Is it ‘patriarchal’ to tell a girl her first time having sex will be painful?
Complicated discussions regarding black girls and sexuality
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on January 13, 2022.
“That is the most unromantic reason to lose your virginity that I’ve ever heard,” my mother said to me.
I laughed in response. “Hey, man, I didn’t want anyone to one-up me anymore. Everyone around me knew how to do it but me.”
She rolled her eyes, mimicking one of her favorite lines from older relatives in our family. “Hep her, child, hep her.”
My mother was pretty open and honest about sex education and losing one’s virginity. The first time the conversation came up was when I was old enough to really listen to the lyrics from Betty Wright’s “Tonight Is the Night.” I didn’t really understand why she was “nervous and I’m trembling.” Was this guy going to kill her? My parents played that song all the time, along with a flood of The Temptations and Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire, but for whatever reason, I chose that song to dissect the lyrics.
Then there was the time a 13-year-old neighborhood friend tightly closed her legs during a sex scene in the 1988 film “Monkey Shines.” I didn’t know why in the world she was clenching her legs closed so tightly and looked so flushed, but I mimicked her — at the age of seven, thinking that’s how you’re supposed to react to scenes like that. I never did ask her why that was such a big deal to her. (Clearly, I found out later in life. Woooow!)
Finally, there was the scene in the 1993 flick “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” when I wondered why in the world Angela Bassett (as Tina Turner) was shaking and looking like she was in so much pain in her sex scene with Laurence Fishburne (as Ike Turner). My 12-year-old eyes were thinking, “Oh gawd, what is he doing to her? This shit ain’t for me. Hard pass!”
So when I had a detailed Q&A with my mother, she was honest — about everything.
“Yeah, it may hurt initially, but eventually you’re going to come around to liking it,” she said.
I snarled. “If it’s gotta be painful to get to pleasure, I’ll skip both and be a nun — I just don’t want to go to church.”
She laughed again, answering the rest of my queries. Medium readers, I am neither a nun nor am I a virgin. I’m still amused by my childhood declaration though.
Painful or nah? Tell the truth
I thought of that discussion with my mother recently while watching an episode of “Red Table Talk.” Willow Smith was talking to Adrienne “Gammy” Banfield-Norris about saying a woman’s first time will hurt. Gammy defended herself, stating that her first time did. I did not think Gammy’s comment was problematic, but (in another episode) Willow challenged some of society’s patriarchal views on sex.
On one hand, I get it. Warning a woman (or girl) that the first time (or second or third) will be terrible lets a man (or boy) get off the hook for “taking it slow” and learning a woman’s body. To put it bluntly, a hymen breaking isn’t a fun, sensual feeling. However, it doesn’t have to be a horrendous, graphic, fresh-out-of-a-scary-movie feeling. But not stating the possibility bothered me more.
How does it help anyone to try to cover up the fact that a woman’s first time is more often than not less desirable than a guy’s? What do we gain from not knowing this? Why would you want to be surprised by it later?
My childhood best friend tried to describe her first time to me, too, and the more she talked, the more creeped out I was. But it was her truth. She took a small screw and walked up to a wall. To paraphrase her explanation, she told me to imagine trying to put this screw into a dry wall. She said there’s going to be pressure, and it’s going to be tight because it’s never been opened this way. She just kept turning that screw in the wall over and over again until she made a decent hole. I was horrified — again — and considering that nun option. But unlike Willow, I still respected her truth.