Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Interview With a Virgin: Will

Will is a 26-year-old guy who lives in Seattle and works in higher education. Every week, he tries to read at least one book and watch one movie. His hair has been black, blonde, blue, auburn, and mallard-colored. He’s lost around 60 pounds in the last 18 months, and his father was once nearly attacked by a tiger.

Jia: Good morning Will! Thank you for talking to me on this nice Sunday, taking time out of your day of worship.

(Will had just made it clear to me via email that he is not a virgin for religious reasons.)

Will: Haha. Actually, where I grew up — 30 miles north of San Diego, right next to a wild animal park where giraffes and rhinos and elephants wander around on the fake savannah — there were, at one point, 140 churches for a population of 100,000.

J: Everything you just said is amazing to me. You grew up on a West Coast savannah? Did you get to hang out with the animals?

W: Definitely. When I was in fourth grade, my school built an annex right next to the park, and we’d have biology classes there.

J: Wild animals and a church on every corner!

W: Yes. But I never went to church or thought about it much. My parents — who are working class with no religious traditions — always said, “You leave people alone, let them do what they want.” At the same time, religion was everywhere. There were a lot of Mormons, big families with seven kids and counting. One day in middle school, I asked my parents why I didn’t have a religion. They told me that I could have one if I wanted. “Okay,” I said, “how do I get one?”

“You get up and go to church on Sundays and you pray,” they told me. And I didn’t think that sounded like fun.

J: How did this environment influence the way people started to date and hook up and think about sex?  

W: Well, my friends were big nerds, and not all of them were religious. One was so vocally anti-fundamentalist that he got himself punched in the nose by a soccer mom! But what we all had in common was that we were not the guys that knew what to say to girls. We were not the guys that girls actively tried to date. So I never felt any ownership in that arena, never felt that sex was even a possibility for me. And my parents didn’t get it. Some nights they’d kick me out and say, “Okay now, don’t come back 'til 2 A.M.” They had a hard time believing that I had never drank or done drugs, that I was such a genuine goody-two-shoes. 

J: So even with full license, you never felt interested in any of it?

W: No. I’ve got a tendency to go to dark and absurd places with my mind, and I dealt with anger management problems as a kid: for example, I once tried to choke one of my friends because he wouldn’t stop making fun of me. Because of all those things, I was not interested in situations where I could lose control.

Also, my weight had something to do with this general hesitation. I was really heavy as a kid, and though I went up and down in high school, I didn’t start really losing the weight until the summer before college, when I started having regular panic attacks that only went away if I biked everywhere, all the time, like 10-12 miles a day.

J: Wow! So, tell me about college. For so many people — like me — college represented a new sexual culture, an opportunity to start over and change certain things. Did you look at it this way?

W: Well, yes, but for a lot of reasons. I’m a first-generation college student. Actually, I’m the first man on my dad’s side of the family to not become a plumber. So I didn’t know what to expect, and in the midst of experiencing those panic attacks, I tried obsessively to anticipate everything, to plan every aspect of college out beforehand so I could control my experience once I got there.

But beginning at orientation, I became attached to my past through this self-imposed tagline: “not a kiss, not a sip, not a puff.” I think I actually got quite a bit of attention from girls because of this, but I didn’t recognize the attention as flirtatious — or, when I did, I was afraid of it. I had no frame of reference, so I just didn’t respond.

J: I’m realizing that I have not asked this question to the women I’ve interviewed — sorry to love you so much, gender norms — but what about porn? Were you watching it? Did it allow you to deal with sexual frustration in an easier, less complicated way?

W: Yeah, I’ve looked at porn since I was about eleven and found my great-grandmother’s Joy of Sex, which is hilarious. But I actually abstained from masturbating for the first few weeks of college. I wanted to stop relying on it, and I thought I might find a person who I could start a sexual relationship with — which did not actually happen.

J: Why not?

W: I’m still inventing reasons why not! I’m a master of self-sabotage when it comes to sex. But here’s what it boils down to: I’ve always wanted to be the opposite of disappointing, to be as strong and smart and beautiful as I could be when that moment happens.

And I’m a romantic. I never understood how “like” turns into “love,” and I have trouble pursuing relationships if I can’t imagine them becoming real love.

J: So for you, sex is intertwined with love. I feel you on that, but not all people would agree. How much has your virginity been an issue with girls you’ve dated?

W: My dating history is shallow. There was one girl in college who I really connected with, and we started to get physical. The night after we had our first kiss — my first kiss ever — she came over to my room, slept over. I performed oral sex on her, even though I didn’t know anything about her that I couldn’t have found out on Facebook. And I didn’t realize how disappointing that would be.

I had pictured this thing between us unfolding like Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, but what we were doing didn’t feel exciting or playful at all. I found myself sort of bored, sort of horrified by the banality of it. I eventually ended up alienating her with my response to this incident — I wanted us to keep things above the waist, and then I sort of lashed out at her emotionally — and that was it. First and last experience with oral sex.

J: And then you wrote about it! 

W: It was a male version of the Vagina Monologues, basically. The first one I wrote was about a time in high school when I came on my own face: this moment of pride and shame where I realized, “Oh, this must be what it’s like to be on the receiving end of someone’s ejaculate.” It made me think a lot about what sex is, what we ask our partners to do. And then I wrote more monologues, other people signed on, and we performed it four years in a row.

J: Did you write about being a virgin?

W: Not explicitly. Although I have definitely swung back and forth between being ashamed of my sexual history and being completely comfortable with it, I’d say that my virginity has always been an albatross in my life.

J: Where are you at with it right now?  

W: Well, I’m not trying to stay a virgin anymore. Since around age 22, I’ve been open to sex, trying to re-conceive it as adult play: a thing where we dress up, buy toys, use our imagination. But sex just has not been the first thing on my list; I’ve been trying to get jobs, move places, figure out my life.

In general, I’m just trying to get rid of my sense of fatalism in relationships. Trying to understand that there’s no grand thunderclap of love or sex or certainty that I need to be building up to. That love at first sight doesn’t actually exist, and I don’t need to be waiting for it.

Still, no matter who you are or what you believe about these things, it can just be hard to meet people that you really connect with. And that’s my biggest obstacle.

J: Have you done OKCupid or other things that could lead to a more casual hookup?

W: Yeah, totally. I’m on OKCupid right now. But, although I’ve had some good dates, I really don’t think I’m inclined towards casual sex. I don’t want to just get it over with, like my friends tell me to; I still want to lose my virginity with someone special.

I can also be a really jealous person. Trust for me would be paramount. I had two childhood experiences that I’m not sure how to label — assault, molestation, neither, who knows — and even though those experiences are absolutely not the reason I am a virgin, they play a big part in the distance I keep from casual sex.

J: Wow. Well, first of all, you seem to know yourself really well sexually, for someone that has never had sex.

W: Thanks! Uh, honestly, I think porn has helped. I’ve seen that I’m not attracted to the brutality of mainstream pornography or the idea of casual, incidental sex. I want there to be commitment, a safety net, a promise to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. And that, again, probably stems from what happened to me as a kid.

J: Sure. Are you comfortable talking about it?  

W: Yeah, these are the things that make us who we are, right?

So, when I was ten or eleven, my family friend had a pool, which I loved, because when you’re heavy, it’s amazing to feel light and graceful in the water. This family friend had a 15 year old son, and I was being a jerk kid and splashing him, and he said, “If you don’t stop splashing me I’ll put my dick up your ass.” I didn’t know what he meant, but I kept splashing him, and he didn’t exactly do it, but what he did was very uncomfortable. Then he saw I felt terrible and made me a sandwich. It took me seven or eight years to tell my friends, and I’ve never told my parents.

The next thing: I was in seventh grade, working on a science project with two friends. I was excited to have them over, I’d cleaned the house and put out my coolest toys, which included — because it was close to Halloween and my parents went all out with scary and intense decorations — a pair of working handcuffs. I handcuffed one of my friends to the furniture as a joke, and he got really mad.

So, when I let him out, he handcuffed me to my bed, and he and my other friend were just standing over me and saying, “Hmm, what are we going to do to you?” and they decided. I fought them off wildly for ten minutes as they flicked me on the dick. I kicked and screamed and then collapsed. They uncuffed me. I went to the bathroom, took a shower and sobbed — which, as I learned through getting involved with advocacy groups, was a textbook reaction to sexual assault.

I’ve thought a lot about how these two incidents have affected me, and while they have not determined everything, I know that I don’t ever want to be hurt the way I was hurt then.

J: Wow. Yeah. You are so thoughtful and aware of all of this. Do you ever feel left out of the way male sexuality is represented in our culture?  

W: Acknowledging the absolute diversity of sexual perspectives, I do probably know that I’m not nearly as aggressive as most men. I feel like I need permission to hit on someone. I worry that fantasizing about people that I don’t know is wrong. I also can’t wrap my head around the idea of anyone seeing me as a sexual object. I think that’s something that women adjust to, by necessity, much more quickly than men do.

There’s a school of thought that sees male sexuality as — in Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s words — “a dark force streaked with aggression.” I do understand that, I identify with that in a way, but I argue with it. People can call it repression or cowardice, but I think of myself as a feminist and would rather be an ally instead of an aggressor.

J: I think that’s great. I also think your perspective on sex would be really attractive to a lot of women.

W: Sure. Maybe. And then other women would be totally turned off by this degree of introspection. There’s so much intricacy in what people find attractive. That’s part of the reason I like The Hairpin; it gives me little clues about women, feedback that I might be missing in real life.

J: So, what’s next for you?

W: Well, for years, my birthday wish was: let me just get laid. Like it was something that was going to happen to me, not something that I was going to do. Like one day I’d just open a door and be having sex.

But also, I always wanted to travel, right? I always wanted to go abroad, and last year I finally did. And when I came back, I was like, “Wow, I’m the type of person who goes abroad now.” Other countries seem indomitable until you get there, and then all of a sudden you’re speaking bits of the language and the food doesn’t smell weird anymore. So maybe sex is the same way. And so I’m hoping to have sex this year. I don’t think I’ll reach 27 and still be a virgin.

J: I wish you all the luck and happiness in your endeavors! Do not fear the first border crossing; it is really unimportant compared to all the things that will follow.

W: Thanks!

(Last week, Will sent me another email. He’s seeing someone new, and he’s happy. “I have not lost my virginity yet, but it may not be long for this world,” he wrote.)

Previously: Maya. 

Jia Tolentino is a writer in Michigan. 


166 Comments / Post A Comment


I really liked this. I identified so strongly with not recognizing flirtatious attention in freshman year. Frosh was so weird to me, it was like I was on this totally different and idealistic wavelength about boys and kissing and boyfriends so guys would approach me wanting to hook up and I was so shocked by it (naive much???). It also did absolutely nothing for my sense of self-worth, like I guess I was receiving positive attention from guys but yet I thought of myself as so gross and unattractive and unlovable. So weird, even if a guy that I was crushing on during frosh events, if he came up to me later that night and wanted to hook up, that's not what I wanted so I was like "nobody who I like likes meeee"

so weird looking back on it now. Also we were talking about internet boyfriends the other day, one of which I had in high school, and I really think that was like, the one step above "imaginary cartoon boyfriend" in terms of safety. I wasn't ready for a real boyfriend for whatever reason (even though I thought about sex ALL THE TIME) so that was a safer outlet or something. Subconsciously I guess.

many things do not fly

@redheaded&crazie I had very similar experience. And I want to say that I'm totally removed from it now, but sometimes I still can get back into that headspace of feeling unlovable and wanting to crawl back into some place where I am safe and without vulnerabilities. Relationships were so much easier when they consisted mostly of witty AIM conversations...


@many things do not fly the WITTIEST AIM conversations!


at least that's what I thought at the time.


@redheaded&crazie I even printed some of them out and saved them. I'm 99.9% sure I still have them somewhere.

many things do not fly

@Ophelia Oh god, I did that too! Because...you know...there's nothing like the wit of a 16-year-old. Yep, definitely needs to be recorded for Posterity.



@redheaded&crazie I still do that! Like I'll think NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN ATTRACTED TO ME but I can't even be wishy-washy about the lady in my stats course who was really giggly with me through the semester and then on the last day was so touchy, like just straight-up getting up to do stuff and brushing her hand over both of my shoulders. Really I'm just not ready :( don't know when that will change

I TOTALLY did the adolescent AIM relationship, too. Since I was a massively depressed boy I had at least two "relationships" where the girl was in some far-flung location and we would feed each others' dramatic sadness. It tended to get really intense (grand declarations and "definite" plans) and then we would just... stop talking


@Danzig! I think we may have AIM dated.

I'm still pretty shy/weird around dudes. Like, making the very first move of going up to a guy and saying hi to them is so intimidating to me. Even if I mean it in a purely platonic way I get into this HEAD space. Like I was up north this weekend and this guy was walking past my place with a really cute big dog. And my dog was dying to play with other dogs but I got all like "If you go and say hi, then he'll think you're flirting with him! Even though you're not! Plus you look like crap right now." What the fuck self. So my dog missed out on playing with his dog. Dumb story.

Also returning flirtatious looks from dudes. Dudes who have looked at me flirtatiously and then thought I was an insecure jerk because I looked away and never looked back ... you're right. I'm an insecure jerk.



@redheaded&crazie And I say all this even though I'm actually pretty comfortable with my looks/personality/package. I dunno, there's some disconnect going on. I guess I too am just not ready. For something. Being more extroverted. Or something.


@redheaded&crazie As a self-aware guy, there is a tendency to moderate/examine all interactions with girls. "Am I flirting with this person? Is this innocent thing I'm doing being construed as flirting? Is she one of those girls who prefers the guy to make the first move?"

A big part of moving through those thoughts has been believing in my own agency as a person interested in relationships. Which starts with the acknowledgement "I would like to know this person better, and will continue to interact with them in an amusing and fun way." If it continues being fun and interesting, great! If it stops, well, that's okay too. It's not easy to get to that place, but if you're okay with your own self, then you'll be pretty well set up to interact with others in the ways you want. Knowing what you want exactly can be difficult, and that's been my issue with dating: finding someone who is interesting, who wants the same things I want in terms of relationships. Now all these relationships issues and cliches make sense!

Faintly Macabre

@redheaded&crazie Same weird thing here! I generally think I'm at least averagely pretty and a decent/non-scary person, but then it's like, "Augh, don't look at them, they'll SEE YOU LOOKING and run away screaming!" But I have a really short attention span, so I guess it protects me from having to claw my eyes out.


@Faintly Macabre @redheaded&crazie Bemused Solitude Hairpin Crew represent


@redheaded&crazie Omg, are you me? I have totally felt all the things you've described and had a very similar college experience. I was very naive and inexperienced going into college and was super uncomfortable at parties surrounded by random people casually making out. I just didn't know how to approach guys, accept compliments, notice when I was being flirted with, nothing. I didn't have my first kiss until I was 23 years old (with my now-husband. I didn't tell him he was my first kiss for months). I had been kind of ashamed of these things for years. Since college, I have grown in confidence and self-esteem. I no longer feel ashamed of being myself: a slightly awkward introvert who was a late bloomer. I met a wonderful man who didn't care that I wasn't sexually experienced because he loves me for who I am. I still have my moments though. Like I'll look at my husband and think, "How did this happen..." like it's all a fraud somehow. Old habits die hard I guess :)


@lorenzo @redheaded&crazie I can relate to so much of this (except the husband). Everybody Started Making Out And Then I Went Home: The Zamboni College Story

Passion Fruit

@zamboni Haha, yes, cosigned. Definitely The Passion Fruit College Story as well.


This. This is very close to how I see the world.@a


Thank you for this series. Just...Thanks.

fondue with cheddar

@BeyondTheCee As someone who lost my virginity in my teens under fairly healthy circumstances, I've always been interested in why and how people wait, whether on purpose or not. And likewise for those who lose it at a much younger age (heartbreaking though such stories may be). I don't know what it's like to be a virgin when most people my age are not, and I don't know what it's like not to be a virgin when most people my age are. Sex is something that's talked about so often these days, but rarely in such a healthy, honest, nonjudgemental way. I love this series and look forward to more!


@fondue with cheddar Exactly. I'm an older virgin by circumstance, and my history is a mix of a strict religious upbringing kept me "chaste" in my teen years, but now that I'm agnostic, I can't give it away. I think the fact that virginty, is being discussed much more widely in relation to people who aren't virgins for religious reasons is an interesting transition. Also, I just like hearing people with similar experiences to my own. It makes things less lonely. Espcially when most romance/sex advice is written for people who've already had sex, because, duh. I'm also finding more and more self described virgins, like Will, are very well informed, and have done their homework as far as knowing what circumstances would be comfortable for them, plus anatomy, etc.


@fondue with cheddar I'm glad y'all are digging it!

fondue with cheddar

@BeyondTheCee The plus side to being older and well-informed is that your first time is going to be so much better than mine was. ;)


@BeyondTheCee Seconded.


@fondue with cheddar I'm with you. I had a really great first time, and I feel pretty sexually well-adjusted, and it's hard for me to understand why it seems so many people have a really, really hard time with sex and sexuality. But I want to understand! But these people's general discomfort often makes it a really touchy topic, so there aren't a lot of places for me to ask the questions that would give me a better understanding. This series is great for answering some of those questions.


@BeyondTheCee Reading about other people's sex lives through columns like Savage Love helps with the information, because you can see the kinds of problems that can emerge, and the sensible advice you can take to maneuver around them. Although you can also backfire by spending too much time planning, preparing, and over-thinking what would be THE BEST EXPERIENCE EVER, while leaving out the ambiguity and random circumstances that help make authentic romantic interaction worthwhile. It's a tricky road, fraught with peril.


@fondue with cheddar Not...necessarily...

fondue with cheddar

@WaityKatie Okay, not necessarily. But it has the potential to be better. I mean, how meaningful and satisfying can 15-year-old sex really be? I don't know, I'm just trying to be positive and supportive.


@fondue with cheddar I just don't like building up the pressure that your first time has to be special and meaningful and great just because you're older than average when it happens. I was "old" when I first had sex, and it wasn't great or meaningful OR special, and that was actually just fine. I feel like if you're waiting for the RIGHT TIME with glorious fulfillment and emotional connection and all that you can screw yourself (pun intended) out of getting to have sex for a long time. If you just do it because you want to and release all these expectations, you get to start having sex sooner and stop feeling like a damn freak. At least in my experience.

fondue with cheddar

@Linette I'm going through this with my boyfriend, but not about sex (our pre-marriage experience is remarkably similar). Without getting into detail, he grew up in a bad home and I grew up in a good home. I had no idea what it was like not to have good parents who loved and supported me. It's hard to talk to people about their troubled childhoods because I don't want to pry, but he is willing and able to be completely open and honest with me about it. I've learned so much about him, but it's also taught me how to better understand other people.

fondue with cheddar

@WaityKatie You're absolutely right. But whether or not your first time is great or meaningful or special, doing it when you're an adult who's got a better understanding of herself and how to relate to other people must make it easier.

I think the first time you have sex is a letdown no matter how old you are. I've never met anyone whose first time was wonderful or satisfying. Mine was special in that I did it with a boyfriend in a bed, but it was like, "Oh...is that it? What's the big deal?" which is a sentiment I've heard from many people about their first time (and second, and third...etc.)


@fondue with cheddar Maybe there's a magic age at which it becomes easier, like, I don't know, 21? But then if you're still a virgin after that age, you have this huge weight of "oh my god I'm a freak" that others here have mentioned hanging over you, so in many ways I think it makes it harder. Yes, I was more of an adult than I would have been having sex at 17 or whatnot, but on the other hand, I felt like adulthood had passed me by because I wasn't doing this totally normal thing that everyone else had already done. So in some ways I felt so freakish and defective that I definitely did not have a mature and evolved attitude about it. My attitude was "god, can't I even freaking GIVE it away?" and then afterwards, "thank heavens I got rid of that crushing burden!" So "your mileage may vary" I suppose.

fondue with cheddar

@WaityKatie I can understand that. I'm sure there are advantages and disadvantages to both, making neither better than the other in a general sense.

And the brain doesn't finish developing until we're in our twenties, so you might not be too far off with the "magic age" thing. Though if that's it, it's definitely older than 21. I think I've heard 24?


@fondue with cheddar Definitely in the absence of all the societal shame that comes down on elder-virgins' heads, I can see how being older having sex would lead to better sex. Maybe someday we can get beyond the idea that everyone must do certain things at certain ages, and all virgins can live and develop freely and that would be amazing. Because if I hadn't had the shame and humilation going on, the sex would have been a lot better and less "get it over with." But I just felt like a total freak/loser for not having it, so I wasn't really in it to enjoy it, y'know?

fondue with cheddar

@WaityKatie Yeah, I get that. It's such a shame that anybody should be made to feel ashamed about our sexual choices (or lack of opportunity, as the case may be). Virginity is made out to be such a Huge Deal but it really isn't. It's one of those significant life experiences that seem to divide your life into "before X" and "after X", but there are a lot of experiences like that. And nobody humilates you because you've never traveled abroad.


@fondue with cheddar Funny that you mention traveling abroad, because "in certain circles" of upper middle class (I would say slightly spoiled) twentysomethings, there's a similar shame imposed on people who haven't traveled. I remember getting that in my early 20's when all of a sudden I was thrust into this elite law school environment where I was significantly poorer than I'd say 90 percent of my classmates. I hadn't traveled for fun, because I never had the money to do that. They all had been tons of places, and definitely looked down on anyone who hadn't. Ugh, people really suck a lot of the time. So yeah, I was an unsophisticated, poor, non-traveled virgin, no wonder I was so popular!

fondue with cheddar

@WaityKatie You know, I thought of that immediately after I posted it. I grew up among middle- and lower-middle-class families, so nobody cared that I hadn't been abroad (I've still only ever been to Canada, and only once).

People really do suck. :(

Reginal T. Squirge

"Other countries seem indomitable until you get there, and then all of a sudden you’re speaking bits of the language and the food doesn’t smell weird anymore. So maybe sex is the same way."

This is exactly correct, bro.


@Reginal T. Squirge Yeah, that's the part of this piece that rang the truest for me.

There's a lot of voices in this thread saying "do you, hooray!" and they are absolutely right. But I do find myself wanting to throw a pitch out there for maybe considering doing the "just get it out of the way" strategy. I think there's a lot of self-knowledge that can only be gained from doing things, and this metaphor describes that perfectly. There's a whole body of language/non-language out there that helps describe this part of who you are, and it's crazy-empowering to learn how to use it, and it can really help you understand just how much fiction about what humans/relationships are like is floating around out there. (Thanks, patriarchy!)

It's also entertaining to me because I am going abroad for the first time ever in a couple of months, so maybe I can't be the perfect expert on the metaphor.

Reginal T. Squirge

Yeah, it's just... virginity was something I stressed out about all the time back when I had it and then when it was gone it was something I almost never thought about again. That's largely because my first time was a really good experience and you definitely want to shoot for that but I just think it's good that he recognizes that it's not something that's going to be an issue in his life FOREVER.


New hypothesis: you'll really stop caring about this after the first time you have a really good sexual experience. That doesn't necessarily have to the be first time.

My personal theory: sometimes, having one that's really awkward/complicated can help you figure out how to have one that's really awesome sooner than if you had skipped out on the awkward-sexing.

Glad it worked out great for you, though!


@ThatWench The thing that seems obvious to the Team Get It Out Of The Way people is that for Team WTF I'm Still A Virgin At A Socially Advanced Age For It we don't necessarily have the skillz/clues as to how to go about this. If I read 'just go to a bar lol' one more time I'll throw up. I've gone to plenty of bars. Haven't gotten laid.


@Gloria_Grahame Bar scenes (read: meat markets) are not ideal, because if you're already struggling with how to make a connection/relationship/casual sexual liaison/fuck party for the ages, those places are like being dropped into the deep end of the pool. With sharks. And angry whales. And an irritated squid. And maybe the red ride. And maybe some merpeople, whom you're supposed to be chatting up, but they're merpeople, and you're wondering to yourself "Do their genitalia work the same way mine do? Can I talk to them out of the water or only underwater? Do they even speak English? Oh god, what if I start the human-merpeople war by accidentally offending one of them?"

Which is another way of saying they are not the ideal circumstances for meeting a person who does not judge you for your choices, and is easy to talk to about feelings, TV shows, and that time you drove cross country.


@ThatWench I cannot imagine a scenario in which "getting it out of the way" hasn't occurred to someone or, worse, repeatedly been the entire extent of their friends' advice. That approach absolutely does work for some people, but they're likely to figure it out on their own. For virgins who feel like they have a good understanding of their sexuality, it can come across as dismissive of their self-awareness, their boundaries and what they want out of the experience. I'm sure you totally did not mean it that way!! But I "lost it" in my late 20s and "just get it over with" was my second-least favourite piece of advice (admittedly a distant second to "are you sure you're not a lesbian? I think you're a lesbian"). And I'm probably taking it out on you a little here, for which I apologize.

When I finally had sex--and I had barely done anything before--it was a really positive (and hilarious) experience, and I felt very safe and comfortable with the person, although I once retreated to the bathroom to do calming breathing exercises. It was pretty awkward anyway, and I expected that, but I'm so glad I "waited" for a situation I felt comfortable in. (Large chunks of the waiting were not all that voluntary, and the only appealing sexual situation I ever turned down was my friend's boyfriend D:) My sense of myself as a desirable sexual being was pretty fragile, and I think a bad experience would have been crippling in that regard.


@Gloria_Grahame It's true. I tried so hard to get it out of the way for years and it just didn't work. Then it did, EXACTLY like the foreign country example. It's really like riding a bike (being able to put yourself in situations where you can have sex, not sex itself). Um, for what it's worth, I did achieve it by going to bars, though.


@Gloria_Grahame I've never gone to a bar to get laid. The thought almost gives me a panic attack.
I've had a fair amount of sex though. Mostly with people I've met as friends and grown to have romantic/sexual relationships with, but also with people I've met on the Internet.

However, reading this (and this may sound creepy), there was definitely a part of me willing to volunteer to help Will "get it out of the way" (not because of any virgin fetish or anything, but simply because he seemed like a nice guy who would benefit from some tenderness and I like sex a lot and whenever I meet people who don't I want to help them come around).


Luckily, everything's gonna be coming up roses now that he's lived internationally.


@Inkling Not lived, just visited, although it has changed my perception in very small, but significant ways.

up cubed

@Seattle http://thehairpin.com/2012/10/sensual-shampoos-utis-and-a-mutual-love-of-mash

fondue with cheddar

"One day in middle school, I asked my parents why I didn’t have a religion. They told me that I could have one if I wanted."

What a cool way to answer that question. A lot of nonreligious people bash religion, but really it's the sort of thing that's right for some people and not others, and that's okay. Childhood is about figuring out who you are and how you relate to the world, and allowing your child to explore something like religion without judgement is just great.


@fondue with cheddar And that's how my brother, at age 5, declared he was going to be a "Buddhin" and "celebrate Buddha". I think it lasted for several days.

fondue with cheddar

@MilesofMountains That's adorable. My neighbor had a laughing Buddha statue and I always loved it. I had no idea it was a religious icon, otherwise I probably would have wanted to be Buddhist too.


@fondue with cheddar This reminds me of the tv show from the mid-2000s called "Jack and Bobby." Their mother in the show was fiercely atheist, but Bobby, who was maybe 12 or 13, wanted to explore religion. While his mom didn't agree with it, I distinctly remember her declaring that he was going to "do it right" and visit all sorts of different houses of worship before "picking one." I think he joined the Jewish faith in the end?

I really liked that show.


I really relate to a lot of what Will says here. My numbers: 32 years old, been kissed twice (yes, that's it). And it's not religion or the desire to save myself - I wanted to have sex at 14!

Thanks for doing this. I regularly cycle in and out of despair over it.


@Gloria_Grahame My friend is in exactly the same boat as you. You are not the only one!

Oh, squiggles

I can relate as well. I was 25 when I first had intercourse, and afterwards I knew it was good that I had waited until it felt right with the right person instead of just "getting it over with". But also, I did feel an incredible amount of relief, because all the pressure I was putting on myself was gone.

Blue skies

@Absurd Bird Ahh this makes me feel so much better! I'm 22 so obviously there is a lot of time... but ever since I finished college I feel like the expectation is like, oh you had these wild times in college, not, oh, you happen to never have had sex because of happenstance (for me it is basically a handful of false starts).


@Gloria_Grahame Keep on keeping on! I was a virgin with not-very-much experience at all until 26, FINALLY succeeded in doing it to "get it over with," and don't regret it at all. First time does not have to be meaningful, at any age, it's all fine! Yeah, I would have loved to be gettin' it on in college, but it didn't happen and I'm not going to spend my life feeling like a freak for it. Ugh, I just hate how bad I felt about this fact for so long and how other people treated me because of it.


@Gloria_Grahame You're not alone!


I wish this series was around when I was a virgin at 20 and feeling like a freak over it. Hell, I felt like a freak for being a virgin when I was 15! Also, not for religious reasons.


@Gilgongo I know, right


@Gilgongo yes, I know! author, you are very smart. I hope that when the time is right for you, it will be right for you!


@theotherginger Thanks!


I really liked reading this, because it's really honest and forthright, and more specifically, as a dude myself, it's very refreshing to see other kinds of male sexuality discussed and presented rather than "GOTTA FUCK 'EM ALL, GO GET IT, BRO" which really doesn't work for me.

Nearly all of my single guy friends seem to have this attitude, and I just cannot relate to it at all. I guess I'm pretty submissive, actually, but it seems there is no representation or discussion of this kind of male sexuality in any kind of public space at all. Everyone seems to believe I must be a "pussy" or gay, and I'm neither. I just really like permission.

Thanks for sharing this.

@gormless Dude, you sound really sweet. "I just really like permission." That's just lovely, seriously, lovely.

cecil hungry

@gormless You really sound like my boyfriend before we got together! He's way way way less experienced than I am, even though girls have always liked him, and he's just one of the nicest, coolest, most respectful dudes I know. I had to really convince him that having sex with me would be a good thing for him (AND IT WAS). We've been together for over 3 years now, and it's great. You sound like a great guy, don't give up.


@gormless Yes. Will sounds a lot like one of my college exes. His level of introspection and thoughtfulness was admirable, one of the reasons I liked him. He is definitely respectful and wants permission. He was always challenging himself on things like, "Am I objectifying this woman? Is this kind of porn ethical?" He also might still be a virgin, as we never had intercourse and he hasn't had a serious girlfriend since me. I wish there was more recognition and celebration of this sort of male sexuality.


@cecil hungry Thanks. I'm not a virgin or anything, I've had several girlfriends, I'm just kind of annoyed by the limited spectrum of male heterosexuality that is represented in media, etc. and also the assumption that someone (especially a guy) who is submissive or passive sexually must also be submissive or passive in other areas of his life, which is certainly not true at all.

I'm also experiencing a protracted rut of "meeting all the wrong people," which may or may not be a related issue.


@gormless My brother is like you, and he has such a tough time with it. He likes girls, but he doesn't know how to pursue in that way, and he shouldn't have to - but so many women seem to be unable to recognize his interest because he doesn't express it in a way they're used to. I wish I knew what to tell him. Do you have any advice on what worked for you?


@gormless Consent and permission are sexy! I'm attracted to a lot of women, but there are attractive women all over the world. The real challenge is finding someone who loves all the weird parts of me, and has complimentary weird parts that I love. That takes a lot more searching and patience.

I like playing a game with some friends, which is name a book, movie, or TV show that portrays a healthy, functional relationship throughout. We had a some difficulty naming any, whereas we had tons of examples of divorce, failed relationships, people cheating, etc.


@gormless Oh that note, actually, I get really frustrated with the lack of dominant or aggressive female sexuality narratives as well. I feel like it's always about the woman being told or taught or "enlightened" about what she wants. (I'm pretty excited about "The To-Do List" with Aubrey Plaza because of this, actually). I think the problem is when you know you're different from the meta narrative, you're taught that you're wrong because no one else is shown to be what you are.

Literally the only dude I can think of right now in the male passive sexuality spectrum is Andrew Garfield's Spiderman. He can barely ask out Gwen Stacy, and she basically takes the lead. Then again, he kisses her too.


@Linette My previous strategy was "meet girls on the internet in spaces where we had things in common, develop a long-distance relationship with them, visit them, fall in love, and then uproot self (or have her uproot herself) in order to be together." I did this more than once. This is not a solution I recommend.

Since I split up with my last girlfriend, who was one of the ones who uprooted herself and then ended up using me as a support system etc. etc. (long story), I swore off the long-distance thing. That was two years ago. I've been single since then, with some OkCupiding that has resulted in its own kinds of disasters.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying "I have no idea. Sorry."


@mystique yes - yes - yes!!! The lack of sexually dominant/aggressive women in media is also really depressing. If they exist, they seem to be one of a few kinds:

a) the smart, powerful, capable women who has no time/energy for men and is perpetually undersexed

b) the stereotypical-kinky-BDSM-domme-y type who crushes balls and whips people and makes men her slave

I really like Kathryn Bigelow's older films for representations of powerful, capable, sexually attractive women -- I'm thinking of "Strange Days" in particular (where Angela Bassett is both super sexy and super kick-ass and is the heroine and frequently saves Ralph Fienne's kind of bumbling, useless ass) and also "Near Dark."

My message to the powerful, take-charge, dominant women out there: there are men out there who are not intimidated by you. Find us.


@Seattle One book I absolutely love for many reasons, but especially for its portrayal of a nuanced, caring, healthy relationship (and friendship), is Wallace Stegner's "Crossing to Safety." It is quiet and slow-going, but highly recommended. Same also with another book of his, "Angle of Repose," which is one of the best books I've ever read, and an absolutely incredible love story.


@gormless Oh my God, dude! That was amazingly encouraging! Thank you. I'll find ya.

And thanks for the "Strange Days" suggestion -- I would also suggest Harold from Harold & Kumar, Seth from The OC, Chuck from...Chuck. ESPECIALLY that last one.

Passion Fruit

@Seattle Hmm... that's an interesting challenge. But I can't think of any relationship, romantic, platonic, familial or otherwise, that doesn't go through periods of weird, icky, dysfunction. I think, if things turn out positively over the long, long run, those periods of time are called growth, and it's a totally cool, normal thing.

baked bean

@gormless My boyfriend is pretty passive I'd say? He never had a girlfriend before me and I had to really make all the first moves, because he really wanted to but didn't know if I wanted to. I think he had this problem in the past with girls but they never jumped on him even though they might have wanted to.

Anyway, I'm not the most brave, but shy guys really get me going. I get brave around them. They are so gosh darn adorable and respectful. I can't help myself.

I'd love it if girls were encouraged to make a move if they want something, I would not be with him if I didn't make that super duper extremely obviously clear.

I think it's waaaaaaaay more common than anyone realizes. I think my brother is the same way. He's super respectful to women, to the point that he doesn't want to intrude, plus he's also scared shitless of being rejected. He's a great guy though. I think he's also a little immature though, like, the couple of girlfriends he's had he was even too nervous around them to have a real relationship.
Plus, he scared the shit out of me a couple of weeks ago because he told me he's afraid that if he doesn't find the person he wants to marry while he's in college, he'll never find anyone :| how do I convince him this is the way way wrong and unhealthy way of thinking, even though I'm sure many people think that way?




that's all I guess

many things do not fly

@melis Me too! Many times. My best friend and I have come up with some random scenarios in which we will get married there, possibly beside the California Condors.

Faintly Macabre

@melis It's okay, melis, you can confess that you're saving yourself for Jim Behrle. This is a safe space!


@Faintly Macabre no, but I'm saving myself for him!


@melis Is that a sex thing?


@melis Did you ride the tram? They push the tram a lot, it's the only way to see the giant savanna part of the park. It has also spoiled me for many other zoos, which do not feature animals roaming around.


@Seattle I want to ride a tram into a savannah real bad have been jonesing for it hard since we talked

tea tray in the sky.

@Faintly Macabre Can someone tell me how to pronounce "Behrle"? Also, "Choire". Thanks in advance.


I definitely don't really believe in true love and the thunderclap or whatever, but at the same time, I knew the second that I saw my ex-boyfriend that I would have sex with him (which, weird, becuase he was with my friend at the time. Yeah, I'm not super proud of it).


Haha, oh man, I lived in Escondido ages 12-17. Yeeeeah. Lots of churches 'round those parts.

Thanks for giving such an open and interesting interview! A really good read.


@erindubitably So many churches. Especially tiny ones in strip malls.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

This series is so interesting. I'll be honest - I had a twinge of "oh noooo" feelings when Will mentioned how he reacted to going down on a lady for the first time.

I hope things go your way in the future, buddy. I find that sometimes it's better for me not to force my brain to control these situations, but that's just me.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
That part helped me understand an awkward situation I had in college!


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Same here. And also the thought that if you're expecting Beatrice and Benedick-level brilliance and repartee out of a new college relationship...or really ANY relationship...you're probably going to be disappointed.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@whateverlolawants I'm projecting right now, because I've been on the receiving end (heh) of an awkward, post-sexytimes ambivalent attitude and it messed with me, like, "Oh no, is something physically wrong with me?"

@Bittersweet I mean, I guess we're all entitled to our expectations, but I feel sometimes that super-high expectations cover for fear and insecurity, so when things aren't going exactly as hoped, the person has an immediate out. Might not be what's happening with Will, I don't know the guy.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
Oh, I don't blame you. The awkward situation(s) were pretty painful for me at the time too. I don't like to think of them. But it does help me see the other side.


@Bittersweet You've gotta believe! Or realize it's something you build toward, and doesn't come instantaneously.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

The actual act of oral sex was a ton of fun, but the emotional stuff afterward, that was the unpleasant part. It was the feeling that my physical attributes had been validated, but none of my mental/emotional ones. Which is why communication is important (especially real communication)! Or else you're all "I have had three dogs in my life," "I have had two dogs and one bird," "this is the most boring pillow talk ever" instead of "When you don't talk to me about what you believe in, I get self-conscious that you just want to bump uglies," "That is a real concern, we aren't bumping uglies, we are bumping hot filthy beauties."


@Seattle Oh, I believe, all right. My point, though, was not to expect that the magic of intimacy will happen right away when you meet someone. And even when it does happen, that level of emotional connection won't stay constant - sometimes communication will be banal, even after sex.

Sometimes people are tired, or distracted, or worried about something. And sometimes it's really hard for people to open themselves up emotionally, even when they've just shared themselves physically. Sometimes you have to stay patient with people, and gently encourage the emotional intimacy, because you believe it's there, and you believe they'll eventually be able to share it.


@Bittersweet Yay! We will eventually be able to share it! Even if we act all weird and distant sometimes - that is because we are FREAKING OUT.

Gentle request: if you do this (draw them out emotionally) do not emotionally reject them. It's.... not good.

Passion Fruit

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

"I find that sometimes it's better for me not to force my brain to control these situations, but that's just me."

"I mean, I guess we're all entitled to our expectations, but I feel sometimes that super-high expectations cover for fear and insecurity, so when things aren't going exactly as hoped, the person has an immediate out."

UR A GENIUS. The second statement definitely rang true for me; sometimes I wonder if I'm still holding out (not my virginity, but a general both-feet-in commitment) because I'm waiting for someone perfect, so I don't have to bear witness to someone else's and (gulp) my own flaws.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Passion Fruit Right now, for me, I'm realizing that I've been trying to keep my expectations in check too much, and seeing how not-cool my current relationship has been lately. It's a double-edged sword.

baked bean

@Bittersweet I agree. Not every conversation is going to be magical. Even with someone you love and have a soul connection with. Conversations just don't come that easily. Usually you have to go through the learning about each others' dogs before you get to the deep stuff.

@Seattle I guess my advice would be to talk about the dogs and a couple of deeper things before you do it with someone. If you don't click with them, move on. You sound like you want to be intimate with someone you can share with. I had so many dates before I was in a committed relationship where the guy was wonderfully nice enough and cute enough, but there was no "click." I kind of broke some hearts that way because they were so excited and thought we had something. Idk how to explain it.

I definitely cannot get in bed with someone I don't know. Will they respect me? Man, I don't know. Too fucking scary.


I don't exactly believe in soulmates or love at first sight or anything, but it is okay to want your first time to be special! I didn't have sex till I was in my 20s, not because I was a prude or anything, but because I'd only had casual things with people before that, and I didn't want it to be casual; I wanted my first time to be with someone who was important to me. I had friends tell me to just do it with whoever, just to get it out of the way, and it's awesome if that worked for them, but that's just not who I am, and if it isn't who you are either, don't feel bad for wanting something else.


@SarahP yes, this. co-president of the Late-in-Life Deflowering Club, for the same reasons you listed here. It was the right thing for me, even though my virginity was weighing heavy on me by the time it happened.

Blue skies

@stonefruit Ahh I love hearing this! Still in the club, I decided after I hit 21 that if I'm still a "technical" virgin" when I hit 30, I'll write a book or something. (By "technical virgin" I mean I haven't had intercourse, but oral = yes.) Still have some years to go so we'll see!


@Blue skies @stonefruit I was 28. If only someone had suggested to me that I was two years away from a book deal ...
While it certainly didn't fix everything, man do I know what you mean by heavy. I felt physically lighter after it happened, and that feeling lasted a few days.

Passion Fruit

@stonefruit Yes, same. Being a virgin really did weigh on me; reading this thread is making me realize that remaining a virgin into my mid-20s was kind of... emotionally unpleasant, and definitely fed into loops of nonsensical self-loathing. "No one likes me because they can tell I'm a virgin --> They can tell I'm a virgin, so they don't like me -->..." and on and on and on, until I finally started doing it. (Now I'm like, "They don't like me because they have shit taste. Losers." Heh.)


I also love this series. Happy to see a dude included!


@iceberg also because there is no such thing as TMI on the Pin, I can say that my first time happened when I decided to stop saying no to my boyfriend at the time. I have some regrets about this.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@iceberg I had a similar sitch, but instead of feeling regretful, I had the thought, "Well, at least I tried it out. On to the ladies!"


@iceberg Me too. Four months in and I just was sick of fighting him off. This has led to some very complicated "was it rape?" feels-- I said ok, but he shouldn't have been asking in the first place. He knew where I stood on the p-in-v issue. Sorry to threadjack, I've just never encountered anyone else with this same experience.

For the record, I'm pretty screwed up about sex but I think it relates more to self-esteem issues, many perpetuated by guy referenced above.

I hate that something that happened almost 6 years ago still affects me so strongly.


@iceberg Yeah, this happened to me as well. I finally lost mine at the ripe age of 25, and as an educated, self-aware feminist it was pretty devastating to have it end up going in a rapey direction. I did everything right! I talked it out with the potential partner in advance! I have resigned myself to the fact that it is not my fault that he lied about his intentions to not abide by any of the ground rules we had set.

Luckily, that was about 2 years ago and I've just passed the 1-year mark with my amazing, feminist boyfriend, with whom I have a healthy, loving relationship. I guess I'm just glad that what happened to me didn't happen to me as a teenager; I was so much more emotionally fragile then that I don't know if I could have dealt with it.


So, I have super-enjoyed doing these interviews for many reasons, a first one being that people are endlessly interesting and a close second being the fact that I've always sort of idly tried to imagine how individuals (strangers, or generally people I don't understand) lost their virginity as a way of immediately relating to them, because I think virginity-loss is a uniquely vulnerable and common point among people, where certain pressures express themselves almost universally;

BUT I've talked to quite a few people at this point and in every single person's story, there is a sort of childhood factor (abuse, assault, religious shame, girl-on-girl shame, parental rules) that made bodies and sex sort of permanently complicated. I wasn't expecting it, but I also have not been surprised by this pattern. Anyone have thoughts to the contrary? Maybe it's not even possible to make it through childhood and adolescence without some weird sex stuff hitting you somewhere in the psyche?

Also Will is super cool and we ended up talking on the phone for 2 hours; I think what he said about the Hairpin is adorable!


@j-i-a I think you are right, there usually is a childhood factor. I also think the way you describe it, as 'complicating' sex is appropriate. I don't think it's dysfunction per se, but it definitely makes sexual experience less cut and dry.

Thanks again for doing this series - I hope there are at least a few more to come.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@j-i-a I feel like the kids who have the best chance of making it out of childhood psychologically unscathed when it comes to sexuality are those who have supportive, communicative parents. But even then, there are just so many factors in the world that could affect the way a person develops.


@j-i-a I'm a male 26 yov and no childhood factor I can suss out.


@Onymous Das is cool. Thank you for saying! I definitely wasn't of the mind that like "OH MAN people are ONLY VIRGINS IF THEY'VE BEEN F-ED UP IN THE BRAIN" -- actually, initially and still, the desire to express the opposite was important to me -- but I have just been getting lots of emails (which I love, keep them coming virgins, I'll answer them all once I do my homework for grad school which will happen never) from people who are up-front about semi-traumatic factors in their youth.


@j-i-a Yeah, I'd bet most people have some weird sex thing somewhere in there. I know my family's wierd attitudes towards sex influenced the way I lost my virginity pretty significantly.

I'd read a "how people lost their virginity who had completely healthy attidudes about sex for their entire lives" series if you could dig some up!


@j-i-a I didn't have sex (or even kiss anyone or hold hands or basically anything that was not slowly inching closer and closer while playing Nintendo until our knees were ALMOST BUT NOT QUITE touching) until I was 26. I don't think there was any childhood factor, except arguably self-esteem issues as a result of (entirely unrelated to sex/ideas about sex) abusive parenting. For me it was more that I had problems with isolation and social anxiety and so just didn't meet enough people to even really make many friends, let alone sexy sex friends. So I suppose a line could be drawn between the social anxiety and the childhood abuse, but I think I related to sex in a fairly normal atheist/liberal way.


@OhMarie I'm one of those types! ;)


@j-i-a I think probably your last line is closest to the truth, that it's just rare to make it to adulthood without something traumatic or painful or just weird happening that affects the way you think about/deal with sex and bodies and romance. (And also, that you draw those stories out because you seem like a really nice person who is interested in hearing them and totally won't be judgmental.) If you did a series on any other group -- Interview With A Person Who Lost Their Virginity At Exactly The Average Age, or Interview With A Person Who Lost Their Virginity Before They Could Legally Drive, or whatever -- and got them talking and thinking deeply about their experiences and feelings around sex, I bet you'd turn up similar stories.

Briony Fields

@j-i-a "semi-traumatic factors in their youth"

YES, THIS. Very good description. I also experienced a few incidences similar to what Will describes and I felt weird about it for years because they were obviously not ok, but I didn't really feel like I could label it as abuse or molestation or a "huge" trauma. However, these experiences were definitely a big factor in me remaining a virgin until I was 24 and honestly, they still get in the way of me enjoying my sex life even now.

Miss Maszkerádi

@j-i-a 23 year old female virgin here, non-religious upbringing, parents very liberal, educated and open-minded folks who, nonetheless, were pretty embarrassed when it came to puberty and the entire topic of sex ever coming up. I didn't get a Talk, I got some books placed carefully on my bed. I mean I knew all about the biology of periods, reproduction and babies since I was five, but the relationship aspect of sex was another matter. If there's any childhood-virginity-indicator I can think of, it's just the fact that I was fairly isolated through much of my early life - I'm an only child, I was home-schooled (again, not religious reasons) and we lived in more or less the middle of nowhere. So I never got marinated in the whole mass-sexual-awakening atmosphere of high school, and was still a little freaked out by the concept of sexual experimentation in college so I never did much of any. (Also, co-signing the umpteen comments here saying they just want/ed to wait for an actual loving relationship instead of "just getting it over with." Still waiting, Prince Charming!) But then again, I'm somewhat shy, self-defensive and introverted by nature ANYWAY, so i don't really know how much environmental factors or childhood experiences play in to that.

what up holmes

@j-i-a I've noticed that too and it's really bothered me. I'm 23 and a virgin and I haven't had any sort of abuse/religion/whatever, it kind of makes me feel like there must be something really wrong with me if all these other people have some sort of reason to point to for why they've gotten to be a virgin at their age and all I have is my relatively normal life.


@j-i-a I think that might just be a numbers game. In discussions with my female friends, who lost their virginity at various ages (teens to early twenties) most of us unfortunately experienced some kind of sexual violence or intimidation when we were younger. I would think maybe those who wait longer to have sex for the first time might refer to those experiences as encouraging them to wait; for other people it has the opposite effect, and for plenty of people it seems like they are relatively unscathed. It's shitty that it's so common to have negative, non-consensual sexual experiences.

That said, I have several friends who waited until their early 20s to have sex, and for most of them it was just that they were super selective. I think it's a lot how you frame it- I definitely have never thought anyone was weird for being a 20-something virgin, but some friends have been like "OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME" and others have been like "I just haven't felt like doing it with anyone yet."


@OhMarie I think I'm pretty close! Definitely by the time I started having sex, I was on that path.

i kant even

@j-i-a i didn't have sex until my (late) 20s, and yeah, childhood trauma definitely played a big part (although being sexually assaulted later on did not help either). i was totally tortured verbally by guys throughout most of my adolescence (constantly told how weird i was, how ugly, etc), and to this day it affects the way i am around men. i have been told i don't look very approachable, and i'm sure some of that is from years of trying to muster up my best "leave me the fuck alone" vibes. i also have a really hard time with positive attention--i feel like they must be laughing at me behind my back.

i really wish i could just let it go, because it for sure has negatively impacted my relationships. i recently broke up with someone i truly loved and cared for, and a large part of it was my difficulties in allowing myself to be vulnerable and my uneasiness with sex. i have a really, really hard time trusting people, and of course this makes sex difficult for me as it is pretty much the ultimate in vulnerability. and years of being told how ugly you are doesn't do much for your body confidence.

sorry to be so gloom and doom, but i have been doing a lot of soul searching about this lately, as well as really missing the ex. he is a great person, and i still feel badly for shutting him out the way i did. to quote cher, "if i could turn back tiiiiiiiime"...


@OhMarie I like what all of you guys are saying! In line with one of your comments: I am with a person who has never had a negative influence in his relationship to sex, and I like that about him a lot. And although I count myself as 99.9% in that camp myself, I have a suspicion that it's still pretty rare to find a female human who has never experienced any sort of mildly traumatic or guilt-laden sexual thing--whether or not it continues to influence us at all is a separate story--which is just Edith-on-Downton-Abbey-level unfortunate.


@j-i-a Hmm I erased a huge part of that last comment by accident. The other half of what I was saying about my boyfran is that it takes a lot of other factors (in my mind) to be completely uncomplicated about sex, especially if you're influenced (which, who isn't) by mainstream culture: my man person is a cute, white, naturally outgoing, relationship-friendly upper-middle-class male raised by the type of liberal parents who hooked him up with condoms before he ever lost his virginity, which is a recipe for a generally uncontested LIFE and also an uncomplicated attitude towards sex. For others, complicating factors come as easy as "shy" or "female" or any of the other things that some people don't respect


@j-i-a Chiming in here as a former elder-virgin who didn't have any sexual abuse happen to me. My parents were super uptight about sex (as in, never mentioned it ever!) but not really from a religious perspective. Well, I guess my mom's perspective came from a combo of catholicism and being generally stodgy, but I wasn't raised super-religious. My hang up was more that I was considered extremely unattractive through high school (as in, guys screaming "Dog!!" in my face constantly, throwing things at me, etc.) so I didn't date at all in high school because no one would have me. Then I went to a women's college: very empowerfulmacating in lots of ways but NOT VERY MANY GUYS TO MEET. So basically I didn't start even trying to date until law school, and then very awkwardly and slowly/intermittently. I definitely did not feel attractive or like someone that guys wanted to bone. For me, "losing it" was something I had to consciously strive for and try to accomplish, because it wasn't going to "just happen" accidentally at a party or something. By the time you're in your mid-20's and still a virgin, people shy away from you assuming that you hate sex or are religious or deformed in some way (covered with thick downy fur, etc.). So, I mean, I wanted to have sex all that time, but no plausible oppotunities/I had to make my own opportunities. So, I had low self confidence in the sex-realm, definitely, and am not outgoing in any event, but I wouldn't say I had trauma surrounding sex, really. It was more due to circumstance!

Passion Fruit

@Elsajeni Yeah, I totally agree. I get a sense that the majority of people, no matter what age they've lost their virginity, lug around some weird beliefs and/or messed up experiences with sex. Seems to be a fairly common trait for humanity.


@ponymalta I didn't have sex till I was 22 although I didn't plan to or want to and I had a HUGE complex about it (I had spent like the previous eight years wishing I would have sex). I have a sort of explanation which is that I had an eating disorder ages 17 to 19 so I didn't have any kind of sexual instinct during that time and then after I stopped being eating disordered I was so unhappy with what I looked like that I didn't focus on dating at all in a realistic way for the next couple of years, and then when I finally lost weight and was pleased with what I looked like I did get out there and finally accomplish it. This seems pretty plausible and reasonable typed out like this but for my entire 21st year I spent about 16 hours a day obsessing over never having had sex and then this obsession itself was an impediment.


@j-i-a I think even if you don't have some direct, traumatic or semi-traumatic thing, the CULUTRE in general is so fucked up about sex/relationships. I remember when I was 14 or so and horny and feeling like EVERYONE was having sex, which was clearly not true, but all the people on TV were, and acting totally chill about it (Friends was one of the shows I'm thinking of). We're raised on these fairy tale notions about "The One" and Prince Charming and true love's kiss and love at first sight, and then more adult-oriented entertainment normalizes a hook-up approach. And for entertainment, there has to be drama/conflict so all kinds of things happen that wouldn't (or reactions that are totally out of proportion) and all kinds of lack of communication and so if you didn't have healthy models for relationships, you don't know what's up.
Also, when I was a kid, I told my parents that I was going to stay a virgin till I got married, and they kind of had a "if you say so, dear" attitude about it. I mean, I had lots of good reasons, mostly a fear of AIDS and pregnancy, but it didn't happen. I first had sex ten years ago. I'm 30, still doing teh s-e-x, still not married.


@j-i-a i'm a 26 year old women and a virgin as well. i've never seriously dated, but i had some sexual experiences in college. i share a lot of the sentiments that will has talked about here and i think it's fair to correlate childhood trauma and sex. while i was never sexually abused, i grew up in a cold, loveless home - we were fed and clothed, but not nurtured. i didn't realize that this was utterly fucked up until the past year or so and am now working that out and trying to develop a healthier perspective about love and sex and commitment.
i decided to comment, because will's mention of virginity feeling like his albatross... damn, that hit home. it really is. on my worst day, i feel like i'm from another planet. not every day is like that, usually i'm not even thinking about (i'm a phd student), but still, it struck me. thanks for posting this thoughtful interview.


I know that this particular interview subject isn't a virgin because of religion, but I just went back and read the previous interviews and a thought occurred to me about why The Church (Christian or otherwise) would consider sex before marriage such a big taboo. It's about lineage right? Proving paternity as much as possible by controlling a woman's access to sex? Maybe this is a very basic thing that I should have caught onto long ago, but I guess I never thought about it? I mean also obviously they want you to deny yourself earthly pleasures, because the rewards in the afterlife are supposed to be so much better? Also, if people are running around sexing who and when they like they won't be attending church and putting money in the collection basket.


@queenieliz I think the first hypothesis - the importance of "paternal certainty" - is the one that dominates a lot of this discussion (or at least the parts I read). A woman who gets to decide how many men to sex will be popping out babies that need resources provided to them by adults, and that means men spending their resources on babies that may or may not carry their genes.

There's much debate about where paternal certainty comes from; are we driven to care about genetic relationships because that caring was selected for among our own ancestors, or is it a cultural thing we invented much later, with the city and the agriculture and whatnot?

(This is all a layperson's understanding based on stuff in the popular media; hopefully someone with actual knowledge and stuff will come along soon and tell this stuff right.)


Well, if I'm understanding the thesis of this book I'm reading (I likely am not!) it could be that the correspondence in time between the rise of Christianity with the collapse of Roman Empire allowed for an increase in the influence of rural mores over cosmopolitan ones under the rubric of Christianity. The very first Christians also would have held first-century Jewish views on sexuality, which were similar to what you describe.

I'm thinking a bit about this sort of thing lately, but I don't really have a full understanding of the history myself.


@queenieliz OOH OOH I KNOW THIS ONE. Prepare for the Watsonian interpretation.

Basically all of the religions of the ancient near east included a fertility cult, where having sex with temple prostitutes was considered an important rite to keep the crops healthy and the rain falling. Because the defining aspect of ancient Judaism was its "separateness" from the other cultures and religions, the laws about sexuality are designed to demonstrate just how different/chosen/unique Israel was from the nations around them (interesting project: go to a bible website and find all the instances of "like the nations" or "like the Gentiles" and look at the context. NOT GOOD.). So sex was to be honored within a covenant between husband and wife rather than used in fertility rituals or whatever, and sex outside that covenant was to be punished. Also, there's a big adultery/idolatry theme throughout the Jewish scriptures. Worshiping the gods of the other nations is characterized as cheating on Yahweh.

THEN, since Christianity sprang out of Judaism, you get the 1st century interpretation of that, which still includes a TOOONNNN of that "separate/different/special" concept, and a recapitulation/reinterpretation of the "cheating on God" thing. So according to that early teaching, not only are Christians supposed to be different than the people around them in their sexual behavior, but they have a spiritual reason for that: St. Paul calls the sexual/intimate relationship between a husband and wife a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the Church. I.e., unbreakable, and incredibly precious and worth protecting and keeping pure.

In those early years before Augustine and his obsession with Plato and disembodiment comes along, it's not about denying earthly pleasures AT. ALL. He's the one to blame for the pervasive notion that sex is dirty or bad, but that's Plato's influence (and the fact that he was a major libertine before his conversion and had His Own Issues about sex. I for one will never forgive the guy for abandoning his babymama. NOT COOL AUGUSTINE). I could go ON and ON about the influence of Plato on Christian theology and practice and how fucked up it is, but I'll stop there because I still have stuff to teach to people.


@par_parenthese Hey! Fascinating stuff, thanks for the mini-lesson. I had heard of the Temple Prostitute thing, didn't know it was so wide spread. I still question how it's been carried into modern day Christianity though. I've asked a few Catholic friends how do they get away with doing all the things Jews and Muslims can't do, Old Testament Rules, and they say "Jesus died for our sins", so I wonder if they are no longer under those rules why are they still under the sexual rules? If you want to add any more knowledge I'd be more than happy to read it!

Nicole Cliffe

Hey, this is really great. I like you, Will. Please come back and share your thoughts about not-being a virgin, maybe, in the future? You are thoughtful, so they should be interesting.


@Nicole Cliffe Would love to! My current partner, who is interested in relieving me of my virginity has expressed some interest in putting in her two cents about dating a virgin.


My first college sexual experiences sound a lot like this -- I was on the receiving end of oral, and it felt good but also totally freaked me out because I hadn't done anything more than make out with a couple of short-term boyfriends in high school. I spent a couple of weeks being increasingly freaked out before breaking things off with this guy, and 13 years later I can see that actually he was pretty sensitive and good in bed, but it didn't matter back then because I was just Not At All Ready for that level of intimacy, even though I desperately wanted to be.

I met my husband shortly after (love at first sight is actually possible), and things were better sexually there because I had real feelings, but I am regretful that I rushed into them so fast because the previous guy had conditioned me that it was what guys would "expect." So there is definitely something to be said for following your instincts and doing things as you're comfortable with them, instead of just trying to check off everything on the list.

Passion Fruit

@sophia_h "because I was just Not At All Ready for that level of intimacy, even though I desperately wanted to be."

YES! Thank you for articulating that. That is so true; sometimes we want to be ready, but still, truly, aren't. I feel that way about marriage in general, ha.

I also totally understand rushing yourself because you feel like that's what is expected of you. It takes such emotional maturity to suss out what you want versus what you're ready for; it's a level of sophistication that was definitely way beyond my teenage capabilities. I'm surprised that teenagers are even expected to have sex considering how fraught with drama every little thing can be at that time...

Also! Tell me your love at first sight story, plz plz plz! I eat that stuff for breakfast.


"So I never felt any ownership in that arena, never felt that sex was even a possibility for me."

Man, that line hit the nail on the head for me, and it aptly describes the feelings I had before I had sex with anyone. And although I am not a virgin any longer, that sentiment still resonates.

To be clear, I do feel ownership once I'm involved in a sexual relationship. However, I very much feel like the initiation of a sexual relationship only happens because I received some weird cheat code, and that it wouldn't normally be happening to me otherwise. Sex/sexual relationships are not things that I think of as a given in my life*, unlike, say, friendship or dog-ownership or access to libraries or something. Does that make sense? Does anyone else feel the same way?

*(although I would very much like them to be!)

Miss Maszkerádi

@wee_ramekin Exactly the same here. I've always had this weird sort of assumption that sex is something For Other People. Will's line about never really believing that anyone could seriously see him as a sexual being really, really hit home for me.


@wee_ramekin Yes, pretty much (which I've said below). For me, though, it's not just about sex; it's about relationships in general; I thought for ages, and still think to some extent, "Oh, I'm fundamentally unloveable and incapable of being in a relationship". And then I remember that I've been with my boyfriend for three and a half years and things are excellent. But I still feel, sometimes, that it's not something I can expect from life.


@wee_ramekin I understand that. For me, I'm positive it's mostly because of my mom's no-sex-before-marriage, you'll-be-emotionally-scarred attitude, the church I grew up in, and to a lesser degree, just being an outcast at school for a while.


@wee_ramekin @Countess Maritza makes sense, and I feel the same way, about relationships as well as sex. I've been working pretty hard to change the way I talk to myself about this over the past year or so, and I've come a long way, but I still often react weirdly and counter-productively when someone attractive does see me as a sexual being, etc. Based on some awful teenage experiences and regular bad luck later, I got really good at catastrophically interpreting bad experiences as "this happened because you were stupid enough to believe anyone would ever be attracted to you." Yikes. But that whole world of people who are together, or can figure out how to get together, feels like a language I don't speak, or like I'm clinging to the chainlink fence behind home plate watching a baseball game I'm not allowed to play.

Also having the type of problem you mentioned in the FOT where telling someone that I need to be comfortable with them/have met them more than once before smanging seems to result in their never contacting me again. Glad I'm not having sex with assholes. Not glad that I'm, well, not having sex.


But mallards are so many different colours!

I also think your perspective on sex would be really attractive to a lot of women.

The description of sex as being like travel - things start off being weird and unfamiliar, and after a while they become more normal - rings very true to me. And I identify very much with the idea of "never [feeling] that sex was even a possibility for me" - I felt like that, and still do sometimes (even though I'm in a long-term relationship that involves sex and is great!). It's strange.


@Verity My blue hair faded into this blue/green/brown/gray/blonde combination that was reminiscent of a duck. Thus the description.

It is excellent to know my perspective is attractive! Hooray validation! But it is also excellent to know that others have the issue of wanting sex, but not knowing necessarily how to get the kind of sex they would want (good, and genuinely caring, not desperate and needy).


@Seattle That sounds like excellent hair.

I hope I didn't come off as creepy - not hitting on you, promise! But it is an attractive perspective to have, I think. And yes, it's definitely not an issue you're alone in.


I really liked this piece. I lost my virginity when I was 20, which at the time felt like way too long to wait even though it really isn't. I'm glad it happened relatively late because I knew my body more, what I wanted, and felt more confident. I did go to all-girls high school, though, and that definitely contributed to some awkwardness about dealing with guys in college. But I also just never found one I was interested in until a couple years in!


I also found what Will said about needing permission to hit on someone really interesting. I think one of the main reasons my first boyfriend and I started dating (I was 21) was that he didn't overtly hit on me, though I could tell he liked me, and I got to decide if I wanted to make the first move. (He also can't flirt to save his life!)

But I think some girls, me included, look for a less aggressive guy. Considering the culture we're in, and the kinds of masculinities that are promoted, it makes sense that someone would want a guy who comes across as less threatening. I like to call them girl-friendly. Getting hit on is kind of a turn-off for me, unless it's done respectfully.


@ dreamrose In the parlance of the Hairpin, I FEEL FEELS ABOUT THIS TOPIC. Where permission/objectification/control/respect intersect about flirting, beginning new relationships, and acknowledging our own biases when doing so. In nearly all cases, there is an inherent physical component of being attracted to someone that you cannot ignore, and cannot be removed from the situation. Even if it is something like "this person is not bad looking," that impacts the interaction. But how that acknowledgement gets communicated (and people's comfort level with that) varies. Some people prefer being hit on frankly: "You are crazy super hot, no really, my eyeballs are melting, can you get me some ice cubes and maybe call an ambulance, and maybe I can get your number and call you later?"

Where as others feel objectified, and prefer to be engaged naturally, leaving those feelings in the background: "So for you, what are the degrees of separations between the words you use to describe fudge? How is scrumptious fudge different than delicious fudge? Is there a texture implied?"

It's a tricky negotiation that has been reduced by pick up artists to a sleazy maxim: "If a girl's pretty, tell her she's smart. If a girl's smart, tell her she's pretty."


I was like Pam on Archer, you know? Sleeping with all the people, in a relationship with nobody. "And who's to say I'M not using THEM?" — sexually aggressive and emotionally indifferent at the same time. (Every man's dream woman... right, media?)

But the thing about that was, when a dude finally did want to be in love with me for reals and have an *intimate* relationship, I didn't know what to do.


And I could see how someone like that and someone like Will would be an absolute train wreck in bed but could have great conversations also.


@blueblazes INTIMACY VIRGIN! that's a great term.


Seeing the picture and briefly looking over the title, for a few seconds I assumed this was one of Nicole's interviews with animals.

Allyna Johnson

Great! The pictures speak so much.


Will: I've been thinking about the two unhealthy sexual situations that you experienced, and I want to thank you for sharing them.

Your description of them as "two childhood experiences that I’m not sure how to label — assault, molestation, neither, who knows" really highlights how we don't have a very good narrative for all kinds of non-consensual sexual experiences. When you described them, it was pretty obvious to me that they weren't okay, but I can see why there's confusion about how to label them. Usually when society talks about molestation or assault, the image conjured is of an adult either penetrating or stimulating a child. As far as I'm aware, it's less common to talk about sexual violence and trauma between children, and the myriad forms that sexual violence can take. It would seem to me, however, that what you experienced is probably not rare (sadly). We need to talk about it both because of the effects it has on people and because it shows that violations of boundaries happen in all manner of ways.


Every time one of these virgin stories appears I get really happy. I went through all of high school and undergrad without one date, even though I had plenty of friends and in general had lots of fun/met cool people/learned lots/idolized my profs (you know, like any good liberal arts-type major). I considered myself "funny" on good days, "weird and fat" on bad days. I didn't like to lose control so I drank very little, but I wanted to appear cool, so I would fake swigs of rum and coke. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I guess I'm still wondering why I never had even one date or short-lived high school romance, but it all worked out in the end for me, as I am very, very happily married to someone I met after undergrad (who was/is just as weird as I was/am!).

Basically, it came down to me just being brave enough to actually admit I liked someone, which I had never ever ever done aloud before (but read my 6th-12th grade journal and you'll learn about EVERY CRUSH). I was always afraid that if I said something, people would laugh at me for one of two reasons: 1. I had historically not been vocal about my crushes, and people viewed me largely as a-sexual, so it would seem out of character and I didn't want to draw that kind of attention. 2. The much worse (and probably totally not real) anxiety that people would scoff at either my choice of person, or my ability to "get" said person. I didn't want anyone to tell me someone was "too good/attractive/smart/sexy" for me, and I also didn't want people to tell me the person I liked was the opposite of that (he's losery/fat/skinny/weird/whatever).

I never let myself say anything because I was always afraid of the above (none of it has ever been proven, because those scenarios just lived like angry bees below the surface of my jolly exterior, causing jabs of anxiety whenever I was in social situations with pretty much anyone of the opposite sex).

Way to make this about me. But seriously, I see myself in different ways in all of these virginity stories, and I think they are boss. Keep 'em coming. It's a really important topic that usually gets brushed under the rug (if it's not spoken about in jest).


@cocokins Not sure if you'll ever see this comment, as this article is a couple months old at this point, but thank you SO much for sharing this! I have never heard anyone describe my thoughts/fears about dating so incredibly accurately. I am 26 and have barely dated (a FEW hookups I can only credit to alcohol induced courage, but I don't seek them out and none significant) For as long as I have been interested in dating (over half my life?)I have been terrified to ever admit to liking someone for the exact reasons you described...the fear of drawing attention to yourself as a suddenly sexual person? Assuming that admitting who I like would only bring shame or ridicule about my attractiveness or who I deserve/am attracted to?? Uncanny! It's always felt like discussing any of that stuff just leaves the door wide open for all kinds of judgement.

I am in therapy and even at that, find it difficult to relay a story to anyone about, say, a creepy guy hitting on me...theres never a right context and I can't let go of the idea that I will sound like I am telling a story about recieving sexual attention in order to prove to listeners that despite the obvious ecidence to the contrary, I am Desireable To Men. I've never actually said in plain words to any of my friends that I've never had a boyfriend...it's like the only place that can lead is to talking about what is wrong with me and exposing all my weird vulnerabilities I've spent so long keeping under lock and chain.


@cassandra.sandra.dee I see your comment! I'm so glad that my anxiety can at least help someone else know they aren't alone. Yes, yes, to all you have said. I'm so glad there's someone else (and if there's two, there's got to be more!) For me, it just came down to taking a few gulps of air, dialing a phone, and telling someone ELSE that I liked someone. Once it's out, it's a great relief. Most of my anxiety comes from speculation: anticipating what someone else's response will be, before they have a chance to respond. That anticipation prevents me from doing a whole mess of things. But you know, I usually find that I've been wrong all along, and the people I surround myself with (friends, family, etc.) actually like me, and want me to be happy.
If there's one thing I thank my anxiety for, it's that I never puked black into a college toilet, or destroyed a friendship by making out with my friend's crush, or any of that stuff. I let my friends (or people in movies) do that stuff for me. :)
I'm wishing you all the best, @cassandra.sandra.dee!


I have to second, and third and a million everyone who's echo's their fondness and appreciation for this series. Thank you, Will, for sharing your story. It really was fantastic to finally have a story from a man. I think the most interesting, enlightening, and for me, reassuring thing about this series is that there are loads of reasons for being a virgin...it's not always about religion.


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