(originally published on Medium in September 2018)
“I’ve never told anyone this; I’ve never spoken these words out loud. I am a virgin.”
When I was 14 I lied to my friends and told them I had had sex with my imaginary boyfriend at a party with people they didn’t know. Basking in the attention, 14 year old me kept up the act until it was too late to tell the truth.
For years after I first told the lie, I made up more fictional boyfriends and spoke about sex as though it were a part of my life and not just something I’d seen in the erotic films I snuck into my parents’ house and watched late at night when everyone else was asleep.
When I hit 30, I started to become more self-aware and set out to ‘get my shit together’. I enrolled in school; I had gastric surgery and lost a tonne of weight; I quit my public sector job and started screenwriting; I even shaved my head and started growing my hair back from scratch.
And then, at the age of 32, I decided to ‘out’ myself as a virgin.
I saw a post on a student filmmaker Facebook group asking for women to talk about female sexuality as part of a student’s end of year documentary assignment. The examples the student gave were of women into BDSM, women who were sex workers, and women who had affairs with younger men. Suddenly, I was angry. When we talk about the sexuality of women and those who identify as women, why do we always speak about the women who are out there flaunting their sexuality? Oh, you’re a sexually open women who is not afraid to talk about sex. Cool. Yes, I think those women are amazing, but I’ve also seen and read that all before. With female sexuality still being a relatively new thing, it’s understandable that we want to show it off and to revel in the freedom it can provide; but there’s so many sides to the sexuality spectrum.
So I did it. I emailed the student and said “how about a point of view from the other side: the non-sexually adventurous woman”. Within a fortnight I sat across from the student and admitted everything, and on camera no less – go big or go home, as they say.
And from there, it snowballed; saying the words out loud was a release. I admitted to all my lies, I apologised to my friends – most of whom already knew I’d lied – and I started thinking about why I lied, and why I was still a virgin later in life than everyone else I knew.
In popular culture, male virginity is often the butt of jokes, the topic of films, and the definition of nerdy stereotype. But female virginity is buried in piety and frigidness; a dragon for male protagonists to tame or slay. Being a male virgin means convincing someone to have sex with you, the act of which will make you a man; but a female virgin is to be coerced and conquered, and then usually shamed and forgotten.
I lied about losing my virginity because I was a typical 14 year old girl; I wanted to seem cool and because society sexualises young women, having sex with a boy was how I thought I achieved cool status. I’m sure I wasn’t the first or last 14 year old to tell this lie. But I continued the lie because I was ashamed. I was ashamed at lying to my friends and I was ashamed of not being what I thought was normal.
All of my friends had relationships, some romantic and some sexual in nature, and would discuss the finer details over drinks and catch ups. Instead of sitting back and just not contributing to the conversation, or admitting to my inexperience in this field, I had a compulsive need to show that I too understood, that I was mature and relevant. I didn’t want to get left behind. Why were all my friends “getting some”, what was wrong with me that I wasn’t? I didn’t want to think about it, so I pretended.
Eventually the lies and stories I’d embellished and told so many times became a part of my narrative. I’d almost convinced myself they had happened; that the boy I never actually talked to by the swimming pool was in fact my boyfriend and we had gone to a party and had sex in one of the bedrooms. Even now, I can see those events in my head as though recall a vivid dream. It became second nature for me to include my non-existent sexual history as part of my self-identity.
A friend of mine once said she was speaking to someone else about how I was a virgin and fine with it, to which I snapped back “I’m not a virgin”. It wasn’t the first time I had a way out of the lie and chose not to take it. I even pitched a TV series about a thirty year old virgin to a well-known production company and when the producer asked me if the main character and her virginity were from personal experience, I lied and said it wasn’t based on me, despite that very fact being the best selling point for my story.
During my twenties I travelled, I worked, I had some fun times with friends, but – unlike most people my age – I didn’t date. I’ve actually never been on a date. No boy (or girl) has ever flirted with me, I’ve never been given a phone number, I’ve never been wolf-whistled at or sexually harassed in any way, and the only people interested in me on online dating sites are older than my Dad. I resigned myself to being “the friend”, which was fine because I often didn’t feel romantic interest for anyone outside of the imagined personalities of attractive celebrities in my head.
Not that I should put all this on the men, oh no. I didn’t go out of my way to find someone, mostly out of fear of rejection, but also because I didn’t think anyone could live up to the Chris Evans living inside my head. Why bother? My friends did online dating and speed dating, I went to the movies by myself. I tried Tinder a couple of times, but when I did match with someone, I was too freaked out to message them or respond to their messages. I had (and still have) no idea how to talk to men in a non-buddy way.
And so it never happened.
The first question I get asked when I speak openly about my virginity is: are you religious? I am not. I am an atheist. I’m not “saving myself” for marriage – I don’t even believe in marriage. God’s not stopping me from getting laid.
Was I sexually abused as a child? No, I was not. Apart from the fact that my parents hated each other and communicated via passive aggression for 20 years before they divorced, my upbringing was fairly peaceful.
Am I gay? No, I am not. Both my brother and sister are gay, so as the straight person in our sibling group, I am the odd one out. Many people have asked me if I am gay because I have short hair and tattoos. These people really need to check their stereotypes at the door. But to be fair, I consider myself 90% straight and 10% gay, with that 10% being reserved exclusively for Cate Blanchett.
Are you a-sexual? No, I am not. I thought perhaps I was a-sexual for a while, but I masturbate and get turned on by men. During my “dark years” when I had crippling depression, my sex drive was pretty low, but I’m now on medication for bi-polar and anxiety and they have stabilised my mood and subsequently; my sex-drive is back.
So, what is keeping me from getting that ba donk a donk?
Mental health? Yes, definitely. I truly am the mixed bag of mental illness. I’m sure my depression, anxiety, bipolar and ADHD have a lot to do with my lack of action and my fear of intimacy and connection. My mother once said to me that my depression would be cured once I got a boyfriend – yes, really – but why would I do that to another human? Why would I put my shit on anyone else? Besides, I often don’t have the will to leave the house, let alone go out to meet someone. I know a lot of people with mental health issues that are single because the whole dating scene is mentally exhausting and just scary. My anxiety issues have also given me a heightened fear of everything that could go wrong with meeting a man; I see too many horrible things on the news and they feed my distrust of men (sorry, men!).
Fear of commitment? Yes, definitely. Thanks to my bipolar, I’ve always been quite impulsive – I like to call it “spontaneous”, cos it sounds more charming and rom-comish. I make rash decisions, like buying an off the plan apartment with no deposit, and then freaking out once I finally moved into said apartment about being chained to a property and not having the freedom to just pack up and move to Melbourne at a moment’s notice. I cut bangs because I was bored on a Saturday; I bought a $4k camera cos maybe one day I’d make a documentary; I booked flights overseas despite being $50k in debt; I say yes to everything and often overbook myself. I like being able to do what I want when I want and I am the queen of not finishing things I start. I assume this would include relationships. I am not used to being anything other than alone; I don’t know how to include other people in my decision making processes. My relationship role models are also a little dodgy; my parents stayed together for the kids despite hating each other, and my friend committed suicide because her husband died suddenly. In my experience, relationships make you miserable, or so dependent on another person that you literally can’t live without him. Having been single and independent my whole life, this is a strange and unappealing notion.
Fear of intimacy? Yes, definitely. A friend tried to set me up once at a party and as soon as I saw the guy from across the room I ran upstairs and hid in the bedroom. I didn’t want the pressure of having to talk to someone with any romantic implication. I assume my parents were intimate at some point because there’s three of us, but they were never intimate with each other in view of us kids. Dad slept in a different bedroom for nearly 10 years. I cannot remember them being affectionate with me, either; I remember more smacks than hugs. I was always told to pick myself up after I fell over, and so I did and do. Intimacy and affection are foreign concepts to me; I don’t even like to be hugged by friends (except for one of my friends who is Italian and will beat me up if I don’t let her hug me). Imagine someone who doesn’t like to be touched by a person she’s known for twenty years getting intimate with someone she likely met a month before.
Body self-consciousness? Yes, definitely. A couple of years ago I have gastric surgery and have subsequently lost 50kgs. I feel healthy and I get to wear nicer clothes, but my “fatness” will follow me forever. Being fat is not only a physical descriptor, it is an identity. I didn’t think of myself as sexually attractive, and I got used to no one else finding me sexually attractive. I was a big fat non-sexual blob; in my head, I still am. Losing weight doesn’t mean you lose the self-hatred, the self-consciousness, or the thought that the guy talking to you is only doing it on a dare. Does he have a fetish for fat women; if I eat too much on a date, will he think I am a pig; if I eat too little, will he think I am holding back on purpose; if I tell him about my gastric surgery will he think I’ll get fat again, and if he does think that will it worry him and if it worries him does that mean he’s a shallow asshole… and it goes on.
Depression has also meant that sometimes my hygiene is questionable; there have been times where I don’t shower for five days because the very thought of it exhausts me. A friend of mine once replied with a big resounding “EW” when I told her this fact. Look, she’s right, but she’s also never had the kind of depression where getting out of bed is the biggest achievement of the day. Sometimes I am very aware and conscious that I may smell, most of the time I don’t care. Going out to meet people when you haven’t showered for days and have oily hair and possibly body odour is not as fun as it sounds.
And so, it hasn’t happened.
You may have noticed that all my thoughts above deal with romantic intimacy, not sexual. For me, they are one and the same. I can’t imagine letting someone touch me sexually without them knowing the truth about my mental health and virginity. I’ve often thought about getting blind drunk and just finding someone to get it over with, but even while drunk my brain screams “why would anyone, no matter how drunk they are, want you?” and “you don’t know what you’re doing, he’ll laugh at you!” Being the annoyingly self-aware person I am, I realise how ridiculous and cruel this is, but being mean to myself is something I’m used to.
In admitting my virginity and stepping back to scrutinise my thought patterns, I am beginning the first steps to being ready for love. I know it will be a long journey and I don’t except to be cured of my obstacles any time soon. In the immortal words of Ru Paul, “if you can’t love yourself, how the hell is anyone else going to love you?”
I’m working on it, Ru.