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A Virgin at 26

Sex advice for the sexless

Q: I’m a 26 year old woman and I’ve never had sex. For a long time, it was because of my beliefs. I was raised in a very Christian family, and I was planning to wait until marriage. After my dad died 3 years ago, I had a crisis of faith and had to rethink everything I believe about God, and whether he’s real, much less why he would care about people having sex. I’m ready to experiment, date casually and be open to potentially hooking up with someone. 

But now dating is even harder. When I tell guys I meet that I’ve never had sex, they get weirded out. I assume they don’t want the pressure of being the first or they’re worried I’ll be too clingy? I sometimes wonder if I should just leave out that information with the next guy, it’s not like it would be lying exactly. But since I don’t know how sex will feel, I’m worried that I’ll be weird or not know how something should go, and it’ll be so awkward that I’ll have to like “come out” as a virgin in the middle of it, which sounds mortifying. What should I do? 

First, my condolences on your loss. I mean that not only in the context of your father’s death, but also in regard to the often-painful process of changing your entire life view. Even though it may be for the best, any change is difficult. In your case, it may mean leaving communities where you previously found support and a sense of identity. Hopefully you’re finding new resources and people you can trust to help you through this time.

And because a lot of our sex education is informal discussions with each other, it might also be incredibly useful to have friends who have had sex. You probably have married/partnered friends you can ask, but if you’re looking to just hook up, there’s a lot to learn from confidants who have tread that ground recently too. Hopefully they are compassionate and willing to talk openly about their experiences. There’s a lot of critical detail left out by the sex scenes in TV and movies and even porn.

Friends won’t be able to offer you a play-by-play about how your sexual debut will go, because that varies dramatically by person and situation, but they can share their feelings and demystify some occluded facets. And most importantly: normalize the idea that no matter what you do, it’s just gonna be a little awkward. That’s part of sex.

If you talk to enough people about their sex lives, what you’ll learn is that sex can be a lot of things: arousing, hilarious, uncomfortable, overwhelming, powerful, romantic, fun, traumatic, and yes: mortifyingly awkward. We’re talking about an activity that is objectively ridiculous: some of the silliest looking parts of human bodies slapping together in a steamy, wet mess. The goal is to make that sloppy mess enjoyable for all parties involved. And that enjoyment usually comes with trust and practice.

Friends won’t be able to offer you a play-by-play about how your sexual debut will go, because that varies dramatically by person and situation, but they can share their feelings and demystify some occluded facets.

As far as what to do with dudes, you have a few options. You can definitely find a random and omit the detail about how you’ve never hooked up before and everyone will (more than likely) be fine.

But do you want your first foray into partnered sex to be one where you’re concealing relevant details and you don’t feel free to be truly communicative about how things are going? Will that set a precedent for holding back in the future, maybe making it harder to share what you want and what you don’t?

Plus, when we fail to mention things that – if the other person knew – would change their decision-making process, there are legitimate questions about whether it’s truly informed consent.

Plus, even among the sexually experienced, it’s useful to know if someone has ever tried a specific sexual act before. I want to know if a partner has already figured out their wants/needs/limits or if we’re figuring that out as we go. Help me help you, you know?

We’re talking about an activity that is objectively ridiculous: some of the silliest looking parts of human bodies slapping together in a steamy, wet mess. The goal is to make that sloppy mess enjoyable for all parties involved.

Personally, I feel like if you’ve waited this long, you can wait until you find a person who is not only genuinely attractive to you but also adult enough to handle the situation with grace. Find someone you connect with and just be frank that you’ve never had sex but are interested in trying it out with them. Be honest that you’re nervous, but down. Be real if you want romance or commitment to be a part of the deal. An emotionally intelligent partner will hear you, share their feelings about being your first and work WITH you on having a fun, mutually satisfactory time.

The worst part of modern dating is the normalization of a jaded façade and lack of caring. But sex can still be an intimate, connective experience – if we approach it with a willingness to be vulnerable and communicative. There’s no correct way to have your sexual debut, but you have the fantastic opportunity to be intentional and set the tone for all your future experiences. Best of luck!

Have a question for Dr. Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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    • Timaree Schmit Headshot

      Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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