I’d like to immediately go on record as saying that I absolutely abhor the term “losing my virginity.”

Not only is it antiquated and ambiguous, but it also promotes the idea that we’re all pure and innocent until we “soil” our innocence by engaging in sexual activity. But why is there such a strongly enforced societal correlation connecting that loss of innocence with exploring yourself sexually, and why is innocence such a prized trait anyhow?

When we’re born, we are truly innocent; as we mature, we’re increasingly exposed to the “adult” aspects of the world. Swear words, alcohol, drugs, inequality, war, trauma, addiction, school shootings, politics and the extent to which a heart can break, to name just a few. With every piece of knowledge gained, a little bit of our innocence - synonymous with our perceived modesty and purity - falls to the wayside. This process is often fast-tracked for transgender folks, PoC, folks with disabilities, folks who are raised in extreme poverty, and other people disproportionately impacted by injustice.

This journey from innocence is a survival tactic, pure and simple. If we remained completely oblivious to the inner workings of the world, we would subsequently be ineffective at navigating it on our own. Our ignorance would make us more vulnerable to attack, coercion and manipulation. Our personal autonomy would practically be rendered inconsequential, compromised by rarely being able to make an informed decision. But hey, we’d be pliant in the hands of those who seek to control us.

This counterproductive preoccupation with virginity has much less to do with societal protection than it does the controlling of bodies. Specifically, women’s bodies. By convincing folks of all genders and orientations that virginity is favorable and worth rewarding while emphasizing the untowardness of non-procreative sex, we encourage shame and ignorance. Fuck this “losing my virginity” shit. When someone experiences sex for the first time, to any degree, it shouldn't be something they lose; it should be something they gain.

The first time I had sex, it was as a privileged person. My privilege extends in many directions. I’m white, I’m cisgender, I’m able-bodied, and I grew up in a middle-upper socioeconomic class background. That isn’t the kind of privilege I’m referring to, though.

For no discernible reason, I’ve always been preternaturally adept at navigating physical intimacy, prioritizing my own needs, and cutting through other people’s bullshit. The first time I had sex - at age fourteen - it was enthusiastically consensual, with a boy I liked and trusted, who took care with my body and made sure I had an enjoyable experience. We’re still close friends to this day. Did I orgasm? Hell no! Did I feel safe and comfortable? Absolutely.

I wish that every person on this planet could have walked away with such an experience, but the fact of the matter is that most first times are compromised. Whether it be by drugs and alcohol, a nonconsensual interaction, or a consensual interaction with someone who didn’t respect you and your body, losing your virginity can sadly be more jarring than affirming. Our earliest sexual experiences have the power to significantly impact our mental and emotional health, as well as pave the way for our sexual careers as adults. How would our lives have been different if we were allowed to curate our initial sexual experiences, rather than fall into them?

Now, imagine that you’re disabled and/or neurodivergent. Whether it’s temporary or permanent, neurological or physical, disability adds an extra layer of complication to initiating and sustaining healthy intimate relationships. As a sex and relationship coach, I frequently work with young people (aged 18-35)  living with autism, developmental coordination disorders, and ADHD. These individuals seek me out because their conditions often make it difficult to interface socially, particularly in a way where their actions clearly communicate their intent.

Neurodivergent folks can have trouble interpreting facial expressions and body language while being disconnected from the messages their own body may be sending. They can struggle with direct communication, making eye contact, and spatial awareness. In this post-#MeToo era, I especially get a lot of young men on the autism spectrum coming to me afraid that the manifestation of their symptoms would label them “creepy” or a consent violator. They desire love, sex, relationships, families. I take care to develop a slow-paced, individualized “introduction to dating” program for each man through a series of talk sessions, working with their strengths and finding the bright side of their limitations. We work on developing confidence without entitlement, empathy without assumption, and empowerment without ego.

Sex workers often get painted as people who inherently have bad boundaries, when in fact the opposite is usually true. I’d always worked hard to keep my coaching work very separate from my sex work, keeping the line between the two prominent and well-defined. Until the day one of my youngest neurodivergent coaching clients, Ben*, came to me with a special request.

Ben and I had been working together monthly for just over six months. He was a brilliant nineteen year old Asian American guy with high-functioning autism living in his authoritarian parents’ basement as he prepared for a career in IT. When we first started talking, Ben had never approached, flirted with, or kissed a girl. His hyperawareness of his neurodivergence resulted in crippling anxiety and extremely low self esteem, and he was tired of hiding. He made excellent progress over the following months and became one of my favorite clients. As our professional relationship wound to a close, Ben asked my permission to see me as a client in another context. See, I’m also a dominatrix, and while I’d never disclosed that to Ben personally, the Internet provides. Also, I am very much not in the closet.

Specifically, Ben requested a strap-on session involving bondage where I roleplayed as a seductive ocean siren calling to him and manipulating him into experiencing anal pleasure (yo, for the record, I REALLY love my job). Where I was living at the time the law defined “sex” very narrowly, and I was able to take strap-on clients with regularity seeing as the cops were only interested in arresting people having procreative sex. While my immediate reaction wasn’t “no,” I took a week to get back to him to be sure that I made an intentional, well thought out decision.

The decision making process was complicated further by the fact that Ben had no sexual experience to speak of. While I am an extremely thorough and conscientious provider to all of my clients, the added responsibility of coordinating such a significant milestone gave more weight to my role. And yet, there was something about the situation that just felt right. Like it was a natural culmination of our work together thus far. I felt protective of Ben, and when I thought about him trying to navigate his first sexual experience out in the world I couldn’t help but be concerned for him. In the end I saw less harm in not accepting the request than accepting it, said to hell with it, and gave Ben the thumbs up.

We met at my dungeon one breezy Sunday afternoon. Ben was an adorable bundle of nerves and excitement, a slight bespectacled Asian American man with a Marvel Universe t-shirt that made him look even younger than his nineteen years (a self preservation instinct compelled me to check his ID, which he was all too willing to provide for me). He gripped a spiral notebook in his hand and I later learned it contained a detailed - and impressive - visual rendering of the scene we’d negotiated for the day. He carried my donation for the session in a Hallmark card and completed his look with a duffel bag containing towels and bottles of water slung over one shoulder. Ben had come prepared.

We exchanged pleasantries and began chatting about our scene, his eyes sweeping the floor as he talked. I reaffirmed his enthusiastic consent and reiterated what to expect from our time together, both physically and emotionally. We talked about sexual health and safety, and I made sure we had the same working definitions of all of the language I was going to use throughout our time together. We agreed on both nonverbal and verbal signals for him to utilize to indicate when he needed to communicate something with me and we identified the possible emotional outcomes of our time together, making several post-scene care plans depending on where his head was at. After making certain he felt completely confident and comfortable in what we were about to do, we began.

The session was a perfect mixture of playful whimsy, eroticism, and exploration. I allowed him to make initial contact with me rather than touching him without permission, as was his preference. I played the part of the “perfect fantasy” and the part of the “intimacy coach” in equal measures, maintaining the heat of the scene while holding space for vulnerable emotions. I treated his body reverently. I gave him the experience that I would want; the experience that he deserved.

Since Ben, I have had the distinct privilege and honor of helping to usher many others into the world of sexual intimacy. You don’t have to struggle with the same complex challenges Ben faced in order to feel like you need permission to explore your sexuality. Most of us are given permission to try our hand at driving a car, applying for a credit card, or moving away from home for the first time without having the very ability to make those decisions for ourselves called into question. Sexual experiences should be considered as parallel to other kinds of experience, not as any more or less significant. Whether society will ever acknowledge it or not, sex workers are in a uniquely qualified position to facilitate safe, controlled, empowering environments for those looking to gain sexual experience without the potential risk. It has never been clearer to me than it is now, that I was meant for this work.

Ben and I never worked with each other again after the day in the dungeon, although he did email me earlier this year to update me on how he was doing. He’s got a girlfriend now, and they’re very happy together.