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What It’s Like Being a Virgin at 40

Trevor Risk

“Hearing stories from people about dating, songs about sex and love, or even reading about it, has always made me feel abnormal as a human being.”

Image via Shutterstock 

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

I met Jeremy three or four years ago. I overheard him talking about his school days and clocked him immediately as American for saying “fourth grade” rather than “grade four.” We started chatting and developed a friendship. He was clever, and fashionable, albeit, noticeably always rolling solo. I assumed that was because he was just mature and independent, and hit that spot we all do around our mid-thirties where we are in transition, ditching our late-night acquaintances and work friends, hoping to find what feels like more solid friendships, the kind that we hope last into our golden years.

He was the kind of person you rarely meet in late night social settings. As a rule, if you are at a large gathering or party after midnight in Vancouver, you are surrounded by mostly the maladjusted. Jeremy always seemed to be very well adjusted, perhaps too much so. His manners and demeanor have always been top tier but has never come across saccharine. Recently, specifically after celebrating a friends fortieth birthday, I started to notice a more sanguine tone coming from him during our conversations. He shared an incredibly intimate detail with me: He is forty and he has never had sex.

Shock wasn’t really the reaction or feeling I had to this news. Interestingly enough, nor was it pity. Immediately, my quizmaster personality took over, and he let me pepper him with questions. Jeremy’s emotions throughout the conversation were an amalgam of nihilism, sorrow, and gallows humor. I found it difficult to empathize, even being a late bloomer myself. (The average age to lose your virginity in Canada and the US is about 18, according to a 2016 Durex condom survey.) He is now twice the age I was when I began having sex, and on some level, I worry he’s not just two 20-year-old virgins stacked upon one another but has lived a compounded life of frustration—exponentially alienated, depressed, and sexually or emotionally frustrated.

That said, speaking with him, there is a feeling of him starting anew with his life at forty, which perhaps the optimistic in him feels sometimes that he can begin a sexual life with a perspective of a forty-year-old man rather than be drowning in the theatrical melodramas that surrounded most of us when we began our sexual experiences. Conversely, this looming albatross can be an obviously dark place for Jeremy, and it is a testament to his character and conviction that he is hopeful, proactive, and refuses to live out his days in sexual forfeiture.

VICE: Do many people know about your situation? What do they say about it?
Jeremy: No, not many people know. I think my family may have their suspicions, but no one in my family has ever talked to me about it. I have been holding onto this secret for years. Only recently, however, I went home with a woman I met at a club and drunkenly told her about it. However, since we were both drunk at the time, I can't say what her reaction was in any specific capacity. I can tell you that she sounded surprised, but that is about it. I think I have told a total of four people: that woman, a close friend of over a decade, my endocrinologist, and now, you and whoever is reading this article. The friend I told a number of years ago was concerned and even suggested a sex therapist if it didn't happen in a few years.

Has anyone offered to help you lose your virginity out of friendship or compassion?
No, that has never happened for me. Since I haven't told many people—even my closest friends—that has never been an option for me.

Have you considered hiring someone to get such a looming situation out of the way? Sex work comes in all different options now, from a girlfriend experience to something perhaps more quick and classic. It's also not nearly as taboo as it once was.
When I was younger, I never expected that I would even have to think about sex work or sexual surrogacy as an option for myself. I thought it would just happen when it happened. In my head, I naively thought I would meet someone and I'd be able to share that experience with them. I just expected that when it happened for the first time, it would be with someone I liked, or, perhaps more crassly, have a hook-up after meeting someone at a club. I feel like these particular life experiences sound so simple when I say it, and I know this is how it happens for a lot of people, but it just never happened for me.

The idea of never having sex never felt particularly looming to me when I was in my 20s. However, I am 40 now; it is—on a wholly emotional level especially—a much bigger issue for me. When the issue began looming for me, I couldn't use sex work. I saw using sex work not as taboo, but the “easy way out.” If I used sex work, it meant I was throwing in the towel for the antiquated idea that I'd meet someone to share the experience. In my head—you'll notice that I happen to be in my head a lot—I felt as though I was abnormal or an abomination. I felt as though by considering using sex work I'd be even more of an abomination.

But it's an idea that you're open to now? Is the hurdle that you just wouldn't know where to start with it?
I would say yes. It is an idea that I'm open to now, but I don't know where or how to begin with it at all.

What are you most curious about? Is it the sex itself, or what may come attached to it?
As a virgin of any age, I believe sex is something everyone is curious about at some level. Admittedly, as someone who is 40 and a virgin, sex looms larger now. I feel like I'm intelligent enough to know that sex, real sex, isn't like porn. I know it gets messy on multiple levels. Since I am such an incredibly late bloomer, I have a fear that I won't be able to catch up to everyone else. I fear that because I am starting so late, that I will always be bad at it and will always disappoint my partner. I fear becoming a joke to people. However, the concept of what comes attached to it, especially the component of an adult relationship is what makes me curious. Being someone who has never had a girlfriend, I haven't experienced the highs and lows of being in an adult relationship. I am the most curious about being both sexually and emotionally intimate with a woman.

You have a rare condition that stunted your puberty and your sex drive, yes?
I have a condition known as idiopathic panhypopituitarism. I have had the condition since birth, but I was diagnosed when I was four or five, when my parents realized I wasn't growing as quickly as I should have been growing. Since my condition affects all of the pituitary hormones, I had a growth hormone deficiency at a very early age. I also have a deficiency in the thyroid and adrenal glands. It has led to me taking pills to supplement the fact that I can't produce those hormones as well as taking shots of testosterone to supplement the fact that I cannot produce testosterone. The condition makes me look a lot younger. In fact, I only started shaving in my mid 30s. It also affected my sex drive. If I am being completely honest, I always am proud that I can shave. I even celebrate the day I started as my “shaversary.” I am especially proud that I get erections now, too. The sexual hormone replacement makes me feel sexual where, for years, I didn't feel sexual at all.

Presumably, you masturbate. Did you not start masturbating until you were in your thirties as well?
Yes, I do masturbate. It is not like I remember how old I was when I started to do it. If you were to ask me to narrow it down, I would say that I started when I was in my late 20s to early 30s. However, it wasn't until my early 30s, when my dosage of testosterone increased, that I could find any semblance of completion with it. And even with completion, I don't necessarily cum a lot.

How close have you come to having sex, and do you have any regrets about those moments or other ones?
There were two times that I believe I came close to having sex. The first time was with a woman who was roughly five to seven years older than me that I had known online for a year or less. I was in my early 20s. She lived in Portland but came to Vancouver for a weekend. She was the first woman I had ever been intimate with in my life. I didn't tell her I was a virgin, but she knew about about my medical condition and I suspect she knew when we got together. Being with her was the closest I have ever come to sex. We slept together for a couple of nights, and on the last night, there was enough trust between us to move forward. However, because of my medical condition, I had no real sex drive at the time, so I had no erection. After she left, we talked less and less, and finally just lost touch with one another.

The second time was in my early 30s where another woman from out of town that I knew from online came to visit Vancouver. However, this time was different, as I realized there was no chemistry between us. I felt as though we were too different. She may have felt more strongly about me than I did her, so, yet again, on the last night we were together, we slept together. I had never specifically told her about my virginity that I can remember, but again, I am sure she knew because she understood that, with my condition, I had trouble with my sex drive. The second time didn't come close to the first, but it did include heavy petting. Again, after she left, we talked less and less and lost touch with one another. I am not making exceptions for myself because of my virginity or my condition.

I do regret that I lost contact with both women and how it ended with them. They were both amazing women who trusted me and were obviously comfortable with me too. I know that I could have communicated better with my partners. I may not have known better, sexually speaking, but I knew well enough to communicate better with them. As far as regrets, I will always have regrets about lost opportunities. I feel as though I have missed opportunities. I beat myself up a lot because of it. I ask myself if I were a different person who wasn't so shy about this kind of stuff would I have met someone already? If I wasn't so serious, would I have had a hook-up with someone? I regret not telling people about it, especially my friends. I guess what I am saying is that I regret a lot of things. Most of all, I regret being so in my head about it all.

Both women are, perhaps not coincidentally, people you met online. How long have you spent on dating sites and do you find it more welcoming to try and be up front about your virginity with connections made online than in real life?
I always feel as though I give really bad first impressions, especially with women. Not that online dating has been very successful for me, but I've been on one online dating site or app for a decade or more, starting with OkCupid. With online dating, I feel like I can let my brain do the work. I'm given time to reply, to be funny. I'm not the most spontaneous person, so having the dating site or app gives me the luxury of taking my time with my comments and/or replies. It means a lot to me. There's still a level of anonymity to being online, too. I think it is because of that anonymity that I feel more at ease about being more open about my virginity.

How much did your social life play a role? Did you have many friends growing up?
My family moved a lot. Though I was born here, my family moved to the United States when I was very young and consistently moved. When I was five or six, I was always the kid sitting by himself at school. After our second move that I could remember, I tried not to make friends because I knew I would just move again and not see them in my lifetime. By the time I was 19, I had lived in five states and overseas. It wasn't until my late 20s that I began forming adult friendships.

I have been a late bloomer to everything in life and that includes being a good friend who knows how to be vulnerable with friends. It has only been in recent years that I have discovered there are far more layers to having a circle of friends. It takes a lot to trust someone, it takes even more for me to reveal myself to someone. I have always had the fear that they wouldn't want to be with me or even talk with me if they knew the real me. I know this now and I am trying to be a better friend to the people I love. I want to be a trustworthy friend. I want to be able to support my friends by listening and being their cheerleader. In order to be that friend, however, I understand that I need to be able to trust myself too.

Have you had any negative or cruel reactions when you have shared this information with friends or potential lovers, or does most of this fear feel based in nerves rather than experience?
I have never had negative or cruel reactions when I've shared this information with anyone. The people I have told have either been in disbelief or very understanding. It just takes me a long time to trust someone to tell them about my situation. I always have the fear, even with my closest friends, that I would either be ostracized or made a joke by them. Like anyone, I just don’t want to be a joke or feel less than. I just want to feel like I’m normal, not some abnormality or a rare statistic. Even though I've never had negative or cruel reactions when I've shared this information with people, I'm still scared what they may think of me. I don't necessarily know what intimacy feels like, even among friends. It's difficult for me to reveal myself because I always have this fear that when I do, friends won't want to be around me or talk to me. I know it's an irrational fear, and I feel like even knowing this helps me some. I've been trying to make inroads into changing this about myself.

Do you worry about it being bad the first time like most people's experiences? Do you similarly worry about what it might be like afterward? They say everyone falls in love with the first person they have sex with, and it often ends in misery. Do you think your age and experience in life might help curb that since you don't have the world view of a teenager?
Oh man, I know that first time is going to be awful. I know that people say the first time isn't all that it's cracked up to be. I become too emotionally invested in situations and people I like, so yes, I am worried about falling in love with the first person I have sex with, too. On the other hand, I also feel that because I am mature enough, I might be able to curb that emotional investment.

Sex is pervasive in culture. Do you find it troubling being expected to relate to a lot of it?
I absolutely do. I find it frustrating, depressing, and altogether heart-breaking that I cannot relate to it. I may not have the experience that everyone younger than me does, but I do know how it is supposed to feel when I like someone. And, sexually speaking, I also know what it feels like to be physically attracted to someone too. However, hearing stories from people about dating, songs about sex and love, or even reading about it, has always made me feel abnormal as a human being.

Does forty years old feel like a frustrating benchmark? Do you feel like there's more of an attitude around you being in your fifth decade and a virgin than you did a year ago?
When I was younger, I always had this idea that by 40, I would have had a couple girlfriends and I'd be married or had been married. That sounds normal, doesn't it? I feel as though romantic comedies and TV shows with romantic elements in them totally screwed me up in a way because I always felt like I'd have the same experiences. Seeing a woman across the room and falling for her. Meet cutes. Even break-ups. Life is not like that; I recognize it is not realistic. It doesn't stop me from hoping I could feel a mutual attraction for someone and losing my virginity.

I feel like that, at 40, I am far more cognizant of being a statistical rarity. However, I am trying to love myself more, too. I realize that the combination of my medical condition and moving around so much created something of a perfect storm that included issues with low self-esteem, lack of trust, and a whole bunch of social inexperience. I believe that I am getting better at navigating through that particular storm. A large part of navigating in that storm is recognizing that I can’t beat myself up over situations that I had no control over in my life. I am not saying that I am unhappy all of the time. I have a job that I love, I am close with my family, and I spend time with friends that I adore. From time to time, however, I just feel completely alienated from the rest of humanity because of my virginity and social inexperience.

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