A post that will change the way you think about sex.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was consumed by sex. Not by the physical urge to have it, although I had my share of crushes and unfulfilled desires. Nor was I overly concerned with the particulars of how I might go about it, although I studiously read Cosmopolitan each month so that I would know what to do when the occasion arose. My obsession was more esoteric than that. I was consumed by the idea of sex — by what it meant and by what it might reveal about who I was.
If I didn’t have sex, did that make me frigid or a loser? If I did do it, but with someone I didn’t love — or worse, with someone who didn’t love me — would I regret the decision later? What if Cosmo’s 36 hot new sex positions failed me in practice? (Friends had reported that some of them were tricky to pull off.)
I had grown up on a diet of teen magazines that treated sex with cautious reverence, followed by women’s magazines that celebrated it as a symbol of female empowerment. In the sitcoms I watched on TV, the single characters dated (and by implication, slept with) new people each week. In the conversations I had with acquaintances, sex was at once a subject of nervous excitement and an unspoken assumption — something it was expected that everyone was doing. I, meanwhile, had made it not only through high school a virgin, but through four years of college as well.
This was not an outcome of my own design, and it was not something that most people would have guessed about me. From the outside, I looked like a normal girl — or at least I hoped I did. I did ‘normal girl’ things like go to parties, flirt, and exchange dirty jokes with my friends. In some arenas, I even fared a little better than normal. I didn’t just go to the occasional party; I was a veritable social butterfly. I didn’t just try to make myself look “presentable” for class; I got up an extra 45 minutes early to wash, dry, and straighten my hair. But beneath the facade, I felt unattractive in the most literal sense of the word: incapable of attracting anyone I was interested in, regardless of how many friends I had or how much I manipulated my appearance to match what I thought I was supposed to look like. These two states — “girl about town” and “secret sexual loser”— seemed irreconcilable to me, each one canceling out the other. My lack of a sex life felt like a mark of failed moral character, the physical manifestation of every flaw I had ever suspected I had and of every defect I feared that the people around me were all too aware of but were too polite to mention out loud. Why else would I be uniquely incapable of an act that everyone else appeared to navigate with ease?
In an era in which most of what we hear and read about sex tends toward the sensational, my story might seem unusual. But my concerns weren’t unique to me at all. On the contrary, they were a reflection of broader social and political trends. They were a product of a culture that tells us that we must be sexy, sexually active, and skilled in bed in order to be adequate human beings — and that teaches us that the truth of who we are can be found in our sex lives.