For over a year of my life I was obsessed with the idea that everyone from middle schoolers to geriatrics was getting it on more than me. That is to say, getting it on at all.
This idea was planted in my mind after I read a report that retirement homes often had high cases of STDs within their communities. What the fuck? “Even these old bags get more bone than me,” I thought to myself as a I furiously scoured the internet for porn. I would stare at my body in the mirror, willing abs to form where a small amount of baby fat sat. Staring up at the ceiling at night, I imagined how enlightened I would be after I had sex; how much more I would understand why getting your heart broken could ruin someone.
My preoccupation with losing the “big v” was deeply rooted in my need to understand my sexuality. Even though I had girlfriends I made out with and felt up, I always found myself going home and googling man-on-man blowjobs. I wrote it off as curiosity but every time I finished, I thought of the girls I claimed to love. I fell asleep with a belly ache of guilt.
I figured that if I only had a taste of this “sex” everyone was so preoccupied with, I would stop thinking of man abs and butts and settle down and marry a nice Mormon girl. It was around freshman year of college that my determination reached a fever pitch.
I made out with a girl named Betty* on the lawn of a frat house during an ABC (anything but clothes) party and then stopped answering her text messages after my friends told me how many videos were taken of us rolling in the grass that night. A few months later, I attempted to have sex with a girl in the back of my friend’s Honda Civic at a Halloween party. She was dressed like a microwave and we couldn’t take off her costume without it ripping.
The first time I touched a bare breast, I was fifteen and in the back of a church van on the way back from a school trip. We thought everyone was asleep as we weaved in and out of traffic on the way back from Tallahassee, Florida. I slid my trembling hand under her shirt and then under her wire bra. “Like this?” I asked her as I squeezed three times like I was milking some farm animal. “Sure,” she said.
Then we both pretended to fall asleep and never spoke of the moment again. The first time I full-on made out with a girl, my parents had caught us shirts-off on my bed and made me promise I would never close a door with a girl in my room again. Between my severe acne, braces, lack of allure, compounded with my helicopter parents, I would remain a virgin throughout my high school career.
My parents may be proud — or not proud, I can’t tell — to know that I lost my virginity to someone I loved. I told my boyfriend at the time I was experienced, that by him taking my virginity he was really not taking anything at all. There was no music playing, no Yankee candles lit. His body moving rhythmically on top of me didn’t echo in a chorus of angels; I felt lied to by my own expectations. I kept wondering how long it was supposed to last, how long we were supposed to cuddle afterwards, and how I was going to appear as if this were all old hat for me. When we finished, I lie there and felt a tear fall down my left cheek. I didn’t feel any different from the act itself, but I did feel a hollow pit in my chest that ballooned the moment “No, I’m not a virgin” left my lips and he took off my shirt.
I wanted to cling to him, to tell him I lied and that he was my first. The space between our bodies felt infinite, and I immediately pretended that I was fast asleep and snoring. Eventually, he found out I had lied to him years after we broke up, after I felt brazen enough to costar on a friends YouTube channel and recount the story of “my first time.”
Months after our night together, I found myself unable to sleep next to him without having nightmares. His very hand on my leg felt like a white hot poker branding me with the words “liar” on my thigh. I cried in a Publix parking lot after buying the ingredients to make brownies together and he didn’t understand, just like he didn’t understand why I rebuffed his physical advances for days on end. Didn’t I tell myself I was ready? Wasn’t I the one who coerced him into it all?
Sex became the haunting distance between what I thought I was capable of, and what I did to achieve it. I thought I had achieved what every young man has been after since the moment they become sentient of their sexual prowess, but I was deeply ashamed of the way I lied to get there. It was only after the day I realized I truly, deeply loved him that it stopped bothering me so much. You convince yourself that you love someone, and you tell yourself daily that you do, but it’s only when you see them dancing in the kitchen with a glass of wine while they cook you homemade pizzas that you start to maybe believe the words.
I grew up in a world of boobs, torsos, dicks, and sweat; the same world most people are dipped in by way of the media. We’re told that losing one’s virginity means transitioning from a child to an adult, as if by someone touching their naked body with yours, you unlock the secrets of the galactic universe. That you’ll suddenly become more interesting at dinner parties. What no one tells you is that by sharing your body with someone else, you’re changing nothing except the knowledge that, maybe, you can leave behind the person you once were.
Sometimes I will look back and think of all the times I could have lost my virginity but didn’t. With girls I grew up and realized I could no longer feel for, to the girl in the tin foil costume who was dressed like a microwave, to all the people I tried to trick myself into thinking I lusted after in the moment.
We can prepare ourselves. We can play moments in bed back for ourselves years later. We can overanalyze the magical fragility of the moment we connect to someone else. By building it up to be an obstacle to overcome we can feel jilted by the landslide of it all.
I remember my mother taking me to Bloomingburg park in upstate New York as a child. As she rushed to unpack the sandwiches and Capri Suns I would race to the monkey bars and wrap my minute hands around the rusted orange metal of the bars. My mother would call out to me to wait, that she would hold on to my legs as I breached the distance between sides. I remember jumping anyway and cutting open my knee on a jagged rock. I sat cupping my hands over my knee as blood flowed freely onto my corduroy shorts feeling immensely proud of myself for almost making it to the other side on my own. Sometimes when we’re sure we’re ready, we’re only just ready enough.
*Names have been changed.