Love & Sex

Everything I Learned about Virginity from Writing a Book about Losing It

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The author of a new book about virginity loss tells how she got strangers to give it up. 

The first words Charlie Thomas, a charismatic and handsome man who happened to have a visible physical disability, ever said to me were, “Stella had huge bosoms; reeked of ‘teenage’ and sashayed down the hall in a way that stopped everybody in their tracks.”We’d only just met. Despite an exchange of emails, Charlie and I were essentially two strangers, sitting in a café with a tape recorder perched between us. Into that recorder he fed one of the most personal stories a human being can share, one about losing his virginity. This was research for my book, Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over The Last 80 Years.

When I met with my disabled interviewee, if only subconsciously, I’d prepared myself for a sad story.  Charlie had been born with arms that stop where most people have elbows. This must have held him back right? “There were some areas I literally could not reach. So I became damn good at oral sex to make up for that. Making the leap and learning how to go down on women was a huge step forward for me because then I could absolutely guarantee their pleasure.” I needn’t have feared. But this was post-Stella, his big bosomed “first.” Stella, whom, after their first time together, “asked me if I would mind sleeping with her best friend because she didn’t want to be a virgin anymore. I actually enjoyed that more because I almost thought I knew what I was doing by then.”

I’ve often been asked why people were so keen to share. I have an idea as to why that I call the “The Nelson Mandela Theory.” Mandela said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Whilst it’s safe to assume that Nelson Mandela was not talking about virginity loss, the point is that facts are facts. We cannot change the past. But we change and over a period of years, we modify our perspective on life, and, more crucially, on ourselves. Unpacking this story, particularly with someone they weren’t likely to encounter again gave many of my interviewees a chance to examine how far they had traveled in life, and often, to reframe a story that they thought was set in stone.

“When you first asked me about this story, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, its going to be such a great story because I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend and it was the fairy tale I wanted,’”says Charlotte, a woman who initially claimed to have “the world’s best virginity loss story.” “But it really wasn’t. Talking about it reminds me of the desperation in me, how important it was to lose my virginity to this guy, even if he dumped me a month later.”

I particularly loved my excursions into the lives of the older generation. “I was frightened on my wedding night,” 93-year-old Edna told me of her first time, “When I saw how he looked, I laughed. I’d never seen anything so funny. In spite of having two brothers, I didn’t know what a man looked like. On the first night, I might tell you, I thought, ‘This is much ado about nothing’, but then I got to quite like it.” I get that this wasn’t unusual, that people did not talk about sex in the 1940’s, but it was still incredible to me that Edna’s mother had deliberately furnished her daughter with barely any details – if only a few choice ones – of what she might expect on her wedding night.

In 75 years we’d gone from knowing nothing to knowing just about everything and seeing it in well-lit detail on the seedier corners of the internet. But despite the fact that we have more information about sex than any previous generation, we still have just as many questions. This is partly because so much of the information is inaccurate. I implore young people who write to me at my blog not be guided by what modern pornography mostly portrays and that the only way to give someone what he or she truly desires is to talk to them. Begin a dialogue. Get to know them and take it from there. Never assume what turns another person on.

These questions also remain because, at our core, we are as insecure as we ever have been. I’ve come to see that this isn’t a bad thing. It is just part of being human and I observed it every day in my story telling sessions. “Is what I feel normal? Do other interviewees say this stuff to you?” Yes, on every count and if I’m honest, these universal concerns are what motivated me to initiate the project. I was answering my own questions via the stories of others.

By the same token, while we all have the same insecurities, we also have exactly the same hormones. “It was lust. Pure, driven, hormonal lust,” said Sherrie Smith of her fist time. As the 1960’s came to an end, her aunt’s lodger helped dispatch her virginity.“I was 15 years old. He was 23 and my aunt never spoke to me again.”If people weren’t guided by hormones (as opposed to the sexual mores of the time), most of us wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.

I learned so much more about the idea of “virginity” than I could possibly explain. I spoke to a man who lost a virginity I didn’t even know was possible. “All my life, I had been the penetrator and even when the woman was aggressive, there was no doubt as to who was doing what to whom. Now as the one being penetrated, I was on the other side,” he said.I met a married man at a BDSM event who, even in his 50s, had not yet lost his virginity.  I spoke to a tantric sex teacher who, by way of sex working, and eventually “teaching what you learn,” had arrived at such a memorable definition of virginity loss: “I think that losing your virginity should be that gateway into pleasure.  It should be about moving from ignorance to awareness…to being a person who makes love or becomes intimate because they choose to, and not because they have to.” As she astutely finished up, “that could come years after you technically lose your virginity. And for some, maybe never.”

Kate Monro’s book, Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over The Last 80 Years is available now! If you feel inspired to share your story, go to The Virginity Project.

Image via Hans Gotun