Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. (Email email@example.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by the amazing Amanda Miska.
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Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter.
I am a 34 year old virgin.
I have no conservative religious beliefs and I’m not steadfastly “saving myself” for marriage. I just haven’t had sex….ever.
I have spent my life lying to the world, and myself, pretending to be something I’m not….or, more accurately, pretending to have done something I haven’t. People just assume that I’ve had sex and so I haven’t bothered to correct them. I feel like a fraud and a liar and so disconnected from one of life’s most basic human experiences. Stronger still are the feelings of shame and embarrassment and feeling like I’ve not only missed the boat, but am nowhere even near the water to have any hope of getting on board.
“BUT I’M NOT NAÏVE OR A PRUDE!!” I want to scream out in my defense, both to those who assume wrongly and to those who might suspect. But my scream has long been silenced by the fear of judgment, of criticism, of rejection. Why do I need to scream anyway?
I have “fooled around” with a couple of guys in my life. The first one, at age 19, was my university lecturer. He was probably triple my age but I let him touch me because I was in such desperate need of attention and care amongst the chaos of my life at the time. I hated his hands on my body and his lips on mine. Initially I said nothing and went along with whatever he wanted. When he tried to fuck me, I had to tell him that I’d never been this close before. He was going to figure it out pretty soon anyway, right? But, he just rolled over, his back to me and never touched me again. That was the end of that.
For the next 12 years I said nothing to no-one. No guy was even on my radar, let alone close enough for intimacy. I was confused, depressed and held myself hostage to my own walls, the ones I’d carefully built up to buffer myself against further rejection. I thought maybe I was a lesbian, cos I hated that man’s touch, yet I was not sexually attracted to women. So, I decided I must be asexual and concluded that love (and sex) just wasn’t for me. I didn’t need it. Instead, I threw myself into my nursing career and my travels and buried any questioning feelings with food.
Then, while travelling aimlessly around Africa searching for my soul, I unexpectedly fell head over heels for a bad-ass Kenyan guy with a good heart. He was not my type at all. But, how did I even know if I had a “type”? Regardless, our hearts connected and things went further. I loved how he touched me and how his lips felt on mine. Then, almost at the point of no return I dropped the V-bomb on him also. He had a similar reaction to the lecturer, though perhaps not so harsh. But, while it still hurt like hell, I became even more attracted to him, mostly because he had rejected me less. Then I had to return home to Australia, to reality.
In the three years since Kenyan-Guy and only a handful of awkward, ill-fitting dates, I haven’t had to think much about sex. But, now I think I’ve met a guy. I am attracted to his energetic spirit, his humour, his eyes. I don’t know if anything will even happen. But regardless, my virginity fears are oozing to the surface. I want a real, honest and loving relationship involving growth and connection on all levels, including intimacy and sex. But, in order for this to happen, I need to have a rather challenging conversation with the guy, whether it’s with this guy or someone else. Where do I even start? How do I explain myself? Will any guy even want me once they find out? I am so scared of being rejected again that I’m teetering on the edge of resigning myself to voluntary singledom forever. That scares me as well, because I can’t shake that deep desire for just a chance at real love. But, how do I begin to move forward and tolerate being a virgin in a non-virgin world?
Never Been Laid
Dear Never Been Laid,
Like you, I was a virgin in a non-virgin world for a long time, although under different circumstances: I had chosen to save myself for marriage, married my high school sweetheart, and proceeded from our wedding night on, to have a painful, uncommunicative, unsatisfying sexual relationship (that eventually led to divorce).
I was 22 when I lost my virginity, and the experience was devastating. I had all of these expectations about sex and relationships, many of them pushed on me by my religion, but also from the culture surrounding me. All of them at war with each other. There were so many voices shouting at me about what was right or wrong or how things should be that I couldn’t listen to the most important voice that should have been guiding my sexual relationships: my own. My thoughts. My feelings. My body. I had never learned to trust myself when it came to my sexuality —I had only learned to feel shame and embarrassment.
It sounds to me like your first physical experience with your professor was not just unfulfilling, but painful, and his reaction colored how you saw yourself and your virginity. I was struck by these admissions in your letter: “…I let him touch me because I was in such desperate need of attention and care amongst the chaos of my life at the time. I hated his hands on my body and his lips on mine.” Our lives are often chaotic, even outside of sexual relationships. We often turn to other people for solace or to food or alcohol or drugs or internet porn or any number of behaviors as self-medication when what we really need is self-care or self-awareness.
You are 34 years old. You’re a nurse. You’ve traveled the world. And you’re a virgin. These are things about you that can be learned in this letter. But these are just details. Basic facts. They don’t have to be the things that define you unless you want them to—or unless you let them. For years, you’ve been letting how other people have responded to you seep in and become the things you believe about yourself. You felt judged, rejected, depressed and confused. Twelve years is a long time to withdraw from desire.
You figured out that you weren’t asexual. That you were sexually attracted to men. These are important realizations. You put yourself out there a second time, with the Kenyan man, and you grew a little. You had a different experience with a similar outcome. But the way you describe both men is that they were not your type from the start. Have you taken time to consider what kind of partner might be right for you? What you need in order to feel safe and deeply connected? What are the dealbreakers? Or at a deeper level: why did you choose them when you knew they weren’t right?
And to take it even further, have you explored your own sexuality? Not just who you like, but what you like. What turns you on, what makes you feel good, what makes you feel sexy? How often would you like to have sex in a relationship? What turns you off completely? Just because you’re a virgin, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a sexual being. Sure, some people are more sexual or physical than other people. It’s all okay. You find out what you like, and you find someone who’s compatible with those things—or is willing to adapt because they care about you and want to take risks with you.
Sex is so much about communication—and while I think there are people who can divorce emotions from the act, I don’t think you are one of those people (I’m not either). Yes, that means having a challenging conversation. But in a healthy relationship, these are the kinds of conversations that grow you rather than tear you apart.
The two men who rejected you were the problem here. Not your virginity. They weren’t right for you. They didn’t know how to appropriately respond to your vulnerability. Nobody says, “Well, you’ve never been married before so I’m not really interested in marrying you until you have a few divorces under your belt.” That’s just crazy talk. Apparently some people treat sex this way. But not everyone. Not the right one.
Enthusiasm is a great quality in a partner, on every level. You should be with someone who’s excited about you. Every part of you. But first: you should be sure you’re excited about yourself. This may mean therapy, a change of career, ridding your life of toxic people, or simply finding new ways to celebrate yourself on a daily basis. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all figured out. But until you feel confident in your own sexuality, simply having sex isn’t going to solve anything. Sure, you can say you’re no longer a virgin. But why is that anyone’s business but yours and your partner’s?
Listen, there is something far worse than no sex: uncomfortable, emotionless, nearly sexless sex. Sex just to be able to say you had sex.
You’ve come this far. Sex in a loving, communicative relationship is worth waiting for. You’re worth a potentially uncomfortable conversation. You’re worth everything. Treat yourself that way and find someone who treats you that way too.
Then: don’t just get laid. Have sex. Make love. Be active. Be present. Enjoy yourself. Have fun. Make mistakes. Try again. And again. And again.
All the love and light you can stand,
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.
Amanda Miska is Editor-in-Chief of Split Lip Magazine. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in Whiskey Paper, CHEAP POP, jmww, The Collapsar, Storychord, Five Quarterly, Lockjaw Magazine, Pea River Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, Cartridge Lit, Atticus Review, the Prairie Schooner blog, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in the Northern Virginia—for now.