Bricks. That’s what comes to mind when I think about the first time I had sex. I was twenty one and it was with my Persian-Jewish boyfriend of nearly a year who I (and most who knew us) thought I would marry. It took months of convincing until I finally gave in one December night. As soon as we started, regret, shame, horror and disbelief began crushing my lungs like a ton of bricks. All I could think was, “What did I just do?!” I couldn’t sleep that night. At around 3 a.m. I texted two of my closest girlfriends who I knew wouldn’t judge me; I needed them to tell me I hadn’t done anything wrong. Despite their assurances, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had done something horrible.
The next night I attended a modestly sized (around 250 guests) Persian-Jewish wedding. As we stood and awaited the bride’s arrival down the aisle, the whispers of two women discussing whether or not the bride was a virgin seamlessly blended in with the sounds of coughs, sniffles and sentimental music. As the bride drew closer, the two women agreed she was definitely a virgin because she came from a very reputable family, had such a classy mother and was always “such a good girl.”
It’s a tough call as to which was stronger at that moment: my overwhelming desire to turn into a drop of water and disappear into the ground or the intense flush creeping up my face that provoked my father to question whether I had suddenly forgotten how to breathe.
By most western standards, I’m pretty normal; perhaps even a bit of a late bloomer, but certainly not a whore. However, not by Persian-Jewish standards, and certainly not by the standards expected of me: a female who was born in Iran and came to the U.S. toward the end of her childhood. Mothers of Persian-Jewish daughters will, amongst each other, say “Oh but this is a different country and a different time, we can’t expect our daughters to do as we did!” Most hope, and often expect, however, for her daughter to know better than to “ruin” herself. This is not the case with Persian-Jewish sons, who, from a young age, are given sexual freedom and physical autonomy.
On that December night, I went from being my father’s daughter to my boyfriend’s girlfriend. Sex went from something that gave me value in my father’s eyes because (as far as he knows) I abstained from it to something that gave me value in my boyfriend’s eyes because it brought him pleasure. It took me a couple of years after that relationship’s demise to understand that sex was for my enjoyment first and foremost, and that it was not a means of measuring my value in my father or significant other’s eyes, or the worthless whispers of gossiping women. Truth be told, this is something I’m still learning to fully comprehend.
What I wish I knew years before that December night is that sex is my choice; not my family’s, significant other’s or society’s. I wish I had known that some women have sex with other men before they marry their husbands and that they are not seen as less than, tainted or ruined. I wish I had known that choosing to have sex doesn’t define me because having sex doesn’t make me any less intelligent, or witty or selfless – the true markers of a person’s value. Even now, as I write this, my wish is that the next Persian-Jewish female who chooses to tackle the same topic won’t feel as though she must do so anonymously.