Doctor NerdLove examines the complicated cultural and personal narratives surrounding male virginity.
There are few topics more fraught with anxiety and confusion—for men and women—than the idea of virginity. I can’t count the number of letters I’ve gotten from virgin readers, men and women of just about every age who have not had sex yet and are desperately afraid that they’re “too late”.
Some may have had physical intercourse with another person—oral sex, mutual masturbation, possibly even anal sex—but consider themselves virgins because they’ve never had penile/vaginal sex. Others may have had penetrative sex but not “count” it for one reason or another. Still others may have never so much as held hands with someone who wasn’t a family member.
Because of all of the importance placed on the concept of virginity, many people are convinced that having passed some arbitrary cut-off point that they have rendered themselves utterly unfuckable and have somehow missed on a critical aspect of growing up. They may get older but they will never truly be adultbecause they’ve never crossed the finish line on this one particular area.
But – and you had to know that a “but” was coming—is it too late for them? What are these late-bloomers supposed to do?
The “Importance” of Virginity
Virginity has an outsized level of influence in Western culture, especially in countries with large conservative religious communities; the idea of sex and “purity” get completely intertwined and then but up against gender roles that completely contradict those values.
Men are under immense cultural pressure to lose their virginity as soon as possible because of how much sexual prowess is tied into masculine identity. The idea of losing one’s virginity1 as a rite of passage to adulthood is a deeply entrenched one; thus, men carry around the idea that you are still just a boy until you’ve managed to actually ejaculate into another person’s vagina, no matter how old you may be physically.
Take for example, the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin, a movie that – despite being fairly understanding and surprisingly sensitive about older virgins - still equates virginity with childhood. Steve Carrell’s character may be middle-aged with a steady job, a sizable apartment, a car and presumably relatively debt free… but because he’s never managed to actually penetrate a woman, he’s still obsessed with “childish” things.
Meanwhile, we live in a culture that glorifies male sexual conquests even as it pathologizes male sexuality. We are taught to measure a man’s value by the number of sex partners he’s had; the more women he’s seduced, the greater the value. Wilt Chamberlin may have been a great basketball player, but he’s legendary for his supposed number of conquests. Gene Simmons is a similar case. Sure, he may have created one of the most iconic rock bands in history and written songs that continue to resonate with each generation of listeners… he’s also lionized for having supposedly slept with over 4800 women in his lifetime.
If you take the idea that a man’s value is proportional to the number of sex partners, it’s not surprising that we absorb the idea that therefore someone who hasn’t had any is worthless.
Women, on the other hand are caught up in a particularly nasty double standard; while sex is tied with virility and masculinity with men, it’s value is inverted for women. For them, sex is commodified as an equivalent to purity: the less sex she has had, the higher her value. A virgin, therefore, is the ultimate expression of virtue and goodness (and thus priceless) and any woman who has an excessive number of sex partners (for a suitably subjective value of “excessive”) is degraded.
(Which admittedly brings up the question of just who these studs are supposed to be racking up all these lays with, but that’s a matter for another time.)
Even in this day and age when women are closer to social and sexual equity than they have ever been before, the double-standard still exists; the ultimate insults to label a woman are “slut” and “prude”.
The Truth About Virgins
Here’s the hard and fast truth about virgins and virginity: it’s a completely cultural construct. When you strip away all of the value placed on sex and sexuality and look at it with an unemotional eye, virginity is a lack of a particular physical experience. To be a virgin is no different, ultimately, from never having eaten Chinese food or having been to Disneyland. In fact, you could reasonably equate the two; more often than not, you wait for too damn long for a thrill that’s over in under 3 minutes and half the time you’re wondering what the big deal was.
There is no difference between a person who has had sex and someone who hasn’t. Even a woman’s hymen is no demarcator of virginity; many will rupture their hymen long before they’ve had penetrative vaginal intercourse. You are no wiser, more mature or otherwise changed from who you were minutes beforehand; the only difference is that you now have a set of memories that you didn’t have before and the need to shower and change the sheets. Having had sex doesn’t validate you as a person, nor does it somehow confirm that you have worth or that you’ve been devalued by the experience. It won’t magically give you confidence that you didn’t have before, it won’t change how you think or make you empirically more or less attractive. Anything you gain from sex was, ultimately, within you from the start.
The Fear of “Too Late”
The fear of reaching is incredibly pervasive in our culture, especially when we’re bombarded with stories of how boys and girls are sexual at an increasingly young age. Just about everyone who is a virgin past a certain point – generally as soon as puberty hits, if we’re honest about it – is convinced that they’re on the cusp of reaching some nebulous “point of no return”. That deadline – the idea we have to lose our virginity by X date or remain forever unfuckable – tends to vary; we tend to put undue importance on arbitrary dates because they carry totemic significance for us. For some, it’s a quest to lose our virginity the night of The Big School Event (Homecoming, Prom, Spring Formal, what-have-you) because it’s part of the modern high-school mythology that we’ve made up. For others it’s trying to beat a particular date – our 18th or 21st birthdays, high-school or college graduation, before summer’s over, before getting married.
The fear for guys is that by being a virgin past this nebulous date, they will have not only missed their chance to sew their wild oats – because of course, nobody over the age of 35 has no-strings-attached sex ever - but they will be so clearly marked as ”damaged goods” that no woman would possibly want them. They live in fear that no woman would want to have to “show them the ropes” and as a result, their lack of experience will leave them completely incapable of living up to the demands and expectations of a more-experienced partner; thus they have effectively aged out of the dating market and are doomed to die alone, unloved and having never been naked with a girl.
Women on the other hand are taught that their sexual desirability has a built in expiration date; pass a specific point and nobody will have want to have sex with you, not when they could bang someone younger instead. This gets especially caught up in the (admittedly old-fashioned) idea of women being an “old maid” if they haven’t found a partner or spouse by an equally random age. A flawed article in an issue of Newsweek sent women into paroxysms of fear of spinsterhood when it claimed that women who weren’t married by 40 would never be married and had better odds of being killed by terrorists. In Japan, there are references to a woman as a “Christmas cake” – it may look tasty, but nobody wants it after the 25th.
The problem is that – for the most part – these fears are self-inflicted. It rapidly becomes a case of self-fulfilling prophecy; they believe that there is something shameful and wrong about being a virgin at such an “advanced” age and so it bleeds into other aspects of their lives. Some may become bitter and resentful, feeling as though they’re being cheated of something that they’re rightfully ”owed”. Others will have their pre-existing approach anxiety ramped up to near pathological levels, leaving them with anxiety attacks and a crippling shyness around people they’re attracted to. Still others will be unpleasantly needy or put all of their focus on just trying to find someone to sleep with, instead of dealing with them as people.
Small wonder that they have issues finding that first sex partner; it’s their behavior that ends up causing them problems, rather than their relative state of inexperience.
Virginity Through The Ages
First: You are a unique fucking snowflake and the culmination of tens of thousands of years of evolution that brought you into existence Trying to measure your self-worth by age and sexual experience is a recipe for heartache and completely ignores that – once again – you are comparing your unedited footage to somebody else’s highlight reel. Their life is not your life and trying to measure yourself by their yardstick is only going to drive you to distraction. It takes absolutely nothing about your life or theirs into account; you don’t know what circumstances lead to how they lost theirs nor does it allow for reasons why you may not have lost yours. It says nothing about their value as a person, their partner or the quality of their experience. Many people who lost their virginity early wish that they had waited longer – they simply weren’t ready for the full emotional, psychological and physical implications of a sexual relationship. It is a useless metric for comparison; you’re not comparing apples to apples, you’re comparing apples to wallabies.
If You Are In Your Teens:
If you’re in high-school, don’t worry about getting laid. You will be convinced that everybody else is having sex and you are somehow missing out. Cool down, chill the fuck out and – critically – start planning for the future. High-school is a lousy time to have sex; nobody knows who they are and even less about what they’re doing. In addition… you’re going to regret it. I don’t mean in the “abstinence-only-sex-before-marriage-will-ruin-you” sense but in the sense of actually regretting having lost it when you did. According to one survey, over 52% of girls and a third of guys who lost their virginity under the age of 18 had mixed feelings over the matter or actively regretted. And to be perfectly honest, while I don’t ascribe to the “your first time should be perfect” theory, it’s not something you want to do and then regret later. Better to wait a little bit longer – or at least not rush into it – and be better prepared.
Take the time to invest in your future (which is to say, college and beyond) by laying the groundwork that will get you laid like a goddamn bandit a little later on.
If You Are In Your Twenties:
Yes, you’re on the trailing edge of the bell-curve; it’s uncommon but certainly not unheard of or terribly unusual. In fact, it’s pretty understandable. This is often a transitionary period for people, trying to balance education with work and a social life – made all the harder if you’re one of the 60% of college students staring down the barrel of paying off those college loans. Some of you may have spent more time focusing on your studies or work. Others may still be in the middle of shaking off old identities and trying to work out social anxieties and inexperience.
I didn’t have sex – or much in the way of any form of sexual contact - until I was a sophomore in college and up until that point, I was absolutely convinced that not only was I the Last American Virgin but never mind drinking, I was going to be eligible for AARP membership before I ever managed to get laid. I was overweight, awkward as hell, I had no sense of style to speak of and I was still convinced that Platonic Friendship Backdoor Gambit was a completely legitimate way of getting a girlfriend. I annoyed the ever-loving fuck out of my friends with my constant grousing and my half-backed and quarter-assed attempts at getting laid. I was bitter, resentful and a complete shit to any poor girl who I managed to convince to date me for longer than a week or two.
And yet… I met a girl, we started dating and lo and behold, one Halloween night2 we stole back to my dorm room3 and whatta ya know. Two and a half anxious minutes later (plus foreplay) I was no longer one of the Great Untouched.
It’s also worth noting that people who lost their virginity after the age of 19 tend to have better relationships in general; they tend to have more emotional maturity and life experience that makes them better able to navigate relationship issues than those who lost their virginity earlier.
One issue that women will face at this point (that frequently don’t) is the fear of attachment. Many guys, especially in their 20s and 30s, will be uncomfortable about sleeping with a virgin for fear that she will then imprint upon them like a duckling looking for it’s mommy. These guys are, frankly, fucking idiots; women are just as capable of having sex for sex’s sake as men, and honestly the odds are good that you would be better off not fucking them in the first place. However, should you wish to do so, it may be better to take the initiative yourself rather than waiting for their horniness to overcome their fear of being stuck with a “clinger”
If You Are In Your 30s and Older
I will be honest: it’s relatively uncommon – but hardly unheard of – to be a virgin in one’s 30s or beyond. However: do not mistake “uncommon” with “something wrong”; once again, there is nothing shameful about being a virgin at any age. Ideally at this stage in your life, you will be relatively well established; a job (if not a career), a place to live, enough stability in your life to spend time on a social life instead of spending all of your waking hours working. This is all to your advantage. You have experience and (theoretically) maturity on your side by this point, and this can help when it comes to building the skills that help make you more socially adept and able to find the partner you’re looking for.
Now it should be noted that older women will have a disproportionately more difficult time than older men when it comes to losing one’s virginity; our culture puts an inordinate value on youth when it comes to a woman’s sexual desirability. There are any number of justifications and excuses for this – men have a larger fertility window than women do, for example – but human sexuality is far more complicated than we frequently give it credit for. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that we are taught over and over again that women past a certain age simply aren’t sexual beings any longer while older men are almost expected to take an active interest in women younger than them.
Difficult, however, does not mean impossible. While there will be plenty of men who prefer younger women, there are just as many who will appreciate women their own age… and many younger men have an appreciation for more mature women as well. We live in an age when being a cougar comes with a certain level of cachet and desirability and there’s no reason why women should not take advantage of that.
How Do You Explain It?
So what do you say to make people understand why you’re still a virgin?
Well… for the most part, you don’t. Explanations tend to sound like excuses or justifications, which circles right back to the idea that there’s something wrong with being a virgin. This isn’t a shameful secret, and you’re not unveiling some horrible problem and you shouldn’t present it that way. You’re just less experienced than some. It may even be a bonus to the right sort of person.
You can say that you’ve had some bad experiences and it put you off sex for a while. You can say that you wanted to wait for the right person or the right time4 You can explain that you were deeply religious and you only just now are coming out from under. You got caught up in building your career or your life that you simply didn’t have time or that sex just wasn’t a priority for you. You can even fudge it a little if you want and just say that you haven’t had many partners…
Technically zero isn’t many, after all…
Humor can also work: I have one friend who told her first that she was a unicorn trainer retiring from the business.
Ultimately, regardless of your reasons, keep any explanations short and sweet; you don’t need to unpack your life’s history in order to get the point across. Your prospective partner should be someone who’s understanding, caring and sensitive; anyone who is going to have a problem with the fact that you’re a virgin simply isn’t worth sleeping with and you are well rid of them.
What About Paying For It?
At some point, it will likely be tempting to hire the services of a professional in order to just “get it over with”. In general, I’m not against sex work or sex workers provided it’s safe, sane and consensual for everybody involved. However, like I’ve told one reader, I don’t believe it’s always the best choice. If part of the reason you’re a virgin is because of confidence issues, anxiety around women or other self-limiting beliefs, visiting an escort isn’t going to magically make those problems disappear; if anything it can make things worse, especially if you see visiting an escort as an option of last resort. The last thing you need is to compound any unnecessary and self-inflicted shame about one’s virginity with even more negative associations with how you lost it in the first place.
That having been said, if you’re convinced that this is something you want to pursue, do your due diligence. First of all, this means doing your research. You don’t want to be picking up a prostitute from the street corner and you don’t want to find yourself involved with someone who’s in the business against her will. Look into independent escorts or reputable agencies; there are plenty of resources online to help you find them. There are Yelp-like sites for reviews and sharing of information as well as etiquette guides and safety tips – for both you and the escort.
And of course: condoms, condoms, condoms.
Also worth noting: there are sexual surrogates, whom are trained in helping people with issues regarding sex and intimacy. In fact, one of my readers has written about some of her experiences working as a surrogate with older virgins. Now, finding a surrogate can be difficult; it’s a legal grey-area in many cases and you need a referral from a therapist – preferably one who specializes in sexual issues – before you can start working with one. It’s also not just a case of going and getting laid – this is therapy, not prostitution.
You can find more information – including finding a therapist – at the International Professional Surrogates Association
What Do You Do In The Meantime?
The hardest part for many people is simply: what do you do? How are you supposed to manage the frustration and anxiety until you do have sex for the first time?
Obvious answer is obvious: you want to build your life. The best thing you can do is live a complete, rich life that helps you build yourself into an interesting, social and more confident person. Build your social circle – not just people you hope to sleep with but friends and activity partners; the more comfortable you are at interacting with others socially, the better you will be at interacting with prospective sexual or romantic partners. This, in turn, will make you a more attractive individual and help bring the people you’re looking for into your life. Work on issues regarding approach anxiety or self-limiting beliefs; these will hold you back much more than anything else in your life.
Also: embrace the sex toy as a means of managing your frustration. You have better luck at finding sex when your every move and gesture doesn’t scream “I AM SO HORNY I COULD FUCK CONCRETE RIGHT NOW!” Don’t let macho bullshit get in the way of easing your sexual needs; masturbation sleeves for men, such as the Fleshlight can help immensely when it comes to releasing the pressure. If you’re squicked out be the disembodied vulva design of Fleshlights or similar products, you may want to look into Tenga, a Japanese sex toy line for men that Sex Nerd Sandra recommended on the NerdLove podcast. Using these is also a good way to train yourself to control and delay your orgasm – a lot of men fear being a two-pump chump their first time.
Be sure to vary your masturbation habits. Get to know exactly what gets you off by using a variety of speed, pressure, levels of lubrication, even location of friction. The more you understand about your orgasm response and what you like, the better able you will be to communicate it to your partner, which will make the sex that much better when you do have it. Just be sure to avoid what’s known as “the death grip”, where you end up getting used to extreme levels of pressure from your hand that the human body simply cannot match.
Most of all however: relax. Some things come in their own time and can’t be forced – as frustrating as it may be. Getting tense and upset over being a virgin will only make things harder; learning to go with the flow will help you not only find a partner faster… but it’ll make things that much better when it does happen.
Originally appeared at Paging Dr. NerdLove
Lead photo: Flickr/jenny8lee