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If I'd only known this about sex earlier: 10 women speak out

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

What do women wish they'd known sooner about sex? We asked them

Author Peggy Orenstein is out with a new book, and like her previous ones, this one is making waves. The recently released Girls & Sex delves into the sexual landscape facing today's tween and teen girls. Orenstein investigates numerous issues surrounding sex, from notions of "the perfect slut" to the concept of virginity and how it is limiting.

This week's Ask a Raging Feminist pulls its question from Girls & Sex, and Orenstein weighs in.

More: 10 things I want to tell my daughter about sex while she's still a tween

At what age did you "lose" your virginity, and what is the one thing you wish you'd known before you had sex for the first time?

"Part of the message of the book is to actually consider shifting the idea of 'virginity' so that it’s not just vaginal intercourse. By continuing to put that one act in a separate category, we deny and minimize all the other sexual experiences we can have. Plus, it ignores gay teens. It encourages us to think of sex as race to a goal — a goal that probably won’t feel so good to girls — rather than a pool of experiences. So in that spirit: I lost all of my virginities with the exception of first kiss — including first manual sex, first oral sex, first orgasm (and second and third…) and first true love — with the same person during the spring of my freshman year of college. I feel so lucky and grateful to him; he was openhearted, communicative, romantic, caring, committed to mutuality (I mean, it wasn’t even a question) and so much fun. It was the best possible set of early experiences. I will admit, though, that after we had vaginal intercourse for the first time (in the middle of the day in my dorm room), I leapt out of bed and called my best friend to tell her… Good guy that he is, he wanted to talk to her too." — Peggy Orenstein

More: News flash: Sending 70 girls home from school is a good way to distract boys

"I 'lost' my virginity when I was 19 years old to an adjunct English professor — who I stopped seeing only a few weeks later when I discovered he had a fiancé. I wish I knew that officially having sex wasn't really all that monumental — and has more significance the first time with a particular person rather than the very 'first' time with anyone in general.

"At the time, I felt 'old' for not having lost it yet — many men I dated before would stop seeing me after finding out that I was a virgin. I was mostly just waiting to have a steady boyfriend, since I didn't want to just 'lose' it randomly. So, I think in many ways, I ended up putting a lot of pressure on the situation being perfect, only to be severely disappointed by the situation." — Joanna Valente

"I lost my virginity a few times. First to a very cute ginger girl who called me Stumpy, and then to a sweet boy after a long talk about it. I wish someone had told me I didn't have to think of it in terms of the heteronormative penis-in-vagina way and I was free to interpret it as I pleased." — Shannon Barber

"I was giving blow jobs years before anyone 'returned the favor' (sorry to use a euphemism) or [before I] had intercourse (sorry not sorry to invoke a Larry David-ism) or [before I] properly masturbated. Now that I'm older, reading this makes me squirm (and not in a good way). The internet doesn't need anymore info on my sex life, but I think this is a really important lesson younger girls can take: Don't forget about your pleasure! I'm not saying giving can't be as good as receiving — there are certainly pluses to both — but I felt like I entered my sexuality by putting someone else's needs before my own. That can lead to all kinds of social-emotional shit that girls shouldn't have to deal with. I'm a grown-ass woman, and sexuality and self-esteem are still really interconnected for me. I didn't expect that the 'first time.' — Jill Di Donato

"The first time I had penetrative sex, it wasn't in a consensual situation, and I was 14 (he was 16 and my boyfriend). There was much pain and blood and awfulness. I assumed I deserved this because I'd sinned, etc. (Yay! Catholic upbringing!) The next time was with a loving partner (in fact, my current spouse, but long before he'd hold that title), so I feel like that was my first time understanding sex and its potential beauty. At that point I was 15-1/2 and still not nearly as grown as I thought I was. I wish I'd known it was OK to refuse penetration, even after consenting to other activities, and that those wishes should always be respected. I wish I'd understood that consent can be withdrawn at any point. I wish I'd known that being curious about sex/sexuality/sexual activities didn't mean I 'deserved' to endure rape. I wish I'd known that having a loving, respectful partner should be the norm." — Ki Russell

More: I can't stop my kid from having sex, so I'm doing the next best thing

"Technically, at an extremely young age due to molestation by a male family member while I was extremely young. It continued for some time. But the first time I had consensual, peer sex, I was 19, and it was a wonderful experience. At that time I had thoroughly blocked out the childhood trauma, and it was so repressed by me in a conscious way (and would be until age 23) that I absolutely enjoyed myself and the experience. My partner then was someone I was in a relationship with, and he was a peer in every sense. He was kind, thoughtful, mutual and equal. We were well matched. We had a wonderful relationship, and I have nothing but fond memories.

"I'm happy that I chose so well for that first time. It was only after the memories of trauma began seeping consciously back in that I started choosing poorly where partners were concerned. I was diagnosed with PTSD, baseline depression and dissociative amnesia. I had no coping skills, and as memories began pouring back in, I was completely annihilated, for years. I chose partners who mimicked the narcissism, cruelty and manipulation I had experienced as a child. I wish that I had never forgotten the abuse or that someone had clearly seen what was going on with me and gotten me help. I wish that I didn't have to go through choosing inappropriate partners as a way to try and cope with so much anguish and pain." — J.M. Reed

"I lost my virginity at 17. I wish I had known that it was OK that my vulva didn't look like the ones I saw in porn, that my labia were perfect and beautiful and normal just the way they were. I spent years thinking that my vulva was ugly because my labia were long, terrified of angles that would let my partner see exactly what I looked like. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I had a partner who took the time to let me know how perfect he thought my vulva was that I started to realize that I always had been." — Britni de la Cretaz

"I was 15 going on 16 when I first had sex. I'd had lots of short-term boyfriends and heavy breathing of various sorts but wasn't ready for the actual deed of intercourse until I had a boyfriend I loved and trusted. I'm not sure there's anything I'd wish I'd known. There was no pressure. I was the one who decided. I didn't 'lose' anything. I chose it. With all the crap you get fed about sex as a girl, I couldn't figure out why we were supposed to be afraid of what could give so much pleasure. What we were 'saving' or 'protecting' (I guess it's yet another way of controlling women's bodies). I'm pretty sure mine is not a typical experience — the issue of consent is truly paramount — but I hope my daughter also has a sex-positive first experience." — Amy Dryansky

"I was 16. I was really lucky in that my first sexual experience was with my boyfriend, who loved me as much as I loved him. I didn't feel pressured or rushed, like some of my friends. That said, I wish I had known more about how to advocate for my own pleasure. Like a lot of teenage girls, my early sex life was primarily focused on the boy's orgasm. I wish more girls would demand that sex be mutually pleasurable."  — Kate Tuttle

"I ‘lost’ my virginity when I was 23 because I got tired of waiting. And by that I mean, tired of waiting to find the perfect magical penis to enter my vagina and transform me in one precious moment from girl to woman. Poof! Except, no.

"What I wish I knew — and what I talk about in my film How to Lose Your Virginity — is that becoming sexual is not exactly that one before-after transformation. It’s a lifelong process of many sexual milestones (or virginity losses, if you prefer). We can define the most important ones for ourselves, thank you very much, and they might not include a magical penis at all. Anything from having your first orgasm to feeling comfortable being naked with someone for the first time to something from a long menu of pleasure one or more people can give each other.

More: If the perfect friend exists, here's what she's got going for her

"I created the interactive story-sharing site The V-Card Diaries to collect anonymous stories about the diversity of these first experiences. Why not read one of the 400-plus stories in the collection and then share your own? (I’ll send you one of our Reusable V-Cards as a thank-you!)" — Therese Schechter

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

What do women wish they'd known sooner about sex? We asked them
Image: Chronicker Photography
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