Thursday, September 27, 2012


Interview With a Virgin: Maya

Maya is a 26-year-old woman nearing her first year of residency in a research hospital in Washington, D.C. She comes from a large, loving Arab-American family that goes to church every Sunday and returns to the Middle East whenever possible. She met my friend Clara in first grade P.E. at their private Christian school (both of them were trying to get out of kickball).

Jia: Hello Maya!

Maya: Hey Jia. So you know I’m not like Clara, right? I have no vivid memories of consecrating my vagina to God in middle school.

J: No, I know! Variety of human experience! So you didn’t grow up thinking of sex and virginity in terms of the church?

M: Not completely. I have two older sisters who never tried to shelter me, and I think I saw sex as something that happened in movies, not really a huge deal. I mean, my parents raised us to be Christian, but their traditional framework was almost more cultural than religious. Like, “You’ll stay a virgin until you’re married, because that’s what we did in the Middle East.”

J: That’s really interesting. So even though the country where your parents were born has such a diverse religious heritage, all of those sects and denominations still teach virginity until marriage.

M: Absolutely. In that way, what I heard about sex at home was the same as what I heard at church. And within the Arab community here in America, your social reputation is still very important, and that means behaving a certain way. Dating only Arab-American guys, preferably the ones in business or medicine, and never living with them before marriage.

J: Do you remember ever processing the reason why virginity was such a big part of both your religious and your cultural communities?

M: Ha! Well, you know, I actually do have a really vivid memory of something that — ironically — Clara told me at camp in middle school. We were having girl talk late one night, all of us in our cabin, and Clara said, “Your purity is like a rose. Everyone you sleep with takes away one petal.” 

J: That is so funny. And ridiculous! That is an image that would never, ever be applied to male sexuality.

M: But you know, it was fine for me to hear that at that age. I didn’t want anyone in my business!

It’s funny, she probably has no idea how much that stayed with me even until now. “Do you only want to have a stem for your husband on your wedding day?” What an image, right? Actually, one of the first times I ever drank in high school, I found out that one of my sister’s friends was sleeping with someone way younger than him, and I remember just like yelling at him, “You’re taking away her petals! You’re not good enough to be taking her petals!”

J: So did you become protective of your own petals?

M: Gross! No way. I guess I’ve just always had the idea that saving myself made sense, and my experience corresponded to that. The first time a guy felt me up — freshman year, in the school chapel, ha – I didn’t feel like I’d done anything wrong. I just knew that I wasn’t ready for anyone to touch me like that yet.

J: So this wasn’t a “Genie in the Bottle” situation. Your body was not saying "let’s go."

M: Yeah. Throughout the rest of high school and college, as I started to slowly push the boundaries, I would always stop pretty quickly. I never ended up dating anyone seriously, and since I genuinely wanted to save my virginity for the person that would become my husband, I was never very tempted.

J: And that was a personal desire, not a faith obligation?

M: Yes. It does link to my faith, of course. I think of it in terms of the Bible verse describing the body as a temple. Some people use that idea as a source of guilt — but for me it was the opposite. My gratitude and love for myself, my body, and how God made me makes me want to keep full knowledge of it for someone who really loves me and who I really love.

J: Do you think having sex before marriage is a sin?

M: I believe in the Bible as God’s Word, and the Bible says that it is a sin. But I also fully believe — as one of my biggest priorities in my faith — that I cannot speak for God or grade people’s decisions. I have no right to dictate anyone else’s right and wrong.

J: Sure. But sometimes moral issues require a certain amount of dictating, even if just in terms of public policy. You are a Christian and you’re about to take your medical boards. Do you believe in abstinence-only sex education?

M: No. Absolutely not. Teaching abstinence-only is ignorant: there’s no other word for it. But I do think that there’s plenty of room to encourage abstinence, particularly at a middle-school level, and I think teenagers really need to understand that sex carries some serious risks, and that they can and should wait until they’re ready.

J: So. You made it with clarity and without too much temptation all the way through college. What about afterward?

M: That’s when the problems started for me. In the world of young professionals who like to go out, I found that it was almost impossible to find a guy who was cool with not having sex. So for the first time, my virginity became something that I hid. I felt like I needed to be ashamed of it. Maybe I was.

J: You didn’t want to be seen as a prude, or a fundamentalist.

M: Yeah, and I hate that word: “prude.” Whatever I decide to do with my body, it doesn’t mean that I’m not open-minded, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m consigning anyone to hell.

This is a strange and really powerful burden to have to feel, as a young woman who embraces contemporary life and culture. I don’t feel like I’m an antiquated thinker. I respect and value everything that’s changed in this world for women. Yet if I told most people that I believed in keeping my virginity for my husband, they’d almost instantly see me as a Bible-beating Victorian.

J: I think that’s a fair assessment. I also think that, if women didn’t have to fight so hard to assert sex-positivity and control over our bodies, if a woman’s “worth” weren’t so wrapped up in how closely we follow normative sexual behavior, then you wouldn’t have to be dealing with any of this.

M: For sure. But nevertheless, it was really upsetting to feel like a pariah for my virginity. It made me feel like our world wasn’t nearly as progressive as I thought and hoped it was. Everyone was mounting this campaign, like “GET MAYA LAID,” and I hated it. There were guys who would tell me they were attracted to me but didn’t want to even hook up because they knew it “wouldn’t go anywhere.”

I got to a point where I almost gave in. And afterwards I was furious with myself: that I even considered having sex just to feel wanted. That is what I have always wanted not to do. But that’s where my life was leading at that point. No one wanted me unless I would have sex with them.

So I moved to D.C. for medical school, and I started studying nonstop. Once a month or so I’d go out, drink a ton, and make out with people on the dance floor to deal with my feelings of sexual frustration. It was a protected zone: there was only so far you could go. And then by that point I had fake boobs so no one thought I was a virgin, and that was that.

J: Wait. We have to talk about your boobs.

M: Sure! I love my boobs. Well, after college, when I lost all the weight I’d gained over those four years, my ass was still Kim Kardashian and my tits looked like Mary-Kate and Ashley. And I can say this with clarity because there was no one in the picture, even on the horizon: I wanted those boobs for me. I wanted to look good in clothes. I wanted to look sexy — for me. And when I got them, I was so happy. Everything looked right again.

And listen, I know I give off an impression that doesn’t reflect my sexual behavior. I know how I dance, how I dress. But I have a right to these contradictions, even though I’m aware that some people believe I don’t. I am well aware that our society thinks you’re not supposed to look sexy if you’re not going to follow through.

J: Yes. What a violent idea.

M: But it’s everywhere. I still wonder what kind of a guy would understand that both my sexuality and my virginity are important to me. To this day I’ve met almost no one who understands this. I sometimes wonder if my only choice at this age will be to just go full right-wing and just start dating a church guy who will want me to wear cardigans and stop drinking wine with dinner.

Anyway, the whole “making out with a third of my class at parties” thing was unsatisfying. And then everything changed, my whole life came apart last summer. You know this. I was raped.

J: Yeah. Could you say the basic story of what happened to you? However you want to say it?

M: I was pretty much blacked out. I was at an after hours bar. I was dancing around, dancing on tables. I don’t remember much until I got pulled into a stairwell, and very quickly it went from being a consensual kiss to a full-on attack. It was the guy who had been serving us drinks. I can only remember the worst parts. Getting attacked from behind and screaming, being forced to do things.

My friends found me afterwards crying hysterically. They said I had no color on my face. I don’t remember any of this, but they said that I kept saying that I’d had everything taken away from me. That I wasn’t a virgin anymore.

And I think, even then, I knew that what had happened was anal sex. But it didn’t matter. I’d never thought of virginity as a legalistic act. It was me protecting my body, saving it. And I hadn’t done that. Someone had taken what I’d been wanting, for so long, to give.

J: What happened after your friends found you?

M: Late the next day I went to the hospital. I had my clothes as evidence, they did a rape kit. But honestly, even though I’ve been around hospitals all my life because both my parents are physicians, it was an incredibly traumatic experience. I tried to keep things clinical, but the cops came and they got really upset that I didn’t want to press charges.

They told me, “If you don’t take action, this will happen to someone else.” Which is true, and it broke my heart. But at that point I couldn’t even walk my dog. I could in no way handle the possibility of going to court and hearing him say, “She asked for it. She wanted it.”

And of course I was already assigning myself blame. I kept thinking I’d just ruined my life because I wanted to go out and party. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened when I was wearing such a modest outfit. Even my dad told me that he’d been worried that I’d been drinking too much, which hurt me really deeply. I just kept circling that thought. Is it my fault, is it my fault, is it my fault?

J: Deep down, do you understand that it’s not?

M: Yeah, of course. It is no one’s fault when they’re raped. But it’s going to take a long time for that question to disappear completely from my psychology.

J: Have you felt supported by your friends, as you’ve told them?

M: Yes. Yes, of course. But, you know, people don’t really know how to talk about this. They get uncomfortable when you use the word “rape.” And I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.

I really wish people would understand that the best thing they could do is listen. Listen, and use the same words that I’m using, and don’t give me advice when I’m not asking for it.

J: Are there any resources that you feel are missing, or unhelpful?

M: Well, I was on the Internet a lot right after it happened and I got really caught up into the survivor websites, which I do not think helped me. I became so busy trying to be a survivor — to have already moved past it — that I never really dealt with my pain, and it’s only been recently that I’ve been working things out in weekly meetings with a really wonderful counselor.

And I can’t do support groups yet. I feel alone within them. I’ve never met another girl who was raped by a stranger as a virgin, like I was. And although all of these pains are equally shattering, they’re different. Also, there are almost no Christian women who are coming out and saying they’ve been violated. I would really love to be a part of that when I’m ready, when I’m healed.

J: Would you still define yourself as a virgin?

M: Yes.

J: You say that like it’s taken a long time to come to that conclusion.

M: Yes, it has. And even though I still claim my virginity, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel like I’ve lost something. I’ve lost a lot of my innocence, my true physical innocence. It would be hard for me to say that I don’t feel tainted, that I don’t feel worthy of someone’s love.

But I can honestly say that I would never take back the promise I made to myself and to God. I do not regret that I was a virgin when I was raped. And you know, for awhile I thought I would just start having sex after it happened. But I didn’t, and realizing that — living through every day, coming to see that I am still myself, that the centrality of who I am has never changed — has been a revelation. I still have my promise. I still have everything to give. Yes. I’m still a virgin.

Previously: Interview With a Lapsed Christian Virgin.

Jia Tolentino feels grateful to live in a world with women like Maya. 

Image via Flickr/Fractalive

199 Comments / Post A Comment


Wow, this was really powerful, thank you for sharing!


so god damn funny@v


It's really terrible what happened to you Maya, and I agree, you are still a virgin because you say you are.
But I hope you changed your mind about not pressing charges. And I hope you don't feel like you "shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable" by saying the word rape. That is what happened to you! And the entire stigma of silence is part of what allows it to keep happening!


@Megano! I think there's a difference, though, between "I have an obligation not to make anyone uncomfortable by saying rape" and "I have seen firsthand that bringing up rape makes people uncomfortable, and that many/most of the people in my social circle don't really know how to deal with it or where to take the conversation, therefore having that conversation would not be particularly helpful to me and would probably just be frustrating, so I will make the decision not to." I think Maya is talking about how she's adapting her personal recovery process to her actual situation (i.e. most but not necessarily all people she is around not being super helpful/comfortable when talking about rape), not bending unthinkingly to a taboo.
And it's worth mentioning, too, that she isn't being silent - she talks to her counsellor, and of course there's this interview.


@Cawendaw Also @entangled's whole thread below.


@Megano! Okay, I created an account to make this comment - please don't ever tell anyone that they should change their mind about pressing charges. A victim does not owe anything to the world at large - the rapist owes it to the world not to commit crimes.

Besides, let's be real - less than 10% of cases are even brought to the stage of a trial, fewer are convicted, and even fewer serve prison time. I was a rape crisis counselor for three years - not a single person who I served had their attacker convicted, and only a few were even brought to the prosecution point. I say that not to discourage anyone who does want to go through that process, but to put it in perspective. If you don't think going through that process is going to be helpful to you personally, don't feel guilty about it, because chances are, nothing will happen to your rapist anyway. This is unfortunate, but it is the truth, and survivors deserve the truth.


@ana77 Just because the system's broken doesn't mean you shouldn't try, at least that is my opinion. If enough people press charges, they have to do something, or maybe I'm being naive. I still hope she changed her mind about it.


@ana77 I knew that convictions were not nearly high enough for rapists but unaware of this unfortunate truth, which is beyond unfortunate and fills me with the ragey sadness of injustice. This isn't the most constructive thing to state, just venting I guess.


@Megano! I'm not closely familiar with the legal system like ana77, but in my opinion, in a system that's broken to the extent that ours is, reporting a sexual assault is not so much punishing a crime as it is performing an act of civil disobedience against a society that A.) is terrible about effective punishment/rehab for sex offenders and B.) is terrible in that it punishes the victims of sex crimes (and sometimes uses the legal system as a mechanism to do this, albeit indirectly). Like throwing yourself on a grenade, it's laudable, but not necessarily effective and not something you can really push someone to do if it's not what's in their heart.


@Cawendaw I really doubt that me saying here is going to make her change her mind, and that isn't what I intended with my comment anyway.

Quinn A@twitter

@Megano! One of the things I learned in my training as a sexual assault crisis counselor is that in rape trials, even the prosecutor is not technically on the victim's side. They're not prosecuting harm done to the victim, they're prosecuting a crime against society. Victims literally can't trust anyone in the system to be looking out for them, and can be blindsided by a prosecutor's questions.

And yes, @ana77 is right about the appallingly low conviction rate. Sentences tend to be appallingly lenient, as well.

The system is broken, and I don't think we should be putting the onus on victims to work within that broken system at the expense of their mental health - I think we should be putting the onus on society to fix the system.


@Megano! just FTR I don't think saying "I hope you changed your mind about not pressing charges" is putting the onus/pressure on the victim, I think you expressed what you were saying fine. There was no "should"ing in there.


@Megano! Just to let you know, as a rape victim, saying things like "Just because the system's broken doesn't mean you shouldn't try" is really, really offensive. You really don't have any right to say what you think victims should, or should not, do (and saying "I hope she changed her mind" doesn't take away the implication that, in your mind, you think rape victims have an obligation to press charges). The only thing I had to try to do after my rape was survive. And I can guarantee you that pressing charges would have hurt, not helped, my survival. Poll rape victims who have pressed charges, you'd be shocked at how many of them regret doing so. When it comes to this, I don't owe society shit.


@ana77 I actually agree with ana77-- I never pressed charges because I knew, from the get-go, that I didn't have a case; that it would be way way way to easy for people to say, "Well, she was drunk, she was sexy, she never screamed". I talked with my therapist about it a ton, and she ended up agreeing that the trauma of pressing charges would not be worth the outcome. Which sucks. But like Quinn A says, we shouldn't be putting the onus on victims.

I have enough guilt from the rape itself; please don't also guilt-trip about how I'm going about healing from it.


There's no right way to approach this, and I hope this doesn't devolve into a fight.
The system is fucked, but there are people within it trying to fix it or at least mitigate the impact as much as they can. I work for the DA's Office here, and every case has a Victim Advocate assigned, with a social work degree, to do just that.
But yes. Statistics are horrifying and it's often going to be a brutal and fruitless process for the victim. And just as the victim holds absolutely no responsibility for the crime against them, they owe nothing to the world at large regarding their reaction and coping.
However, I see very little chance that sweeping, effective reform is going to come from the top down. I think it's going to be forced from the bottom up. But that means we need victims speaking up and out and fighting back with all they've got. If they do in fact have the fight in them. Which we can't expect them to.

It sucks. We're fucked no matter what we do. Literally.


@NeverOddOrEven Thank you for this gracious and thorough summary :)

I don't think it will turn into a fight (@melis? @melis?) but I did want to express the other side of things-- of course rape victims have considered pressing charges, and of course we have our reasons for doing or not doing so. I just really resist the "It's your duty towards society" attitude.

Your response is great.


Thanks! I was worried I wasn't really saying anything new or of substance, these things always just bring up so many feelings I can't contain.
It just seemed like the conversation was getting a little heated and I wanted to articulate that no one is right and no one is wrong in this situation. It's all so personal.
The trick is going to be taking a mass of people with very different feelings about the same situation and uniting them in a common approach in affecting change. And I'm fucking stumped.


I also feel very stongly about this because I went through a completely different but very traumatic experience not too long ago, and my sister gave me the best advice/response of anyone:
"Dont' let anyone tell you how to react to this. You just do whatever you need to do, for as long as you need to do it."
I'm sure if it had been anything really self-destructive she would have stepped in, but it was really helpful to be able to approach it from the get-go as, "Yea, fuck everyone else. My job is taking care of me, not making them comfortable with it."


@Megano! It probably won't make her change her mind, but it might make her feel ashamed, and adding more shame to a rape victim is the last thing I'd ever want to do.


@NeverOddOrEven Your sister is awesome, and I am remembering that response for future use.


@NeverOddOrEven see, before I was raped, I would have said that if I ever was, I would absolutely definitely go to the police immediately. And when my friend got molested in a stairwell I was all, "Yes go to the police immediately". And then I got raped and it was like, "Whoa. All these emotions I was not expecting and the last thing I want to do is talk about it and have my mom find out and all of that".


Another catch-22 - you have all these emotions you need to process before acting, but if you do decide to act time is critical.


I like to think so!
It's the permission from someone else, I think. Which sounds weird, but I would have been inclined to approach it that way but also feel guilty about doing it. And she lifted that burden by validating the impulse.


@Megano! "I hope you changed your mind about not pressing charges" imposes on a survivor something we have no right to impose. I understand where you are coming from-- as someone who was sexually assaulted, I desperately regret not trying earlier to hold the perp accountable--but bystanders have no right whatsoever to ask a survivor, already hurt by an assault, to put herself through the potentially retraumatizing ordeal of participating in a criminal case. There are lots of ways to fight against sexual assault, and we as feminists need to find ways to do so that do not place such a burden on survivors.


Oh my gosh.

I had all these things rattling around in my head from the first part (expectations about sex and dating with these sort of parental/cultural expectations, how Maya's less dramatic desire contrasted with Clara, wanting to see one of these interviews with an older virgin not by choice) and now I'm just kind of stunned.

Waiting until marriage is not really my thing, but I have to say that it's really heartening to see that Maya's determination to wait hasn't changed.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@entangled Yeah, I was thinking, "Petals?" when I hit the part about her getting attacked. I think I've got some mental whiplash.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Definitely mental whiplash, but I think that's not really a bad thing. It's like how Maya says that the word rape makes people uncomfortable and she doesn't want to make people feel uncomfortable. But I feel like NO IT SHOULD MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE. There is nothing wrong with being jarred out of our comfort zones once in awhile with the reality that bad shit happens. (though I don't feel like as a survivor she should feel compelled to be the bearer of this torch if she doesn't want to be)


@entangled Yeah agh sorry guys--it was hard to decide how to present this. For me, talking to Maya, it felt most appropriate (in terms of her perspective and what she'd want) to tell her life story as it happened chronologically rather than defining her from the beginning as a rape survivor, but I do hope that the whiplash factor doesn't end up hurting anyone. I agree 300000% with how sad it is that the word rape makes people get eggshelly and scared.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@entangled You're completely right. It is uncomfortable because it should be; it just took me a while to wrap my brain around what I had just read. I think it's important to still be able to be appalled by the awful things humans can do to one another, and to be impressed with human resiliency.

Maya, though she doesn't want to make others uncomfortable when she verbalizes what happened to her, isn't responsible for maintaining my or anyone else's comfort level. I appreciate her honesty and courage, and I hope she knows she's not hurting the discourse by speaking openly about rape.


@j-i-a I actually really liked the way you presented it (though I guess I could see how it might be triggery). Not only did it feel like it should be a shock in the midst of her story, but it also meant that it didn't define her that way at the beginning of the story.. I do hope you do more of these, though. Maya's story was really interesting and powerful.


@entangled I shouldn't, but I definitely do have a mental mould of "rape survivor" that I tend to squish people's narratives into. I felt like presenting the interview so that the reader first tried to fit Maya into the "religious virgin" mould (which she obviously doesn't fit), and then later found out she's a rape survivor, we got a more complete and nuanced and human picture of her than we would have if the articled was titled "Ask a Virgin Who is Also a Rape Survivor."

Passion Fruit

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Yes, definitely mental whiplash. While I was reading, I was developing one idea of her. Honestly I was, and am, slightly envious of her self-possession, her clarity and confidence to say "Yes, I will remain a virgin until I get married because it means something to me, emotionally and spiritually," and "Yes, I will get breast implants because they suit me." I wish I could speak about my desires in regards to sexuality, virginity, body image, self-presentation without waffling, without self-reproach.

And then I read about her attack, and I was so caught off guard by the trauma of the event, that I cried. I actually cried when reading a story, which I almost never do. I am so, so sorry that happened to her -- to you, Maya, if you are reading this. You are amazing in your ability to define yourself with pride and self-assurance. I wish you continued healing and growth, you are an amazing person.


@Passion Fruit I am so thankful for this support that you guys are expressing for her--I just sent her the interview and I hope she sees your comment. She has expressed to me on multiple occasions that she feels like she's lost the part of her that used to be feisty and tough--and it makes me want to weep because she's so, so, incredibly, unfathomably tough.


@entangled I think this presentation was perfect for all those reasons too. The lack of definitions (except "virgin", and that stereotype got turned around) really let Maya's humanity shine through. It would have anyway (she sounds remarkably self-possessed and thoughtful) but this allowed for that more.

And thank you, Maya, for sharing all of this.

Passion Fruit


Thank you Jia. I wanted to commend both of you for conducting such an honest interview. Jia, you didn't shy away from asking her difficult questions about reconciling her religious/personal beliefs with her intellectual/professional beliefs in regards to abstinence-only education and her future work as a doctor. And Maya gave answers that showed that she had spent time thinking about how her own choices will inform how she practices medicine.

And this, especially, resonated with me:
"And listen, I know I give off an impression that doesn’t reflect my sexual behavior. I know how I dance, how I dress. But I have a right to these contradictions, even though I’m aware that some people believe I don’t. I am well aware that our society thinks you’re not supposed to look sexy if you’re not going to follow through."

As someone who does NOT feel like I have a right to look sexy, because I have no interest in acting sexy with most people (but then I end up feeling frumpy and ugly), I really appreciate you saying this. Do men feel this way? That they can't look good because then they'll lead people on to think that they are going to, I don't know, have sex with everything? Ugh, probably not. Just typing this out is making me angry.

It is just simply incredible and wonderful to me that you feel so entitled to expressing your sexuality when and how you see fit. Everyone should feel that way; I want to feel that way. (I am working on it!)

Anyways, thank you both.


@j-i-a Oh man, I understand worrying about losing the feisty part... and other times I worry that's all that's left. Not to make it all about me, but to say that I get that, as best an internet stranger can "get" another after just one story.

And you sound like an insightful, sensitive friend.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@j-i-a Also, Jia, could you inform Maya of my standing invite for drinking wine with dinner and then playing on my kickball team? It's 90 percent about fashion, 10 percent about actually playing, so there's no need to try avoiding it on the sidelines...


@Passion Fruit I also cried when reading her story.

Jia, I think the way you wrote this was exactly the way it should have been written. We got to see Maya's past, her struggles with remaining a virgin, everything she had done and thought and built in her life before we got the information that she was raped. The way you organized the interview was great; the very structure bears out how much of a fucking violation her rape was.

Maya, I'm so sorry that you were raped. I'm sorry that you felt so little support from our justice system. The fact that you assumed (perhaps rightfully, as many cases have shown) that you wouldn't be heard or believed makes me so angry and sad for you and every other survivor of rape. I'm not religious and I don't pray, but I am sending you the best thoughts and intentions that I can.


@Passion Fruit " Do men feel this way? That they can't look good because then they'll lead people on to think that they are going to, I don't know, have sex with everything?"
Speaking for myself, no. In fact there've been times when I've actually wanted to wear something that advertised my sexual availability (my clothes alone had to advertise it, because my personality sure didn't) and I had no options. "Looking good" for guys is, to my dinosaur brain, a fairly non-sexual concept.
I have dealt with the related problem of being seen as inherently sexually threatening to women because of my maleness (very, very related, obviously, with the whole cultural convention of "female=automatically sexually available to all males, male=automatically has sex with all females"), but it never really felt relavent in the sphere of fashion or looks.


@j-i-a I actually thought it made the piece really powerful. I think it really brings home the shock of rape, and how it disrupts a life (a narrative), and how it certainly doesn't only happen to "sluts".
Also, yes, Maya sounds incredibly smart and strong and sexy and amazing, and like someone who should come hang out with us at the 'Pin.

Passion Fruit

@Cawendaw Yeah, I agree that looking good for guys is a fairly non-sexual concept. I guess I am thinking specifically about dressing my body in styles that look good to me, it tends to look sexual since I have large breasts. And that makes me uncomfortable, so I retreat into baggy t-shirts.

And yes, I hear you on males being seen as inherently sexually threatening. That must really suck. I think, though, you can understand why women are on alert about it. Men who rape look, dress, act, work just like men who do not rape! Confusing.

Anyways, didn't mean to thread jack. Sorry!


@entangled The purpose of trigger warnings isn't to placate people who never think about rape and are made uncomfortable by its mention (the whole notion that such a thing needs to happen is the reason why idiots feel justified in making rape jokes). It's to assist people who are trying not to think about it all the time, specifically their own experience.


@Danzig! Right, I understand that. I just mean that for me and it seems a lot of other people the suddenness was really powerful. I'm not sure what to make of trying to balance wanting to warn people away who are dealing with something like this themselves against the reasons Jia and Maya shared Maya's story chronologically, but I don't think that Maya or anyone else should have to feel the need to keep what happened to her secret out of fear of making people uncomfortable. The shame and discomfort should be on the rapist.


@entangled Who proposed secrecy


@Danzig! I'm not thinking about secrecy (though Maya talks about not wanting to make people uncomfortable which is what I responded to above). I'm not quite sure what you're responding to about what I said... maybe I'm confusing what you're saying about me feeling like Maya shouldn't worry about making her friends and family uncomfortable by talking about rape with my appreciation for the interview being posted without forewarning about the trauma in her story (which I'm aware could be triggery, but in a very different context than someone making a rape joke).


The article was really well done, I think. We got to know a lot about Maya's character and beliefs before finding out what had happened to her. If we knew that the article involved rape before reading it, I think most readers would have approached it very differently. Being taken completely by surprise by the mention of her rape was just so powerful and moving. It makes people see her not just as a rape victim - because we got to know something about her before that came up - but as a determined and strong person in her own right.


@j-i-a chronological was a really good way to present it, I thought: it was good that it was jarring.


@entangled Alright, so. Your first comment was more or less a roundabout defense of the lack of trigger warning(s) in the post. My reply to that was meant to illustrate that avoiding their use to remind people of "the reality that bad shit happens" SPECTACULARLY misses their point. Like, you're not in the same galaxy as the point of trigger warnings. There are good reasons why one might forego their use, most mainstream bloggers are probably aware of them given their willingness to do so. But this isn't one of them.

In your reply to my reply, the way the paragraph's written seems to imply a choice -
I'm not sure what to make of trying to balance wanting to warn people away who are dealing with something like this themselves against the reasons Jia and Maya shared Maya's story chronologically

segues into
but I don't think that Maya or anyone else should have to feel the need to keep what happened to her secret out of fear of making people uncomfortable.

So it reads as "I thought about trigger warnings, but we don't want to keep Jia / Maya's experience secret." which... I guess implies that trigger warnings are about keeping secrets or something. It reads like you're presenting two options then giving a reason why one is preferable.

There's obviously some sort of communication screwup going on here but I'm pretty sure I'm for trigger warnings and you're not, which is fine. The concept of a trigger warning as a narrative spoiler that sucks the drama out of a story is certainly novel, but whatever. It seems like they're outside the HP-Awl comfort zone. I just don't want anybody to get it twisted w/r/t why trigger warnings are a good idea.


@Danzig! The concept of a trigger warning as a narrative spoiler that sucks the drama out of a story is certainly novel
Actually, it happens in the fanfiction community all the time. Many writers choose to hide their warnings in a way that makes the reader choose to see them (while still making them accessible - usually by blacking out the text so that you have to highlight to see the warnings). That way, people who choose to read trigger warnings as a way of deciding if a story is for them still have the tools they need to take care of themselves, and those who find trigger warnings to be "spoilers" are free to wade into the water without knowing what might be lurking there.

I liked the way this story was presented (though of course I wish that dramatic turn hadn't happened, because I wish it hadn't happened in real life), but I also can see how it would be very triggery for someone, and I'm on team "survivors first" which is to say that if the choice is between "spoiling the story for people" and "triggering a flashback", I'm on the side of spoilers.


@Danzig! This is something I don't understand about trigger warnings. I'm neither for nor against them, though I don't use them in my own writing so I suppose that's kind of a passive rejection, but you say above that they're intended to help people who are trying not to think about something constantly. Which I totally get. But isn't "trigger warning: rape discussion" a reminder of one's own terrible experience just as much as reading the actual rape discussion would be?



"But isn't "trigger warning: rape discussion" a reminder of one's own terrible experience just as much as reading the actual rape discussion would be?"

I don't have much skin in the Trigger Warning Game (ie, I don't have a Tumblr), but I think a trigger warning would be a lot less triggering than reading about someone's rape. In this piece, for instance, Maya painted a pretty visceral picture of her rape with her answers to Jia's questions. I know that my stomach knotted up and I felt slightly sick when I read about it; I can imagine that reaction would be 1,000x worse if I were a rape survivor. I think reading "TW: rape" is definitely much, much less flashback-inducing than that.

Another example: say someone is depressed and struggling with suicidal thoughts, or had a time in their life when this was true for them. A trigger warning "TW: suicidal ideation" on a post is going to be a big warning sign for them to stay away from the post, unless they want to read thoughts that might put them in a pretty bad place. The words "suicidal ideation" probably won't set them off, but reading in detail about how a person wants to kill herself very well might.

I don't think that people who want trigger warnings are trying to create a world where you never see the word "rape" or "suicide" or "self-harm" (as you do in the actual warning itself). I think they are trying to make it easier to healthily navigate the interwebs without giving themselves flashbacks or anxiety. Some days, a survivor just might not be up to having to read about rape/incest/etc, and trigger warnings allow them to assess whether or not today is a day they engage with those discussions.


@wee_ramekin I'm not saying my preference should take precedence over people who could be triggered. But I am someone very sensitive about rape issues, and I actually find myself relieved when they're discussed on this website. I wouldn't like it to be constant, but I personally feel pretty safe here. I also have rape-related thoughts in the back of my head a lot, so it's not that jarring for me. In fact, I liked the narrative here, as I said earlier. I thought it laid out Maya's "foundation" very well, in a chronological way that makes sense for my brain.

But that's just my perspective. I welcome the thoughts of those who see it differently, and I can see why they might want a trigger warning. I like the blackout idea that fanfic uses.

Also, I should say that in other places of the internet, I wish they were used more. Some film scholar I know posted a video on Facebook that was a clip of some 70s cult film they like. I watched it and it was of a man being trapped against his will in a room of mentally ill women who wanted to have sex with him. It was unpleasant and I wished this guy had given at least some hint that it was going to be a disturbing clip. So, in another context, I have wished for some type of vague or explicit trigger warning.


@whateverlolawants I also really liked the structure of the narrative here. It caused me to examine the way I think about rape, because I know without a doubt that my idea of who Maya was as a person would have been different if this were titled "Interview with a Virgin who is a Rape Survivor". Not different in a bad way, but certainly different. The set-up of this interview really got me thinking about and engaging with Maya-The-Person, so when she was suddenly raped and became Maya-the-Person-Who-Is-Also-A-Rape-Survivor, my brain was shocked. It shook me to the core that someone I had been reading about and whose ideas I was mulling over was all of the sudden horrifically violated. It seems like the shock that so many of us felt mirrors in the smallest of ways the shock that Maya must have felt in going from Maya-Who-Hasn't-Been-Raped to Maya-Who-Has-Been-Raped. So yes, I agree that, for me, the structure was a huge benefit of this interview, and I am glad that we're talking about it on the Hairpin (and that we're able to talk about rape in a supportive way in general on this site).

I can also see how that "mental whiplash" that I experienced reading this would be extremely unpleasant for someone who was raped. I also like the blackout idea from fanfic world; it seems like a great compromise.


@wee_ramekin Yes, I was glad it didn't put her in a box, but showed that all of us who have been violated are just people like everyone else.


All my love for this post, for Maya, and for Jia.

Why are my eyes all wet? WHY?

Maya, I want to give you all the hugs, and then all of the high-fives, and then all of the hugs again.


Damn. Wow. What an intense story. It felt like it was going one way, and then it went the other. But I'm glad it did, I feel like more and more stories like this need to be shared, and widely. Awareness, awareness, awareness. Thank you so much for sharing, Maya.


This is, by far, the most moving and important piece I've read on the Hairpin in quite some time. Many thanks to Maya for sharing her story.


Thank you so much for talking so candidly, Maya. I'm an Indian immigrant in grad school in DC, and this really resonated with me. I really appreciate you sharing your story and your moxie.

Pocket Witch

I have Feelings right now. Many of them. There's a lot here that reflects what I've tried to explain. Like
But I also fully believe — as one of my biggest priorities in my faith — that I cannot speak for God or grade people’s decisions. I have no right to dictate anyone else’s right and wrong.

Exactly. I intend to live by my personal, moral lights, but I don't want to be Judge McJudgeypants about it.
And I get very annoyed when people on the internet start talking about how anyone who waits until marriage is brainwashed or oppressed. Like it's inconceivable that anyone not have sex of their own volition.

And this
I still wonder what kind of a guy would understand that both my sexuality and my virginity are important to me.

I still haven't tried dating while sexually inactive, partly because I don't have any idea what I'd do with a boyfriend (I think I'd go for a dude rather than a lady, but I'm not 100% sure).
The other thing that confuses me is what can I possibly be missing? I have this lady friend, and we talk about everything, good and bad. This friend of mine even guessed that I might be asexual before I did.
I want to ask someone what's in marriage that isn't here, but jeez louise, I doubt I can explain asexuality to my mother.


@Pocket Witch hey - I'm not asexual but I feel like this is a topic that has been getting some good press (in publications I read, so, probably, only bad news coverage in bigger media...) maybe there are some resources out there for you if that's what your into. Anyway, I hope that if you choose to think of yourself as asexual, the label will be helpful for you.


"I still wonder what kind of a guy would understand that both my sexuality and my virginity are important to me. To this day I’ve met almost no one who understands this."
I hope you don't end up with a guy who wants you to wear cardigans and stop drinking wine with dinner! I feel like you're pretty great, and sooner or later, you'll find a guy who gets it. But man, I can feel the frustration in getting there.

sceps yarx

@HeyThatsMyBike I really liked that part, too. I can definitely relate. I was a virgin when I got married, and part of the reason I picked my dude is because he did understand that about me.

I can also relate to the sexual trauma aspect, not from assault, but from a really terrible childbirth experience that left an exposed nerve ending in my vagina. And that same dude, the one who respected me as both sexual and virginal, was really, really good at helping me get through being damaged (literally) and yet still sexual.

All this to say, there are some good dudes are out there! They do exist. Don't give up, everyone. And don't stop being yourself, because we are all complicated, three-dimensional human beings.

baked bean

@sceps yarx Yes, yes. I am an atheist, but I know many Christian men (some in my family) who are very much like her in their beliefs regarding sex. They are out there! And not all men are pigs, there are many wonderful kind people out there. The men I associate are widely not pigs (whether they are having sex with people or not) because I would never associate with a pig, male or female!


This was flat-out amazing. Maya, you sound like a hell of a woman, and I'm very glad we got to hear your story.

one cow.

Maya, as a woman who is very very much in your same situation in terms of virginity, saving myself for my husband, growing up in a Christian home, living in a big city, etc, thank you thank you thank you for sharing all of this. I've very recently been feeling like "giving up" because of societal pressure. Thankfully, the guys I've dated have been wonderful & respectful of my choice.

My sisters have a huge fear of something similar happening to me (I mean, so do I) and the trauma that it would produce. I'll pray for your healing (<--feels real weird saying that on the 'Pin) in all ways.


@one cow. I stayed a virgin until I got married two months ago, and it was a good decision. I also don't judge people for making different decisions, but for me, waiting was worth it.


@one cow. Please don't feel weird! :)


@one cow. Please don't feel weird. Those of us who pray in different ways are praying, too.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@Mingus_Thurber I just wanted to say that I love this discussion.


oh oh wow. Thanks so much for writing this, and thanks Maya for being willing to tell your story. These stories feel like such a necessary validation of different women's experiences with sex and rape and virginity and I flat-out love reading them.
Also, barely managed to keep my eyes dry through the piece, and then got to the author description and it suddenly got very, very dusty.


"Teaching abstinence-only is ignorant: there’s no other word for it. But I do think that there’s plenty of room to encourage abstinence, particularly at a middle-school level, and I think teenagers really need to understand that sex carries some serious risks, and that they can and should wait until they’re ready."

I really loved Maya's views on abstinence-only education and what we should teach our youth about sex and when they "should" start engaging in it.

I certainly do not believe in abstinence-only education, and yet I do think that a lot (a LOT) of teenagers aren't really as ready for the emotional and physical aspects of sex as they think they are. I know so many people who felt pressured into having sex. So many people whose "first times" were not great at all because they didn't really feel ready. So many people who really messed themselves up emotionally engaging in sex and relationships before they should have (and when I say "should have", I mean "for their own personal development").

I think it's incredibly important to teach children and teenagers about consent and about checking in with themselves as to whether or not they're ready to have sex. That is what "sex-positive" means to me: not that we're encouraging kids to have ALL! TEH! SEHKS!, but rather that we're informing them that it's a fun, awesome, and significant act, and that it should be a positive and considered decision for them to engage in it.


@wee_ramekin all the likes


@wee_ramekin YUP! And yet can we ever have a sane political conversation about this in America? That's not just ahhhhhhhhhh sex! Children! Ahhhhhhhhh!

Passion Fruit

@wee_ramekin YES. I wish I had learned more about the emotional/interpersonal aspect of sex growing up. I just bounced around from abstinence-only in high school to "All people are having all kinds of sex all of the time! With no repercussions of any sort!" in college, and it was very, very confusing and -- dare I say it? I dare -- shaming.

ALSO, it would be amazing to read a collection of first-times that were imperfect or were emotionally difficult. I only remember reading about first-times that were super-romancey, or super-sexy, or both, when mine was neither*, and I felt embarrassed and disappointed about it for a long time.

*It wasn't awful! It just took a while to develop these aspects.


@Passion Fruit I think the emotional/interpersonal aspects of sex ed are SO important. I don't really recall most of the sex ed I got, beyond general themes, but I definitely remember my mom's advice about the emotional parts and I feel like more teenage girls should get her "you're taking on most of the risk when you decide to have sex, so make sure what you're getting out of it is really worth it and demand better if it's not" message.


@wee_ramekin Agreed. One of our right-wing MPs proposed a while ago that abstinence should be taught more to teenage girls, and while I disagree with her and her reasoning, it did make me think about the fact that teenage girls are the demographic most likely to be in an abusive relationship (which is scary). I don't want "abstinence" to be taught in the sense of YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE SEX, END OF STORY, but I think it would be valuable to make it clear to all children/teenagers that if someone is pressuring you to have sex, that is wrong, and it's something that should only happen if you both want it. Less abstinence, more, "you are allowed to say no".


@Passion Fruit This is one thing I thank my mom for, as weird/messed up as all were the signals she transmitted about sex - that sex meant something, and it was important. Not to say that people can't have casual sex and enjoy it and be fine, but I realized through my (awkward) conversations with her that I would never be one of those folks.


@Bittersweet The thing is - and probably this isn't what you meant to imply - that people who have casual sex are devaluing sex.
People who go to a new restaurant every day aren't devaluing food. Just like people who decide that they don't want to taste sushi until they can get it from the best chef don't hate food.
Sex is important to all of our lives, whether we're having it or not, and so we should all make the most informed choices possible (which duh I'm sure we all agree with).


@gobblegirl OH GEEZ. In the first sentence, I obviously meant "ARE NOT devaluing sex."

baked bean

@wee_ramekin YES. YES. YES. Teenagers need to learn how to know if they are ready for sex, how to say no, how to listen to people saying "no" and that pressuring your partner to have sex is BAD and that if you have a partner pressuring you to do something you don't want to GET OUTTA THERE.
I feel like we'll have a huge change if this is implemented! Think of how fewer assholes there are going to be out there! And probably a decrease in unwanted pregnancies!


@gobblegirl No, I totally don't think that. What I was trying to say was not that people who have casual sex are devaluing sex, but that my discussions with my mother (such as they were) helped me start on the path to realizing that casual sex wasn't my thing. It didn't penetrate until later, after a number of "casual" encounters.

Sea Ermine

@baked bean I also think that when talking about sex and pressure in schools it should be in done in a gender neutral way. Because the cultural narrative is that all boys want sex and all girls don't and will only have it when pressured, when in reality, I think both genders are receiving pressure from all sides. When I was a teen I was dating a boy that I wanted to have sex with (or at least do more than kissing) and he was very adamantly waiting until he was married. And I did my best to respect that and I don't feel like I pressured him but it was extremely confusing for me because I'd heard tons of information (not necessarily in school, my school's sex ed was fairly progressive, but just from the world and the media) that all boys want sex and will pressure you to have it and you should be a good girl and say no and that really didn't fit what I was experiencing and I wasn't sure what to do. And on top of that he didn't understand that I could possibly want any of these things (you know, because I was a girl and therefore automatically asexual until marriage) and so there was a little bit of shaming on his end about the whole situation, which was also confusing because before then I had always had a fairly positive and healthy attitude about my desires.

I should mention that I'm not disagreeing with your comment, just adding to it because I find even when people try and talk about how you shouldn't do something just because you're pressured, it's generally framed in a way where the girl is being pressured and the boy is doing the pressuring.

baked bean

@Sea Ermine Yes, I agree. I think sex ed should be co-ed anyway, because kids don't get taught everything when the classes are split by gender. I feel like we'd have a lot less ignorant politicians if they were taught how female bodies worked instead of just their own.

Also, I think it'd help if there were a male and female teacher. At our school we had a football coach one year and a baseball coach another. They taught us very sexist abstinence-only views on sex. That boys are out to get us! And you don't want it!


@baked bean Agreed.

I actually just had a talk with my my mother about sex ed (for background, both of us religious and both of us liberal), and about how it needs to be taught in a comprehensive way that presents sex as a possibility for everyone, but not a requirement nor something to be ashamed of. I feel like there is some weird age where it switches from "You're a terrible/immoral person if you have sex" to "You're a prude if you don't," when the reality is that there is a huge spectrum of what people are comfortable with and none of that is anything to be ashamed of. And we definitely need to address it in a gender-neutral way because the current language used around sex is definitely all kinds of messed up.

baked bean

@packedsuitcase Exactly. And there should be stories shared from adults, good and bad. Lots of stories. So kids can get a bigger picture.
Like, sea ermine could go in and talk about how even though society says it's the girls that want to wait, it's ok if you're a boy and you want to wait. Don't let anyone-- your friends, girlfriends, society, pressure you into doing something you're not ready for!


@baked bean Yes! Honestly, I really just want people to have the same feelings I have about my first time - I was ready for it, I was excited about it, we were prepared for it (I was on the pill and we used a condom), and it was awkward and sweet and wonderful. I look back on it fondly, and I wouldn't change the way it played out. That's all I want for people - to be able to remember it with a smile, no matter when it happens for them. And I want a society that supports that, and supports making conscious, informed decisions about sex.

Miss Maszkerádi

@wee_ramekin All the likes. And just chiming in from my freak-show tent over here to point out that this message is something that probably could be told to college students and twenty somethings too.....I mean, maybe I'm just mentally damaged but I'm 23 and I don't think I'm ready yet.


Maya, thank you so much for being willing to share this.


Thank you so so so much for telling this story. Feminists and Christians alike (I consider myself both) need more women like you: able to value beliefs that our culture tells us are contradictory, choose our own paths through and with them, and talk honestly about living with both. I am so sorry for the violence you've experienced but so grateful for who you are.


Thank you, Maya, for being so smart and brave and willing to tell your story and share your beliefs.


This was such a powerful interview. Maya, you sound like such a thoughtful, smart, brave woman, thank you for sharing with us.


I find it interesting that even someone as comfortable with her own sexuality (and level of sexual activity) as Maya still uses virginity as a noun. Virginity is something you have, and then can give or have taken away. It's an incredibly passive way of looking at female sexuality.
I think we should start talking about (because the words we use influence the thoughts we have) sex and virginity as a participatory act.
Because what Maya said was basically that she didn't want to explore this activity, which she considers a sacred thing, with anyone she isn't truly in love with. It's that simple, and that relatable. When I am in a relationship, I don't share that activity with dudes other than my boyfriend, because I also value the connection that sex gives.
Just because her reasons are related to the Bible and mine aren't, are the two positions that different?

heh heh, "positions"


@gobblegirl To go on even longer...
I agree with Maya's choice to define herself as a virgin if she wants to, in the sense that she has not had sex. Sex is an activity between two people who want to have sex with each other. She was raped. It was something that was done to her.
Getting hit by a car while crossing the street doesn't mean you can drive.

baked bean

@gobblegirl Agreed, there is no way she is not a virgin. Being raped never counts.


I have been lurking for... close to the whole time, and finally broke down and made an account for this. I am 30, and a virgin, and identified LIKE WHOA with so much of this story including sexual trauma (I was molested by a cousin) and being both a sexual person and a virgin and people just straight not being able to deal with that. (Although, my circle of friends? Amazing. Many of them share the same faith and totally different backgrounds and they are the opposite of judgy about shit like this.)

And regarding the whole abstinence-only education: can I say how much I hate the word "abstinence"? Hate. It just screams teetotalers and fundamentalists and weird bearded legalists who, like, lead their wives in prayer to ask God for forgiveness for the sex they're about to have. And no thanks, abstinence-only education. Oh, my head. "Sex is horrible and dangerous; it will give you diseases or BABIES which are basically diseases; it will ruin your reputation, girls (uh... guys, we don't know what to say to you here because having sex makes you cooler... OOH I KNOW YOU ARE BAD AND MASTURBATION MAKES YOU A SEX PERVERT); boys only want one thing so let's treat them like moustachioed predators amirite, ladies?; girls don't like sex except the wrong kind of girls amirite, fellas?; condoms don't work, the pill doesn't work, everything makes you infertile ARE YOU SCARED YET?? So what did we learn today, boys and girls? That's right! Save sex for the one you love." I MEAN WTF^3.

Whereas I would like something more like, "Hey, you're sexual because that's how biological humans roll. What does that sexuality look like when you're in junior high? Mostly awkwardness and some flowering which is rad but also awkward. Let's talk about how sex is cool and great sometimes and weird sometimes and definitely not ok sometimes. Let's talk about making smart decisions when it comes to your sexuality. Let's talk about butterflies and fireworks and endorphins and how they are cheaty little bastards but we kinda love them. Let's talk about condoms AND saying no AND ditching a psycho hose-beast who doesn't respect you AND how a woman's cycle works so she's fertile on certain days and not on others; hell, let's chart our periods! Let's talk about side effects of birth control AND side effects of hooking up with that guy. Let's be honest about our own emotional maturity AND our ability to raise a baby AND the fact that babies are awesome if you're ready for them and want them. Let's try to work out how to navigate this crazy-fraught time of life with integrity, whatever that looks like for you."



@par_parenthese I love you. That's all.


@par_parenthese I wish I had gotten this. I got the bio and contraception from school, the no sex from home, but I didn't get the how to have a healthy relationship and leave juiceboxes who are being juiceboxy, until, well, it happened, and I figured it out.


ugh. my heart is pounding right now. I want to tear out that man's eyeballs. he's out there somewhere living free. that's my burden, an uncontainable and certainly unChristian bloodlust towards rapists...


@squeee It's very old-Testament.


@gobblegirl and totes legit.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@squeee Your bloodlust is so contrary to your user name, I'm kind of laughing and I hope that's OK. But yes, your anger = legit.


ALSO *smacks forehead*

Maya: Thank you, thank you, thank you for telling your story.


Everything about this piece is powerful. Everything.

Maya, I have so much respect for you. Enormous amounts of respect and admiration, and not merely because you have survived something unimaginable. I respect and admire you because you have developed and cultivated a sense of self that I covet, and to which I aspire.

I want to be more like you, and in many ways.


What if some men/cultures are hung up on women's virginity (not their own of course) because they are afraid they have a small weiner. Just a thought.


Thank you, Maya. And thank you, Jia. This is incredible.


Thank you, Jia and Maya, for this. Soooo refreshing to hear both the uplifting and terribly sad parts of Maya's story.

I really resonate with all of her attitudes toward sex and education and the Bible. Keep fighting the good fight! (And by that I mean the fight to stay true to your principles and desires, and claiming agency over your body.)


What I loved about this piece was how Maya claims her body, her beliefs, her experiences, *everything*, without apology or guilt. She recognizes what's important to her, be it virginity or making her body fit her mental body-map, reasons it out, turns it inside-out to check her motivations, and then goes ahead and does what she feels is ethically right for her. That kind of thoughtfulness leaves me in awe. Most of us are very, very good at lying to ourselves about ourselves; Maya, you do not seem like that sort of person.


So encouraging to read this piece. Pretty much everything resonated with me (or was exceedingly similar to what I've experienced). It's heartening to hear other people's stories and just knowing there are other souls out there who get what's up with you, especially with those things that feel particularly isolating. Thank you.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Some parts of the interview almost felt awkward, as if Maya wasn't being asked "Why are you a virgin?" but rather "You're 26 and a virgin? WHY? How?" but somewhere around here:
"Yeah, and I hate that word: “prude.” Whatever I decide to do with my body, it doesn’t mean that I’m not open-minded, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m consigning anyone to hell."
things took a turn.
Thank you, Maya, for making me feel comfortable in my skin and helping to prove that women should be allowed to do what they want with their bodies, and for some of us, that involves choosing not to have sex.
More importantly, thank you for being brave enough to talk about your rape, and proving that no one can be defined by one single aspect of who they are. Your honesty is truly amazing.


This is a two fold comment.

First, Maya, I think you're fantastic, and thank you for so candidly sharing your story. I'm so sorry for the horrific events that happened, the pain and trauma that was inflicted on you, and for everything that was taken away from you. (Of which, I do not believe your virginity was one!) Jia...thank you for sharing Maya's story in a fantastically written piece.

2.) ...I have to admit I'd like to see an Interview with a Virgin story on a woman who's not having sex based in a religious context. I'm 26, a virgin, and pretty unclear where I stand on my own personal religion. For years I told myself I was a virgin because I wanted to have sex with a guy I at least liked, but, thanks to our super awesome culture of body shaming I've never felt like I deserved anyone enough to have sex. What about the other women out there like me (oh god, please let me not be the only one!) who don't expect to ever have sex? What about the women who do want to have sex but just can't overcome "x" reason that has nothing to do with religion?


@grrarghlady I'd love to interview a man or a non-religious virgin next, absolutely: if I knew one I would have done it already! If you would ever want to start conversations about your own story please email me: jia dot tolentino at gmail.


@grrarghlady This is how I felt most of the time when I was a virgin and it had nothing to do with religion. I'd love to read an interview along those lines.


@j-i-a I agree, I would very much like to see one of these! One from a male-virgin perspective would be especially interesting.


@grrarghlady I've had TONS of female friends who have remained virgins until well into their late 20s without religion having anything whatsoever to do with it, so you are DEFINITELY not alone by a long shot. And I myself felt EXACTLY the way you describe back when I was a virgin, too (and a big part of it was that I was just so shy that all of the girls who knew how to flirt were running laps around me in the dating department), but I promise you that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.


@werewolfbarmitzvah I knew tons of mid-late 20's virgins too, and also was one! And I and most of my friends are atheists, so. (And lookit how awesome we are now and always have been...haters to the left.)


@grrarghlady As a 27-year-old non-religious virgin, I'm eagerly anticipating this segment in the series.


@grrarghlady sounds like you need to be that person!


@C.SanDiego Yes! I feel like we need a club. I'm a supporter of clubs.


@werewolfbarmitzvah Augh! Exactly. It's all about the shyness. Or, rather, what I think is me being shy is men thinking I'm giving off an angry "Don't Fuck with Me" vibe. Neither one are helpful.


@WaityKatie Exactly! I always hate having to add that it's not a religious thing.


@grrarghlady It is weird that in our society everyone expects you to have a Reason, capital R, for not having sex. To me, not having sex is the default position. Having sex requires a good deal of planning and effort, at least for shy people, while not having sex just requires...existing? Just going about my day, not having sex...I guess outgoing people just have sex partners falling out of the sky, and it takes effort to avoid them? Because for me it takes a lot of work to find one, and things don't work out and then you're back to square one, over and over again.


@WaityKatie I wish that had been the case! I spent a solid year and a half trying to figure out why everybody else had willing sex partners falling from the sky and my outgoing, fun, sexy self could barely find any. My theory is that at any given time, everybody but me is having the sex that I want. And then when I had it, it's like, "Okay, now what am I doing with the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of my day?" I spend a lot more time not having sex than having it.


@WaityKatie @j-i-a So many people say 'wait till you're ready' but they all assume 'ready' is a long around 18. I was 100 percent not ready to have sex when I was 18. I was ready, well, last week, at 23, and in waiting all those years till I was in a relationship where I felt super comfortable and happy and therefore deflowering became a well, basically a NON-EVENT! Just a happy thing that happened with someone I cared about and brought us closer together. I want to live in a world where no one thinks twice about elder virgins, because then I think there will be a lot more stories of happy, healthy deflowerings. But as someone who struggled with this a lot -- with the social pressures but also the pressure to stay true to myself -- I also want to read a non-religious virginity story!


@pterodactylish I had kind of the opposite problem...I was "ready" but not in a relationship. And then once you're over about 21 no guy wants to be THE FIRST ONE because they are all convinced that virgins instantly fall in love with the first person they have sex with, so the years pass, and pass, and before you know it you are a certifiable freak-virgin according to society's dictates. I wasn't ready at 18 either, but I was definitely ready by 25, and yet no one would come near my "virginity problem." How does one get into a nurturing/serious/wonderful relationship when there's this huge obstacle right at the outset? (the obstacle being men's attitude of "oh no, I don't want to get involved with a VIRGIN!") Ugh, it was pretty awful.


@WaityKatie My answer was have sex for the first time as a one-night-stand out of town. Probably not ideal, but it's worked out okay.


@combledore My solution was "stranger from the internet"!


@waitykatie and @combledore I adore both of you for your solutions. God I wish we could hang out!


@WaityKatie I actually found that it ended up being a barrier for a lot of relationships that shouldn't have worked in the first place. I was pretty chill about it (and also pretty good at certain other distracting things) and the guys who were dicks about it were shown the door. The ones who weren't, well, the best one of them is presently reaping the benefits. Well not EXACTLY presently. But you know.


@pterodactylish I take your point, although at the time I wasn't really holding out for a relationship that worked, I just pretty much wanted to get laid. Y'know? If I had been holding out for a good relationship, I would still be a virgin right now. Sigh.


Thank you, Maya and Jia, for a thoughtful, powerful, uncomfortable-in-a-way-that-is-right article.

Judith Slutler

Thank you Maya and Jia. This article knocked my socks off yesterday, and I just had to come back and read it again today.


First of all - amazing article. Thank you Maya for sharing, this was fascinating and helped me understand where a girl who's saving herself is coming from (the assumption is that she's been beaten into repression - but it doesn't sound like you have been at all).

Okay, as a guy weighing in here, I have a question - why on earth does a woman's mind ask the question "was it my fault?" people don't think it's their fault in a lot of similar situations. If you got hit by a car, you'd blame the driver and probably press charges even if you shouldn't have been in the road. So, maybe you were in a situation where it happened and you put yourself there. Still, you are the VICTIM and these creeps deserve to be punished, yet so many rapists get away with it because women feel to blame, or somehow a part of the event, when they're not.

And I'm not even saying that men don't have a similar reaction hearing about a woman in that situation. My brain always asks me "was she complicit?" and it's so terrible I shove that to the side immediately - but WHY DOES THIS THOUGHT EVEN ARISE? What inside of us wants to blame the victim in these events? It's awful. Getting raped isn't a reflection on YOU. I'm sure that these cops must be so brokenhearted that they can't catch these guys and put them in jail because of this phenomenon. Everyone wants these guys put away. Is there some way we could prosecute them without putting the victims through more pain? Is there a solution to this?


@MuffinMan Rape culture? The absolutely invented reputation in this society for being so sexual and meek and flighty that they are always willing to have sex with a man, but may regret it afterwards?

As for the self blame, it might be hard to understand if you haven't been raped. Imagine the worst thing that's ever happened to you, that really darkened your soul, and imagine seeing it lightly portrayed in media like it's a joke, and the idea that it only happens to people who deserve it, and the knowledge that there is no justice for it. It makes you so miserable that no one else (not the two cops who talked to you because it is their occupation to blame someone, but even your father and your friends' discomfort) will blame the attacker that you start to believe you're the real one to blame.


@MuffinMan Cultural expectations. Our culture has this idea that men always want sex, and cannot help themselves from pursuing it, and it is a woman's job to be the gatekeeper. Therefore, if a woman is raped, clearly she must have fallen down on the job.

But we do often blame the victim in other cases. Why were you in that neighborhood where you got mugged? Why did you leave your valuables in sight in your car? Why weren't you wearing reflective gear?

Being able to say "this bad thing happened to this person because zie did/failed to do X" helps us feel safe in an unpredictable world. If muggings only happen to people who display their valuables, I will be safe as long as I keep my wallet out of sight. If Rape only happens to women who wear short skirts, I will be safe as long as I never wear a short skirt.

But of course, that reasoning is faulty, and people get assaulted. It's not their fault, but because we spend so much time giving tips on how to avoid being a victim of these crimes, we then ask ourselves "what did I do wrong" when we are.


@Blushingflwr That's a good point! Even when a loved one dies, it is common to blame yourself for everything from why you didn't call to what you last said. Sometimes the grief is so big that you can only use it on yourself.


@Bloodrocuted @blushingflwr Thanks this was helpful! I know what it's like to see your misfortunes sent up by society like it's no big deal - I'm a recovering alcoholic and there is a lot of comedy about "that drunk" and it does hurt to watch, especially because I am constantly trying to convince myself it IS a disease and it's NOT my fault. Getting the other message makes sense.

It's a great point about all of our "avoiding being the victim," stuff. I think there's the healthy thing of "how can I not even be at risk for this again" that gets unhealthy when it's "how did I cause this to happen to me?" I think a lot about our desire to control our world and it's that desire that makes us blame ourselves for what happens TO us. If we're to blame, we still have some control.

And I recently lost a friend (to an overdose) and there's been no end of replaying what I could have done differently and how I could have (and failed to) stop it. I get that, too. Thanks for helping understand why this happens. It's terrible and I wish it wasn't what our brains did. I'm hopeful that our society can grow up about this stuff and maybe be more compassionate as a whole. Then again, maybe that's too much to hope for.


@MuffinMan It's not what our brains do, it's what society wants our brains to do. Those thoughts are not what comes with the brain and should be fought.
A society in which people do not live in fear of rape is never too much to hope for.


@Bloodrocuted I don't know, I think wanting to create orderly patterns in a unpredictable world is actually a pretty universal human behavior. Our brains are so good at pattern-recognition that we see patterns in coincidences. Which is not to say that culture doesn't have a HUGE impact on what patterns we see or how we interpret the meaning of those patterns, because it absolutely does. But wanting to assign causes to effects is not something that we only do in the west.

However, I agree 100% with your statement: A society in which people do not live in fear of rape is never too much to hope for.


@Blushingflwr Oh, I'm sorry. I agree blaming yourself is a normal brain thing (edit) and that it is arguably exacerbated by society in cases of rape. I thought he meant "what our brains do" was in reference to his wondering if a raped woman was complicit.


@Blushingflwr Did you for serious just compare "why weren't you wearing reflective gear", which allows drivers to, you know, see cyclists and runners in low-light conditions and therefore avoid running into them because they actually are aware of their presence to "why did you leave your valuables in sight/why were you in that neighborhood", which are excuses people use to blame people who are the victims of someone else's deliberate decision to commit a crime?

Quinn A@twitter

Thank you for this, Maya (and Jia).

And please, Maya, don't take the comment from the police to heart. You are absolutely not responsible if your rapist attacks someone else. That is all on him. I know it's hard not to feel guilt (I sometimes do because I didn't report my rapist), but you did nothing wrong.


"And listen, I know I give off an impression that doesn’t reflect my sexual behavior. I know how I dance, how I dress. But I have a right to these contradictions, even though I’m aware that some people believe I don’t."

I think that is just so powerful and so fantastic.

And I am so sorry you were raped. So very sorry.


I was a virgin at 22, and perfectly happy that way. I decided to have sex because I knew I could keep going like that till I was 40, and I just didn't want to be that out of synch with my own culture. I kept thinking, if I keep going like this, the only men I'll meet will be religious men, or men looking to fuck virgins, or men who will think there's something wrong with a 39 year old virgin and not want to deal with having to teach me about sex. And then, what if I don't like sex, after all that waiting? Or what if I ended up with some guy who's bad in bed but I didn't know it till I got better at it myself? (As in the case of my second boyfriend). So, I took the plunge, figuring it was to my advantage in seeking my kind of mate. It was a simple as that. I didn't think that was peer pressure, or me caving. It was simply a conscious decision to join my times. One less thing to worry about. And, of course, it turned out I liked it.


Hmn. I feel like there someone should write book called "The Banality of Rape": a compilation of everyone's (or, you know, a representative sample's) stories and then make it REQUIRED reading in schools. B/c, you know, when I got to college I still thought rape was a stranger dragging you off into an alley somewhere. I didn't expect an acquaintance's roommate to take advantage of my drunkenness and force me to have sex w/ him later, overriding my (weak, impeded by alcohol) physical and verbal attempts to stop him.
It's a fine balance, trying to understand what happened to me, w/o becoming defined by it. I wouldn't even call myself a "survivor." I'm reluctant to place myself in that category, not b/c it's an insult, but b/c I feel it's limiting somehow. Like I've been exiled from normalcy. That's why I think it's so important to change our understanding of what rape is, and who it happens to. I don't think the readers of this site are the target population, but rather the general population. And I do mean general; I haven't been everywhere, but I have lived in several different countries on three continents, and I've never found a place where women are, by and large, safe and loved.


@dragoness I would read that book and I'm so sorry that happened to you.


@dragoness Oh my goodness, yes, x1000. Or "The Banality of Sexual Abuse" generally.

It took me 22 years to call what happened to me by its proper name, "molestation," in part because it wasn't some creepy neighbor who smelled bad and leered at me while he put his hands on me, it was my just-older female cousin who smiled and giggled the whole time, and who cajoled me rather than forcing me, and who I loved fiercely and loyally until the day she died of cancer barely out of her teens. I still love her, in fact.

And I don't know how many times I've heard stories from teenage girls that described rape, no question about it, but it wasn't stranger-breaking-into-your-bedroom rape, so somehow it didn't count. A book like that would be a huge service to people everywhere.


Thank you so much for this interview. Maya, you are beautiful, strong and brave. Keep on doing what you do, girl. <3


This is one of the best things I've read on the Hairpin, ever. Maya, I feel like I know you. Your story parallels my life to a T: Christian, waiting til marriage out of respect for my body and my future husband, despairing of ever finding someone okay with my decision, dance floor makeouts to alleviate some frustration--right up to the blacked out rape as a virgin. Mine, however, was a little grayer than yours, and he was an acquaintance, and I felt an incredible burden for having made it seem like I wanted it. Hearing that you have maintained your virginity after this horrible trauma makes me sad, proud, and inspired all at once; I wish I could have done the same instead of giving up on it. Reading your story gives me hope that I'll eventually work through all the complicated feelings that I still have about sex, sexuality, religion, and trust. Until then, I wish you all the best and I hope you continue to heal; know that you have helped one girl heal a little bit herself.


@meganmarie : Love to you.


Hi Maya,

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story of your experience as a thinking and feeling woman making decisions for yourself on how it feels best for you to live in your body. And thank you for pointing out as well how judgmental people can be in the name of "liberalism" (myself included). I have not made the same choices that you have in my sexual life, but I fully support your rights to make any choice that feels right for you, regardless of any contradictions society might see. I really admire the self-awareness and confidence you have shown in making decisions for yourself, and I am glad that you are continuing to take care of yourself after your rape. I don't know how apt the comparison is, but I have felt awkward discussing my father's death two years ago amongst friends. It feels like I'm bringing sadness and discomfort into a situation that might otherwise be happy or light. I feel the same about bringing up my personal issues with depression. But I still do bring up both things occasionally, because they're part of my life. I try to remind myself that I can't control other people's reactions, and I have a right and a duty to myself to be true to myself. Hearing about amazing people like yourself helps me find the strength to be open about who I am. I hope I can give you a little strength to continue to appreciate your strong, loving, wonderful self through your difficult moments. With love, Vickie


This could almost identically be my story. You are braver than me. I don't have the courage to easily talk about the assault- and I still consistently call it sexual assault instead of rape because saying rape still hurts. But I HAVE moved past thinking that is the only thing that defines me. I kept my virginity until marriage and married someone who loved the contradiction of valuing my sexuality and virginity.
It gets better. And thanks to you I'm going to try and be braver.


Thank you for sharing your story. I cried.


Maya, thank you for your strength and your story. I hope you continue to assert both your sexuality and your values.


Oh, God.

Maya, I just want to hug you.

Thank you for sharing this. It's so horrible to have made a decision to keep your sexuality for your husband and then have your choice violated. I understand--it happened to me (I am also a Christian who has decided to save her sexuality for marriage)--to a lesser extent--but a boyfriend forced me to expose myself to him, and it has taken me *years* to work through that guilt.

Thank you. It's nice to know we're not alone.


Maya gave answers that showed that she had spent time reasoning about how her own choices will inform how she practices treatments. I wanted to commend both concerning you towards conducting such an honest the fit body solution. Jia, we did not shy away starting asking her complicated concerns about reconciling the lady religious/personalized opinions along with her intellectual/pro beliefs in regards to abstinence-only education and her future work as being a doctor.


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Hate to bring reality into religious beliefs as they don't go well together. BUT YOU ARE NOT A VIRGIN YOU HAD SEX!

Also don't think for a sec the guy you will marry will be ne as he would have had plenty of unprotected sex with young desolate prostitutes.

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