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[posted 03.06.2002]


THE FIRST TIME WAS awkward, ha ha, you know how it goes. I was being really slow, all worried about rushing her, until finally she was like, “Get on with it.” She was 19 and had done it a few times, but I was 18, a college freshman. I’d had a few blow jobs in high school from my two serious girlfriends, but they were never willing to go all the way and, frankly, while I may have talked about it, I was kind of scared too. But I got the condom on, and I figured out where I go and, well, I lasted about three minutes, but so it goes. Ha ha. Man, was I glad when I got that out of the way.

That’s the story, right? The one we all tell our good friends late at night when we’re drunk, or a new girlfriend after the first time we sleep together. It certainly is in my experience, or at least my experience of hearing other people tell their stories. For me, it’s a mystery. I’m 24, and I’ve never had sex. Hell, I haven’t even had a blow job.

So let me get the standard questions out of the way:

(1.) Are you gay? Nope. Beyond the occassional thought that I know all straight guys have, I’m about as interested in sex with a man as with Barbara Bush.

(2.) Saving yourself? No way.

(3.) Ugly? Well, that’s subjective, but I’m six-foot-four and pretty lean, I work out and play volleyball and have no deformities. And plenty of people tell me I’m cute.

(4.) Too picky? I hardly think I am. I’ve only turned down one opportunity, with a girl I didn’t find attractive in the first place who wanted to use me to get back at her ex-boyfriend — my best friend.

(5.) It’s your personality, then, right? I’m shy, but not painfully so. I’m neither a charmer nor the constant center of attention, but I have plenty of friends, so I can’t be too much of a jerk.

I’ve had two girlfriends of note, and both relationships lasted approximately six weeks. The first was with a girl who seemed to have enough hangups to make me look like Don Juan. We were both 19, and we never did more than kiss. With the second girl, everything seemed to be going OK until Alice (not her real name) came into my dorm room one night to tell me she had woken that morning with a “bad feeling” about our relationship. Fucking great. Besides that, I’ve had the usual string of dates and hookups, none of which have gone further than…well, this isn’t a porno. Suffice it to say somewhere shy of third base.

I don’t really know why none of these became intimate, physically or emotionally. If I had to come up with an explanation, I’d credit some combination of shyness, bad luck and a lack of experience causing lack of confidence. But that seems like such an inadequate explanation. I know plenty of people who fit any of those descriptions but still overcome them, or even make them work to their advantage. In my case, things always seem to peter out after a few dates; once we get to a certain stage physically, the girl always pulls back or flat out asks me to stop. Whether I’m shy or aggressive, explicit or easygoing, working out or in my natural state of skinny-ness — nothing seems to matter. Again and again, I’m cut off from what it seems like everyone else gets, at least occassionally…and it makes no sense.

I try not to think about it in those terms too often, though, because doing so quickly morphs into wallowing in self-pity, one of my least favorite traits in humans. What I prefer to think about when I see happy couples holding hands on the street, or hear not particularly attractive people tell me they haven’t been without a significant other for more than two weeks since they turned 16, is the big picture. In life, after all, romance and lust and first loves and hurtful breakups are all part of the growing process — part of being human.

And somehow I’m missing out on all that.

I do know lust, of course, but it’s totally detached from anything that could actually happen. I don’t really have low self-confidence (I actually basically like who I am). It’s just that I’ve developed a total separation between what I logically know is true — girls like sex and girls want boyfriends and I’d be a good candidate for either — and what experience has shown me to be true. If I had only my life to go by, I would have to conclude that girls don’t want sex or boyfriends — or if they do, I’m one of the worst candidates alive.

What frustrates me is that I can’t really discuss my predicament with anybody. My close friends know, of course, but I tend not to talk about it, because it obviously makes them uncomfortable. And what can anyone say? Usually I get a “Damn, I’m sorry,” or some really basic advice to “act confident” or “be interested in what she says.”

So instead I spend a lot of sleepless nights wondering. What’s it like to have a first love? Or a second and third? Does it get boring? Is it always thrilling? Is sex really that much better than masturbation? What would it be like to have a naked woman standing in front of me? Or to stand naked in front of a woman? Is it at all possible that someone would really want to do all those things with me?

These are natural thoughts…for a 16-year-old.


Most of the time, of course, I’m not obsessing about my virginity. I live a fairly normal life and am in fact a quite independent person, often quite happy to be alone. But it’s when I’m having a “How’s life?” conversation with friends and most of theirs revolve around the newest boy- or girlfriend — or when I read Dave Eggers casually mentioning that he has had sex with over 20 women — that I wonder why what is natural to everyone else in the world is so foreign to me. It leaves me angry and frustrated, and it makes me feel not quite human. That’s why sex scenes in movies and TV always make me uncomfortable — not because I’m a prude, but because they remind me that something beyond my experience and practical comprehension is so mainstream that Hollywood feels compelled to insert it in most pop culture in order to be relevant.

Early in college I assumed that when I lost my virginity it would be to someone I felt close to, if not loved. Now, however, emotional intimacy feels incredibly distant and unlikely. These days I’m just looking to have sex with someone I merely like and who likes me. I’ve been meeting and dating a bunch of girls recently (my roommate has taken to calling me the biggest mack virgin on Earth) and have felt optimistic about my chances in numerous instances, But there’s always some reason it doesn’t happen. She likes to wait a long time before getting intimate; she’s too busy with school; she met someone else. Each individual incident is no big deal, perfectly understandable…. But when that’s all that ever happens to you, it becomes painful.

Once I know what it’s like to have sex — and know it’s possible someone would want to do it with me — I imagine I’ll feel a little more confident in my search for the right person. And I’ll be a better potential boyfriend, because I’ll only have to worry about our first time, not the first time.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical. I have no idea how I would actually react given the opportunity to finally have sex, or how I would feel afterward. All I know for certain is that with each passing day a normal rite of passage of early adulthood becomes increasingly less likely to happen — or potentially even more awkward if it should occur. This thing called sex remains, for me, as much of a mystery as it was when Mom and Dad explained where babies come from 15 years ago. And I live my life feeling I must somehow be out of sync with reality. Because either I’m real or sex is real. But we can’t both be.

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elijah marshall is not the real name of the author. it’s not that he’s horribly embarrassed by the truth, but he doesn’t really want any future girlfriends, or his parents, to happen upon this slightly too revealing story when doing a google search. he did, however, set up an email address at in case you want to reach him.