Six years and one-and-a-half university degrees after the fact, those
condoms handed to me on that first day in freshman dorm remain in my
cosmetics case where they are gently expiring even as I type. Yes, I'm a
24-year-old graduate student, a virgin and (apparently) still
living in eternal hope.
Even in the 1998 post-Madonna era, there are still some irreligious,
potty-mouthed heterosexual women out there who, like me, have managed to
go through life unravished and unbesmirched no matter how much they
wouldn't mind a good smirching. But one doesn't often hear about these
virgins of circumstance, since not having sex is arguably more of a stigma
than running your body like an A & P -- open 24 hours a day.
The other virgins I know are equally reluctant to come out of the chastity closet. The university-educated crowds they run in simply won't countenance the notion that a healthy young woman can escape intercourse without there being something deeply depraved about her person. Even when one young woman explains that she's taxed with working two jobs to support herself through college and simply doesn't have the time or energy to pursue a man, her virginity is still troubling.
The sexual tides have been turning for young women ever since
Helen Gurley Brown wrote "Sex and the Single Girl" in 1965, at the dawn of the feminist movement. Once a young woman who found herself in the family way was "sent to an aunt's" to bear an illicitly conceived child; nowadays, we have sitcoms about single moms, discussions about G-spots, and grannies buying dental
dams. But the new freedoms women experience also bring with them some old
problems: Now that women can manage lust and love for themselves, many
people expect them to make it their first priority.
For instance, on those rare occasions when I mention that I'm not
sexually experienced, people react as if I have managed to miraculously
avoid the mumps. The tone in which they might exclaim, "You mean you've never gotten chicken pox?" is the same tone they use in their inevitably unfinished query: "You mean you've never [gotten laid]?"
Those who react this way forget that getting sex takes dedication, courage,
interest and effort. It's not as if losing one's virginity is a common
and unavoidable household accident. Penises do not fall from high shelves.
Few people are willing to accept virginity as a side effect of a hectic schedule or a statement of independence. In fact, it's as if my great-aunt's well-meaning words were still true: "Being smart is all well and good, but it never got you a man, dear."
Inevitably, when I confess my tawdry little secret, the sophisticated, the educated and the defenders of debauchery poke and prod with all the persistence of a Ken Starr for any sign of religious affiliation and/or neurosis. They inquire as to whether I'm a devout Christian or Muslim; barring that, they interrogate me on my politics. Since I happen to be Asian, people often dismiss me as having had a narrow-minded and foot-bound upbringing. They coo sympathetically about my oppression, repression and, ultimately, my lack of "worldliness" -- which I take as a euphemism for intelligence.
And yes, sometimes even I feel that I've thwarted some sort of natural
North American order. Logically, slow burners like me who didn't get
lucky on prom night should always be given a second chance by the gods of
nubility to redeem themselves in the beer- and musk-soaked jungle of
college. A friend's mother, for example, once recounted to me how she went from not speaking to boys in high school to scheduling two dates per night by the time she was a sophomore at the university. This she called "budding and
All of this flora and fauna can make a 24-year-old virgin with
four unfurled, desiccated condoms feel incredibly defensive.
I see junior high school girls on the Sally Jessy Raphael show telling
people how they got pregnant and I think, "Is it that I just don't have
the right wardrobe? Is that why I'm not getting laid?"
I ask myself, Am I too fussy? Should I have just taken the plunge when I
was 16 and that middle-aged carpenter came on to me? Would
it have been easier if I'd been easy?
Three other theories spring to mind:
1. I lived in all-girl dorms too long and worked in too many women's
2. I have a deep-seated fear of depending on men that springs from the
fact that my father dropped me on the stairs when I was 3.
3. I am a "Star Trek" fan, which never helps anyone get laid.
Ultimately, however, these questions and explanations fail to satisfy,
maybe because they are just so silly. Why can't we accept the
fact that some people never got around to getting around? Maybe it's a
sign of the callowness of our culture -- that all young women must trot along in lockstep with contemporary femininity or be branded as aliens. Or maybe I'm just cranky and need a little lovin'. All I know is that my four freshman condoms continue to get old and, yes, so do I.