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I thought I knew everything, then I had sex

A personal essay on my journey to “losing it”

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When I started writing this piece, I was still a virgin. Three weeks can really make a difference. 

I lost my virginity nine days before I turned 22. If you would’ve told this to my high school self, I wouldn’t have believed you. Mostly because I never thought I'd ever be that old, but also because — how am I so old and still a virgin? 

Until very recently, there wasn't even a man on the horizon to lose it to! I was off the dating apps, attempting to “work on myself.” I had just started therapy and was going on runs and reading books. I was peacefully single.

But the man sort of fell into my lap — or rather, I nudged him there. It was a “let's have a beer by the water”-type move, a true American classic. 

Anyway, I was nearly 22 — quite old for us non-religious young adults. God, purity, sacredness — all those pretty buzz words that often walk hand in hand with virginity — played no role in my choice to not have sex. It was a conscious decision I had made time and time again.

Although I never really felt embarrassed about this virgin status, I was always reluctant to share that tidbit of information with others. I always felt forced to defend my actions, or rather lack of.

But when these people would ask me why I had never had sex, my simple answer — which is still somewhat true, but less so now that I have had a personal reckoning with my subconscious — was that I wanted to feel respected and one day loved. 

And it's sort of true! I fully subscribe to the idea of deep, effortless, life-changing love. Tim O'Brien says it perfectly in his novel “The Things They Carried”: “I wanted to live inside her body. I wanted to melt into her bones — that kind of love.”

It wasn't that I needed to be in love to have sex, but I wanted love to be a future possibility. None of my past men even slightly respected my feelings or cared how their actions impacted me; love was completely off the table.

I can trace my habitual flight from sexual intimacy back to my juicy, truly traumatizing first heartbreak. I was a fresh 17, in the back of a guy's Subaru (classic), and he was putting on the moves. I really liked this boy, like maybe even loved him? But I knew he did not love me back and yet, I found myself in the back of this man's car listening to not just his confession of attraction, but his desire to date.

He presented on a silver platter this perfect reality that I desperately wanted, and I ate it up. But still, I hesitated. I didn’t fully give in to the moment. I said no. And while this time, I managed to not flee the car, I still couldn't give in, because something felt off. It seemed too good to be true.

The next day, I learned he had gotten back together with his ex-girlfriend. He had lied about his intentions. The fantasy evaporated.

So with that first big heartbreak — the kind of heartbreak that resulted in me listening shamelessly to “Dear John” by Taylor Swift over and over for weeks — my dream to experience deep, life-changing love was destroyed. Then began a long series of me leaving men hanging. 

And by hanging, I mean I fled.

Like, ran for the hills, dipped the fuck out of that place, fled. I flew! 

I like to believe I have this psychic ability to know when a man is going to f--- me over and, therefore, when I ought to leave. But more likely, I just gravitate toward men who are unavailable or uninterested in commitment.

I’ve lived a majority of my life being both afraid of getting too close to men and terrified I’d lose them. We can delve into how it all stems from the childhood trauma of my dad dying and how I now have a hard time connecting with straight men because I am afraid they will inevitably leave me too. I mean, I lost my virginity to the only straight man I became friends with in college. Coincidence? I think not.

Fleeing always felt like the safest choice.

And these moments when I fled, it was always seconds before sex was going to happen. One time I left a man butt naked in his Kia Soul after he spent a solid 30 minutes trying to convince me to go all the way. Basically, he deserved it. Plus it also took him two months to get my favorite belt back to me. 

Over the years, five guys have had to experience my poorly executed exits. 

In fact, after I had sex with the guy I lost my virginity to, he made a joke about being the one to break the cycle. The joke was a bit preemptive, because I later fled his apartment in one of my fastest departures to date. Rejection does that to a girl.  

During the early days of our time together I spent a lot of time contemplating never texting him back. My mind spun on a constant loop of every way us together was a bad idea. But because I was in therapy and I was actively working on this issue of living in fear, I managed to start tuning those thoughts out — or at least discussing those thoughts with my therapist. 

Honestly, I was terrified a majority of the time, but I don’t think I would have ever had sex with him if I hadn’t had a person to help me work on this fear thing.

And while I got hurt in the process — realizing he didn't want me as much as I wanted him was a difficult thing to hear — holy s--- did I learn a lot from it.

I used to believe that to feel truly close to a man I would have to have sex with them. So therefore, I just never had sex. But finally following through illuminated the massive misconceptions I had about intimacy. 

I still believe sex can bring you closer to someone, but it does so in very specific ways. Sex is not as binding as I once thought it would be. Putting your naked body up against someone else’s is not more powerful than letting a person see who you are emotionally. 

This was an important distinction that I learned through my experience with the person I lost my virginity to, when I tried to replace emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy and call it good. The person I had sex with has known me for a long time and knows a lot of the surface things about me. But emotionally speaking, I never really bared it all to him. Our time together always felt fun and light; I didn't want to alter the dynamic. I think that’s why us deciding to stop seeing each other didn’t hurt as much as I had expected; it didn't feel as personal as my first heartbreak.

I feel surprisingly good about who I chose to lose my virginity to. Even though it was disappointing to realize I had misread the signs, that he didn't want what I wanted, having sex with him let me see a side to him that our friendship had never allowed. It also gave me a lot of opportunities to work through things I had always felt unsure about. 

It made me feel confident and sexy and powerful in a body that I have had a really hard time loving. And it wasn’t because of his validation, but because I was allowing myself to be sexy and powerful in a judgement-free space. The experience made me feel like I could be that way anywhere, anytime, and with anyone.

And god damn did it help me find my voice. 

I have always struggled with asking for what I need from men. I’d put my feelings aside in order to keep the peace. But asking for what I wanted in bed translated to me asking for what I wanted from a relationship. 

I'm not saying that finding a semblance of my voice was easy; in fact, I spent days during the time I was seeing him sick to my stomach wondering how I would say outloud what was on my mind. But I’d do it. Whether it was something related to sex, a question about an ex, or the time I asked for a relationship and the situation imploded, I still did it. And my feelings got hurt, but I recovered; I’m not holding on to a hope that isn’t there. And that, baby, is progress. I mean, I haven’t sent even one drunken “What are you up to?” text, and that is something to be impressed by.

What I am trying to say is that there were a lot of reasons why I waited so long, and why I ended up following through. 

In the end, I don’t regret waiting. 

And this time around, with the therapy and the clarity — and the fact that for the majority of the time we spent together, the person I had sex with made me happy — I can look back on the experience relatively fondly. 

And while it didn’t work out, and that sucked, I don’t regret doing what I did. I mean, I had a life parallel with the movie “Lady Bird”  — by which I mean, he called me a good girl, and I lost it on top — and because of that, I can laugh. 

So if you are waiting to have sex, or waiting for the right person, or just waiting to feel comfortable, it's not something to feel guilty or embarrassed about. Not having sex for your own reasons doesn’t make you a prude or make you think less of people who aren’t waiting. Sometimes you just have personal s--- you need to deal with before you can do it, and that is fine. It happens when it happens. Sex is wildly personal and wildly complex. Feel free to flee until you feel okay enough to stay.

Reach writer Co-Pacific Wave Editor Chamidae Ford at Twitter: @chamidaeford

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