There I was, 18, and I was ready to lose it: my virginity. Legally, I was an adult, employed as a hostess at TGI Fridays, and making enough money to pay my cell phone bill. I felt prepared and ready; my parents couldn't tell me anything. I was no longer "un pile de mierda," Caribbean Spanish speak for a young person who thinks they’re grown but doesn’t know how to wipe correctly. At this point, I knew to use baby wipes; plus, I was in love. But for my Dominican parents, this wasn’t enough. Losing my V would make me a disgrace, an abomination, a killer of all mankind.
In a Latinx household, a girl’s virginity—albeit a social construct—is her most important contribution, and she has to protect it with her life. This isn’t some white TV series where a teen girl climbs into her boy best friend’s bedroom at night. Putting yourself in such a tempting position is shameful. You don’t kiss someone, and you certainly don’t have sex, until you’re married—because that is what a respectable woman does. A woman of value, I was taught, builds likable qualities that attract a future husband (because she’s obviously hetero), saves herself for this man, learns to be bright but not smart enough to offend him, and is educated in subservience because this is how she’ll please and keep her spouse. If she fails at one, abuela says she’s no longer a woman "de dios." But if she succeeds, then, and only then, will she live happily ever after. *insert flushed emoji*
Listening to this my entire life, you don’t have to wonder why I became so captivated by fairytales and love stories as a little girl. I was obsessed with “The Little Mermaid,” and every time I had a crush on a boy in elementary school, I would fantasise about marrying him and becoming what he wanted me to be. I was a child with no sense of self, and both my cultural upbringing and the fables of princesses who sacrificed themselves for their prince were to blame.
In a Latinx household, a girl’s virginity—albeit a social construct—is her most important contribution, and she has to protect it with her life.
If my parents were the king and queen of the castle, my brothers were the knights who fought to protect my purity. When I was in high school, my brothers kept all the boys from the neighbourhood away from me by threatening to jump them if they even attempted to talk to me. It got to the point where I wasn't allowed to have guys as friends. If I did, I was immediately made aware of the repercussions, which always felt a bit excessive. “Sasha, te vamos a mandar a la República Dominicana,” my parents would warn. DR was cool, but sometimes my family there would run out of electricity or I’d catch my grandmother just staring at the wall for hours. I could picture myself dying, if not from the heat then definitely from the boredom. So I stayed away from the boys.
At school, sex was the topic of every conversation. While at home my parents told me horror stories of how sex was a gateway to crime and drugs, that’s not what I witnessed among my classmates. Some of my girlfriends lost their virginity to love notes and custom Limewire playlists, and they were still normal teenagers, even if their heartbreaks seemed a little more agonising. Even the picture my parents painted of pregnant teens didn’t resemble reality. According to them, teenage pregnancy ends your life. Your last days look a little like this: losing your virtue and innocence, dropping out of school, getting kicked out of your home, and being forced to give up your child. But at school, a 15-year-old single mom in one of my classes was a straight-A student. She wasn’t just living; she was working hard because she understood the value of her life and that of her baby.
While it took me years to unlearn that a woman’s worth isn’t tied to her sexuality, my brothers never had to wrestle with any of this. They were able to explore their sexuality and speak about their affairs freely, with no judgment. There was no timeline for when they should or shouldn't be intimate with someone. There was no shame when they were alone with a girl. That’s because they never ran the risk of losing their value as a person for echando leche. If anything, it made them more appealing, more powerful, and more worthy. I remember meeting some of their girlfriends and seeing how honoured they felt. I wondered why. What was the privilege? I love my brothers, but they were losers. They were charming, handsome philanderers.
All I knew was that my virginity never felt like mine; it felt like something I had to hold on to for someone else.
Socially, sex seemed like something that could dishonour a woman but fortify a man, but the truth is that I knew very little more about it. All I knew was that my virginity never felt like mine; it felt like something I had to hold on to for someone else, and that made me uneasy. Since I couldn’t get answers on sex, intimacy, and relationships from my parents, I went where most girls on the block go: the hair salon. During the hours I spent in the salon, I heard stories from every kind of woman: the mother, the daughter, the teacher, and the stripper. I heard from women who still believe in love and women who no longer do. I heard from the faithful wives who get cheated on by their husbands and still stick beside them as well as the women who milk men out of every penny they have. Listening to their stories taught me that I didn't fit into this dichotomy, and that it was up to me to define my values for myself.
While I take issue with a culture that teaches girls and women that sex is shameful, I also know that my parents’ not-so-perfect attempts to keep me from having sex were really their way to keep me from growing up too fast. But every path to adulthood is forged with mistakes, and my mistake was falling in love with a guy who lived across the street from the school he never attended. Losing my virginity to him was anti-climatic. While my parents made it seem like having sex would mark the end of times, every telenovela and movie painted it as a magical moment that bonded two people forever. It was neither. Instead, it was fast, painful, uncomfortable, and we broke up after he stole $80 from me. This is what I waited 18 years for?
All my teenage years, I worried that if I lost my precious virginity that everyone would notice. I was nervous I would immediately look older and that my body would change. I was afraid that the clerk at the bodega would stop hooking me up with free bars of Snickers or that my parents would realise and start charging me double the rent. I was terrified that God would punish me by running out of tickets to Aventura concerts before I could buy them. But none of these things happened. I made a choice that didn't make me more or less valuable. I was the same old me, just with a stronger sense of self—and down 80 bucks.