As soon as I left home and started living in a dorm, I started to identify with the stereotypes associated with backlashing South Asian American kids suddenly trusted into the real world: I started drinking a lot, I started dating a lot, I started smoking a lot of weed, made out with lots of guys from all colors of the rainbow and started buying a lot cheap tight polyester dresses. I also got good grades from my very politically correct, too-expensive college, flew home when my mom asked, participated in religious events, and was–and still am–known as the innocent one in my Desi community.
Of everything I did, I never had sex, not right away. When everyone talked about sex, I proudly said that I was a virgin, as it made me feel close to a religion I respected and followed. Living in an era when everyone wants to be different, this fact made me unique among a crowd. It separated me. I almost took the notion as a note of pride, condescendingly.
That didn’t last long, of course. Soon, conversations about sex were becoming more frequent among my friends beyond just who did who, but more on an academic, feminist level like you’d expect your expensive East Coast liberal arts colleges to do. My opinions counted, but not really, because I had never done “it”. I was strongly attracted to the male body, and I teased men who looked at me hungrily. I am no size 0, or 4, or 6 (I am sometimes an 8, sometimes a 10 actually) but have this supreme confidence about me that makes me say, fuck it. I knew that I got the guys, and I loved kissing, but I just didn’t have sex. But then television shows I watched during finals were basically making fun of me for not being part of “that” culture. For example, Robin from How I Met Your Mother was doing it all the time and her friends just laughed about it. Rather if Robin wasn’t dating men (aka having sex with men), she would probably not have friends.
A friend over wine once told me that her high school teacher told her to just get it over with as soon as possible because then life really begins. While it was a side conversation in a crowded college bar, I never forgot it. I finally did have sex.
My first time was not one of those ideal, awesome moments either. I was studying abroad.I was tipsy, he was a drunken rich guy with an apartment who spoke English with a sexy accent, and he took my virginity. I don’t even remember his name. We weren’t even friends on Facebook afterwards. My first time was terrible; it was painful, I bled a lot, and not hot to this guy who thought that I was definitely not a virgin after the way I acted the entire night.
I knew why I had sex: I wanted to get it over with. I didn’t want to be part of the Other group. Maybe it was indirect peer pressure from those around me. I also wanted it with someone whom I didn’t know well because I couldn’t bear the thought of my blood on someone else who may have actually loved me. Doing it for the first time with someone special never appealed to me.
I didn’t have sex after that for a year and a half. In fact, the next person I had sex with is my current serious boyfriend who is also Desi and Muslim and we will indeed probably get married. And we are continuing to have sex and it is wonderful.
Here is the thing- I know I am not the only Desi Muslim woman to be having premarital sex. I am also a follower of Islam and I am inspired by the religion’s moral codes and the way of life that it tries to instill in people. I defend Islam and the image of Muslims in the West all the time, whether that was within my international relations major, in writing, volunteering, and making it a personal motto. But maybe what I am writing is upsetting to some of the same Muslim women. I understand that, but I also want to state that Islam is not just about staying a virgin until you are married, not drinking, and dressing modestly. Rather, the idea of respecting your elders, giving to charity, not back biting, or believing in a higher power is frankly much more important in my opinion than staying a virgin.
There is also more to me wanting to “Get it over with” in regards to my virginity. I knew that anyone I eventually marry will not be a virgin himself. The rate of virgin Muslim Deshi men, both in the U.S., Europe, and across Asia and Africa is getting slimmer and slimmer every day. More attention is always given to the women’s purity rather than the men- this is a sad reality. Also, I didn’t want to marry a virgin in the first place, even when I was a virgin. In this day and age, that just seemed, well, odd. Marrying a late 20s virgin? Just did not seem very interesting or appropriate for a cosmopolitan, smart, and not bad looking woman like myself. Even my current boyfriend admitted that if I was a virgin, he would not have had sex with me so soon (maybe even ever). He is a great guy who is smart, considerate, kind and generous, and his sentiment does not make him a bad person either- it is just how it is in today’s society and in our relationship with sex and sexuality.
So, if the person I was going to marry was not going to be a virgin, why should I be? That did not seem very fair and even a bit demeaning to the meaning of being an independent woman of our time, regardless of race, religion, and class.
Lucky for my parents, the man I will marry is of the same race and religion. It’s just that we have sex too, which I think in today’s society is perhaps even understood and quietly accepted (with a sigh and an eye roll, of course). I no longer feel guilty about it because I think that I am still connected to my religion in more important ways. I am having safe sex with hopefully the only man who will ever get to touch my body. However, I still chose to write this with a pen name, because what people think and what people say is still important to me and especially in the kind of community I am around. Still, in the title of this article, the “Muslim” part can be replaced by any other major religion, and what I want to say does not just transcend to the Desi community.
I am also not advocating for women to just go and start losing their virginities. I admire the many Muslim women I meet who are adamant about maintaining their virginity. I just think that women like me, should not be looked at in a negative way, and there should be greater discussion regarding a taboo topic that affects more women than realized.
My parents will never know that I am not a virgin. My sister will not even know, because I think that at some point, you are old enough to make decisions for your own body. My brother will never know, and he will probably never tell me about when he has done it, if not already. My siblings and I will all probably marry South Asians, which in some ways are probably more important to many parents in the first place than whether he is a Muslim or not. Women like myself are protected by the rule of don’t ask don’t tell situation between the first generation versus the rest of us. Guilt makes this particularly sustainable. But I don’t want to feel guilty, and guilt does not get us anywhere.