It’s hard to believe that 17 years—half my life—ago, I lost my virginity, by which I mean, had sex with a man for the first time. I remember it very clearly: He was 31, which now sounds scandalous, but back then made me feel totally cool. An older man was interested in me! I didn’t know anything about condoms or birth control or sex. I didn’t know about orgasms or BDSM or even masturbation (I was a nerdy late bloomer), but I remember I totally wanted to do it. I probably thought I was in love, though I don’t even remember his last name.
I liked the way he’d lift my wrist to smell my Body Shop vanilla perfume (a scent I still wear). I liked the way he’d lean over me while I placed address labels on envelopes (we worked together). I liked the way he looked at me and made me feel wanted. I liked that he made me feel, much more than my diploma did, like I was an adult.
When we finally did it, I had to sneak down to his town by train and lie to my parents, which upped the cool factor. I don’t remember all the details of our sexual positions or even if it was all that good, but I do remember feeling like I had finally caught up.
The virgin as a social outcast is having a big pop cultural moment. Posters for the film The Virginity Hit are all over New York, asking questions like, “Still a Virgin?” with a free helpline number. The film posits that losing your virginity can be a major social breakthrough and by contrast, if you aren’t in a hurry to do the deed, you should somehow be pitied.
The plot? Four best friends agree to do a bong hit after each of them loses it, and Matt is the holdout. He wants to do it with his girlfriend of two years, Nicole, who’s been waiting for him, and isn’t impressed with his friend’s explanation that, “Sex isn’t about love. It’s about sex.” When Matt finds out Nicole’s cheated on him, he goes on an epic quest to give it up, with a too-good-to-be-true woman who sends him nude photos and porn star Sunny Leone, who tells him his first should be with someone special, because you’ll always remember it. In another new teen comedy, Easy A, all Emma Stone’s character needs is the rumor of her getting it on, and suddenly, she’s both popular and infamous, and uses her newfound persona to help boost other virgins’ social status.
My high school wasn’t quite like that. I’m not sure it’s fair to call what I felt peer pressure, but I did feel pressure, at least from within, to hurry up and not be a virgin anymore. My closest friends had already done it, and I thought I was being left behind. There were two older guys I almost did it with, but it wasn’t until the summer before college that I finally decided, Why not? I hated being the last of my peers to get laid. I wanted to be sophisticated even more than I wanted to get off. One of the first things I did afterward was call my best friend, eager to bond over our shared experiences.
My next lover was my first college boyfriend, and I wound up taking his virginity. While the older guy had technically taken my hymen, this boyfriend and I were exploring on a more mutual level, both of us eager to figure out the mysteries of sex. We weren’t all that outrageous, but I liked that we were doing everything together. It made it easier to talk to him about sex than it had been with the older guy, who, even though he knew I was a virgin, asked me if I’d ever been with two girls.
With him, I was trying in vain to impress him, sending him explicit Polaroids of myself (this was before digital cameras were ubiquitous), rather than asking myself if we truly had anything in common.
Those early days feel like a long time ago, but at the same time, not so totally far off. I doubt that I’ll ever be someone’s first again, and I’m not sure I’d want to be. In some ways, I do feel “like a virgin” again when I’m with someone new. Not the “touched for the very first time” part, where I have no idea how to put a condom on someone or what to do with my body, but the part where I feel “shiny and new” on the inside.
Because no matter how many times I’ve done it, sex with someone new, for me, anyway, is always exciting. I get to see and feel their naked body for the first time. I get to watch them, and feel them watching me. I can explore the texture of their skin, the shape of their hands, their smell, their sounds. It’s like unwrapping a special present and finding out whether the person you think you know is different when they’re stripped down. I feel a mix of nerves and shyness, even when I’m shamelessly horny. Virginal doesn’t have to be a bad quality, and sometimes I do wish I could start all over again. Not literally, or like the people who have hymen rejuvenation surgery, but rather, that I could go back and appreciate all those firsts a little more fully.
I like having the confidence that my previous sexual experiences have given me, but I don’t ever want to get so jaded about sex that I lose that sense of awe. I don’t seek out new lovers just for the sake of having butterflies in my stomach. Every time, I’m hoping that they’ll be the last new person I share a bed with. I just hope to keep a little of that first-time magic with me, that virginal mojo, if you will, the second and third and fourth time, and beyond.