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A bag full of nothing

I hate that being an older virgin is part of my identity, because it’s an identity that’s been forced on me by society. It’s something I’ve struggled with for most of my college career, with part of me being sure of my choice not to have sex until I’ve found the right person, and another part of me wanting to get it over with so I can stop carrying around this baggage full of non-sexual experiences. As overly dramatic as this sounds, I sometimes feel likes this bag full of nothing weighs me down. I’m so afraid the societal expectations surrounding sex and the amount of experience you should have as an early twenty-something woman will cause me to remain forever single. There have been times where I’ve been afraid to put myself out there for fear of the judgement and unfair assumptions I’m sure will come my way if a boy I’m interested in found out. It’s made me feel undesirable and crazy for thinking I’m pretty, and it’s taken me a long time to combat these doubts. It’s a claustrophobic feeling, and some days I walk around campus staring at my fellow classmates, wondering if any of them can tell. I know it sounds silly, and I know virginity is socially constructed and can’t be physically seen, but I sometimes I wish I could look at someone and tell if they were a virgin too. At least then I wouldn’t feel like the person who got left behind. Like the person quickly approaching their socially acceptable sexual expiration date.

It was never my plan to remain a virgin for as long as I have…it just happened. I’ve gone over and over in my head the reasons for my current “situation,” and there really isn’t an easy explanation for it. While I was raised religious, and my parents taught me to “wait for the right person,” the older I got the more open they were discussing birth control, safe sex, and consent with me. My mom especially wanted me to be prepared, but she also made a point of telling me sex wasn’t something to take lightly. She wanted me not to feel pressured to have sex before I was ready, and did stress the importance of respecting my body and making sure when I did have sex, it was with someone who respected it as well. We would have conversations where she would tell me it’s better to go through life with less sexual baggage. Now, I know for many Carls this may come across as regressive, but my mom is very sex-positive and a feminist. And she lives by these principles. But she also knows me better than anyone, and understood I wouldn’t be comfortable with a one-night stand, casual sex, or non-monogamy. I’m more traditional when it comes to sex and relationships, and it’s nice to have someone I can talk to when the social pressure, both at Carleton and in society at large, makes me feel more like a nun or an out-of-touch grandma than a college student.

I’ve definitely questioned whether my mom is right about me, and whether I actually believe the views on sex I was brought up with, but over the last year I’ve become confident that I do. There are still times however when I feel completely separate from others my age. There are conversations I can’t be a part of, and many times I’ve sat in silence, hoping a conversation about “your first time” or “best sexual experiences” doesn’t get directed towards me. I’m not going to lie; there are times when I’ve been asked these questions where I’ve decided to make up a story to avoid the awkwardness. And yes, in those moments I’ve felt incredibly dumb and childlike and out of place, but this isn’t what makes being an older virgin so difficult. The social pressure isn’t the reason either. What makes it difficult is the constant assumptions people have, and how they’ve created a culture where people who consider themselves “open-minded” and sex-positive feel the need to judge others for not being as “sexually progressive” as them.

I feel like in some feminist and liberal circles, in order to fight slut-shaming they have turned to virgin-shaming. As both a feminist and a liberal, this frustrates me to no end, and has made my experiences as a woman feel invalidated. Now, I completely agree that outside of these groups, slut-shaming is a much bigger issue. I know that even in the liberal bubble that is Carleton and colleges like it the slut-shaming of women in social settings is still a regular occurrence. I know this is one of the reasons for the problem of sexual harassment and assault in America. That being said, this doesn’t mean it’s ok to tell virgins the reason they’re still virgins is due to the patriarchy and the fear of female sexuality that keeps it in power. This is the case for some women, but not for many of them.

Many, like me, aren’t virgins for religious reasons, but are virgins because they dislike the hookup culture that dominates dating nowadays. Some, as sad as this reality sounds, don’t want to be taken advantage of by men who feel entitled to have sex with every woman they’re “nice” to. Even more are virgins because they’ve been focusing on other things, like finding confidence in themselves, doing well in school, and having other life experiences. And even if someone is a virgin for religious reasons, I will never understand why people who call themselves humanists care. Frankly, I find it ridiculously sexist to question a woman’s agency in such a personal decision. How few people someone has slept with doesn’t affect you, just like how many people someone has slept shouldn’t be a topic of conversation.

I’ve experienced my share of these assumptions. People have told me I’m missing out on one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. I’ve been told I’m too proud and prudish. On the other hand, I had one guy I was seeing creepily tell me it was a turn-on. These mixed messages are constantly thrown at women, and I know even if I weren’t a virgin, judgements concerning my sexuality would still be made. Women can’t win; you’re either a slut or a virgin, and no grey area is allowed. However, I challenge my fellow feminists to allow for this grey area. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s lack of sexual history, and don’t tell them they’ve been brainwashed into thinking sex is a big deal because of the patriarchy. Because for some people, it is a big deal. It’s not weird to want trust and respect before getting into bed with another person.   

Different people need different things out of sex, and it’s not up to you to determine what should and shouldn’t make someone comfortable. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to desire a middle ground between a one-night stand and waiting to have sex until marriage. Nor do I think I’m a stick-in-the mud for wanting the relationship to be defined before taking this next step. I want to be able to ask someone (and be asked) on a date and not seem like I’m from another decade. But until I find a person who actually wants to get to know me before sleeping with me, I will carry my bag full of nothing with a smile on my face. I will look myself in the mirror every morning and tell myself I’m sexy, because I don’t need the affirmation of men or society to make me feel like a strong, badass woman.

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