Growing up, I’ve always assumed I would get married and have kids. I was the girl who dreamt of her wedding, and always imagined there’d be babies shortly thereafter. Life has a very annoying way of screwing up all of your plans, and at the age of 38, I haven’t even had a boyfriend or had sex, let alone gotten married and had children. People have asked me why I have never had either, and there’s no clean or easy answer to it. As previously discussed, I have been dealing with PTSD from years of sexual trauma as a young girl, and have kept myself pretty far away from the dating world as I could. Also, I didn’t think I COULD have sex. Due to the PTSD, I have what is commonly known as “vaginismus” which is a tightening of the vaginal muscles. Basically, any time someone (myself or a doctor) wanted to get in my vagina, my body made it almost impossible to do that. It’s not some rare issue, rather it’s fairly common with sexual abuse survivors, but wow, did it ever throw off my life plan.
I used to think I was the only virgin in the world. I’m probably the only one out of my group of friends, but I know I’m not the only one in the world. I feel as though I spent a large majority of my 20’s really hoping to lose this thing called “virginity” but I don’t think I ever really took into account how that would’ve made me feel. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready when some man put his hands on my body at a young age, and in a lot of ways, I sort of stopped being ready for anything after that. Am I ready now? In some ways, I think yes, but I honestly don’t think I am. However, what I’ve learned in the last few years is what a load of shit the word “virgin” is, and what a loaded concept it is. It’s not as though I’m holding on to this concept as some moral code (though I do think I accidentally took a virginity pledge at a church function I attended back when I tried to be religious--another story for another time), and also, it doesn’t make me weird or “sad”. I’m a virgin. It is what it is. But, I do often wonder if I hadn’t been assaulted, and if I hadn’t been violated by some older man, would this have been a part of my adulthood? I honestly don’t know. I used to make jokes how I was going to die a virgin, or how if I didn’t have sex by the age of 21, I would die alone. Well, I’m 38, and I haven’t died, so there’s that for you. Honestly, I didn’t know there was an actual medical name for what I had, and didn’t even really know I HAD an issue until I started going to the doctor for pap smears.
Going to a gynecologist has always been my worst nightmare. It was all fine and good until they would tell me this phrase: “Put your feet in the stirrups and scoot down closer to me…” It would be that moment when my heart would start to race and my palms would start to sweat. I would begin to cry, and would try to fight the doctor not to touch my vulva or anywhere around the pubic area. Sometimes, the doctor would get a little bit of the way in with the speculum, but for the most part, it was a no-go. I had one doctor who didn’t have the patience for me, I guess, and told me: “I can tell you’re tensing up from down here.” That only made me tense up more, obviously, and there was no getting in my vagina after that. I’ve really only ever had one doctor who was patient with me, and who understood why I couldn’t stand to be touched on my vulva. She was incredibly patient and when I asked her why I was like this, she pointed out I had PTSD and this was my body’s way of protecting myself. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Any time I feel threatened or hurting, I close up, so why wouldn’t I have expected the same of my vagina?
Every single gynecologist appointment was such a terror-filled experience for me. I’d build it up the whole day and then when I got there, I’d think I was fine and then they would say that phrase and I couldn’t help myself. It was, almost, Pavlovian in response. My doctor had begun to recommend pelvic physical therapy for me, but I put her off for years. Again, she was incredibly patient with me and would talk with me about the idea of therapy when I would go in and I would always tell her I would look into it. But, I avoided all appointments with the physical therapist and kept going on as I always had. Honestly, it wasn’t until 3 years ago that I made an appointment and actually went.
I was 35 years old the first time anyone got more than a pinkie finger inside of me.
Pelvic therapy really changed my life. Not only was it a place where I knew no one could hurt me, it became a place to cry if needed, and a place to learn that my body could handle being touched, and could more than handle some most needed TLC. My physical therapist was one of the coolest and nicest women I’d ever met in my life, and by the end of our time together, we would be talking about food we loved to eat and she’d be casually using her fingers to stretch out the extremely hard muscle fibers that spent years working as a barrier and, I suppose, a safety block. I truly believe there are things that we need to do for ourselves, even if nothing else ever comes from it, and I believe this therapy was that for me. Initially, I had thought there might’ve been someone that I would’ve gotten intimate with, so I wanted to be ready, but when that didn’t work out, I still kept going. At that point, I was claiming this therapy for myself. In the beginning, her touches terrified me, and I would involuntarily try to snap my legs shut, but I learned what a safe place was, and not everyone is out to hurt me. I became empowered every time I left the office, and would sort of float back down to reality and feel like a badass for the rest of the day.
I learned so much about myself from this therapy. Now, it’s not terrifying to go to the gynecologist. I even look forward to it (I mean, as much as anyone can) because I feel like I’ve come so far. All is ask is for a little lidocaine and make it quick, and I know I can handle it. I’ve also learned to accept that my age and the idea of “virginity” don’t mean anything. I’m not a comedy movie for people to giggle at, and I’m not some “sad” person who just needs to get laid. And, honestly, I’m not “healed” and I’m not “over” the sexual abuse. I often wonder what sex will be like because I get flashbacks and what happens if I panic in the middle of sex? What would I do then? I would hope I had a caring and understanding partner, but what if I don’t? So, I still have work to do. I still have years to wade through the bog of memories I carry, and the work won’t be done anytime soon. I’m not entirely certain the work will ever really be done. But, I think what I’ve learned is that I’m okay with that. I’m okay with taking my time, and learning about myself. I have found people in my life who don’t think it’s strange that I am “inexperienced”, and I am finding there are more people out in this world who, for whatever reason, haven’t had sex yet. And, at this point, I’m not sure if that time will ever come, and I’m working on being okay with that too.
I think what I’ve learned through therapy and self-reflection is that my body is mine and mine alone. No one else gets to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing with it, and no one gets to tell me when it’s time to do things. I decide. I’m not here to say I’m living my life in the best possible way, but I am certainly trying to fight for myself. Someone took something from me a long time ago, and I can’t get that back. But, I can own my body now, and I can be the person I want to be. For a long time, I allowed not having sex to define me, but I’m so tired of doing that. There’s so much more to who I am: funny, caring, empathetic, doula, maternal, sister, daughter, friend, cat mother extraordinaire, and a million other things. There’s no need to let a word like “virgin” make me feel bad, or define my life as something that’s missing. I decide what happens to me now, and I decide that the word “virgin” isn’t something I’m interested in caring about. It’s been a long hard road, and I’m definitely still on it, but the older I get, the more invested I become in myself, and the more I don’t care what other people think.
So, yeah, I’m a 38 year-old virgin. Okay, cool. Next.