alternative.

When I finally lost my virginity, I felt worthless. My achievements in school or being compassionate seemed to matter less because of what I’d done. When my mom took me to the doctor, I lied about being sexually active so she wouldn’t know I’d violated my pact, denying myself the opportunity to talk birth control options.

Since women weren’t supposed to like sex, and since I hadn’t honored my pact, I didn’t seek enjoyment from my partner. I treated sex like a performative aspect of the relationship, just a string of moans and movements that made my boyfriend happy but never me.

I almost always knew I was attracted to women, too, but I thought any experience I had with a woman wouldn’t be real since oral sex “didn’t count.” I only ever sought experiences with women as an accessory to my boyfriend’s sexuality. I thought a threesome was something I might give him for Valentine’s Day. His friends told him how lucky he was to date a bisexual woman.

Growing out of my ideas of purity and virginity allowed me to see my sexuality for what it was. Once I realized oral sex counts, I actually let my boyfriend do it. I didn’t feel ashamed for enjoying it because finally, I understood that sex wasn’t just for men to enjoy. I saw the value in one-on-one experiences with both genders, meaning my bisexuality belonged to me, not men.

I stopped caring about body count, because it was just a ticker indicating how far from virginity I was and it only reflected the men I’d been with (which is dumb AF). I stopped performing sex and started actually having it. Meaning I wasn’t saying yes because I thought it would make my partner happy, or no because it would make my partner value me more. The decision to have sex became mine and it was scary to realize how many times it hadn’t been. I learned that coerced consent isn’t real consent.

My friendships changed because of who I became when I stopped valuing virginity. I stopped judging other women based on the sex they weren’t having. When I stopped believing I could be impure, I therefore accepted that other women couldn’t be. I stopped hating them for no reason. I learned not to slut shame even in ways I thought were compassionate. When I observed promiscuity in my female friends, I stopped thinking it indicated brokenness.

Perhaps purity pacts aren’t as prevalent as they were in 2008, but I still meet women who are signing them. There’s not even a medical definition for virginity, it’s just something we created and enforce socially. It’s so weird we have pacts to protect it.

If I could go back in time,  I would save 16-year-old me the shame that came with signing that piece of paper. I would’ve asked for birth control. I would’ve sought enjoyment from the beginning. We all deserve to experience sex in healthy and beautiful ways and I could’ve realized that a lot earlier but I spent too much punishing myself. A lot sadder than pre-marital sex TBH.

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