Disclaimer: This is a series. This first post is long, but stick with it, please. This is the setup, the rest will be shorter. I’m going to be sharing with you what it’s been like to be a modern virgin, what I’ve learned over years from all sorts of people, how I’ve tried to change it, how I’ve learned my sexuality. Mistakes and opportunities. What matters and what hasn’t. I’m going to share with you how I think we need to change the way we talk to young people about sex, too.
Be kind but please feedback. I’m sharing some of my most vulnerable stories in the next few days. Mum, Dad – don’t freak out. There will be talk about church and how that part of my life has shaped my thinking, but I’m not writing this from a Christian or church perspective. I’m just writing as me. So there will also be plenty of scandal – stay tuned for that, because I know you love it so. There will be a guest post or two – if you want to participate then email me. If you think this matters or relates to anyone else you know – then please share it. Comment away. And now.. here we go.
I also used to tell them I was an accidental virgin. It’s true, I was. I hadn’t taken a purity pledge or made a promise to myself, God or my parents that I would wait for marriage. I’d just never been in a situation where I’d ever had to make a choice to say yes or no to sex. So I was a virgin, but not because I chose to be.
This is not one of those stories with a happy ending. Where the leading character overcomes a significant obstacle to achieve their goal or desire. It’s just a story that’s deeply personal about me. And because it’s a true story, I suspect I’m not alone in how I feel and think about the subject of sex, purity and virginity. Because I am a virgin, and that feels almost as complicated as telling someone you believe in God. (Here’s a little secret, the two are nowhere near as synonymous as they used to be.)
I used to talk to people about sex all the time. I was a youth worker and pastor working with young people from all sorts of backgrounds. I used to talk with young people, with youth workers, trainers and psychologists about sex.
I’m just not very good at toeing the party line. The traditional evangelical church line is don’t do it. Just don’t. There is little thought or regard for how we should be having sex. Instead, I talked to young women about being comfortable in their own sexuality and that healthy sexuality doesn’t start when you’re in a relationship.
Practically speaking, growing up in an evangelical church seems to go one of two ways – you’re either having sex all the time or there’s never a chance. I spent most of my spare time working with young people, even if I had met someone there was never any time for actual relating.
I watched plenty of other people dating and getting into serious relationships. It seemed like hard work but it also seemed like the most beautiful thing in the world. Oh, but that’s love, right? And love and sex are not always the same thing. At least that’s what we’re trying to tell people, still. For me, I think they are hard to separate and rightly so.
Firstly, being a virgin doesn’t mean you don’t know about sex. Deep and real things about sex, much more than possible combinations of coordinating parts.
What A Virgin Knows About Sex.
Figuring out what you think about sex and what you actually know about sex is a little more complicated. Or what you like, because sex is actually a lot to do with what you enjoy. Ultimately, that discovery process is physical, intellectual and emotional. While I still have a lot to learn (obviously), I’ve given myself wholeheartedly to becoming someone with a healthy, expressive sexuality and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Sex isn’t just about physical release, right? We all know this. If you should doubt it, take a look at how modern storytelling portrays sexual ideals. Art has a way of telling the truth about humanity – and the story we tell is that sex isn’t a hunger that can be satisfied with mere physicality. We can feed it for a while, but there is a deeper hunger for intimacy that’s more than shared personal space. This is a story told in novels, movies and possibly even more so, in fan-fiction. Still, the sheer physical requirement of sex – the hormonal drivers, the senses that trigger desire and the electric spark of bodies being slowly drawn together? It seems that neither the physical demand our bodies have for sex at certain phases of life nor the deeper connection of intimacy between human beings is more important than the other. In fact, at times each seems to answer something in the other. A dependent and supportive relationship between physical and emotional desire.
All of that seems necessary to healthy humanity. So for a while I was conflicted – the older I became without this healthy expression of intimacy, the more I was concerned about whether I was capable of it. The question is ‘where does healthy sexual expression belong if the Church’s only answer is marriage, and I’m not married?’ I have to be honest and say, I’ve spent a lot of time questioning whether sex is a sacrament that belongs only in marriage (or committed relationships, gay or straight).
People of faith: Don’t be angry or disappointed in me for asking the question. In the same way that we ask questions of many theologies, this one must be asked also. Many of the familiar relational constructs we live with today were not uncommon during the time the Bible was written, which is primarily where we draw on the foundation of Judeo-Christian beliefs about sex and marriage. Much of how humans live together now is barely an evolution from 2000 years ago, with the exception of more freely accepted de facto states, less arranged marriage in the teenage years and more freely accepted gay/lesbian relationships. And it’s probably the arranged marriage in the teenage years that trips me up. Society had practical ways of ensuring that people had ‘sanctified’ means of sexual expression from the earliest ages that puberty demanded it. As an amateur sociologist and psychologist, it’s impossible to ignore that how we find our way into sexually intimate relationships has largely changed from a practical, structured entry to an idealized, over-romanticised and socially complex maze.
Good Sex Answers A Big Question.
Sex is one of the important ways we prove we are not alone. In our most vulnerable state, we share ourselves with another person and we are not alone. The more often we have sex, the more opportunity we have to be closer to our partner. We become less alone. When sex loses its sense of shared intimacy and connection to another person, that’s a sign of sexual dysfunction.
So the longer you go without sex, the more pronounced your physical, emotional and spiritual aloneness can become. I’m not suggesting that sexuality is the only expression of companionship – but it is the closest (literally) and the most intimate.
What I have found in that physical aloneness, is a profound sense of questioning. Not the kind of questions you can answer for yourself, or that a self-esteem boost can resolve. It’s the kind of question that you answer with another person. They can’t answer it for you, but it’s answered when both your physical and emotional needs for sex are answered. Much like I discussed earlier.
I know this, because when people have tried to answer the question for me with sex alone, it’s done more harm than good (I’ll write more about that this week). And emotional intimacy without physical expression leaves the question hanging.. ‘Do you want me? Can I please you? Do you please me?’
Sex, of course, begins outside the bedroom. The answer to your question begins in flirtation, when you sense someone else is drawn to who you are. An exchange of stories or banter, usually some eye contact and a smile seems to start things off. The closer you become (or rather, a sense of closeness one person feels towards another) and the more of yourself is revealed in the drawn-out process of emotional intimacy; the more your question is answered.
One person’s desire for another says simply, ‘Yes, you. You are good, you please me, you give me joy. I want to be close to you. I desire you.’
This answer creates intimacy too. This intimacy comes from recognizing and enjoying another person – body and mind. When another recognizes you as good and takes pleasure in your being. Your feminine, masculine, physical self and all that it contains – your personhood. That is the necessity of sex. Without it’s strange physical demands, so interwoven with our sense of identity and self, so close to our emotional and spiritual needs – we would probably miss the point altogether. If it weren’t for the vulnerability to our whole self that sex creates, we’d miss the humility and fragility that sex exposes within us.
Sex has the capacity to remind us how human we are, by exposing us to another person at our most vulnerable. That is a deeply private thing, so no wonder it does become sacramental for many. A foundational expression of intimacy and trust between two people.
Here’s the rub: frequently we skip past the emotional intimacy and let the response of our physical bodies take over. Then we try to play catch-up, which can work just fine. So is there a perfect time have sex with someone for the first time? I don’t know if there is. I think there is an ideal time, when questions of commitment and security have begun to be answered.
When you start to think about the physicality and psychology of sexual expression, it doesn’t take very long to realize that some of those truths the evangelical movement has taught are very rational. A sense of identity that is strengthened between just two partners, the sacred nature of the vulnerability we bring to light. The goodness that can be found in answering your aloneness in whole relationship with another person, rather than answering it as solely a physical call – these are meaningful observations.
But what if you are alone? What if your aloneness has no foreseeable end? What then? I have been asking this question for a long time. If sex is an answer to the question ‘Am I good and can I please another?’, then I was struggling with how else to answer the question.
Sex is pervasive in our culture and rightly so. Sex is so good and vital to the way we relate to one another. I am constantly encouraging people to have more (good) sex. The kind that is affirming, safe, loving. Within that context, I cannot fathom much in the way of sexual expression that is not good and beautiful.
I have not been a youth worker for a long time. I’ve had plenty of time on my hands for relating and expressing. But all these years on, I’m still a virgin and now it’s hard work. To be a (older) virgin in this culture is a burden. For starters, hardly anyone believes you when you tell them.
There exists an invisible barrier, the thing I know that so many others do not –I am untouched. That I don’t know what it is like to be comforted in the arms of a lover. My body has never heard or given the answer, ‘You are loved’. I don’t know if I please anyone and you begin to question whether in fact, there’s something deeply wrong that no one has desired you physically, intellectually or otherwise.
See, to have reached this age and be a virgin suggests something about your success in relationships as well. Obviously, I’m not doing too well in the romantic stakes. Yet, I have deep and beautiful friendships with many men and women that I believe to be fulfilling and life-changing on both sides. What’s wrong with me?
That’s the deep pain. See, by the time you hit your 30s being a virgin isn’t really about sex. Being a virgin is about your womanhood and your personhood. It’s about being a fully fledged part of society.
This unanswered question, the invisible barrier sits between you and the world sometimes. You become more desperate to hear the answer, to experience this unknown thing so you are no longer alienated from the rest of the world but mostly so you know that you are accepted, you are good, you please somebody. It’s an answer that your heart, mind, body and soul wants to hear.