The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

The Talk with Cosmy Pellis: How to redefine losing your virginity after experiencing sexual assault

5 min read
Woman with dark hair holding books on a porch.

Cosmy Pellis talks about redefining virginity after sexual assault. Photo Courtesy of Sophia Griffin


Associate Editor

My first sexual experience was not consensual, and it happened when I was 14. I didn’t fully realize I had been sexually assaulted until a few years later, so I had always considered that first, traumatic experience as when I lost my virginity. I felt a ton of shame for “losing my virginity” so young, even though it wasn’t my choice. When I got to college, I learned how conflated and socially constructed the concept of virginity is, but I still struggle with it, especially when I hear people talk about their “first time.” Although I’ve had better sexual experiences since then, I still find it difficult to think about virginity, as there’s so much uncertainty. Am I allowed to pick and choose which time counts as my first? Can your “first time” be the first time sex felt safe and right?

-Questioning Virginity

If your “first time” was not consensual, it was not your first time. Let me say that again. If your “first time” was not consensual, it was NOT your first time. Rape is not sex. 

It’s absolutely heartbreaking to say, but so many people are sexually assaulted before they can engage in a sexual act for the first time on their own terms. This is a tragedy that is, in part, a product of a lack of information about sex and consent. 

You are allowed to think of your virginity in whatever way makes you feel best, so the short answer to your question is that yes, you are allowed to pick what time counts as your first. You are the only person who needs to feel validated in your own virginity story. 

Redefining your virginity starts with thinking about the first time you enjoyed a sexual act with someone that you felt comfortable with. This absolutely does not have to be penetrative sex. Though sex education doesn’t cover oral sex or other sex acts in the same way, they are valid forms of sex that can count as your first time. If you are in the LGBTQ+ community, losing your virginity likely fell into one of these categories, and I commend you for defining this experience for yourself. It’s extremely hard to do. 

Virginity is not about when it happened or what the specific sexual act was. It’s about how you feel about your sexual experiences. If they haven’t been great in the past, you can reassess what you want out of your sex life and work towards experiences that make you feel much better. Coming into your sexuality is an ongoing process that can be dynamic and ever-changing. As you mentioned, the first time that sex felt safe and right is a good starting point for defining your virginity. 

You also mentioned shame in your question, and I think this is important to address. Shame is a hard emotion to process, but I think it can be combated through information. You were assaulted at the age of 14 before many of your peers probably knew much about sex. Some adults still don’t even know the ins and outs of sex and consent. 

Knowing the massive cultural pressures you were up against can maybe help to mitigate that shame; the simultaneous pressure to give in to male desire and also to wait to have sex until marriage is extremely overwhelming. Up against these confusing and largely unexplained standards, how is a 14-year old girl supposed to navigate sexual situations? It’s important to have compassion for your younger self. Young women are faced with scary sexual decisions so early on without proper sex education or being told about consent.  

You also were coerced. All of my first sexual experiences were not consensual, and I had a slightly older boyfriend in middle school who told me I “had to” do things because it’s “what people do in relationships.” I didn’t know enough to know that this wasn’t true, I didn’t know what a healthy relationship necessarily looked like and I didn’t have a clear definition of consent. 

I relate so much to your feelings of shame. I thought I was doing something wrong in the eyes of society but something right in the eyes of my boyfriend. It was devastating to grow up and realize how absolutely abusive this relationship was, and it’s hard to process because he was also pretty young. I have worked through this shame since, and reminding myself of the lack of information I was faced with has helped me find compassion for my younger self. I hope it helps you find some solace. 

Keeping all of this in mind, no matter what age your first consensual sexual experience happened, there is no shame in it. As long as you felt safe, it’s okay if you were “young” when it happened. 

Some lesbian women who previously had sex with men define the loss of their virginity as the first time they had sex with another woman, as it was the first time they were with a sexual partner who fit their sexuality. Other people may count their virginity as the first time that they experienced an orgasm during sex. It’s different for everyone, but these are some examples of ways that people redefine their virginities. 

Redefining virginity may be important to you, but another option is deciding that virginity doesn’t matter to you. You don’t have to define when you “lost” your virginity. The concept of “losing” something when you engage in sex for the first time is problematic in itself. It can be more empowering to think about it as gaining something, like the ability to connect with other people in a new way. 

Additionally, the typical definition of virginity, which is straight, penetrative sex between a man and a woman, is extremely outdated. This concept of virginity completely excludes queer people, who are left to forge their own ideas of what their “first time” means. They may experience the same societal pressures from a young age, but as they grow up, they realize that the typical conversations about virginity really don’t resonate with them or apply to them. 

Virginity is a more fluid concept than it’s often portrayed, and we need to redefine society’s archaic definition of it. Personally, I view virginity as whatever you consider to be your first time and the first time that you enjoy a sexual act with another person. 

We live in a country that has made it taboo to talk about sex yet still pressures people to either have it or not to have it. Your virginity is personal to you. Nobody else’s definitions matter as long as you feel safe and empowered in your sexual decisions. 

To bring this conversation back to the original question, I’ve been there. Give your past self some credit; you have been through so much at an early age that you weren’t even prepared to handle. But you did it, and here you are, able to redefine your virginity story and become sexually empowered despite your trauma. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely possible. 

I am always accepting sex questions at! Don’t worry, if I answer your question, it will be anonymous.