The Secrets of a 21-Year-Old Virgin

A few things you might not know unless you’ve gone over two decades without sex.

I had every faith I would lose my virginity at university. That is, until I graduated last week.

I’ve never sworn to celibacy for any reason – religion, a latex allergy, aggressive rules about my personal space – and although I can be prone to the occasional moment of social ineptitude, I don’t think of myself as being strange enough to remain a virgin until now, aged 21. But perhaps that’s exactly it? When everyone takes it for granted that you’ve done the dirty – when, in fact, you haven’t – it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you’re slightly deficient as a human being.

However, with time, and after many frank discussions with friends about sex and my lack of having it, I’ve come to realise a few things about being an older-than-normal virgin. If you’re in the same boat as me, hopefully this will serve as some reassurance. If you relish being mean to adult virgins, hopefully it’ll give you something to think about.

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Your sex life is not the bones that the rest of your personality hangs off. You know when people get deep, meaningful tattoos with stories that take 45 minutes to tell, in lieu of actually being interesting, and you can tell that’s exactly what’s happening? This is not like that. You’re still probably a completely normal, fun person to be around.

You don’t need to delve into your psyche to figure out what’s “wrong” with you, because there’s nothing wrong with you; you just haven’t had sex yet.

Sex means something different to everyone; we don’t all assign the same value to it. Chances are you know someone whose life revolves around it; who counts Dan Bilzerian among their idols; who watches Love Island for tips on how to go from “hello” to “goodbye forever” in 40 minutes flat; who actually pays for Tinder Plus. But then, you probably also know someone for whom no-strings sex is just empty and meaningless; who’d prefer to wait for someone they connect with on an emotional level, before diving into the physical.

For some, the overwhelming urge to have sex overrides the inevitable anxiety surrounding first-time intimacy with another person. For others, it doesn’t. And it goes without saying that some people just have a higher sex drive than others. None of this is necessarily positive or negative – it just is. We don’t all like the same music or films, nor do we all share the same politics or religion, so why should we all have the same attitude towards sex?

At least, it was for me. Accepting that I’m still a virgin came with the realisation that I was perfectly happy in myself, and that all the worries I had were a product of what I’d been led to believe by some of my peers, society at large and the entire American Pie movie series.

Being an outlier isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I’ve waited longer than the average person to have sex – for guys in the UK it’s 16; for girls, 17 – but I don’t think that represents anything too dramatic. Friends say they were never too bothered about sex until they had it for the first time with the person they loved. Granted, I would say this, having not had sex, but there’s more to life than getting to know someone Biblically.

Photo: Chloe Orefice
The classic stereotype of the sexual late bloomer is that of a socially awkward guy who, try as he might, can’t get laid to save his life. Will in The Inbetweeners. McLovin in Superbad. The Jonas Brothers pre-ditching their purity rings. But we’re not all single-minded sex-pests searching hungrily for a fix. Plus, something as personal as sex shouldn’t ever be seen as a competition: if we feel no strong desire to have sex, it makes no sense to pursue it to “prove” anything to anyone else.

The stigma around being a virgin means many of us avoid the subject altogether. While our friends share stories of their previous sexual experiences, we mostly prefer to fade into the background, laugh at their jokes and try to think of something to contribute to the conversation that doesn’t sound too “bag of sand-y”.

As virgins, we’re socialised into believing we’re abnormal, aberrant, strange. Add to this the fact that sex can still be a taboo topic to discuss, and it’s easy to see why we’re so reluctant to speak up about it, only reinforcing the misconception that being a virgin at 21 is a complete and utter oddity. But though we seem rare, make no mistake: we exist.

Seriously. In fairness, most people with you’d actually want to spend any time with honestly aren’t too judgmental about the whole thing. Yes, there are people who will mock virgins on the assumption that we’re all sex-deprived nerds, but these people are mercifully few and far between. And in the end, their opinions really don’t matter. What is sex but another human experience. Would you care if someone took the piss out of you for not learning to drive?

Most people see being a virgin for what it is: a personal choice. A state of affairs that doesn’t require an explanation. After all, you don’t hear of many non-virgin 21-year-olds being asked why they decided to have sex.