"I’m quite alright with being single for a little while longer"Illustration by Kate Towsey for Varsity

Not everyone is either having sex or desperately searching for it. For centuries, virginity – followed by marriage and children – has been the expectation. But this is finally being dismantled. Western culture is becoming increasingly secularised, women are no longer reliant on patriarchal economic protection, and a diversity of sexual expression is proudly bursting forth into the cultural arena. Today, our generation is one of sexual liberation. Sex is everywhere – from movies to marketing campaigns, even in the corporate world. Meanwhile, narratives in shows like Skins and The Inbetweeners feed into the idea that young people are constantly searching for opportunities to get laid.

On the flip side, if you are not sexually active, it is assumed that there is something wrong with you. The ‘sad loser virgin’ trope is astoundingly prolific, whether referring to a socially-awkward nerd, a frigid, nun-like prude, or a horny teenager whose desperation for love is only expressed through misogynistic animal-grunts and furious cry-wanking.

Every time such a character is introduced in a film or TV show, and their defining feature is their glaring sexlessness, we are invited to view them as broken. In order to escape such a damning indictment, young people, especially teenagers, feel they must ‘give away their flower’ (to use the words of young Monica in Friends) as soon as possible. Those that don’t feel condemned to live in embarrassment until we do.

“This is my body, this is my choice, and this is what feels right for me.”

It’s a little more complicated for those with a religious upbringing. My upbringing was one in which ‘purity culture’ was very much alive and kicking, and until I was about fifteen or sixteen, I was determined to remain abstinent until marriage. It was made clear to me by my parents, my church, and my Christian school that extra-marital sex was not a good idea, leading to a heavy cocktail of chlamydia, babies, and shame. Even more alarming was the emphasis on virginity as something that you could never get back: once that ship had sailed, sexual purity could never be reclaimed.

Personally, I would no longer class myself as particularly religious (though perhaps not exactly an atheist), and it is no longer my intention to remain celibate until marriage. However, I still subconsciously associate physical intimacy with sin, guilt, and shame. The prospect of sex remains stressful for me, and I know that exploring my boundaries will have to be a slow process with someone I trust completely. I’m therefore remaining abstinent until I feel I’m in a sufficiently safe, comfortable, and dependable relationship.

Then we arrive at the wonderful conundrum of dating. I’ve had friends not-so-delicately hint that my singleness and virginity is something rather sad, and that I should try to fix it as soon as possible. While I disagree with that sentiment, I actually would quite like a relationship with somebody. However, this is easier said than done. I’m sure my friends on the asexual spectrum can relate to the fact that finding someone is especially difficult when you’re not up for any hanky-panky.

The prospect of asking someone out myself is terrifying, knowing that our romantic expectations would probably clash and I would have to set boundaries that many would judge as ridiculous. I’ve tried Tinder, but this has not gone particularly well: my refusals of intimacy have been met by contemptuous comments about my “modesty”, stubbornly wandering hands, and one guy on a date blatantly stating that he was expecting sex and nothing more. I respect that other people are looking for other things in a relationship, but sometimes, when trying to navigate the world of relationships, it seems like I am on a different planet.


Mountain View

Hypocrisy is the best policy

This is fine: I’m quite alright with being single for a little while longer. The main difficulty I face as a celibate person is the expectation that I, like ‘everybody else’, am making a valiant and somewhat successful effort to fulfil my insatiable appetite for sex, and that this must be a conversation topic over which to bond.

One particular incident comes to mind: when I was a fresh-faced first year on my very first swap. Squashed into the basement of a dodgy, closed-down restaurant, a drunk, sweaty group of Cambridge students decided to play some drinking games. The game of choice? Fines. One person would stand up and shout out to the group: “fine if you’ve ever [insert a very specific and sexually explicit anecdote about your friend here]”. Everybody would laugh, and said friend would stand up and drink while people cheered. It looked like fun, but of course, it was completely impossible for someone like me to join in, having no sexual experience whatsoever. I sat in the corner quietly and watched, feeling like an outsider. One of the girls organising the event noticed this and called me out in front of everyone, shouting across the room as if I was being rude. I was very embarrassed, but it probably didn’t even cross her mind that my exclusion was not self-imposed.

Abstinence comes with a lot of baggage. We’re made to feel like pathetic, broken losers, unable to relate to what are presumed to be common experiences, and destined to be outsiders in a hyper-sexualised culture. At a time like Valentine’s, with sex and romance blared out relentlessly in fluorescent pink, the sense that we are weird is heightened. But, at the same time, this is a choice that I know is right for me. Emancipation for some people means the freedom to have sex without facing overt social stigma; for me, it’s the freedom to take things at my own pace. My right to bodily autonomy means I try to only put myself in situations in which I feel my boundaries are being respected, and I make a fuss if they’re not.

For some people, being a twenty-year-old virgin is a bit weird, but it’s something I wish I was less embarrassed about. This is my body, this is my choice, and this is what I feel is right for me. If this is also you this Valentine’s Day, you are not alone.