Tomás Heneghan argues that sex shaming is widespread amongst the youth of today, and discusses his own personal experiences of it.
With the tag of loud binge-drinkers often attached to students and those generally below the age of 30, one of the many stereotypes which often sticks is that of sexual activity.
Within this, there still exists two distinct prejudices: “Sluts” and “virgins”. For students and young people, both are viewed as problems by either wider society or the student populace.
Slut-shaming and the belief that sex is a mere side-effect of reproduction were dominant for far too long in Ireland and we are only now ripping ourselves out of that history. However the judgment many students now face from peers is as a result of being virgins, inexperienced in all-things sex.
The type of shaming which dominates is not that of derogatory comments or explicit pressure, rather it’s a far more subtle form of shame. Being a 23-year-old virgin I've been repeatedly on the receiving end of the implicit pressure.
Having only gotten out from under my own internalised sex-shaming in the past year, I now must deal with the opposite end of the shame-spectrum. However I’m quite unashamed of the fact I have yet to have sex and as a result never have a problem admitting my inexperience if asked.
A typical conversation will usually reach a point where I’m asked if I want to do something sexual, to which I automatically reply that I've yet to rip off the “V tag.” Next comment is always, without fail, “that’s okay.”
The problem with the comment is that it implies consent and permission. It is as though we virgins are being told that we have permission from others to not be as sexually experienced as they might be. The tone is also usually one of pity with a hint of “I’ll fix that problem for you.” It’s almost as though we are issuing others a challenge.
Should 20-something-year-old virgins be shamed, pitied and pressured? Two months ago I had gotten to a place where I genuinely felt like I had to have sex, even if it was with a stranger who I had no emotional attachment to.
I was 22 and was sick of hearing “aw, that’s okay” from complete strangers when I would tell them of my inexperience. I was sick of the shocked faces of strangers as I confirmed that I was a gay 22-year-old virgin.
Luckily I took a week or so to think it over and sought advice of various friends of both sexes and various sexual orientations. There was slight disagreement, but the consensus was to always be comfortable choosing to have sex, especially for the first time.
Channel 4 has recently kick-started another original show, Cucumber, which depicts the relationships of various LGBT characters. One issue the show appears to turn on is the virginity of one of the 40-something-year-old characters.
It implicitly asks the question of whether it is permissible for someone of that age, especially a gay man, to be a virgin. The answer is yes; of course it is, if that’s what he is comfortable with.
Sexual shame is one of Ireland’s greatest shames. No one should feel shame for being sexually active, as long as it’s legal. Equally no one should be shamed for not being sexually active. As a sex-positive person and an advocate for various sexual-related rights, I refuse to shame anyone who acts sexually within the law.
As someone who also remains sexually inexperienced to some degree, it seems only natural that the same respect be extended to students and young people in my position.
Photo: Courtney Carmody/ Flickr