A few months ago, my friends went around the table talking about the most bizarre places they’ve had sex. When was my turn, their jaws dropped at my response. Then someone made a soft, “Awww,” -- the kind you give a baby after she lets out a burp. It was the first time I admitted to a group of feminists that I was a virgin -- something I’d been ashamed of for a while.
I’m not religious, I don’t have a fear of sex, and I have an awesome boyfriend of 2 years who would be at my doorstep in seconds with a box of condoms if I made that call. On top of all that, I occasionally write for a sex-positive site called Slutist. But despite these factors, I am a 22-year-old virgin.
I know 22 isn’t really that old. But in a country where the average age of virginity loss is 17, teens are having sex on popular TV shows (I’m sure in a few years, even characters on Disney Channel will be getting their freak on), and feminists have worked tirelessly to make it OK for young women to embrace their sexuality, 22 seems a little late in the game. My few virgin friends and I are the weirdoes.
Most people don't understand it -- not even my own mother, who is beginning to wonder if something is psychologically wrong with me.
What my mother and friends don’t know is that just like them, I also don’t understand why I'm not having sex.
“Yes, I’m physically attracted to him,” I explained to one of my best friends over the phone when I needed some advice on the subject. “Yes, we make out -- but not much else. Yes, I’m sure he’s the one I want to be with. Yes, someday I’ll have sex with him, but I just don’t know when.”
My status as a feminist heightens my shame of being a virgin. In the feminist realm, virginity is often associated with “the patriarchy.” It is evil half of a sexist binary that shames women. Virgins get little love and attention in feminist circles where so many women have fought for the right to be unabashedly sexual. Feminists have websites dedicated to kinks and sexual fantasies, we defend to all ends a woman’s right to have control over her body, and some of us are proud to call ourselves sluts.
Amongst my feminist colleagues and friends, sex feels like the norm. And since I'm not having any, I began to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I sexually liberated like everyone else? I was ashamed that I had not yet embraced my sexuality. So I tried to rush myself to be ready for sex.
I looked into my past to explain my virgin status, questioning whether or not mother’s far-too-frequent sex talks were at the root of the problem. My mother was “old school” in her parenting style, and used a 2-step tactic when talking about sex: scare and repeat. She constantly questioned whether or not I was having sex, and always reminded me of the consequences.
“You better not bring home any babies,” my mother would say, in a half joking but obviously serious kind of way. The talks became even more frequent after I got caught kissing a boy in 8th grade. My mother was, of course, livid. My good-girl reputation was tainted and I couldn’t look my mother in the eye. She grounded me for 3 months, but I carried that humiliation a lot longer.
So I, like many girls with similarly strict upbringings, grew up associating sex with shame, unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
But pinning my “virginity problem” on my childhood didn’t answer my questions, nor did it make we want to go out and have sex. So I began searching for ways to “sexually liberate” myself. I wrote journal entries with titles like “Where’s My Sexual Agency?” and “My Personal Vagina Monologue.”
I considered asexuality as a possibility because I rarely have the physical desire to have sex, but I wasn't sure. Research on the topic created new fears and questions: Am I asexual? How would I know if I was asexual since I’ve never tried having sex? If I am, would my boyfriend or any future partner accept that?
The nonsense spun in my head and consumed my thoughts for months, until one day it hit me. My inner voice spoke at me like I was a stupid child: “Shae, pipe the hell down! If you’re not ready then you’re not ready -- why the rush?” (My inner voice is kind of aggressive.)
For all the hours I'd spent journaling, researching, reading and thinking about my sexuality, I hadn't been willing to accept such a simple explanation. But I finally realized I was playing someone else’s game. Just like my mother, teachers and mentors taught me not to allow boys to pressure me into sex when I was in grade school, I had to reteach myself not to allow other people’s ideas about sexuality to dictate my sex life.
I have to constantly remind myself that there is nothing wrong with me or anybody else who isn’t having sex, whether it's for spiritual reasons, trauma history or lack of interest. I had to realize that what is “appropriate” or normal sexuality for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it works for everyone. Bottom line: I’m not ready. No need to come up with some lame excuse about my childhood when people ask why I’m still a virgin. No need to try to force myself into something I don’t want. And no need to try to be normal.
I’m a 22-year-old virgin, and I am cool with that.