To answer the question that may be whirling through your brain right now, yes, my boyfriend and I recently broke up and I still haven’t managed to deal with it as cool as I may have to. I know I should, theoretically – being a self-proclaimed feminist and all – but our problem(s) are very complicated that neither he nor I can describe them clearly to anyone who happens to ask.
And, Dad, yes, I have issues. I mean, I don’t really want you to know yet (maybe I don’t want you to know, like, ever), but I have been suicidal before, and I was feeling suicidal again only last week. And I don’t feel really good about it. That was to make you understand how bad all this has affected me. It’s no game to me.
Dad, I’m sure you know already, I’m not a typical daughter. By typical I mean I am not one of those jolly, warm, loving, intimate, strikingly beautiful, longhaired, cupcake-making young women out there – the type people (and popular culture like the Japanese manga) depict as the perfect young woman.
I’ve always been socially awkward. I think a lot, I’m a lone wolf, I’m stone-headed, I’m smart, but my mind is often much too complicated for its own good. I’ve always been different. Well, that’s me, and I (mostly) cherish it. A loner who thinks too much can be a big burden to herself, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why I’ve been suicidal. But at least being different means I have the liberty to stand my ground when the rest of the world starts panicking.
And that is why I am really disappointed with what you said when we talked on the phone a few days ago.
Dad, you already knew I am not a virgin anymore. I am actually sorry that you had to know about it so suddenly. That was not how I planned it to be. When I had a ruptured endometrial cyst and almost had to be operated last year – even though the ruptured cyst had nothing to do with pregnancy or sexual activities whatsoever – one of the differential diagnoses was an ectopic pregnancy.
The ob-gyn doctor was professional and polite enough to ask for my permission before she explained it to you and Mum. And in order to do that, she had to explain about my sexual activities. Although I was one-hundred percent sure that I wasn’t pregnant – I’ve had periods since my ex and I had our last sexual intercourse, before the cyst ruptured, and we used condoms anyway – I still decided to give her the permission, mainly because I’d had enough, seeing the look on both of your faces while you read “ectopic pregnancy” on the CT scan result. Better to get it done with.
I’ve already told you, Dad, that I did not take our separation lightly. It hit me like a hammer. It was bad. That was why I didn’t tell you right away, until I felt calmer. When we talked about it on the phone, I kind of knew you would be disappointed. And you were, of course. It was understandable, because he and I had been serious about this relationship. We’ve talked about the future a few times, and you two had long good talks before, and he was generally a good man. But then you started to talk about responsibility.
I knew, Dad, you decided to give my ex-boyfriend a very long “man-to-man” talk that day at the hospital. I felt sincerely sorry for him, actually. He wasn’t my first, and I wasn’t his. We both were experienced, long before we met. And we always did it safely, with mutual consent. It wasn’t fair to put him on trial like that. Somehow I had the impression that you’d managed to make him promise to be a “responsible boyfriend” and to “take care” of me. Whatever that means.
When you started to talk about him being an irresponsible man who only played games with me, I was furious. Not for his sake. No. It was rather for my own. Somehow I felt that by “responsibility”, you were referring to the fact that we already had sex. I couldn’t dismiss the feeling that you were thinking of me being broken, imperfect, less worthy, and that you were projecting your disappointment of the “misfortune” befalling your precious daughter caused by the man who was supposed to “take care” of her.
Dear Dad, I know you love me. I know it. But I cannot accept it if you think that I am less worthy or broken because somebody has slept with me and then left me. I am sorry that I had to answer you back so fiercely: No, Dad, I am not worth less just because I already had sex. My ex-boyfriend and I have problems, and both of us may be too stupid to solve them, but I will not take my not being a virgin being dragged into the mess.
Because, Dad, I am not sorry that I am not a virgin anymore. In fact, I am thankful for it. Sure there were times when I felt bad about it, but it was a long time ago when I didn’t know better. Now I feel that there are a lot of reasons, good reasons, why people including me decide to have sex before marriage. I’m not going to be a hypocrite – people have sex mainly for the physical pleasure, and so do I. I like sex, very much. In fact, my sexual drive is quite high. But there are other reasons.
One of them is I think of having sex, under my own consent and following my own set of safety rules, as a way to express my body authority. In this patriarchal society that treats a woman’s body as sexual object to be exploited or hidden away like some evil things, fighting for the right to give yourself authorization over your own body is a very important thing.
The second reason is by being able to decide to have sex before marriage, I am able to start a journey to define my own sexuality. Once more, a woman’s sexuality is often denied in our society. Having no chance to find your sexuality, to decide which one you like and which one you hate, or to find which one gives you pleasure and which one actually tortures you, is a nightmare no one deserves. I’ve imagined women who were forced into marriage with no way out, and no sexual knowledge before. They had to lie down night after night, waiting for their husbands, imagining all kinds of scary myths about sex, how hurtful it is, how bloody it will be – what an unfair life.
Of course, my decision is not everybody’s decision. To have sex or not to have sex is the right of any adult. I cannot talk for every woman in this world, and I won’t. I am talking for my own principles.
So that was it, Dad. I know that you are a conservative father; I know that we are of different generations. But I wish you could understand. Because although I still have to find a way to cope with my emotional pain from the separation, I am surely not ashamed of being a non-virgin. And of my sexuality. And as my father, blood of my blood and bones of my bones, I sincerely hope that you are not, too.
Putri Widi Saraswati is a feminism and writing enthusiast. She’s not a big fan of how people impose their concept of morality on others today. Unfortunately, she’s a doctor – the one profession that morality cannot let go.