At 16, I had my first boyfriend, and telling him I was a virgin was a no-brainer because he was also my first kiss. He was the bad-boy type—definitely more experienced than I was—and I was attracted to him even though I knew I would never have sex with him. It was just too young for me; and anyway, I wanted to wait until I loved the guy I was with, and my first boyfriend was just a crush. So at 16, I thought I had it all figured out: find someone special and all the pieces will fit together (pun intended).
And then I got to college, land of the dorm rooms. In my freshman year I dated this guy who seemed perfect: sweet, smart, and handsome, the whole deal. The physical stuff came pretty quickly, but when I stopped him going too far and told him why, I felt tears come into my eyes. He wasn’t mean or judgmental about it—we were just about 18 after all—but he laughed at me when he saw the tears in my eyes and suddenly I felt misunderstood, and more important, pressured. That relationship didn’t last long. I knew that my emotional reaction meant that something about him didn’t sit well with me.
Time passed. Meeting guys in bars or going on first dates was much more complicated during my college years, because when the time came—when that question,“Wanna come back to my apartment?” came up—I invariably said no. That happened so many times that I practically perfected my responses, and, more than that, I avoided first dates. Were they all like this? Would every “good” first date end in an invitation for sex? Suddenly, my love requirement seemed flimsy and unattainable.
The third time I told a guy I was a virgin, I remember pushing myself to get the words out. The guy I’d been seeing sporadically for months was truly special, a kind boy with chocolate-brown eyes and that boyish shyness I couldn’t get enough of. He told me about his past sexual history, that he and his girlfriend had waited for each other, and that she was the only one he’d ever been with.
Hesitantly, with my head on his shoulder in his big wide bed, I all but whispered the words, “I’ve never had sex before.” Nervous about his response, I expected shock, discomfort, misunderstanding. But I really underestimated him. He said, “Really?”—but the question was free of judgment. When I confirmed it, I asked him why he was surprised. I was expecting him to say that I didn’t seem like the “type,” or else ask me personal questions about whether or not I was waiting for marriage or something. But all he said was, “I don’t know. I guess I just thought it would have happened for you already.” It was such a simple statement, so straightforward and honest. That was the best time. His response made me realize I was expecting judgment; and when I didn’t get it, I felt much more confident about my choice, as if it truly were “normal.”
More than that, I trusted him not to pressure me, and it was actually his idea to wait until we were absolutely sure about each other. When that time never came, I was in the unexpected position of not wanting to wait anymore. I felt like I had found something, and even though it ended, I knew that I wanted something like it again: with someone to trust, someone to love, and someone to share this experience with.
Still, a part of my brain found it strange that I had felt the need to explain myself, and an even louder part of my brain recognized that being a virgin shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. I shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about it. I thought what a weird world we live in that someone is judged by their number of sexual partners, or lack thereof.
The last time I told a guy I was a virgin, it was via text. I’d met this pushy guy at a bar and he proceeded to text me nonstop for two weeks, trying to glean every bit of information about me all the while informing me what a catch he was. I was in a post-breakup downswing of emotions so I probably should have kicked him to the curb a lot sooner, but when the subject of sexual partners came up, I was craving acceptance enough to tell him—a virtual stranger—that I was still a virgin.
He did not take it well. He was like, “Well are you waiting for marriage?” As if he were preparing himself for a long wait. And he told me, “You know, it’ll probably hurt the first time.” Thank you, Mr. Health Teacher. And then he so gallantly offered himself for the task of taking my virginity, with one stipulation: “As long as you don’t get obsessed.” I somewhat impolitely declined, but not before he bombarded me with a bunch of less-than-tactful questions about what being a virgin was like, chief among them if I was sexually frustrated. At that time, I wished there were a middle-finger emoji to send him. But I also just felt drowned in shame and embarrassment, and despair that I would ever again be in a position to not feel that way about my virgin status.
At 23 years old, I’m confident about my choices. They’ve made me happy despite the complications, and I feel like I haven’t betrayed who I am. I know what I want, I always have, and I’m willing to wait to get it. But sometimes, waiting is tough, and now, I’m also waiting for the next moment that I’ll have to tell a new guy that yes, I’m still a virgin. This time I’ll say it proudly, without shame, and without apologizing for who I am.
Lisa Lo Paro is a bibliophile and freelance writer living on the outskirts of NYC. She loves 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee, and heavily filters her photos. Find her on her blog, themosthappy.me, and on her Instagram and Twitter.