29 year old virgin: embarrassed and confused
January 5, 2014 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I am a 29 year old woman. I am fit, attractive, have a good personality, have had relationships, can sustain friendship. My friends say that I am a catch, and assume that I "get around" even though I never, ever, talk about my sexual exploits...because, well, the furthest I've gone is third base. I know my life circumstances explains some of the delay (details in extended explanation), but I want to know if there's anything else that I am doing wrong? Or am I actually not the weirdo popular culture made me think I am, and more people share this experience but are too afraid to admit? I feel so incredibly embarrassed. Am I missing out on something really important to become a real person? Will my lack of experience be a problem in the future? What if I am so lacking in practice my future partners find that a problem?

I grew up bi-culturally-- part of my time growing up was spent in a very conservative cultural environment in which premarital sex was considered a really big, bad, deal. The other part of my growing up happened in your run-of-the-mill American world where kids have sex in high school, etc, etc. On top of my background, I was in the closet through most of my teens and well into my early twenties. During that time, I've tried everything I could, not only to undo my gay-ness but to cover up my sexuality at all. I've came close to having sex with men and then just fled the scene, which was kind of traumatic. I was also sexually harassed in college. Growing up I battled with a number of body image dysmorphia issues that lasted into my early twenties and was terrified of being touched.

But I got over all these things. I worked extremely hard in my twenties to overcome fear of intimacy, abandonment, and commitment. I've had some short-to-medium relationships with women who wants to take it slow... sometimes extremely slow, often having similar emotional baggage/personal histories I did, and I always respected that. And then things ended before we got there.

I know I am not asexual, because, well, uh, I have desires.
But I feel like I must be missing a memo. Or I've been brain washed by popular media, which tells me that I should be ashamed of myself. I have multiple friends who were in a similar boat until they were 27 or 28, but I don't know anyone who's 29 and still a virgin, except for Steve Carrel (j/k).

Either way, what am I not doing, or what am I not doing right?
What are some readings, blogs, books, etc that can help me-- whether to remedy my situation, or to think differently about it?
Have you had a similar experience that you might have a word of wisdom?
Basically, help me! I don't want to be the shameful 30-year-old virgin next year. I want to remedy either the shame part or the virgin part.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I know my life circumstances explains some of the delay (details in extended explanation), but I want to know if there's anything else that I am doing wrong? Or am I actually not the weirdo popular culture made me think I am, and more people share this experience but are too afraid to admit?

Someone who puts such a tough question succinctly also knows the answer. No, there is nothing you are doing wrong. There is no wrong to do. Romance and love are things that happen only in their right time and that time is when it chooses to be and not a moment later, goddamn it.

Obviously, if you have now decided you want something, start asking for it from yourself.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 PM on January 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think you should start my reframing the way you look at things. Being a 30 year old virgin isn't shameful, I promise. I know plenty of people that didn't have sex until later in life, and they are all happy, well adjusted individuals. Don't let others' opinions dictate when you "should" have sex. Your sexuality belongs to you; only you can decide when/where/with whom you become intimate.

Also, I think it's helpful to look at the concept of virginity as it exists in our society (especially for women). It's treated like some sacred gift, which blows the entire thing way out of proportion. It's used as a way to commodify women, and it's actually a really harmful social construct.

Maybe talk with a therapist about the shame? But just to reiterate: there is nothing wrong with you. You will eventually have sex if it's something you're interested in doing. Just try to accept yourself as you are right now.
posted by fireandthud at 9:36 PM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I personally believe the word "virgin" stops having any meaning after about 19 years old. Doubly so if you're a lesbian, which is how I'm reading the "closet" section, correct me if I'm wrong.

You've only had a certain amount of experience at this point, and the question is: do you want to have more? If you do want to have more but are stopping yourself for reasons that don't add up to you for your own purposes, then it is time for a vision quest or therapy or a good hard sit-down and talk with a trusted advisor. If you're fine with where you are, then be fine with it.

Because this is all up to you, you're an adult with full agency over your body. Once you're not a teenager anymore, most people start to understand that life is complex and so your realm of experience starts to be less important. There may be shallow people who won't sleep with you because of it, but you didn't need them in your life anyway.

Be what you want to be. Stop worrying about what imaginary other people might think. If either of those present a challenge to you, find a therapist to help you work through them.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "third base", but if you are a woman and have gone to "third base" with another woman, isn't that basically lesbian sex? I'm not sure I would consider you a virgin. If you consider yourself a virgin and find that awkward or shameful, that's a problem, but maybe something you can change by working on your attitudes to yourself and your experiences rather than just on increasing those experiences for the sake of it.
posted by lollusc at 9:45 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Am I missing out on something really important to become a real person?"

No. And I know this because I know a lot of nuns.

But seriously, this Internet Stranger officially rules your situation "not even a little weird." I can't count, off hand, the number of people who have confided in me that they waited until "late" to start having sex -- 25 or 30 or 40 or even later. And most of them, like you, are sort-of insecure and embarrassed about it because pop culture has a specific narrative about sex starting in high school, but waiting until later (even much later) is NOT EVEN A LITTLE WEIRD. Not even a little.

And that's just the people willing to confide in me, who have never had sex. In addition to the billions of people not actively confiding in me at this moment, there are plenty of people who had sex once or twice and it wasn't a good decision for them at the time, and then didn't do it again until much, much later on. And there are plenty of people who are JUST LYING about when they started having sex and how much of it they've had.

Especially given the added issues of having grown up at least partly in a conservative cultural environment, and having been a closeted gay young person, 30 really doesn't seem like a particularly advanced age -- those are things that totally normally delay the start of sex, and people understand that.

So not even a little weird, and you are a real person, and even if you never meet the right person to have sex with, that is okay. If you decide to never have sex, turn 50, and change your mind and decide you want to, that is also okay. If you decide to do it tomorrow just to get it over with, that is also okay. It is just ONE THING in the fabric of human relationships, and just ONE THING in your biography, and it is not the most important thing in either of those. Nobody ever says to themselves, "Huh, I wonder when Madeline Albright started having sex?" Because it barely matters except to you and the person you are naked with.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:50 PM on January 5, 2014 [28 favorites]

Just from working in LGBT politics, your story is INCREDIBLY common for lesbians. Like, to the point of being cliche. So, just to get it out there: You're not weird, this isn't some insurmountable problem, there are other women out there that have gone through the same thing and will both understand and be helpful about it.

Maybe some actual lesbians can tell me whether this is a terrible idea or not, but if I was in your shoes and started dating women, I'd frame it as, "I've never done anything sexual with a woman," sort of stuff. Which is true; it's maybe eliding an assumed hetero fumbling in adolescence, but it explains your relative lack of experience in a way that's a really common narrative.

Something else worth noting: The vast majority of Americans feel like they're goddamned weirdos for how they like to have sex, no matter whom they have it with or how. It's like a national neurosis, especially given how few people have sex with enough partners to have any sort of broad view. We get fucked up media representations, reductive and oppressively heteronormative narratives, and have a multi-billion dollar advertising industry basically all built around the idea that you're fucking wrong and that everything would be better if you'd just buy the right car/clothes/deodorant. Pretty much everyone feels angsty and excluded from the imaginary ideal, and if they don't, well, they're the goddamned weirdos because they're not paying attention.

So, really, you're way more normal than you think.

(But now I wonder when Madeline Albright started having sex.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:03 PM on January 5, 2014 [17 favorites]

Somebody being a virgin is really not a bad thing in most people's eyes, particularly not a potential partner's (if they like you a lot, anyway). I mean, how flattering and meaningful is it to take your partner's virginity?

The fact you've held on to it this long means that sex means something to you. If you wanted to simply throw it away, you could hit a club or post an ad online and it'd be done by next weekend. Be proud, there's no shame in it - and you still have sexual experience, even if limited, so you're ahead of plenty of others your age, haha.
posted by johnpoe50 at 10:03 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

To echo lollusc, in the common parlance "third base" implies that you have had oral sex or hand jobs before. By my reading, you definitely stated that you're a lesbian. Are you just "not a virgin" because you had oral sex/handjobs with men and never with women? If so, it seems like you're getting hung up on a technicality here - either way, whether you have oral sex with men or with women has absolutely zero to do with you being a real person! Could you clarify, please?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:04 PM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
Hi, I'm a 29-year-old gay man who's never been in a sexual relationship. So, yeah, I guess people who are kind of like you in this regard do exist. Are you weird or broken somehow? Well, I sure feel that way about myself sometimes, but outside of some dark moments I think that I'm a pretty OK human being. That said, we are definitely out on the tail of the age distribution.

But at least we're a pretty invisible minority (within a minority), so it's not like this comes up in conversation too often. And we both know what sex is, we have libidos, etc., so it's not like we're totally naive, child-like creatures of some kind. Our sexual histories don't define us, and I can only assume that we're normal people in all other regards. This isn't some kind of pervasive disability that reshapes your life or something.

In my case, I'm also "bicultural," as you put it. I'm not out to my family. I don't even know a non-obscene word for "gay" in my mother tongue. And if one has appeared in the language since we left the country, my family wouldn't know it either. I guess I'm otherwise out, because I'm happy to tell anyone who asks, and generally don't watch my mouth in public.

Them again, I'm not "obviously gay," because some people I've come out to seemed somewhat surprised. I'm also not as attractive as I might think I am, or maybe I'm more clueless that I like to imagine myself, because I haven't really received much romantic attention from people of the same sex as me.

In combination with my hangups and family issues and whatever else, it pretty much means that the road ahead of me is a little harder than it might be for some other folks. I might never run into the right person. But I guess I just have to roll with it, be open to new opportunities, and so on. Just because something hasn't happened doesn't mean something is actively standing in the way of it happening. Sometimes a coin will come up tails a bunch of times in a row, too. Best of luck and take care of yourself.
posted by taz at 10:04 PM on January 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

30 year old virgins, while not the norm are certainly not unheard or rare even outside of the religious community as a peruse of the virgin tag will show. They just tend to keep their mouths shut about it because of all the pop culture baggage you articulated so you don't hear about it.

Will my lack of experience be a problem in the future? What if I am so lacking in practice my future partners find that a problem?

While having to teach someone who is inexperienced during a one night stand situation can be kind of annoying (it can be fun too but the talk you hear disparaging virginity in that context is from people who are looking for a quick wham, bam, thank you ma'am) it doesn't sound like you desire that sort of experience anyways. For anyone in a relationship teaching a virgin shouldn't be any hassle at all. And in fact I see it as a fun experience in the vein of this XKCD strip. IMO anyone who doesn't isn't someone I'd want to get squelchy with in the first place.

Am I missing out on something really important to become a real person?

Not in the least. Really the only downside of your situation is if you find you like sex after trying it you might have some regret that you haven't been having sex for the last 15 years.

I'm pretty introverted and afraid of looking foolish. Two years ago I started making a concerted effort to just not care what people think about what I'm doing and to try new things. It's been hard and I'm still working my way up to doing a couple of things. However I've picked up a couple of activities that I really like and I've been sad at times I didn't start them ten years ago but I'm taking the attitude that a) I'm doing them now and b) I made the right decision ten years ago about whether the activities were right for me at that time.

TL; DR: No it's not a problem and when you check off the box it won't be a problem at the time or after either.
posted by Mitheral at 10:09 PM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

30 year old virgins are definitely around even right here on Ask Metafilter. You might find some of these questions and answers interesting, too (these are all specifically from lesbians).

Previously: early-30s lesbian in first serious relationship ever.
Previously: 25 year old lesbian who has never been on a date.
Previously: lesbian of unspecified age worries about being "like that 40 year old virgin movie."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:16 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Third base is "sex".

You're fine.

If you want to do other things (penetration? oral?), do them.

FWIW the first time I had sex with a woman, I didn't say it was my first time and just sorta went with it. My partner never even said anything about it.

This is so totally not a big deal.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Am I missing out on something really important to become a real person?
You know, you never get to have your first time again, and many people our too young to realize that when it's happening. Sex is sometimes like watching an amazing movie for the second time. It's still a great movie, but you already know what happens.

Will my lack of experience be a problem in the future? What if I am so lacking in practice my future partners find that a problem?
I don't think it will be a problem, but you will need to call it out. Being the same age, I sort of assume the other person has had enough experience to be comfortable naked, to know what she wants, to know what he boundaries are, etc. Tell your next potential person what's going on in your head so she has the chance to act with understanding. You may find a partner who doesn't get that, but you can't control other people. If you take it slow, I think you are more likely to find an understanding partner.

And yes, there are other 29-year-old virgins, but people don't talk about that in public because, they rather not draw attention to it in public. Here are some other things people don't tell you about: someone you know likes to visit pornographic web sites, someone you know attends a church, someone you know checks the toilet paper after wiping...

Either way, what am I not doing, or what am I not doing right?
It sounds like you are trying not to be a virgin but also trying to be in meaningful relationships. It's interesting that you've been in relationships in the past and chose to remain a virgin, but have now changed your mind. Why is that? Is it related to your upbringing? Is there a fear that may be worth investigating? Were the relationships not quite right?
posted by jander03 at 10:25 PM on January 5, 2014

anonymous posted">> more people share this experience but are too afraid to admit?

posted by desuetude at 10:49 PM on January 5, 2014

I'm gonna chime in with a "Hey! Me too" remark. I could have written this question myself just 6 months ago.

I grew up rather Christian with the "No sex until marriage" thing pounded into my head. So overcoming a lot of sexual shame and fear was a huge obstacle for me.

I was also an extremely closeted lesbian.

I came out at 27 years old and boy did I have a lot of catching up to do. I'm STILL catching up, if you wanna check out my high-school-romantic-angst-gone-wrong AskMefi questions.

I am 29 and I have had sex ONE time, and that was about 6 months ago (I was 29 at the time). And that one time was a drunken hookup so basically it wasn't all fireworks and parades. But if you want to know I will tell you the truth about that situation: I got so stressed out about being a virgin that although I was ultimately looking for a relationship, I made a personal decision to just hook up with someone if the situation came up. I went out as much as I could to lesbian bars, made as many social connections as I could. As soon as someone showed interest in me and made a move I just went with it. It wasn't my ideal way of dealing with the problem as I didn't find the hookup to be very fulfilling and I'm an idealist/perfectionist. BUT, it worked for me in relieving some of the stress.

Some people will tell you that it's a social construct and not to care about it. And technically that is very very true. But I know from experience that it's also a VERY hard thing to not care about. It's just how our society is.

FWIW I just had a first kiss with someone I actually have feelings for, but I'm afraid it didn't mean anything to the other person. I'm horrifyingly ashamed to admit it, but yes I didn't even KISS anyone I actually had FEELINGS for until I was 29.63 years old. I feel terribly behind myself. (Yeah I kissed people before but I didn't really have Feelings for them so it only counts on a technicality. My first kiss was stolen from me by a guy when I was about 22. Late for a first ever kiss, huh?)

I too am having a very hard time overcoming the embarrassment of my inexperience. I have very close friends that I tell everything, but I still shy away from this topic even though they know. I hate bringing it up.

I know how stressed and anxious I was about my virginity, so I understand and empathize. But try to cut yourself some slack and realize you were dealt an infinitely harder hand than many people out there. I have to remind myself of that constantly. It's very hard to drill through my head though.

If it's something that you want, it will happen. But it's also one of those pesky things that requires another person whom you have no control over. So a little bit of luck and timing is unfortunately involved too. Are you at a point where you would be willing to have casual sex? If so, perhaps try to put yourself in that sort of situation. Go out to the local lesbian "meat market" and see what comes up. You could also try OkCupid.

I want to be a positive influence and tell you to forget the stigma, etc. But speaking from my own personal experience, although my first sexual encounter wasn't everything I had hoped for and more, and wasn't my ideal way of going about it, I am still glad I got some experience under my belt. I took my high, high expectations of a hallowed and holy "first time" down several notches, and I'm glad I did.

And by the way....if someone cares about you, they won't care one bit about your inexperience. They will understand. And if they do care and it's a dealbreaker, they aren't worth your time anyway.
posted by christiehawk at 11:00 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

What are some readings, blogs, books, etc that can help me-- whether to remedy my situation, or to think differently about it?

Do you read Autostraddle? I feel like they have a really great attitude (and good advice) about sex and being gay/lesbian/queer in general. Their how to have lesbian sex for the first time article is pretty great (not just practical tips, but sort of framing the whole experience in general), as is pretty much everything under their "how to be gay" tag.
posted by sigmagalator at 11:02 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

For most people our age (late 20s) sex was a big exciting part of late adolescent self identity exploration and is currently an enjoyable but ordinary, almost prosaic, part of life.

Therefore, you will probably experience sex differently than a lot of your partners. You'll still be figuring out what it means for you, physically, emotionally, philosophically. I think it's important to acknowledge that difference and not be ashamed or embarrassed. Be kind to yourself because you can't be sure yet how you'll react to all these things you've never done before. And enjoy it! The novelty and mystery add a lot of excitement to early sex.

I'll also add that once I started having sex with other women, my definition of sex changed completely. I'm having trouble imagining something I'd count as third base that I wouldn't also count as sex.
posted by Gravel at 11:21 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, the Virginity Project blog has some first time at a later age stories, including:

- Sadie (lost virginity aged 35 to another woman)
- Camille (lost virginity aged almost 29 to a man)
- Angeline (lost virginity aged 34 to a man - also a bonus story about Daniel who lost his virginity aged 29 to a woman)

So you are most certainly not alone!
posted by sigmagalator at 11:34 PM on January 5, 2014

Late blooming for queer people is incredibly, incredibly, incredibly normal. I had my first experience with a girl at sixteen... but I didn't have another one until I was about thirty. I did have sex with guys in between, but I don't think it ought to precisely count when it's that boring. Figuring out the relationships where it means something is different and more complicated. Yeah, you see all kinds of young people who seem to be having all kinds of sex, but this is not particularly out of the ordinary, especially with people who just don't really feel much like casual sex. It's not for everybody. It doesn't have to be for you.

Women in your age group are not likely to be particularly freaked out by this, but you aren't under any kind of obligation to mention it.
posted by Sequence at 11:54 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Signed up because your post really resonated with me, as did all the comments from everyone else. I'm in the same boat as you -- mid/late 20s, queer, and a virgin. I've fooled around with one person and I wasn't really interested in him at all... Just wanted to say that you're not alone. And thank you because I don't feel so alone and ashamed now.
posted by ohorrors at 1:36 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just participated in a support group for newly out lesbians and bi women. The majority of them had never had sex with or even kissed a woman, and more than half of them were your age or older. Some of them had been married to men and even had adult children, and were entering the world of gay dating for the very first time at age 40 or 50. So you absolutely do not need to worry that every lesbian knows more than you at your age. They really, REALLY don't. In fact, having had relationships and sexual contact, you're doing just fine!

I would also urge you to seek out a similar support group near you, if you can find one. I can't even tell you how much it helped me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:30 AM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

There's a sensitively handled UK documentary "the 40 yr old virgin".. get hold of it if you can... it features the lovely sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (who the film 'the sessions' was about).

What I liked about it was that the virgins weren't stereotypes.. ok there was abuse.. and religion.. but they were sociable/had lives and the woman was hilarious (I thought).

I once worked with a Missionary Doctor from Kerala (interesting in itself eh? A Keralan Missionary opting to go to a 'developed' country).. she was a virgin. She was NOT shy... taking me by surprise quite a few times (in a nice way) with some of her more blatant comments.. ;) her honest view seemed to be there were plenty of other things to do (true) and she was one of the happiest, most balanced people I've ever met. Interesting.
posted by tanktop at 9:33 AM on January 6, 2014

Am I missing out on something really important to become a real person?

No! As someone who considered herself a 30 year old virgin (and older!), this statement strikes me as the bigger problem. Like you, I thought it was some enormous barrier to being a human, like I was shameful and abnormal and All Sorts of bad things that have Nothing to do with sex or even really relationships, and so now that I'd missed the boat, it was all over for me.

Therapy helped me a lot to untangle this stuff, to realize labels carry Way too much weight in our own heads, and that I am an Excellent human deserving of love and all the other good stuff.

As are you.

PS - If you don't immediately agree with me on that, consider therapy or other help to see it.
posted by ldthomps at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2014

You asked: What are some readings, blogs, books, etc that can help me-- whether to remedy my situation, or to think differently about it?

I think you got a lot of good advice above about "late-blooming" not being all that abnormal. I just wanted to pipe in with some practical things that helped me out when I was in this situation. I wanted something I could do RIGHT NOW instead of wait for the right person to come along. Because I tend to over-think everything I turned "Sexuality" into a project, an interesting part of life I wanted to learn more about like finances or cooking.

1) Demystify sexuality-Sex is such a big deal and yet, you can live without it. We have so much cultural baggage around sex it makes it hard to think about it clearly. I did a lot of reading about history of sex and sexualities. It made me realize that so much of how we think about and experience sex is based on cultural meanings. Everything that seems normal was "abnormal" at some point and quickly new practices become the status quo. I'd start with "Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America", "O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm" and "Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women". Added bonus: It is an endlessly fascinating topic and you can annoy your friends by pulling out interesting facts when they're bragging about sexual exploits.

2) Practical sexuality- I wanted to know what people do when having sex. A copy of the Good Vibrations Guide to Sex is essential. I also found feminist porn and erotica (the Crash Pad Series) helpful as long your recognize that any porn isn't real sex like romantic comedies aren't real relationship advice. The point here to think about what turns you on. What, of these options, sounds good to you? What would you like to try? It made sex a lot less scary when I had an idea of I am "supposed" to be doing. (As an aside, your lack of experience is a benefit, not a deficit to the right person. Someone who is into you will be honored to share new experiences with you and will find it hot when you tell them " I want to try X with you." ) And ,frankly, masturbation was a big part of helping me realize that sexuality is something I have all on my own and can share with other people. Far too often women are taught the sex comes from the other person who "gives you an orgasm" or whatever. Nope, your body does that. Other people can help. A visit to your local friendly feminist sex shop can help you find other resources related to this including a sex toy if you want one.

2) Everyday sexuality-I strongly believe that sexuality is something you have and not just something you do with other people. So how are you expressing your sexuality now? Find what feels good, sensual and sexual to you and do that. I have friends who don't wear underwear, sleep naked, wear men's clothes, wear silk underwear, sing, dance, play sports etc all because it makes them feel good and worthy and awesome. When you feel good and worthy and awesome finding partners to share all kinds of fun with, including sex, is a bit easier.

Again, these are things that helped me make sexuality less scary and more fun so that when I did "lose" my virginity it felt like a informed choice. I knew the experience I wanted to have, sought it out and had it. A lot of women I know didn't have that option. However to know a thing, is not to experience that thing. Thinking of sex as a project did not protect me, and won't protect you, from heartache, heartbreak and that thing where you get what you want and realize it isn't want you wanted at all. I had (and am still having) a lot of fun and learned a lot of things about myself that came in handy when I did choose to start sharing sex with other people (preferences, dislikes etc).
Hope this helps!
posted by Misty_Knightmare at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

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