The Virginity Project has a day job and as such, one is pleased to spend one’s current tenure at the agency that is responsible for this work.
On the whole, even when you have acknowledged that losing your virginity was hardly the most exciting moment of your life, most of the stories that I receive are ‘above board’. That is to say, you lost your virginity for the right reasons. It may have been awkward, embarrassing or even downright painful but despite the fact that the angels did not get the chance to sing from the rooftops, you accept that it is the first step forward, hopefully of many interesting ones. The most important part is that you felt you had a choice, you didn’t feel that you were coerced into something. Coercion is a funny old concept - in the non hilarious sense of the word – and to this end, the Home Office is right on the money with this campaign.
The Home Office are primarily trying to get to grips with the shocking fact that a quarter of teenage girls in a relationship will suffer physical violence. This research, by the NSPCC, also suggests that a further third will suffer an unwanted act. I think that most people’s jaws will drop when they read these statistics. I know mine did.
I don’t get a lot of really bad stories, perhaps because people don’t want to tell them. I won’t be forgetting the one’s that I do get in a hurry. But what also worries me is the amount of stories I get that involve coercion, and that’s the awful thing about coercion…it is what it is. Physical pressure may not have been applied, but mental pressure was. It’s a thin line.
Words like ‘frigid’ are powerful. Time and again this word appears, in the interviews that I have done for my book and in your correspondence. I am no stranger to this word myself. I can see it like it happened yesterday. Me and my friends are fourteen years old, fifteen at tops, swinging our feet on a park bench and Dave Randall* is screeching hysterically at us across the playground after we had clearly rebuffed him once too often:
‘You lot are just SO frigid’.
The truth was that none of us fancied him. He worked in a fish and chip shop and he smelt of fish and grease. But not one of us wanted to hear him say that word. It was an uncomfortable indictment for a 14-year-old girl to deal with. As it happens, his words didn’t make a lot of difference, plus there was hardly room for coercion whilst sitting on a park bench with your friends in the park but I think you see where I am going with this. In a one to one situation, one might not feel that one has got ‘back up’so to speak.
I often think that the one thing that has changed women’s lives beyond recognition, physically, mentally and emotionally, is also the thing that gave us a new set of challenges to deal with. The contraceptive pill liberated generations of women from the worry of pregnancy. All of a sudden, they could control their fertility. That’s no mean feat. Once they could do that, the sky was the limit. Education, careers and financial freedom followed. But the history of virginity changed radically at this point because all of a sudden, there was very little reason to keep it. A quote in Cate Haste’s wonderful book ‘Rules of Desire, Sex in Britain, World War 1 to the Present’, sums it up:
‘Another student living outside London recalled the freedom of being in a mini-skirt, on the pill, and picking up an invitation from a man she’d recently met in 1967: I had the feeling there was no pretence any more. No games to be played. No way I could say ‘be careful with me’, or ‘watch out for my emotions’, or worry if I get pregnant, or think of my honour, or that my parents wouldn’t like it….’
The floodgates had opened so to speak. As far as many men were concerned, it was game on. These changes challenged women on every level. They were challenged to be their best selves, to fulfil their dreams and their ambitions but most of all; they were challenged to make autonomous decisions about their own bodies and needs, contrary to what other people might want. In a modern, ‘sex on every street corner, advertising hoarding and the internet’ world, it still isn’t always easy to do this, particularly when you are a 15 year old girl.
*Deep sigh* as they say in the digital world. In the end, it’s all about finding our voices and the ability to express our needs, whether they be sexual, emotional, physical or financial. It’s all part of the monumental journey that pretty much every woman has been on for the last god knows how long. Unfortunately, often through no fault of our own, some of us are better equipped to use our voices than others and it is for those people that this campaign is designed. Physical violence is clearly a bad thing. Nobody would argue with that, but for every young person who has ever been talked into something that they didn’t want to do, and possibly even been belittled for it as well, it is for you as well.
And my ten cents worth? The best thing a young person can ever do is this. Follow the one thing that will never abandon you, even if you don’t do as it says – your gut instinct. It’s your friend for life.
For further information, visit the Home Office micro site, here.
*All names changed to protect the, er, smelly.