Guest Blog: Natalia Knowlton on writing a play about virginity

In this blog post, Crossline Theatre’s Natalia Knowlton breaks down her journey to writing Friday Night Love Poem and the pivotal life events that inspired her to write about female sexuality.

Friday Night Love Poem arrives at CPT on Fri 31 May – Sat 1 June at 9pm as part of our Calm Down Dear festival. Click here for more info.

I always get a little anxious when people ask how long it took me to write Friday Night Love Poem. The version that will be on the CPT stage took me about 4 years to write. But if I’m being totally honest, the idea for the play was born in the summer of 2011.

I was 21 years old, I had just gotten out of my first “serious relationship” and it was the first time I was single as an adult. I got my belly button pierced and I was deep into my feminist summer reading list when I came across Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth. For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s a pivotal feminist read from 2009 where Valenti argues that virginity is a social construct that is used to measure a woman’s worth based entirely on how sexual she is.

Through this book I learned about the purity balls that originated in Colorado Springs where young girls promise their virginity to their fathers in a wedding-like ceremony. This seemed archaic but having grown up in the 00’s exposed to Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and the Jonas Brothers, I knew society’s obsession with virginity wasn’t outdated.

After reading the book, I started taking a closer look at my own upbringing. I wasn’t raised religious and I didn’t have a purity ball. But I had gotten the message that sex for the first time should be special on some level. The person who gets your virginity should appreciate it and of course, love you back (not much to ask of teenage boys, really). I didn’t intentionally wait for the “right person” but that’s how it happened in the end. I did everything by the book and lost my virginity to a guy who loved me and had gotten tested like I told him to.

Then something shifted. I was now part of the “sexually active” club and there was a new set of rules. I felt this pressure to be super sexy, confident and have a really hot sex life. But there was a disconnect, how was I supposed to get from point A to B if I was never taught how to? How was I supposed to enjoy sex if I was taught to fear it? After reading Valenti’s book, my mind was blown. I had taken the red pill and I could never go back. Virginity was bullshit and I wanted to abolish it.

Fast forward to 2013 and I started writing a play about virginity and called it Impurities. I took it to the Edmonton Fringe Festival in Canada with my friend Kara Chamberlain and that’s how Crossline Theatre was born. It was my first play and although we had some great responses, I knew the play needed development. I was also 23 and I was very much facing the challenges that my characters were facing (aka an unfulfilling sex life with toxic f*ck boys). I hadn’t really found a resolution for my characters and I didn’t know what I was saying with the play. On some level I knew I had to be older to write this play. So I put the script aside and moved on to other projects.

In 2014 I moved to London for my Masters in Playwriting and in 2015 I revisited Impurities for further development. On a personal level, I had finally become sexually empowered so I felt ready to go back to the play. At times I wondered if I was really using my time wisely working on the same play for all those years. Especially since my characters were in their teens/early 20’s and I was getting closer to my late 20’s. Instagram and social media has become an even bigger presence in teenagers’ sex lives, something I could no longer relate to.

Was there any use in telling this story anymore?

I was re-inspired in 2016, when I took Louise Orwin’s workshop on female pleasure. For the first and only time in my life I was in a room with complete strangers talking about our sexuality and fantasies. For an entire weekend.

This felt like such a radical act, and it came as a surprise to me when I realised that this workshop was the first time I was truly talking about my own sexual needs. I had grown up watching Sex and the CityGirls and Broad City. I had done a show about porn for crying out loud and yet… At the age of 26 I still felt like I was just starting to come to terms with my sexuality and how to voice my past experiences. And then I thought of:

The time I went out with my female cousins in Chile and they all admitted to hating oral sex, but they prefer giving than receiving.

My friends admitting that they were in their mid 20’s when they had their first orgasm or masturbated.

While others admitted that they masturbated at a younger age but were too ashamed to tell anyone.

A friend telling a “crazy” hookup story that ended with no orgasm and not even basic manners from the dude, and yet are still disappointed to be ghosted by this lovely gentleman.

Or when they finally get a guy who asks “what are you into?” and the woman is speechless.

So I went home after the workshop and went back to writing.

It still feels like Friday Night Love Poem doesn’t say everything I wanted it to say about female sexuality. How could it? The subject is too complex for a 60-minute time slot in a fringe theatre. At the end of the day, FNLP is about the roles young women are forced into because of old patriarchal beliefs about female sexuality. It tells the stories of three young women and how they come of age in a world that still tells you to be a virgin and a sexual goddess all at once.

I wrote this play for all the women in my life and the future generation of girls that I hope will find this play less relevant to them some day, but mostly, I wrote Friday Night Love Poem for my younger self. I think she would be proud.