Virgin Territory

I’d like to introduce you to someone. He’s a gangly 23 year old. Still reads Tolkien and Douglas Adams. Socially awkward, he still lives with his parents. Drifting, his current line of work is foodservice.

Oh, I need to mention, he’s a virgin.

Quick! Play word association with me. Pick one word to decribe this young man.

If over half of you didn’t come up with the word loser or some variation thereof, somebody’s lying. I guess the more empathetic of you might have thought something like pitiful. Both attitudes about this young man are different sides of the same coin. One is cruel and one is patronizing. They are both quite illustrative.

I’d like to talk to you about a societal problem that you most likely don’t even know exists. Those affected stay silent, or, more likey, they outright lie.

I’d like to talk to you about Incidental Virginity.

What a strange phrase! I struggled with that name, because I wanted to represent something very specific. Involuntary virginity wasn’t quite right, that’s more in line with chastity belts and the like. My working definition for now for incidental virgnity is: A post-pubescent person who inadvertently has not had sexual intercourse. The inadvertently is key to this discussion.

You see, there are two kinds of virginity in modern society. There is the purposeful kind for religious or political reasons, many times accompanied by outward signs and rituals. True Love Waits is probably the most well-known movement in this category. Most public-arena discussions about virginity center around this kind. Since its adherents are so public about their intentions, it’s fair game. I want to make it perfectly clear that this kind of chastity is NOT what I am talking about.

Then there is incidental virginity. A person who would very much like to partake in the deed, but for whatever reason has not. In our society, it’s the stuff of comedy. We all laughed watching The 40 Year Old Virgin, it seemed OK because Steve Carrell’s character was such a good sport about the whole thing. Trust me, most incidental virgins are “good sports”, outwardly. But there is another side to this kind of existence that they don’t show you in the movies.

Let’s give some background to this with a little history. In my parent’s time, the societal expectation concerning sex was “wait till marriage”. More importantly, this attitude was (generally) reflected in the peer society of youths as well. To get around this, many married young, some quite young, and this kind of arrangement seemed to work for everyone.

By the time I was in high school (1979-1982), that had changed somewhat. The sexual revolution had worked its way down from college to high school students. There was far more acceptance of teen/youth sexuality from society as a whole. But, as with all societal movements, youth sexuality (at least on a peer level) went from revolution to orthodoxy. There wasn’t a religious “Chastity Movement” yet, so if you had made it into your twenties without having done the deed, there was something wrong with you.

I guess I should tell you at this point (if you havent’ figured it out yet), the gangly 23 year old loser was me.

At the time of my incidental virginity, there were no less than 10 coming of age movies in which the central plot was the protagonist’s quest to “gain his manhood”. Virginity was a problem that needed to be fixed. And, if you happened to fall into this category, you had no right to be called a man. This is the implication of the phrase “make you a man”, or “gain your manhood”.

The incidental virgin dies a death of a thousand cuts. Society, through popular culture, tells him he is not complete. His adolescence is over, but he is not yet allowed to call himself a Man. (I assume women have the same attitude, I don’t know). Friends inadvertently add to the pain, with a slap on the back and a jolly, “Boy, what’s WRONG with you? We’ve got to get you laid!”

What’s wrong with you?

The incidental virgin goes to sleep every night, asking this question. What’s wrong with me? EVERYBODY’s having sex but me! What am I, a leper? What’s WRONG with me?

After a while, it just becomes too much. The tag of “loser” and “not-quite-a-man (or woman)” is a heavy burden to carry. For a man, it can become so overwhelming that turning to a prostitute actually becomes thinkable. As for me, that was something I ultimately could not do with good conscience, so I did what any reasonable person would do.

I made up a lie.

It was a good one. I chose the right time, then I told everyone I knew. A beautiful stranger had “made a man out of me”. I had finally rid myself of my Shame (at least outwardly). I even told someone who I KNEW would tell my father. I actually thought he would think better of me if he believed I weren’t a virgin. This is how bad the stigma (especially for men) is.

How strong is this stigma? It caused me to do something ridiculous: I carried the lie into my marriage. Lintilla had no idea she was my first and only until I “confessed” two years into our marriage. When we were dating, I didn’t want her to think I was a loser. This is the society we live in today: I was ashamed of something that I should have been proud of. After all, there aren’t many “one woman and only one woman for life” men out there – they could put me in a museum.

Looking back, I now know intellectually what caused my incidental virginity. Hopelessly romantic and socially awkward are not a good combination. Having no fashion sense probably contributed. And of course, the biggest contributor to the situation was probably the overwhelming fear of rejection that many young people have. I know all of this intellectually. Emotionally, strangely enough, it still hurts, after all these years. Even though I had a “happy ending”: happily married, successful, living in a most desirable neighborhood. To prepare to write this, I took a good look at myself back then. Out of nowhere, I wept. It still hurts.

I know I’ve gotten extremely personal here, and no doubt many of you are calling me a “whiner” by now. I don’t give a flip. If this is your attitude, I’m not talking to you right now. Go away. For the rest of you, I’ll say: do not make your virgin friends feel like less than a person. Watch what you say and how you say it! Popular culture tells the incidental virgin he’s a loser; don’t inadvertently pile on.

Finally, something tells me there are quite a few reading my “testimony” and nodding their heads. If that’s you, I want to say something directly to you:

There is nothing wrong with you.
Just be.
Don’t let others define manhood or womanhood for you.
Others say hurtful things when they don’t mean to. Forgive.
Don’t rush; let “it” be right, and at the right time.
Don’t let ANYONE define your worth for you.

There is nothing wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you.

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3 Responses to “Virgin Territory”

  1. Kat Coble Says:

    One thing life has taught me is that for every person who thinks he or she is alone in an experience, there are hundreds of others also suffering the same shame in silence.

    The thing that makes me saddest about this post here is the idea that society made you ashamed of something about yourself that was not at all shameful.

    It reminds me of all of us who are ashamed of being fat. (This is in no way directed to your post about your son’s weight problem) Except in my experience it’s easier to lose a virginity than to lose excess weight. AND you only have to lose the virginity once. ;-p

    Funnily enough on the flip side of the coin, I know several people who were ashamed that they did lose their virginities before marriage. I guess it’s a touchy subject all the way ’round.

    P.S. I’m 36 and still read Tolkein and Adams.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks, both of you, for these tender and insightful thoughts.

    I can so relate to your post. I am happily married to a lovely and beautiful woman these days, but I know these feelings of insecurity and fear well from my own past.

    I was a virgin until a couple of years ago for two reasons: 1) my religious views that it would be best to wait until marriage (still reasonable, healthy advice regardless of your religious beliefs) and 2) morbid fear of being exposed as an incidental or involuntary virgin, as you mentioned. This wasn’t a huge deal for me in high school going to a private Christian school and being active in my church youth group.

    In college, though, I picked up quickly on the idea that you were not a man if you were a virgin. I can remember hiding this fact from everyone, especially my fraternity brothers, and even making up stories when directly asked. I was terrified of the thought of being exposed.

    The irony is, after college, I “confessed” my virginity to a couple of the people I was most afraid of telling. They were surprised, but really respectful.

    What I have learned from this is that, in my experience, it ultimately isn’t really being a virgin that leads to the fear and shame. What does is not knowing how to have the courage to just be honest about who you are that makes this so painful. When I was willing to be honest about a shameful secret, it no longer mattered to me how my friends reacted.

    Nonetheless, I was 27 before I could be honest like that, and it’s a tough, tough thing for anyone who’s a teenager or a college student to have the courage to do. I wish it were not that way, and I very much sympathize with the feelings you mentioned.

  3. Virgin Man Says:

    I were an incidental virgin as you described in my early age. Actually I had a few chances but I blew it. However, I’m glad I didn’t had sex until now. Read the reason in my blog A Chronicle of a Virgin Man


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