An honest and poignant collection of essays by women about losing their virginity in their teens. The V-Word captures the complexity of this important life-decision and reflects diverse real-world experiences. Includes helpful resources for parents and teens.
Losing it. Popping your cherry. Handing in your V-card.
First time sex is a big unknown. Will it be candlelight and rose petals or quick and uncomfortable? Is it about love or about lust? Deciding to have sex for the first time is a choice that’s often fraught with anxiety and joy. But do you have anyone telling you what sex is really like?
In The V-Word seventeen writers (including Christa Desir, Justina Ireland, Sara Ryan, Carrie Mesrobian, Erica Lorraine Scheidt, and Jamia Wilson) pull back the sheets and tell all, covering everything from straight sex to queer sex, diving-in versus waiting, and even the exhilaration and disappointment that blankets it all. Some of their experiences happened too soon, some at just the right time, but all paint a broad picture of what first-time sex is really like.
Funny, hot, meaningful, cringe-worthy, gross, forgettable, magnificent, empowering, and transformative, the stories in The V-Word are never preachy, but provide a map for teens to chart their own course through the steamy waters of sex. With The V-Word girls can finally take control, learn what’s on the horizon, and eliminate the fear and mystery surrounding this important milestone.
I had a kid’s body—no hips, hardly any breasts, hardly more than pubic hair peach fuzz. I’d never had a period or a boyfriend or a date for a middle school dance. It was the summer after eighth grade and I was abuzz with physical desire. I’d known for a long time that it felt good to touch myself, and years earlier I’d played kissing games with neighborhood girls, but now, as I careened toward puberty, my body was a constant source of wow.
When it came to sex, I had zero experience but a lot of book learning. We had moved the summer before seventh grade. Among my mother’s discarded books on a garage sale table, I found my textbook—an explicit memoir by a sex-loving prostitute. Heart racing, I’d pinched it off the table and snuck it to my room, reading and rereading her bawdy accounts of sex with both men and women. Her uninhibited attitude painted sex as a healthy and positive part of adult life. If it felt good and everyone wanted to do it then anything was a go.
By accident, I discovered just the right way to ride my bike so that the seat vibrated against the mound of my crotch. It seemed my panties were always damp, and I masturbated often—in the bath, in the hot tub, in my bed at night. I imagined what it would feel like to have oral sex. But in this stew of horniness, I also worried that something was wrong with me for thinking about sex so much. I watched the girls at school that everyone said were doing it. Were their bodies constantly on fire like mine? Or was I freak?
But arousal was constantly sneaking up on me. I crushed on actors in movies, characters in books, and Jason, a gawky boy who lived down the street. At school, Jason and I ignored each other—he, no doubt, because of my bottom-rung social status, and I because that’s what you do to avoid humiliation in the halls of middle school. After school, we were less frosty. With a handful of other kids, we rode bikes through the golf course at the center of our neighborhood, infuriating men in plaid pants, and played tennis on the old, cracked courts. Jason and I snuck away to kiss in the tunnel at the neighborhood playground.
I wasn’t thinking about having actual sex with him but the kissing sent heat coursing through me. I wondered what it would feel like to have him touch me. When my younger cousin crashed her bike and Jason carried her home like some knight in shorts and sneakers, I wished it were me bleeding at the knees and leaning against his chest. I took every opportunity to hang out with him, waiting to be alone, wanting more kissing.
Toward the end of the summer, I was house-sitting for an old lady who lived in a condo nearby. One day I dragged Jason and two of our friends along with me to check on the dog, and there they were—empty bedrooms, open beds, and not a single chance of discovery. A surprise, believe it or not.
I hadn’t planned any of this.
There was no forethought, no real thinking at all.
My brain had vacated the building but my body was full speed ahead.
We paired off, our friends upstairs and me and Jason in a guest room with white carpet, a red bedspread, and tacky furniture detailed in gold paint. His lips were as soft as I remembered from the playground, his face pre-shaving smooth. We had our clothes off in moments. How did that even happen? My memory is a blur of color and texture. We slid into the cool sheets like otters sliding into the water.
What I remember is wanting everything.
His touch sent sizzling waves coursing over my body. This was nothing like when I masturbated. This was the best thing I had ever felt. My skin was electrified where we touched. Thigh to thigh, chest to chest. His arms around me. My hands in his hair. He smelled like boy and awesome.
I slid down under the covers, my cheek against his taut belly. And there was his penis. Hard inside but shockingly soft and smooth on the surface. I put my lips on the velvety end of his penis and took him in my mouth. After a while—who knows how much time passed—we changed places. And his mouth was hot and wet on the slit of my vulva. The new best thing ever.
When we were face to face again, we did not talk. We did not think. We did not consider protection or consequences. We were far too absorbed in good-yes-slick-hot-more-now to ask ourselves if we were ready. Instead we went to work figuring out how our parts fit together.
The problem was the parts.
Like mismatched puzzle pieces, they just wouldn’t go together no matter how we twisted and writhed. His aim was terrible, and though I was aroused, my prepubescent body was also tight and unaccommodating. In the midst of this conundrum, our friends knocked on the door, ready to go. We scrambled, slightly dazed, out of the bed and back into our clothes. Jason and I hardly spoke, pretending, instead, that nothing had happened.
A few days later, his best friend asked me if we’d had sex. I didn’t know what to say. Had we? There was no penetration. Nobody came. I shrugged, noncommittal. He smirked, and I felt dirty. My brain kicked back in and with it came shame and worry.
What kind of girl did that kind of thing? Was I a bad person? How could I have gone so far without even thinking about pregnancy or disease? What if Jason had been less tender and had pushed me beyond what I could do?
These were the thoughts that could have, and perhaps should have, accompanied the yearnings of my body.
My brain finally caught up with the rest of me.
Jason and I never did anything like that again. In fact, I didn’t do anything sexual with anyone else for a long time, and I was seventeen before I went all the way through with penetration. But I often remember Jason and the lovely, rich pleasure we shared in each other’s bodies. We were young, that’s true, but was it really so wrong for us to kiss and touch and explore in a way that made both of us feel so good?
Keyser (The Way Back from Broken) compiles powerfullycandid and intimate essays from 17 women, many of whom are YA authors, abouttheir first times having sex, the pressure to do so, guilt, desire, and theconcept of virginity (“Life is an endless roller coaster of first times, oflost virginities,” writes Kiersi Burkhart). Their accounts includedisappointing hookups, thrilling same-sex explorations, and the decision toabstain from sex until marriage. In “Openly Bisexual,” Sara Ryan doubles downon the candor, sharing not just her sexual explorations but sometimes floridexcerpts from her teenage diary (“The more I consider it, the more I become certain:I want to share all with Robert”); Alex Meeks describes the search forfulfilling sex while coming out as transgender (“I felt doomed to eternaldisconnection from my body”). Also included are a Q&A with blogger KellyJensen about representations of sex in media, and supplementary resources forboth parents and teens. Frank, encouraging, and explicit, these stories nevercut away from the physical or emotional realities of sex, and the collection isstronger and more valuable for it.
– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, November 23, 2015
All too aware that often media and pop culture messages about sex and virginity are at best inaccurate and at worst dangerous, Keyser has compiled 17 essays from female authors—straight, gay, bisexual, and transgender—on their first time having sex: the good, the bad, the ugly, and, of course, the awkward. The experiences range from a wedding night to a spontaneous but tender hookup to an alcohol-fueled one-night stand. The writing varies, but all the authors express genuine and heartfelt emotions. While there is a fair amount of explicit content, the tone is less sultry and more contemplative. Keyser prefaces each piece with a brief introduction that teases apart themes such as gender identity and sexual autonomy. The book concludes with information on topics such as consent, body image, and masturbation, all presented in a way that reflects the editor’s progressive mind-set. Appended is an interview between Keyser and contributor, former librarian, and editor Kelly Jensen, who offers many examples of YA novels with rich depictions of female sexuality. Although there’s a wealth of thought-provoking content here, Keyser is never preachy, and teens will come away feeling as though they’ve spent time in the company of a smart and self-assured but gentle and reassuring older sister or friend. VERDICT-A strong addition to sex ed shelves and a much-needed perspective on teenage sexuality.–Mahnaz Dar, SchoolLibrary Journal
– School Library Journal, January 1, 2016
Feminism has come a long way from the fight for suffrage, and in its current manifestation, it can be difficult for some to determine precisely what feminism stands for or, indeed, if it’s necessary at all. It seems like women have more freedom than ever, but, as these two titles emphasize, in both the political and personal spheres, there’s a lot of ground yet to cover.
Each of the broad range of contributors in Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex—gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, etc.—details the sometimes painfully awkward, sometimes blissful experience of choosing to have sex for the first time. The frank, sexually explicit (naturally) narratives cover a wide range of experiences—some are sweet and transformative; others are perfunctory or borderline forgettable—but the one thing they all share is the importance of sexual agency. One woman tells the story of waiting until her wedding night, while another describes a relationship with a man who respected her—a sharp contrast to the years of sexual abuse she endured before.
Each woman makes a choice to have sex, and choice is the key element here. The V in V-Word can be interpreted as “voice,” not “virginity,” and the takeaway is the importance of young women speaking up for what they want or don’t want and taking an active role in what happens to their bodies. While highlighting the importance of choice, moreover, the contributors’ accounts dismantle the idea that virginity is something to be revered as a mark of purity that, if lost, is a source of shame or mourning; rather, choosing to have sex is merely the first step down a path of new experiences.
Keyser follows the essays with in-depth, accessible advice for teens geared almost exclusively toward girls as well as extensive resources for further learning. Sexual empowerment is the name of the game here, and it’s a message not often doled out in today’s climate of abstinence-only sex ed. Vitally, some expert sex educators weigh in, which adds an air of credibility to the proceedings. Occasionally, the tone is overly sentimental, and teens allergic to sincerity might bristle, but, overall, this is an excellent resource for teens interested in sex that gives them not only meaningful and important tools for health, such as concrete advice about contraceptives and consent, but a supportive, sex-positive voice in a culture that’s still fairly uncomfortable addressing sexuality, in teen girls in particular. — Sarah Hunter
– Booklist, February 1, 2015
A selection of seventeen womenwriters tell about their experience of first-time sex. The stories reveal agreat diversity in age, situation, sexual orientation, gender identification,and even what counts as first-time sex. The resources section provides abibliography, notes, biographies of all the contributors, and several essays.One essay gives straight-forward advice, empowering young women to be informedand to make their own choice about when and with whom. Kelly Jensen, a formerteen librarian, suggests teen novels and nonfiction that deal particularly wellwith different sexual situations. Parents are also addressed with resources forthem as well as advice on opening an on-going conversation with their daughtersabout their values and experiences around sex.
The book serves youngwomen as a kind of rite of passage with a bevy of oldersisters telling it like it is, sharing experiences that are rarely talked about.Given the array of experiences (from wedding night to casual encounter) andidentifications (hetro, lesbian, bi, and trans) some readers may havedifficulties with some of the frankness, diversity, and language. Thetrade-off, however, is well worth it. Thevariety emphasizes how individual it is and how important it is for each youngwoman to make an informed and conscious choice for herself. It turns out theV-word of importance here is not so much “virginity” as it is finding one’s own“voice.”—Elizabeth Matson.
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