Almost a year ago, I said my vows in front of 40 of my closest family and friends in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Since then, my life has unfolded in an almost fairytale-like way. My new husband and I moved out from renting a tiny bedroom to renting a larger home, I traded in my decade-old clunker and made a down-payment on a brand-new Fiat, and we adopted an adorable six-month-old Maltese puppy.
Everything was falling into place, and my life seemed to be going exactly how I had hoped. Except for one thing.
I'm still a virgin.
Despite the three years I had been with my husband leading up to our marriage, we had never once had sex. To be clear, we're talking about sex in the simplest, most heteronormative of terms: a penis in a vagina. Rather, every day, my husband gets dressed inside the bathroom after his shower, shielding me from ever having to look upon his completely naked body, and I pretend that I'm not afraid of becoming the next weird reality-show couple.
My husband and I talk about sex often, usually per my request. I'm not going to pretend I don't feel that gut-wrenching guilt of failing to live up to the expectations. Yet regardless of the constant reassurance, the cuddles, and the make-out sessions, I couldn't erase the shame as I inevitably buried myself back into my shelter of blankets.
So, I turned to the internet to seek out the answers that would unlock the key to my virginity. Without fail, I was met with a barrage of well-meaning, if not soul crushingly painful, questions. Were you abused? Are you a closet lesbian? No and no. But more than anything, I was asked if it was my religion that had brainwashed me into thinking sex was a sin.
Yet people just couldn't understand or want to fathom why a seemingly well-adjusted grown woman was so averse to sex. And neither could I. I felt completely and utterly broken.
Growing up, I went to church a grand total of two times a year — Easter and Christmas, and perhaps Palm Sunday if we were feeling generous. I went to catechism in the fourth grade, and one week a summer, I would go to church camp. To this day, I can't remember a single conversation of the subject of sex coming up during my sparse church trips. I was given the freedom of understanding my spirituality on my own as we didn't so much as say grace at the dinner table, much less apply some type of arbitrary purity rule around the concept of virginity.
In the sixth grade I had my very first sex-education lesson. We were separated into two groups — girls in one classroom, boys in another — before we were given pamphlets that talked about everything from periods to childcare. We all watched as the boys were let out to play in 20 minutes. Our lesson lasted twice that time.
For weeks after, my friends and I huddled together at recess, unable to talk of anything else. It all seemed so foreign and terrifying and grown-up. After all, I had never even heard of masturbation before, much less tried it out. Our conversations made me more and more uncomfortable, but I stayed quiet. I didn't want to be THAT girl, the nerd too embarrassed to grow up, still grasping at a futile childhood that was rapidly disappearing.
Then, my best friend brought up a concept her parents had taught her: sex after marriage. It appealed to me instantly. There was something inexplicably romantic about the idea of waiting to share such an intimate, frightening moment with the one I would someday choose to spend the rest of my life with. Plus, when said with enough conviction, it sounded like a rather mature response amongst my peers.
Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the subject to grow old as my friends and I turned our short attentions back to gymnastics and body glitter. I was safe again.
Then I went to middle school.
Puberty did not treat me kindly. I clung to my marriage promise like a shield, rolling my eyes at the growing number of couples around me as they kissed and hugged each other for just a little too long in the halls. I told myself it was immature and ridiculous — that no relationship in middle school ever lasted as I tried to stifle the pain that came with the realization that no boy would ever want to hold hands with my fat, pimpled self, much less become intimate on any level.
High school wasn't much better, and college was a blur of first-and-only dates, awkward flirting and an eight-month long-distance relationship that shouldn't have lasted eight hours. I felt forever stuck in my ugly-duckling skin, but still, I hoped that someday I would find that right person, the one who would change it all and help me experience that heart-fluttering, toe-numbing experience that every romance movie and novel had always promised was waiting for me.
Then I met my husband. He asked me if I was allergic to latex, and I didn't know how to answer. He told me was OK with waiting, and for our year-long engagement, I was safe once again.
This was it. Since grade school, I had always told myself I was going to wait until marriage, and soon, I would be a married woman. Everything would change then, right?
Not once have I ever looked to my barely-there religion or upbringing as a culprit for the shame and anxiety that fills my body at the prospect of looking at a naked man. I've never once thought it dirty or sinful when one of my friends revealed she had lost her virginity long before marriage.
Instead, the terror seemed to born from somewhere deep inside of me. Always a stickler for the rules, as a child I could follow the path of a good girl, following the path that was expected of me and never having to fear disappointing anyone. But then I grew up, and the expectations changed. But I was trapped between the uncertainty of the unknown and the pressure to fall in line with my peers.
My husband and I are in sex therapy now. It's both a relief and overwhelming,
From my experience, people don't like to accept the idea that someone doesn't want sex just because. There's always a push for a reason, either religious or traumatic, for the cause. But we're out there. We exist, and we deserve to be respected and listened to.
You're not alone. You're not broken. You're not a freak.
Everything will be OK.