I've waited to have sex because I was raised in a religious culture that said it was the right thing to do. When I found myself in my early 20s and in a serious long-term relationship I made the decision to continue waiting. I think that was part hangover from a religious upbringing, and part personal choice. After so long I thought, Why stop? Why give up on that? Every year after that my virginity felt more like something I couldn't throw away.
At times it does feel like a burden. I'm a very sensual person and want to engage with people in an intimate, sexual way. Without sex that can be complicated. But it forces you to really think about what you consider sex and intimacy. All of this, my virginity and what it means, attracts a fair bit of attention from friends who don't share my views. That can be tricky, but I talk honestly and find people on the whole are supportive and surprisingly encouraging.
It only really comes up when I'm in a relationship and hanging out with new people. When I'm single I don't really talk about it. I suppose as I get older I'm sometimes a little embarrassed. But also, it's fraught. It's like talking about climate change with really conservative people—I'd rather talk about other things.
Taking sex out of a relationship means I haven't had many. But it also means relationships look different. Things start the same way as with anyone, just a whole lot of flirting. But when the other side—particularly men, women not so much—work out that sex isn't on the table it's like they go through this period of hating you. But weirdly, they always come back, it's like they suddenly remember you're their friend and they get over it.
After that shift there is this new, really strong intimacy to the friendship I don't have in other relationships. Maybe that's what other people feel after sex with someone they care about. That's what I remember as the falling in love stage as a much, much younger person, before sex was even a thing. It feels like how you intensely love a friend as a child.
You still understand sex's place in a relationship when you're not having it. And it is still a presence. It raises the stakes really quickly, so when you're choosing not to have sex, you're still thinking about it all the time. Again as a sensual type of person there's heavy making out, and it's like: Where's the line? Where's the boundary? Sex is still the center of the dynamic in that respect.
Some people think all human interaction is based on our desire for sexual connection, I don't agree with that. I really believe in true platonic relationships. But taking out sex also changes what that looks like. I'm attracted to men and women and I have explored the differences in that. I've fallen in love with some female friends, but not others; in the same way I've fallen in love with gay male friends, and some of my straight male friends, but not with others.
Sexuality isn't necessarily about our bits. It's about our desire for intimacy and connection. I think you can experience that human to human, with yourself, with the earth, and if you believe in God or have another worldly connection, with that.
I think we confuse that sometimes. I think we experience intimacy because of sex, but it's about more than that. I think we put too much value in the pursuit of gratification through sex—but not necessarily into the act itself.
Even as a really inexperienced person I see how much of our identity is tied up with our relationship to sex. I don't think that's unique to someone like me. In talking to other people, observing them, and listening to their stories, I think sex is very closely tied to our sense of ourselves. Whether we deny that and have casual sex for fun—and that's cool—it's still an identity defining attitude. For me that thought is very present.
I've never thought about sex as being something that changes how you view the world. I see it as something that's neutral and it's whether you have positive or negative experiences that becomes the filter. But it still leaves a trace, whether it's good or bad. Maybe you leave a part of yourself.
As told to Wendy Syfret, follow her on Twitter.