By Alanna Rizza
Quinn Orthenz* was sitting at her desk in her all-girl Grade 10 religion class. She watched as her old, white male teacher handed her and her classmates a contract—”I promise to save my virginity until marriage,” read the small piece of paper, along with a spot for each girl to sign. Orthenz looked around at her classmates, who were signing the paper eagerly in order to leave the classroom. But Orthenz hesitated. There was only a few more minutes until the bell rang and she still hadn’t signed the credit card-sized piece of paper; small enough to carry in a wallet to be pulled out whenever there was the temptation to have sex.
Orthenz put the unsigned paper in her backpack. As she walked through the halls of her Catholic high school, she thought about throwing the contract away, but she felt guilty—what if God was watching as she threw it in the trash? For about a week, the contract remained in the back of Orthenz’s mind. She knew she wasn’t going to sign it, so she made up her mind that she was never going to allow anyone to be a gatekeeper to her virginity. She threw the contract in the garbage, but on a different floor from her religion class just in case her teacher was watching.
Even though the sexual freedom movement started in the ‘60s, the emergence of the internet and dating apps has also contributed to a rise in casual dating and hookup culture. Millennials, Generation Y, or those born in the early ‘80s to late ‘90s, were quickly fixed with a stereotype by the baby boomers that they were constantly having casual sex, had commitment issues and couldn’t put a label on a relationship. The birth of Generation Y was also the beginning of a steady decline in teen pregnancies. According to a Statistics Canada report, in the last 25 years, there has been a decrease in the rate of teenage pregnancies in part because “the social stigma that once attended out-of-wedlock pregnancy may have diminished.” Stats Canada started collecting teen pregnancy data in 1974, when there were 62,279 pregnancies from women under 20 years of age. This is compared to the most recent data from 2005 when the number of pregnancies in the same age group was almost cut in half at 30,948.
When Alissa had sex for the first time she immediately thought, “Oh my god my mom is going to fucking kill herself”
The decline in teen pregnancies has been widely attributed to increased knowledge of contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections and possibly even the fear of consequences of having sex instilled in young minds. But today’s youth continue to be viewed as if they still lots of casual sex, despite the numbers showing quite the opposite.
According to a 2015 study from the Archives of Sexual Behaviours, U.S. adults surveyed in 2002 to 2012 who had more sexual partners were more likely to have casual sex and were more accepting of sex before marriage than adults in the 1970s and ‘80s. The survey also found that acceptance of premarital sex rose steadily for those born between 1901 to 1964, but then declined among Generation X. The most accepting of sex before marriage are those born between 1982 and 1999.
For 20-year-old Orthenz, sex is put on the back burner because her studies and career take up most of her time and energy. She’s had casual hookups since high school, but hasn’t in the last year or so. Marriage has never been much of a thought in relation to hook ups; she never took away the lesson that God doesn’t want her to have premarital sex from her Catholic education. Her sex education was only focused on heterosexual relationships and penetrative sex, which she says was an overall “alienating experience” because her sexuality didn’t apply.
“l identify as queer and a lot of the language used in class was heteronormative so that made me distance myself even more from that idea that a women will be destroyed or deflowered if she has sex before marriage,” says Orthenz.
Despite the rising acceptance of sex before marriage, recent data shows young people aren’t having much sex at all compared to our parents’ generation. A study published almost a year later, also by the Archives of Sexual Behaviours, stated that about 15 per cent of Americans aged 20 to 24 years old had no sexual partners before the age of 18, more than double since the ‘60s. “Contrary to popular media conceptions of a ‘hookup generation’ more likely to engage in frequent casual sex, a higher percentage of Americans in recent cohorts, particularly Millennials and iGen’ers born in the 1990s, had no sexual partners after age 18,” says the study. Millennials might not be having as much sex as their parents did, but that’s not because marriage is on their minds.
Dolores Alissa’s* mom was dropping her off at school. Even though her high school promoted abstinence, at 14 years old Alissa was just starting to think more about her sexuality and what it would be like to become intimate with a guy. But then her mom started talking about how happy she was that her daughter wasn’t “one of those girls who had sex and did drugs.” Alissa listened quietly as her mom said, “If I found out you were having sex, I would kill myself.” Alissa says her middle eastern mother has a tendency to be overly dramatic—but two years later when Alissa had sex for the first time she immediately thought, “Oh my god my mom is going to fucking kill herself.”
“In the long run I know it will be an entire different feeling losing it to the person I love and want to spend the rest of my life with”
After almost every hook up, she felt slutty and ashamed. She knows she shouldn’t feel that way, but she can’t help but be reminded of her judgemental high school teachers and peers. Alissa, like many other millennials who didn’t get much sex education, found herself turning to close friends and cousins to learn about sex, and what was acceptable to do before marriage. Her older cousins would tell her that having anal sex was acceptable and didn’t count as losing your virginity—but using tampons was only OK after you had vaginal sex which should be after marriage. Alissa, now 24 years old, has been sexually active since, but the notion of virginity still angers her. “To this day, what my cousins said fucked me up, because what they think doesn’t make any sense—like what is really virginity anyways? I was 15 years old getting this information from someone older so I was confused if that was something I should have been doing.”
For Nikhil Gupta, sex should only be shared with someone a person sees themselves marrying and is in love with. He says it also takes maturity for someone to be able to know when they’ve met that “special person.” Gupta thinks his generation’s overall casual attitude towards sex has taken away from the meaning behind it and that it’s only about pleasure.
“I think not having sex helps build self-control. It’s hard to resist sex in an environment such as university. However, in the long run I know it will be an entire different feeling losing it to the person I love and want to spend the rest of my life with,” said Gupta.
But Alissa’s ‘first time’ was underwhelming and nothing special. She thinks it’s better to have sex with someone before marrying them because you “know what to expect.” She believes the physical aspect is always part of a relationship and it can make a huge impact on how long a couple lasts. “To me it’s much scarier being in bed when I’m 40 with a man I absolutely despise, rather than having multiple sexual partners and dying alone.”
Marriage has never been a goal or priority for Orthenz. If it happens, it happens, and she wouldn’t be devastated if she never found “the one.” But the possibility of having a life partner has been brought more to the forefront of her thoughts as she becomes more open about her sexuality.
Orthenz hasn’t come out to her family. She describes herself as straight and femme-passing; wearing makeup and having long hair which doesn’t match the appearance of what her family thinks queer people look like. Orthenz thinks if she were to tell them about her sexuality, they would think she was just experimenting or going through a phase. She thinks about that along with bringing someone into the family permanently and how it would be a long and difficult adjustment period for them. “There’s a sense of permanence with marriage of course, and at the end of the day, as pessimistic as it sounds, it is a contract … and [with] that sense of permanence, my family will be like, ‘Oh, [Orthenz] won’t go back to being straight’ which I think will always be in the back of their mind no matter how accepting family can be.”
“If I end up falling in love with someone who is a woman or a non-binary person, how will that look to my Filippino immigrant family? I can date them but, marrying them is like a whole other level.”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.