The Hook Up: Flipping the Switch

By Kate Taylor | 2/21/12 3:21pm



At a check up over break, my doc­tor asked me if I was sex­u­ally ac­tive.

“Um... No?”

I take pride in my abil­ity to be bluntly hon­est about my sex­u­al­ity. I’ve hon­estly reached the level where I can talk to my mother about get­ting tested for gon­or­rhea. So, my pause wasn’t that of a blush­ing high schooler. In­stead, it was born out of con­fu­sion.

Los­ing one’s vir­gin­ity (es­pe­cially in the tra­di­tional pe­nis-in-vagina sense) is often built up to a mo­ment akin to flip­ping a switch from “sex­u­ally in­ac­tive/vir­gin” to “sex­u­ally ac­tive/open for busi­ness.” Sim­i­larly, many see hav­ing sex with some­one of the same gen­der as the process of trans­form­ing an ex­per­i­ment­ing col­lege kid into cer­ti­fied queer.

Of course, few walk out of the bed­room the next morn­ing as com­pletely new in­di­vid­u­als. How­ever, the con­cep­tion re­mains that the first time hav­ing sex is, for some rea­son, the most im­por­tant and serves as a gate­way to all the sex you’ll be hav­ing in the fu­ture. In the doc­tors of­fice, I found my­self won­der­ing that if los­ing one’s vir­gin­ity is a switch from “off” to “on,” it’s more like one of those switches in the stacks that au­to­mat­i­cally turn off again after half an hour.

The sup­posed myth­i­cal jour­ney from vir­gin into sex­u­ally ac­tive in­di­vid­ual is a well-trod­den path in sex ed­u­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion. But what about the jour­ney back — if it ex­ists? I don’t think the pil­grim­age back to sex­ual in­ac­tiv­ity is an un­com­mon one.

How­ever, each dry spell is a unique lit­tle snowflake of not get­ting laid. The most ob­vi­ous and pur­pose­ful is be­com­ing a “born-again vir­gin,” a term often used in a re­li­gious con­text. For many, being “in­ac­tive” is less of a clean slate and more of grains of sand sift­ing through an hour­glass. So yes, I am talk­ing about dry spells.

At the same time, dry spells in­di­cate a cer­tain num­ber of foiled at­tempts. Out of a re­la­tion­ship, and not in a hurry to be in a new one, a week with­out get­ting some can eas­ily stretch into months. Some peo­ple want sex, but only with spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als who are out of reach. Some­times pri­or­i­ties shift. Maybe pass­ing classes is a greater con­cern than find­ing some­one to se­duce for the time being. For some, other things can al­ways take prece­dence over sex, as around one out of 100 peo­ple are asex­ual. Pri­or­i­ties can shift too in style, from pen­e­tra­tive to oral sex, caus­ing awk­ward pauses when cal­cu­lat­ing sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and vir­gin­ity. If I’m only hook­ing up with other girls and de­fine sex as pen­e­tra­tion with a dick, am I re­claim­ing my vir­gin­ity? Oth­ers get jaded by the “hook-up cul­ture” and mas­tur­bate a lot. Or, they get jaded by the “hook-up cul­ture” and don’t mas­tur­bate at all. If some­one hasn’t had sex in five months, are they still sex­u­ally ac­tive? A year? Three years?

So what’s the point? Ba­si­cally, if “los­ing one’s vir­gin­ity” is sup­posed to be the en­trance into a new realm of sex­ual dis­cov­ery, then “find­ing one’s sex­ual in­ac­tiv­ity” should be as well. Nei­ther ex­pres­sion en­cap­su­lates the di­ver­sity that ex­ists in sex­u­al­ity and sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. How­ever, con­sid­er­a­tion of both can in­spire us to look at the choices we have made, and can re­mind us of what the fu­ture can hold. Those who are reg­u­larly sex­ing it up, how­ever you de­fine sex, and those who are con­tent­edly celi­bate for the time being, keep in mind that you never know when you may find your­self flip­ping the switch in the other di­rec­tion.

Kate Taylor