Innocence in Extremis

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I am 28 years old and I am a virgin. People assume a series of decisions led to this. They guess that I’m a closet lesbian, or too picky, or clinging to a religious ideal. “You don’t look, talk, or act like a virgin,” they say. For lack of a better explanation, I am pigeonholed as a prude or an unfortunate. If it’s so hard to believe, I want to say, then imagine how hard it is for me to live with.
     I feel freakish and alien, an anomaly that belongs in a zoo. I walk around feeling like an impostor, not a woman at all. I bleed like other women, yet I feel nothing like them, because I am missing this formative experience.
     I won’t deny that I have become attached to my innocence. If it defines me, who am I without it? Where will my drive come from and what will protect me from becoming as jaded as everyone else? I try to tell myself that innocence is more a state of mind than body. That giving myself to a man doesn’t mean losing myself to a cynical world. That my innocence doesn’t hang by a scrap of skin between my legs.
     In college, girls I knew lost it out of impatience. At 21, virginity became unhealthy, embarrassing — a female humiliation they could no longer be burdened by. Some didn’t tell the boy.If there was blood they said it was their period. I cannot imagine. Some of those same boys thought it was appalling, years ago, that I was still a virgin. “I’ll fuck you,” they said. It sounded to me like, “I’ll fix you,” and I did not feel broken.
     I don’t believe I’ve consciously avoided sex. I am always on the verge of wholly giving myself away. I think emotionally, act intuitively. When I’m attracted to someone I don’t hold back. But there have been only a handful of times when I would have gladly had sex. Each, for its own reason, did not happen. I am grateful to have learned so much in the waiting: patience, strength,and ease with solitude.
     Do you know what conclusion I’ve come to? That there is no concrete explanation, and more importantly, there doesn’t need to be one. How I got here seems less important to me than where I am.
     This is what is important. Desire. The circle of my desire widens each day, so that it’s no longer contained inside me, but rather, it surrounds me in concentric circles.
     Desire overrides everything and should be exploited to its fullest potential. It is the white-hot space between the words. I am desire unfulfilled. I hover over that fiery space feeling the heat without knowing the flames. I am a still-life dreaming of animation. I am a bell not allowed to chime. There is a deep stillness inside me. There is a void. A huge part of me is dead to the world no matter how hard I try to revive it with consoling words or my own brave hand.
     I am sick of being sealed up like a grave. I want to be unearthed.
     I pray for sex like the pious pray for salvation. I am dying to be physically opened up and exposed. I want to be the source of a man’s pleasure. I want to give him that one perfect feeling. I have been my only pleasure for too long.
     Do I have dreams about sex? Often. There is one recurring dream in which I can’t see whole bodies at once. But I know which parts belong to my body. I know they’re mine. I know, better than anyone, my curves, my markings, my sensitive places. If I close my eyes now, I can see the man’s body. Thin, smooth, light-haired, limbs spreading and shifting over me like the sea. A small,brick-colored mouth opens and closes around the sphere of a nipple. Moist eyes, the color of darkest honey, roam up and down my spine. A sensation of breath across my belly induces the first wave of moisture between my legs. This reaction crosses the line into wakefulness, and I know when I awaken,the blanket will be twisted aside as if in pain. My skin itself will feel like a fiery blanket, and I will almost feel smothered by it.
     In some versions of the dream I am on top and I can feel my pelvis rubbing against the man’s body. Every part of my body is focused on the singular task of getting him inside me. I try and try and am so close, but my fate is that of Tantalus who was surrounded by water he could not drink. Thank God for masturbation.
     My fingers know exactly how to act upon my skin — they have for over half my life now. There is no fear or hesitation. When I masturbate I am aware of varying degrees of heat throughout my body. It is hottest between my legs. Cool air seems to heat the moment it hits my skin, the moment I suck it in between my lips. After, my hands shake as if I’d had an infusion of caffeine. I press my hand, palm down, in the vale between my breasts, and it feels as if my heart will burst through my hand. I love that feeling — knowing that I’m illimitably alive.
     Though I’ve never had a man inside me, I have had many orgasms. I have talked with girls who not only can’t have one with their lover but can’t bring themselves to have one. I was shocked at first until I saw how common it was. And then I felt lucky. My first one scared me. At 12, I did not expect such a reaction to my own touch; I thought I’d hurt myself. But it was such a curious feeling, such a lovely feeling, that I had to explore it further. I felt almost greedy. And well, I got better at it until it was ridiculously easy. Still, it is always easy.
     I don’t expect it to be so easy with a man. I’ve come to believe that sex is defined by affection, not orgasm. There is that need to be held that doesn’t disappear when we learn to walk on our own. If anything, it intensifies.
     I love being a girl. I think of my body as all scent and soft muscle. It is an imperfect body, but beautiful still, in its energy and in its potential. I love looking at my curves in the mirror. I love feeling them and admiring their craftsmanship. I love my hipbones — small, protruding mountains. Or maybe they are like sacred stones marking the entrance to a secret city. I trace the slope of my calf as if a slender tree trunk and I am amazed at how strong, yet vulnerable,the human body is. I am as in awe of my body as I am of the earth. My joints are prominent as if asserting themselves. I know my terrain well, perhaps better than any man ever could — the warm,white softness of my inner arms; the hard, smooth muscle of my bicep like the rounded swelling in a snake that just swallowed the tiniest mouse; the sensitive skin between my thighs; the mole on my pelvis nestled by a vein like a dot on a map marking a city beside a river. I have stared at my naked body in the mirror wondering what the first touch from a lover will feel like and where it will be.
     Masturbation is pleasurable, but it cannot sustain a whole sexual life. It lacks that vital affection. I am left with the rituals, the mechanics of masturbation. I crash up against the same wall each time. It becomes boring and sad and does little to quell the need to be touched. I long to let go of my body’s silent monologue and enter into a dialogue of skin, muscle, and bone.
     There are sudden passions that form in my mind when I look at a man. Thoughts of things I want to do to him. I want to follow the veins of his wrists — blue like the heart of a candle flame. I want to lick the depression of his neck as if it were the bottom of a bowl. I want to see the death of my modesty in his eyes. Although I am swollen with romantic ideas, I am not naïve. I know it will not be ideal. Rather, it will be painful, awkward, damp, and dreadful — but that is always the way of birth. It is an act of violence. The threat of pain in pleasure, after all, makes seduction stimulating. I want the pain in order to know that I am alive and real — to leave no doubt there has been a transformation.
     The fear is undeniable. It’s a phobic yearning I have for a man’s body, but I have to believe that everything, including fear, is vital when expressing desire. If sexual thoughts are either memories or desires, then I am all desires.
     I am powerfully attracted to the male body. I want to watch him undress. See him touch himself. I want his wildness in me — I want to touch his naked body and feel the strength of him. His sweat sliding down the slick surface of my skin until it pools in the crooks of my limbs. I imagine the rhythm of our sex like the slick, undulating motion of swimmers. I imagine my own body’s movements suddenly made new, so that we would appear to me like two new bodies. I imagine the sound of our sex — a magnificent, moist clamor of limbs.
     I want to hold him inside me like a deep breath. I want to leave kisses as markers on the sharp slices of his shoulder blades, then surrounding the oasis of his bellybutton. I want to slide him in my mouth like a first taste of wine, letting the bittersweet liquid sweep every part of my mouth before allowing it to slide down my throat.
     I will hold my mouth to his ear, as if I were a polished seashell, so he can hear the sea inside me — welcoming him. I will pause and look at him — up into his face. I will steady myself in his gaze, catch the low sun of his cock between my smooth, white thighs, and explode into shine.I will look at him and think, I have spent this man’s body and I have spent it well.


©1999 Debra Boxer and Nerve.com