I’ve found that being a virgin at 20 seems to warrant three types of general reactions:
- The nurse with wide eyes in the Sidwell Sexual Health Clinic congratulating me wildly, whilst I sat awkwardly waiting for her to give me my first pack of contraceptive pills.
- The immediate labelling of me as “frigid” or a “prude”, words to this day that I really fucking hate.
- Slight embarrassment/awkwardness, like the way people looked at me during my first game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ in Freshers’ Week, when I was the only one that didn’t drink to ‘never have I ever had sex.’
Throughout my teenage years, social prowess was defined by how many people you’d slept with, how far you’d gone, and at what age you lost your virginity. Even now, although it seems that nobody is bothered if you’re a virgin or not anymore, I find myself on automatic, the words ‘but I’ve pretty much done everything else’ rolling off my tongue, as though my subconscious is crying out for some kind of social validation.
Honestly? My virginity is something that still bothers me sometimes, even though I know in the back of my mind that nobody really cares.
When I was growing up sex wasn’t really spoken about. Not even with my mum or my best friend, who I can talk to about pretty much anything. If I do talk about the all elusive ‘it’ with my best friend, it’s usually encrypted somewhere in seemingly safe conversation topics, like how the rest of my friends are all doing it and I’m going to be a sad spinster, or talking about mean boys who only really wanted me because they thought I’d put out. The conclusion is always the same – hold on to your virginity for as long as you can. But how long is ‘as long as you can’? Because that time period is endless, and now a part of me is terrified of having sex for fear of disappointing her, for not waiting longer. There’s always been so much pressure on the first time being a big deal, and I’ve realised that nobody has, and nobody ever really can, clarify what it means to be ‘ready’, so why do we keep using it as a term?
My boyfriend has been sexually active since he was sixteen and he’d had a number of serious relationships before me. Whereas I’d hardly even kissed a boy until I was eighteen-he’s my first serious relationship. In fact, I didn’t even masturbate until I was eighteen as it was always pegged as something that boys did and girls weren’t allowed to do because it was dirty. The truth is, I was scared of my own body and what it wanted. Sometimes that makes me feel like such a late starter, when, at the same time, I feel too old to be considered a beginner.
And I know that’s a stupid, naïve way to look at things.
But, popular culture seems to have plastered the idea everywhere that we should be having sex by the time we’re eighteen. Even one of my favourite books as a teen branded a character with a low list of ‘actual willie sightings’ unimpressive for an eighteen-year-old girl who ‘isn’t religious or some sort of freak’.
I used to think that waiting a year to have sex with somebody was a really long time – I was shocked that my best friend made her boyfriend wait that long. And sometimes I feel terrible because although my boyfriend never ever pushes me, I know he wants it.
So, basically, I’m stuck. I feel guilty for not doing it and guilty for wanting to.
And the thing is, I know that sex shouldn’t be a big deal, I’m completely aware that it’s a personal experience. But, right now, to me, it is a big deal. I don’t know what it means to feel ready and I can’t seem to let go of this guilt.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say, somewhere in this article that’s been writing itself in my mind for months, is that I’ve come to peace with that.
I still don’t feel ready. And that’s okay.