I Lost My Virginity at 31
Our culture tells us that adult virgins are losers—and I believed it.
It’s a weekend in May 2016, and I’m driving into Brooklyn from my home in rural Pennsylvania to meet K. She and I have met face-to-face only once, but we’ve been texting and emailing for months, in the odd rhythm of relationships that start on the internet. That one time, she was visiting her family in a nearby town in Pennsylvania. We went to see the skinhead bloodbath movie Green Room in a multiplex, then flirted at a chain restaurant, then I drove her home to her parents. It was very cute and it was definitely not a date.
This visit isn’t a date either.
For a long time, I was scared of everything. I had very real things to be afraid of; I have experienced real violence in my life. But the biggest fear was for anyone to find out how inexperienced I was. I was scared of my body.
A lot of that terror was never letting anyone know that I was a virgin.
I Bought Into the Myth of the Adult Male Virgin
In our culture, 31-year-old virgins shoot up movie theaters. They don't have or deserve anything resembling a cool, exciting life. I had internalized all of these cliches and decided that I deserved my misery and shame. I was ashamed of myself for many reasons. Virginity is a spiral, self-perpetuating and metastasizing. The longer you allow that vision of yourself, the more real it becomes.
So this isn't a date. We’re not attracted to each other. The change in our interactions online—talking to each other all day for months—that’s not anything. Her inviting me to visit her in the city—that definitely isn’t anything.
K. and I are the same age: 31. She works a day job for a repertory theater in NYC. and I’m a journalist. We both work in comics on the side. She's won awards and published multiple books, while I’ve recently had my first story published. Her work is a lot like her: brilliant and horny and ambivalent. Aquarian.
I’m passing through the Holland Tunnel in the Chevy Impala I bought from my sister when she went away to medical school. It will not survive the year. The Pennsylvania-to-NYC drive is a miserable and stressful commute, one that kicks the legs out from under my towering anxiety every time. I do not care. I go anyway.
I park in a sketchy garage in downtown Brooklyn and wander into the theater just after K. finishes delivering her lecture about the lasting iconography of 90s anime in modern culture. She grabs us beers and we duck out to get food. I have lived within two hours of the city most of my life and have barely traveled there on my own. The previous time was about a year earlier to go see a restoration screening of Heat at the same theater. I’m so anxious, I didn't even realize I was in the same building.
The organizer of the conference continues to send K. confessional texts for the next two hours about how much he hates the party, not realizing we'd already left. A theme in our brief relationship is that everyone quickly falls for her. She accepts that part of her job as a creative woman on the internet is having strange men obsess over her. Later she will tell me she's sold her underwear on Craigslist to make rent. I should have learned a lot from this, but most importantly, I should have picked up from our in-person chemistry that I wasn’t just some random person on her phone. I must say, from my perspective, K. is light-years out of my league. I will find out I’m wrong about that too.
I Couldn't Wait to Have Sex, but the Anticipation Only Made It Better
Being a virgin didn't make me radioactive. I just hadn't related to people up until this point. I hated myself. I had no real understanding of who I was and fell into preexisting narratives.
After some BBQ and industry gossip, K. leads me back to her neighborhood in Greenpoint and takes me up to her apartment. It's tiny; she lives alone with a cat, in a kitchen and a single bedroom. She has a drawing table at the end of her bed and Japanese movie posters from the 60s on the walls. We sit in her room and talk for another couple of hours. She plays Yoko Ono's Approximately Infinite Universe. We talk about catching the 70s porn retrospective screening at the Quad. Instead, we go to a nearby bar and spend a few hours there. The DJ plays the Church's "Under the Milky Way" and we keep drinking and accidentally touching each other. A couple gets kicked out of the bathroom for fooling around and we laugh. This is not a date.
Rationalizing that I have to sober up before I drive home, we walk back to her apartment to get my bag. We sit on her bed, just inches apart, and talk, imperceptibly moving closer. She says, "I haven't felt this way about anyone in a long time". All day long we’ve been dancing around how closely we've been watching each other, the hyper-awareness of the other's gestures.
I want to live forever in this moment of anticipation, the expansion of time before the act. It's the most cinematic experience I've ever felt. Then we finally meet and kiss, moving swiftly. More intimate than the kissing was how intensely we stared at one another. We both start to say out loud how we feel, an expulsion of horny demons.
"I jerked off to you."
"I jerked off to you," she says. "I came home from work the other day on the train and couldn't help myself. I didn't even take off my headphones." She lays back on her bed. Her skirt falls in a way that I can see her panties. "I just laid down right here and did it in my clothes."
I get very handsy. She puts on Portishead's second album; she puts on Roxy Music's first album; she puts on Nick Cave. She stops midway and says "We're not going to have sex tonight." I say okay. "You should spend the night." We grind against each and messy-drunk make out. After I lick her neck, she says, "This is like a Jess Franco movie." We eventually decide to go to sleep and recline in the dark in silence, spooning, pressing our bodies closer.
Her cat scratches me in the dark and I very silently hold my cut fingertip in my mouth so I don't get blood on K.'s white bedspread. I don't think I slept more than an hour.
When It Finally Happened, It Happened Fast
K. wakes up before dawn, in the morning half-light, and turns to me "Get up, we're going to have sex." Before I can react and ruin the moment, I just go with it. I put on a condom and she climbs on top of me. I kiss her nipples. She leans her hair down into my face.
Still, I am very awkward at first. Early on, I feel like the condom has slipped off and stop to check. She says "Did you come?" I instinctively parrot back, "No, did you?" and she laughs exasperatedly, like "No!" with an unspoken Jesus fucking Christ behind it. I kiss her neck and she climbs back onto me. I feel myself shift gears into something less self-conscious, my body chemically allaying my normally all-consuming self-analysis.
As she pulls her hair back, I notice she has a tattoo just below her elbow on her forearm. She starts breathing heavily. She's moaning as I grab her ass and pull her closer. Her expression shifts to ecstatic and she's fully in her body for a moment as arches her back and climaxes. She slides her knees up to my ribcage and squeezes. She says, "I love this" and I say without stopping, "It's my first time." She’s incredulous, but I nod so earnestly that she believes me. We both laugh, and she rocks back on her elbow like Catherine Deneuve. "If I had known that, I would have put on Kate Bush.”
I ask if she wants to change positions and she says, "No, I want to see your face when you come,” which is still one of the hottest things I've ever heard. She keeps riding and climaxes again. "Let's stop,” she says, lying down on her bed next to me. "Do you want to come on my tits?" I rip the condom off and stand over her at the head of the bed. She sucks my cock briefly and then angles her chest towards me. The sun has risen and I can see the semi-unhinged want in her eyes as she looks up at me. I am so hard I can't come, which is an experience I had not had before. After a few minutes, she shoves her fingers in her pussy and uses her wet hands as lube to jerk me off. I ejaculate on her collarbone. She smiles. I feel time skip.
It didn't last. We long-distance dated for the summer then hurt each other's feelings. I moved to NYC a couple of years later after saving up. I don't talk to K. anymore. She is incredibly successful and, I hope, happy.
Losing My Virginity Brought Everything Else Into Focus
That night set off a domino effect of seismic realizations. Five years on, I have separated myself from my family. I no longer work in or even pay much attention to comics. I am sexually active (and bi, if that means anything). I have a lot of friends that I see face to face, not just online. Everyone I have talked to about this since doesn't care at all. What was shocking wasn't that losing my virginity had changed me, but that it had become a non-factor.
If there is anything I'm still ashamed of, it's how much of myself I had locked away. Sectioned off. There were tangible reasons, of course. Child abuse and inherited mental illness and poverty, but they all shake out to how little I understood about myself. I'd struggled with my sexuality and my own body, my relationship to my family, my job, even where and how I lived my life.
It doesn't matter what you think about yourself and what your circumstances have dictated. That day, I realized how little I knew about what I was capable of, and have spent the past five years doing things that scared the hell out of me and only have become more and more myself.
Your mental image of yourself can be dangerous, and it can be wrong, and you can turn out to be a completely different person.
If you're scared, do it anyway.
After that night with K., she tells me she lost her virginity at 17. She played Air's first album. She says "I have some self-esteem issues," then goes to her kitchen to make coffee and blast Can's Ege Bamyasi. We then go to breakfast; she's beaming and wearing psychedelic yoga leggings and a Les Rallizes Dénudés tee. She tells me in depth why she loves J.G. Ballard even if he's a bad writer, and goes back to downtown Brooklyn to get my car with me. We make out in my car one more time, take pictures of one another and don't know what to do in our overwhelming excitement.
I drive back to Pennsylvania.