Saving virginity for marriage

Waiting until marriage for sex is really hard.

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Kristen.NewCreation and FreeinChrist

Growing up in a Christian home, I was raised to view my virginity as almost as important as my salvation.

It was my most precious possession, to be guarded at all costs — and the loss of it before marital bliss was possibly the most shameful thing that could possibly have happened to me.

I took those warnings to heart. It’s difficult to understand if you didn’t grow up in the church, but the focus on purity before marriage is so pervasive in many Christian circles that I didn’t even question it. Of course I would wait until marriage. How could I think of doing anything else? It would be hard, but if I didn’t, I’d regret it for the rest of my life (or so I was told).

When I was 15, I signed the pledge to wait to have sex until marriage. Yes, there was a physical piece of paper that I (along with several of my peers) signed at church youth group after a discussion about premarital abstinence.

My parents gave me a purity ring the following year. Even though I knew that they had lived together for several years before getting married, I never thought of them as being hypocritical, but rather I believed they did their best to keep me from making the same mistakes that they had made in their youth. They were, after all, very different people now.

In response to the many warnings about premarital sex from my church, parents, and elsewhere, I embraced an extreme: I restricted my dating life to a handful of guys in college and beyond, and I even decided to refrain from kissing the man who’d become my husband until our wedding day.

I even decided to refrain from kissing the man who’d become my husband until our wedding day.

We were dating for almost exactly a year before we got engaged, and we were engaged for five months before we got married. The fact that my husband and I shared our first kiss at the altar usually gets plenty of incredulous gasps. “How on earth can you know if you’re sexually compatible with this man if you’ve never even kissed him?!” people would ask me. “Isn’t that something you should know before you say ‘I do’?”

To be honest, I never really worried about marrying someone I was sexually incompatible with, since everyone flat-out assured me that the sex would be glorious once it was done within the confines of marriage. I did sometimes think about my decision not to kiss, wondering if there would be a “spark” there or not, but my fiancé was on board with waiting, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem.

I laugh now at my naivety.

The nearly constant judgment and expectations from my parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and acquaintances wore on me. I was tired of feeling like a black sheep or even a leper, always on the defensive and having to explain myself, so eventually I just stopped telling people about our decision altogether.

The sexual tension between my fiancé and I certainly didn’t make keeping our lips apart or our hands off each other easy. But we had both decided that we wanted to honor each other and honor our God, and so for us the sacrifice was worth it. We were looking forward to sharing that intimacy once we were married.

I innocently assumed that all of that work on both our parts to remain chaste would pay off with a hot, passionate sex life after we had finally said “I do.” I assumed this because no one had ever told me differently.

I innocently assumed that all of that work on both our parts to remain chaste would pay off with a hot, passionate sex life after we had finally said “I do.”

Neither of us had had any personal experience, we hadn’t had candid talks with other married friends, and I hadn’t really even had an adequate sex education class in school. Despite my repeated and direct questions about what to expect on the wedding night, the best advice I got from my trusted friends, family, and even doctors was always along the lines of “It’ll all work out,” or “Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out,” or my personal favorite, “Sex within marriage is great!”

Let’s just say…things didn’t work out as planned. There was a problem.

I was diagnosed with Vaginismus shortly after returning from the honeymoon (and after a week of tears and pain and frustration). This meant I had involuntary contractions of the pelvic muscles that made sex extremely painful or even impossible.

What followed were the darkest few months of my life.

After talking with doctors and therapists, I began to realize that decades of “saving myself” had subconsciously convinced me that sex was actually bad, something to be avoided and not thought about. And now that it was “good,” my body didn’t know what to do, because it had spent so many years not letting itself get too excited around members of the opposite sex. In fact, Vaginismus can be caused by, “Overly rigid parenting, unbalanced religious teaching (i.e.”Sex is BAD”), … and inadequate sex education.”

As I came to a more realistic understanding of the difficult road ahead if I wanted to overcome my diagnosis, I fell deeper and deeper into depression, ever more convinced of my utter failure as a woman and as a wife.

My friends were not any more helpful after the wedding than they were before the wedding. I can’t really blame them, though. What do you say to someone who’s been waiting their whole life to experience such a basic human need, and now isn’t physically able to do so? It’s hard to find words to address such a challenging situation.

As I fought to find time on the calendar and money in the budget for daily physical therapy and weekly counseling, I found myself becoming enraged with everyone around me — my husband, my family, my friends, and most of all, God.

The injustice of it was more than I could bear.

I had worked so hard to remain a virgin for my husband, and now that I was married I was rewarded with nothing but stress and anxiety.

Sadly, I’m not alone. In reaching out and sharing my story more, I am realizing that this problem (and others like it) are vastly common in the Christian church. We spend so much time teaching teenagers to avoid intimate interactions, that by the time they’re married they’ve been conditioned to react against intimacy. Of course this doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but it is far more prevalent than it should be.

The “S-word” (sex) is completely taboo in many, many Christian circles. Kids are told to avoid it until they’re married, and that’s very often the end of the conversation.

What if we started speaking as frankly about sex as our secular counterparts do? What if we talked frankly about the mechanics and the pleasure of sex? What if we shared amusing tales of awkward first times? What if we candidly discussed the psychological effects that sex has on your brain?

I’m not saying that pastors should start preaching this stuff from the pulpit. There is a time and a place for everything, and I don’t think all of these nitty gritty details are appropriate there. But they are appropriate to discuss in Christian circles — with mentors, in discipleship groups, or with trusted friends. If Christians truly believe that sex is a gift from God to married couples, it’s time they started talking about this gift in more than hushed tones and cryptic euphemisms.

If I had to do it again, I still would have waited. For all of my struggles, I do not regret being raised in a Christian home, and I still have a strong faith. But I would have encouraged — and even demanded — open conversations about the many good aspects of sex and intimacy, rather than being told over and over again to simply avoid it until marriage.

When you’re a teenager, the “until marriage” part is easy to get lost, leaving you with a warped and unhealthy view of intimacy.

If I had to do it again, I would have asked for a more balanced perspective. I would have made sure that I was fully informed so that I could truly make my choice on my own, rather than just doing what I was told.

“HOW FAR CAN WE GO?”

Hi Stephanie,

My boyfriend and I are waiting to have sex until we get married, but we’re trying to figure out where the line is with all things leading up to sex. What can we do, and what shouldn’t we be doing before we get married, specifically? Can you help?

Hi love!

Thank you so much for reaching out and asking about this! I’m so glad you did!

“How far can we go?” is a question that so many of us are asking. I know I did before I got married, all of my girlfriends were asking the same thing, and I’ve had this conversation with countless small group girls, and readers of mine.

YOU’RE 1000% NOT ALONE

I wanted to make sure to say that because I know sometimes this can be a topic we wrestle with alone. And so if any part of you has felt ashamed, or like you’re the only one who doesn’t have this all figured out, please don’t.

Anyone who’s in a relationship with someone great, and trying not to have sex before they’re married is trying to figure out where the line is. You’re 1000% not alone.

This is tough for everybody, and it’s really tough for two main reasons.

First because when you’re in love with someone and in a relationship with them, the hope is that you’re super attracted to them. And when you’re in love with someone, and super attracted to them, not having sex is quite frankly… ROUGH.

The other reason this is tough is because scripture isn’t clear on what’s “allowed” and what’s not. It talks about sex before marriage, for sure, but it doesn’t give a diagram or any specifics about what’s okay and what’s too far. (I’m picturing a chart that says, “Above the belt: Happy face. Below the belt: Sad face.” Yea… scripture definitely doesn’t give us that).

So that leaves us in this awkward middle ground of wrestling our impulses, testing things out, doing things and feeling bad about them, trying not to do things, doing them anyway, trying to figure out what’s okay so you can know what line to stay behind, and so we can stop feeling guilty! (Let me know if any of this is ringing a bell!)

WHERE IS THE LINE?

And so I totally hear you in wanting to know — what’s okay and what’s not? Where is the line?

But the bad news is, there really isn’t a line.

Like I said, scripture doesn’t give specifics, and if scripture doesn’t give specifics, I can’t either.

And I wouldn’t want to, because this is a really personal decision. It’s a decision that affects your life, and your body, and your relationship with God, and your relationship with your boyfriend and your future spouse. And so it’s a decision that you need to make between you and God — and it’s a decision you have to make with your boyfriend.

It’s not a decision that anyone else can make for you. Isn’t that frustrating? Haha

BUT, I will give you a piece of advice that my pastor gave me when I asked him this very same question. AND I’ll tell you the line I set for myself before I got married.

So here’s the advice:

He said, “It’s not about how far you can go, it’s about how close you can get.”

That’s the question we’re asking. Right? How far can I go? What am I allowed to touch, what is he allowed to do, how far can we go before we’ve crossed the line?

But instead of thinking about it that way, my pastor challenged me to ask myself:

“What can I do to get as close to God as possible? What decision can we make that brings our relationship as close to God and His very best design for this as possible?”

And that changed the conversation for me completely.

TEARING DOWN THE GUILT AND SHAME

Waiting until you’re married to have sex isn’t about following rules — or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s not about checking the right boxes so we don’t make God mad. God isn’t going to strike us down or spite us if we have sex before we’re married. That’s not who He is.

This decision is about a relationship — about tearing down the guilt, and shame, and sin that makes us distance ourselves from God. God doesn’t go anywhere when we sin, but we hide from Him when we do. And by following what He says in this area, we’re keeping ourselves from putting walls between us. And the decision is about trusting the Creator of sex, and marriage, and love and us, when He says love is at its very best when we handle things this way.

I knew that I wanted the very best love life, the very best marriage, and the very best sex life possible. And if God — the Creator of all of those things — says this is the way to get the absolute most out of it, I want to take Him up on it!

So then — if that’s why we’re waiting to have sex — when it comes to all of the intimate things we can do leading up to sex, these are the two questions we can ask:

  • What brings me closest to God?
  • What makes me feel like I’m setting myself and our relationship up to get the absolute most out of it — taking God up on all of the blessings He has in store for us?

And I think you can answer those questions pretty easily if you’re honest with yourself.

If you’re honest, after you and your boyfriend do ______ (fill in the blank), how do you feel? Do you feel ashamed? Like you’ve failed? Like you’re further away from God now? That’s a good indication that you might need to re-think things, make a different decision.

RESOURCES

So, I don’t know if you’ve read my book, The Lipstick Gospel (if you haven’t, you can !) but in it, I talk about how I had sex before I was married. Nobody ever told me not to! I wasn’t raised as a Christian. I just didn’t know it was something you shouldn’t do.

But at some point someone finally told me that God had a better idea for love, and sex, and marriage, and the more I heard about it, the more I knew I really wanted to take Him up on it.

I’d done things my own way for so long, and I really didn’t have a problem imagining that He could come up with something better.

So as a junior in college, I decided I wasn’t going to have sex again until I was married. Not only that, but I decided I wasn’t going to do anything other than kiss until I was married either. (I tell the full story of why I made that decision in the book too!)

Did I do that perfectly? No. I didn’t. But I really did wait to have sex, and other than a select few moments of weakness, I waited for everything else too. (And — I didn’t get married 2 years after that decision. I got married 6 years after that decision.)

Now — I’m not saying you need to draw the same line. Again — this is a personal decision.

But the reason I drew the line there is because I knew from experience that intimacy is intimacy. And I felt like I was trying to cheat the system by doing other things that were pretty much having sex — maybe not technically, but really, really close.

And I didn’t want to cheat the system. I’d lived outside of the system for SO long, and I knew how empty it felt. I wanted to actually do things the way I really thought God was saying to do them. And for me, I decided that meant saving intimacy of all kinds until I was married.

AND — now that I’m on the other side of that, I can say that it was 100%, 1000000% worth it. It really was.

So — I hope that helps, sweet friend. I know how tough this is. You are absolutely not alone in this. Waiting is a struggle for everyone. And it’s a good thing that it is! You don’t want to marry someone you have zero chemistry with! That chemistry will pay off at some point.

But in the meantime, do everything you can to get as close to God as possible, to take advantage of every blessing He has in store for you in this area of your life.

Oh — and on that subject, there’s a sermon series I absolutely love (it’s the one called Explicit Lyrics!). It’s the one that helped me decide that I didn’t want to have sex again until I was married, and they talk all about why, and where it talks about that, and what God’s plan is instead. I can’t recommend it enough!

All my love and 100000 blessings to you in this, sweet friend!

Stephanie

P.S. for where you can pick up a copy of my book, The Lipstick Gospel. It’s free!

P.P.S. If you’re wanting to learn more on this topic, be sure to tune into my podcast episode called, Christian Dating Rules: What are they and are we supposed to follow them?

20-Somethings Share What It’s Like to Still Be a Virgin

“It was so weird!” My date took another gulp of his Guinness as he sat across from me, talking about a woman he’d recently met at work. “She was 24 — and a VIRGIN!” His third beer had apparently provided the social lubricant required to loosen up his inhibitions. “You don’t meet those very often.”

This otherwise nice, normal, polite, and funny guy was horrified anyone in their 20s wouldn’t be getting laid. It was like he thought “those” virgins were somehow unnatural mutants with no place in this world. But what this bro from Murray Hill didn’t know (and what I won’t be the one to tell him, since I haven’t spoken to him since), is that being a virgin in your 20s is waaaaay more common than people may think.

Millennials in general aren’t having as much sex as everyone once thought. We — males and females alike — apparently have fewer sexual partners than Gen-Xers and baby boomers did at the same age. And people younger than 20 are reporting fewer instances of first-time sexual intercourse than in previous generations. So scientifically speaking, being a virgin once you hit 20 is pretty damn normal for the men and women of my generation.

In fact, I surprisingly know 11 women* — all very normal, functioning, exceptional members of society — who survived well into their 20s without sex. VIRGINS! In their 20s! I asked them to tell me why, and to discuss the unfortunate stigmas and embarrassments they were subjected to for making it to adulthood without cashing their V-cards. Spoiler alert: it’s not all chastity belts and waiting for marriage.

Celibacy can be an evolving concept

“In eighth grade, we were given golden V-cards — like a VISA, but you signed it saying you’d remain abstinent until marriage. All the girls were given these and you had a friend sign it to keep you accountable. At the time, this seemed completely normal. I want to have sex with someone I genuinely care about. But the fact that I haven’t had sex makes dating really hard. Fingers crossed it happens soon — because 22 years abstinent leads to severe sexual frustration.” — Isabel, 22

“I’m not waiting to be married or in love, I’m just more about having sex with someone I trust and someone I know who cares about me and isn’t just going to have sex with me and leave.” — Mia, 24

“I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, where basically having sex before marriage put you on a short standby list for a flight straight to hell. A little dramatic maybe, but it was certainly frowned upon and viewed in a negative light and that definitely influenced me in the beginning. As I grew up and my views began to toe the liberal/conservative line, my choice to be a virgin was less about religion and more about myself and how it made me feel. I would tell you now that I’m open to having sex. One hundred percent, because I’m human, and that is a natural urge that even I have.” — Grace, 23

“I guess I’ve never really felt like I had the opportunity to lose my virginity. I didn’t like anyone enough to want to have sex, so I didn’t. It wasn’t really any sort of conscious decision not to have sex as much as it was there wasn’t anyone I wanted to sleep with.” — Leona, 25

“I don’t have anything against sex before marriage or, on the flip side, waiting until marriage… it’s just a choice that I’ve made. I think for me personally, I want to be emotionally and mentally ready for whenever that time comes.” — Elizabeth, 22

“Sure, there have been a few guys here and there. Through it all, I never truly felt ready or as though it would be the right time for me.” — Stella, 21

“There has never been someone who has truly turned me on enough to make me want to have sex with them. People are very, very weirded out by this.” — Alicia, 22

“It’s not that I was waiting for the person I was going to marry or anything, but I don’t find people sexually attractive unless I know them very well and feel a certain connection with them.” — Mariah, 21

Not having sex doesn’t mean you’re a prude

“I think it’s important to remember that someone who’s a virgin can still have a sex life without actually having sex. Just because someone’s a virgin doesn’t mean that they can’t be sexually intimate with a partner.” — Elizabeth, 22

Waiting can make a woman feel left behind

“I felt embarrassed about my lack of experience, and scared to be vulnerable with someone I didn’t know that well in the grand scheme of things.” — Kaylee, 25

“I wasn’t alone in my virginity amongst my group of friends. I didn’t feel much pressure to lose it, but I still felt like I was way behind the rest of the world.” — Zoey, 22

“Personally, the fact of being a virgin in my 20s never bothered me. It was the sense of missing out on something big — and social pressures that suggested it was odd or weird to have waited this long. On the first day of college orientation, a speaker shared with the crowd the statistic that 70% of college freshmen were sexually active. I remember sitting there thinking I was already an outlier among my peers. Fortunately, I surrounded myself with friends who didn’t care or even discuss my virginity.” –Samantha, 23

There’s slut-shaming, and then there’s virgin-shaming

“Whenever sex is discussed in a social setting, I inevitably have to voice my lack of experience. I laugh it off, trying not to make a big deal out of it, because being a virgin doesn’t mean I’m a nun. But even still, I’m immediately defensive because people are so in awe of me and either tell me they’re jealous of that purity and/or assume I’m a lesbian and/or question why I would ever CHOOSE that path.” — Grace, 23

“My friends will sit around and talk about their sex lives in great detail. Meanwhile, I just sit there and listen because I can’t really participate in the conversation because I haven’t had the experiences they’ve had. It doesn’t make me feel bad about myself because I’ve made the decision not to have sex yet, but I’ll admit that the stigma makes me feel like I’m a naïve outsider or that I’m missing out on all the fun stuff.” — Elizabeth, 22

“One time, a red-blooded, all-American male asked me, ‘So, when are you going to get rid of that pesky virginity of yours?’ I’m pretty sure I just shrugged and told him it wasn’t a priority. I’ve got better things to worry about than who I’m going to give my Magical Societal Unicorn Prize away to.” — Alicia, 22

“I’ve had many people laugh at me or be shocked that I haven’t had sex yet. I don’t really let it bother me because I hear such crazy stories of people being hurt or being called names for having sex with people they barely know or people they thought they could trust.” — Mia, 24

In the end, it’s nobody else’s damn business

“In this society, it’s just expected that after two or three dates, you do the deed. I ain’t about that. Therefore, I will remain a virgin until some sweet guy that is genuine and kind falls in love with me and I, him.” — Isabel, 22

“There’s this idea, I think, between most women that we all know what’s up. We know that virginity and this societal idea of purity is messed up and that it really only matters to men.” — Alicia, 22

“I wish that more people would respect that it’s a very personal decision, and that in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t affect anyone other than me. If I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, you should be too.” — Stella, 21

“Being a virgin that late in the game is not a big deal and is a lot more common than you’d think. AND it’s a lot more important to know yourself and your own body and desires first.” — Mariah, 21

*Names have been changed

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It’s in films, songs, BBC adaptations of Russian epic novels – sex is taken for granted as being part of adult life. But how does it feel to be a virgin in your 30s and 40s?

We asked you as part of our new series, How it feels, in which readers discuss life’s big experiences. Here’s what you said:

‘I have always fallen for people who are unavailable’

I was a Christian until my early 20s, so I didn’t sleep with my boyfriend at university – otherwise he would have been the first. I haven’t been in a proper relationship since then because I’ve always fallen for people who were unavailable in some way.

I only recently fell in love properly for the first time. The man I’m with is older and damaged after a difficult divorce, so our relationship is moving very slowly. I haven’t told him I’m a virgin but I think he will be OK with it. He seems to accept me exactly as I am. I feel like we are soulmates.

The reason I have waited so long is because I didn’t want the first time to be a one-night stand (I’ve had a few opportunities that way, and while I am still a virgin I have done other things). Fortunately every man with whom I’ve been in any way physical has been very understanding and not pushed. Obviously they didn’t come back, with a few exceptions. One man hung around thinking he would be the first, but I realised it was because it would be a feather in his cap; he didn’t care about me. Anonymous woman, 42

‘I battle social anxiety due to my physical appearance’

I am still a virgin because of my crippling social anxiety, possibly due to my large facial growths. As a child I was often bullied by girls, so it took a good 20 years before I plucked up the courage to “get out there”. I still have not had a relationship that has gone to “that level”. Being a virgin isn’t something I dwell on day to day. Occasionally though, I do wonder what I am missing out on. It seems that sex is something our society is obsessed about, even though in reality I believe everyone can live without. Anonymous man, 49

‘I am still a virgin because I am very well endowed’

The reason I am still a virgin is that I am very well endowed. The ladies in my life have found it really hard to relax when it comes to having sex with me due to expecting intercourse to hurt them. I have been intimate in other ways, however, and even been in three long-term relationships. I know there are ladies out there that prefer a larger man, I just haven’t found them. After all, sex is about pleasure – if both parties are not experiencing pleasure during sex then it’s not a very balanced sexual relationship.

Being a virgin later in life feels the same as being a virgin as a teenager. The only difference is, rather than worrying about being the odd one out, there are more things going on in the world to be hung up over. My friends tend to wonder why I haven’t made it my life goal to have sex. Especially now kids are being born in our circle of friends. I don’t particularly want children, so that point mystifies them in its entirety. Anonymous man, 32

Photograph: Alamy

‘As a gay woman in a small town it’s hard to meet people’

I am 41 and gay and have always lived in a small town with very limited access to any kind of gay community. Although I have been to a few gay clubs I have never met anyone there.

It wasn’t a problem until I was about 30; I always thought I just hadn’t met the right person, but as time goes on, meeting someone gets harder. It isn’t the lack of sex that I hate but the lack of a relationship. I miss having someone to talk to in the evenings, and it’s tough not having someone to make major life decisions with. It just feels like a whole section of my life I am missing out on.

What worries me most about sex is that I have no experience, I have never had to show my body to anyone and although I am in no way ugly I have never had to worry about things like bikini waxes, or staying slim for a partner. I don’t have to shave my legs if I don’t want to. But when I do finally meet someone, will my naked body be OK for my partner?

Also the actual act of having sex scares me – what do I do? I suppose any partner will have more experience than me and if they are caring they will tell me what to do without making me feel stupid, but it’s just getting over that hurdle. I’m not desperate to have sex, but when/if it happens I will need someone to be understanding and help me through my first experience. Anonymous woman, 41

‘I was a virgin until 42 – my first time was cosmic’

I was a virgin until 42, and there were several reasons: I was introverted, bookish, and strong-willed. I have always been a good Catholic, so simply decided a career in science and many rich friendships were preferable to marriage etc.

I had a happy and fulfilled life and career, and did much volunteer work which was emotionally fulfilling. Quite unexpectedly, at 42, I met a Catholic widower aged 68. It was love at first sight and we have just celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. My first time after all those years was odd; it was as if my reality shifted about half an inch in an unexpected direction. It took me a couple of days to adjust to the fact of it. My status as a person had changed: I no longer lived for myself alone. I had admitted another, whom I completely trusted, into myself, to share my being. That is cosmic and it was worth waiting for. Anonymous woman, 68

‘I am asexual, being a virgin does not bother me’

I’m asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction to any gender and I don’t desire sexual experiences with others. I’ve been curious at times – the media makes such a big deal about sex so I’ve been curious as to whether it’s as fun as people say it is. But I also worry about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

I’m aware that is considered unusual, but it doesn’t bother me personally. There’s an asexual community online and we have regular meet ups, and I have a lot of asexual friends, so I know I’m not alone. Most of my friends and family have been very accepting, although some have found it difficult to empathise.

I’m personally not interested in romantic relationships at all, but if I was, I wouldn’t be too worried, because I know there are other asexual people out there and it is possible to meet someone who would be content with a non-sexual relationship. Anonymous woman, 40

‘I have given up hope of ever finding someone’

I am paralysed from the waist down, as a result of a congenital spinal condition. I am also taking medication for high blood pressure, which has robbed me of the ability to get and sustain an erection. Because I am disabled, I have always found it difficult to get into relationships. Constant rejections led me to the conclusion that women weren’t interested in me because of my disability.

What does it feel like to be a virgin later in life? There is still a great stigma around it. People take it as read that you are choosing to abstain from sex – often for religious reasons. Neither is true in my case. And the longer my virginity has festered, the harder it’s been to get rid of it. What woman of my age would want a man who has had no sexual relationships or experiences? Some friends know, but it isn’t something I advertise. I’ve given up hope of ever finding someone. It feels like I’m not allowed to be happy. Anonymous man, 47

Share your views in the comments. To recommend another area for our readers to talk candidly about please email [email protected]

Not all of us lose our virginities at age 16 in the back of an old Camry. If you’re still a virgin later in life, it can feel like you’re the last person on earth who hasn’t had sex, but you aren’t alone. Whether you’re waiting for your wedding or just haven’t found the right person, here’s what you should know about losing your virginity as an adult.

What to Expect

You probably know the basics of where everything goes, but let’s start by talking about what you should expect before, during, and after losing your virginity.

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Before

First things first: what does virginity mean to you? Most people think that p-in-v intercourse is what defines losing one’s virginity, but that really shouldn’t be the default. Intercourse might not be a part of your desired repertoire, or there may be other acts that have more meaning to you. It’s really up to each of us to decide what act constitutes losing our virginity. Aside from the logistics, there’s also the emotional weight that you assign to your virginity. Would you like to lose your virginity with someone you care about? Are you saving it for marriage?

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On that note, a lot of older virgins struggle with whether or not to lower their standards (in one way or another) to get it over with. Being clear on what your virginity actually means to you may help you stick to your guns a bit more. Being self-conscious about your virginity status is understandable, but do you really want to remember this experience as “that time when I got desperate and threw my standards out the door”?

One of the biggest questions that comes up for later-in-life virgins is whether or not to tell a potential first partner about your virginity status. My advice tends to be yes: your virginity isn’t anything to be ashamed of, so you don’t need to hide it. Virginity means different things to different people, so you should allow your partner to decide whether or not they feel comfortable being the one to take yours.

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You’ll also need to figure out how you’re going to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections and (if there are male and female parts involved) pregnancy. Have a conversation with your partner about their STI status and what sorts of barriers to use. Do this before you’re naked and horny.

You’re probably going to be a big bundle of nerves before losing your virginity. That’s okay! No need to force yourself to act nonchalant if it feels like there’s a colony of butterflies setting up shop in your stomach. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel before, during, and afterwards.

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During

Let me be real with you: your first time is probably going to be short (if there’s a penis involved), a little awkward, and not particularly fantastic. It will feel like there are an awful lot of limbs involved and no good place to put any of them. It takes time and practice to learn how to have great sex. You’ll get there eventually, but not your first time—and that’s okay! Try focusing on the acts you’ve already done and feel comfortable with to bolster your confidence.

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If there are lady parts and penetration involved, your first time may also be somewhat painful and bloody. Most people think that the hymen is responsible for these unfortunate side effects, but that’s not necessarily the case. The oft-misunderstood hymen doesn’t block off her vaginal canal, and doesn’t “pop” during sex. It’s a permeable membrane that likely already has a number of perforations in it. If she does experience pain, it’s probably because the sensitive tissues of her vaginal canal aren’t used to being penetrated in this way. Bleeding can come from the hymen, but it’s just as likely to originate from the tissues of her vagina, which again, aren’t used to this kind of intrusion.

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After

Be prepared for clean-up. As mentioned above, there may be some blood involved. There may also be lots of bodily fluids that are rapidly sliding their way out of your orifices. Have a box of Kleenex or a towel nearby.

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If you’re a lady, be sure to pee afterwards! Bacteria can get pushed into your urethra during any sort of sexual contact. You do not want to celebrate losing your virginity with a nasty UTI.

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My Advice to You

When my clients talk about losing their virginity, the phrase “I wish I had know that beforehand” comes up over and over. Here are some tips to for avoiding many of the common virginity-losing pitfalls:

  • Talk about your expectations beforehand. Simply talking it out can help decrease your nerves and set more realistic expectations. Your partner might tell you that they just want to get the first time over with and focus on making the second time more fun. Or maybe you both agree to take your time and make it special.
  • It doesn’t have to be your wedding night. If you’ve decided to wait until marriage, I highly recommend doing it the day after your wedding. You’re going to be so exhausted from the festivities that you’re going to be dangerously close to passing out the second that your head hits the pillow. Sure, you could force yourself to have sex, but who wants that as their first-time memory?
  • Be sober. Navigating your first time takes a little effort, so you want to have all your wits about you. Being drunk or high will make it more likely that you’ll experience pain and less likely that you’ll enjoy yourself (or even remember the experience at all!). A glass of wine is fine to calm your nerves, but try not to get too tipsy.
  • Spend plenty of time on foreplay. Some people are so eager to get to “the main event” that they forget that the “foreplay” is more than half the fun. Plus, it will help you both relax and feel more excited about sharing this experience.
  • Use your fingers to help guide your penis into her vagina. This practical tip is for you straight dudes out there. The vagina is a little harder to locate than you might think, especially if you’re eager and nervous. If you let your fingers do the finding, you’ll avoid awkwardly jabbing at her with your penis.
  • Use lube. Lube can help decrease the pain and make things feel so much better for both of you, especially that first time.
  • Keep it simple. Remember, your expectations are supposed to be low, so there’s no need to try to impress your partner with a ton of crazy gymnastics. Stick with simple positions that will feel comfortable and allow for some emotional connection (if you want that).
  • Don’t pressure yourself or your partner to orgasm. There are enough things to worry about without adding orgasm to the mix. Focus on enjoying the sensations instead.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t enjoy it. Lots of people didn’t particularly like sex the first time they had it. Having a crappy first time is not a harbinger of sexual doom. Think of it as an excuse to try again really soon.

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Have fun, and welcome to the wonderful world of being a sexually active adult!

Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist (#78931) specializing in sex therapy. It’s her mission to take the intimidation out of sex therapy and bring the fun back into the bedroom. Have questions about sex? You can reach her at [email protected], or at VMTherapy.com.

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Lifehacker: After Hours is a new blog aiming to improve your sex life. Follow us on Twitter here.

Illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.

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Losing your virginity doesn’t have to be perfect. Ditch the regret

We refer to “being” a virgin as a status. There’s no word for someone who isn’t a virgin anymore, no replacement of status. So is it really any wonder, given the implication that sex changes you, that when the condom comes off and you’re lying under your One Direction duvet cover feeling absolutely no different, that you regret it?

But why the imbalance of regret in men and women? I imagine partially because of the very different experiences boys and girls usually have from early sexual encounters. Sex is generally regarded as a pleasant experience for an inexperienced boy, and usually ends in an orgasm. Sadly young women don’t tend to experience the same thing. In fact girls aren’t just taught not to expect an orgasm, they’re taught that first time sex is supposed to hurt, when really there’s no reason that it should.

Think about it: literature, films and general society chit chat teaches teenage girls to expect their first sexual partner to hurt them, that it’s completely normal for the first exposure to sex to be painful. Again, it all comes back to an archaic tradition: blood on the sheets was proof that the male party had done his job and deflowered his new wife. Rather than querying that tradition we just continue to allow young women to expect their partners to cause them pain.

Whilst boys also get labelled as “virgins”, in men it’s generally a stigma. Boys are “still” virgins, and are traditionally praised for losing their virginity. When rapper Chris Brown announced that he lost his virginity at the age of eight, there was shock, but the reaction was split between shock and amusement, where as if a female singer had said the same thing she would have universally been seen as a victim of abuse.

Rapper Chris Brown. Photo: AP

A major culprit for the fetishisation of the “perfect” first time is teenage magazines, which churn out the message that you had to wait for the perfect person; it should be in the perfect situation; and candles, flowers and music are essential. This all speaks to the narrative that ‘you only get one first time’, so it has to count. Of course the intention here is usually good – it’s an attempt to persuade young women not to have sex with boys who don’t value them. But in doing so they’ve become obsessed with a totally arbitrary idea of ‘the first time’.

It’s true. You do only get one first time. But why imbue the first time that you have sex with an importance that doesn’t apply to the second, seventh or 45th time that another human penetrates you? The first time becomes so emotionally loaded with culturally inherited expectations that of course it’s inevitably going to be a disappointment.

When I was 15 I told my best friend that I didn’t want to lose my virginity in a rubbish way, because I knew I’d still be telling the story of how it happened at dinner parties as a grown-up. Sadly, I was right. The obsession with “virginity” and how it was “taken” from us remains a perennial conversational theme.

The term “virginity” is contributing nothing to women’s relationship with sex. In 2015 there should be absolutely no guilt attached to female sexual desire or agency. But that’s what the term “virginity” is doing. It’s an arbitrary status that should be ditched as soon as possible. Whether you were fourteen or 34, in a suite at the Plaza or a disabled loo at Pizza Hut, it’s irrelevant, and not worth feeling guilty over.

So the next time someone asks you how you lost yours, I strongly suggest that you tell them you can’t quite remember and allow yourself the chance to smile at the memory, regardless of how imperfect it was.

I Was A Virgin Until I Got Married — And I Regret It

At the age of 10, I took a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.

By Samantha Pugsley

“Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship. As well as abstaining from sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions that are known to lead to sexual arousal.”

At the age of 10, I took a pledge at my church alongside a group of other girls to remain a virgin until marriage.

Yes, you read that right — I was 10 years old.

Let’s take a look at who I was as a 10-year-old: I was in fourth grade. I played with Barbie dolls and had tea parties with imaginary friends. I pretended I was a mermaid every time I took a bath. I still thought boys were icky and I had no idea I liked girls, too. I wouldn’t get my period for another four years. And most importantly, I didn’t have a clue about sex.

The church taught me that sex was for married people. Extramarital sex was sinful and dirty and I would go to Hell if I did it. I learned that as a girl, I had a responsibility to my future husband to remain pure for him. It was entirely possible that my future husband wouldn’t remain pure for me, because he didn’t have that same responsibility, according to the Bible. And of course, because I was a Christian, I would forgive him for his past transgressions and fully give myself to him, body and soul.

Once I got married, it would be my duty to fulfill my husband’s sexual needs. I was told over and over again, so many times I lost count, that if I remained pure, my marriage would be blessed by God and if I didn’t that it would fall apart and end in tragic divorce.

I believed it. Why wouldn’t I? I was young and these were people I trusted. Everyone knew I’d taken the virginity vow, of course. Gossip is the lifeblood of the Baptist Church. My parents were so proud of me for making such a spiritual decision. The church congregation applauded my righteousness.

For more than a decade, I wore my virginity like a badge of honor.

My church encouraged me to do so, saying my testimony would inspire other young girls to follow suit. If the topic ever came up in conversation, I was happy to let people know that I had taken a pledge of purity.

It became my entire identity by the time I hit my teen years. When I met my then boyfriend-now husband, I told him right away that I was saving myself for marriage and he was fine with that because it was my body, my choice and he loved me.

We were together for six years before we got married. Any time we did anything remotely sexual, guilt overwhelmed me. I wondered where the line was because I was terrified to cross it.

Was he allowed to touch my breasts? Could we look at each other naked?

I didn’t know what was considered sexual enough to condemn my future marriage and send me straight to Hell.

An unhealthy mixture of pride, fear, and guilt helped me keep my pledge until we got married. In the weeks before our wedding, I often got congratulated on keeping my virginity for so long. The comments ranged from curious (how in the world did you manage?) to downright disgusting (I bet you’re going to have one busy wedding night!).

I let them place me on the pedestal as their virginal, perfect-Christian-girl mascot.

I lost my virginity on my wedding night, with my husband, just as I had promised that day when I was 10 years old.

I stood in the hotel bathroom beforehand, wearing my white lingerie, thinking, “I made it. I’m a good Christian.” There was no chorus of angels, no shining light from Heaven. It was just me and my husband in a dark room, fumbling with a condom and a bottle of lube for the first time.

Sex hurt. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. What they didn’t tell me is that I would be back in the bathroom afterward, crying quietly for reasons I didn’t yet comprehend.

They didn’t tell me that I’d be on my honeymoon, crying again, because sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married and it was supposed to be okay now.

When we got home, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers. They all knew I was soiled and tarnished. I wasn’t special anymore. My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn’t know who I was without it.

It didn’t get better. I avoided undressing in front of my husband. I tried not to kiss him too often or too amorously so I wouldn’t lead him on. I dreaded bedtime. Maybe he’d want to have sex.

When he did, I obliged. I wanted nothing more than to make him happy because I loved him so much and because I’d been taught it was my duty to fulfill his needs.

But I hated sex.

Sometimes I cried myself to sleep because I wanted to like it, because it wasn’t fair. I had done everything right. I took the pledge and stayed true to it. Where was the blessed marriage I was promised?

I let it go on this way for almost two years before I broke down. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I told my husband everything. My feminist husband was horrified that I’d let him touch me when I didn’t want him to. He made me promise I’d never do anything I didn’t want to do ever again. We stopped having sex. He encouraged me to see a therapist and I did. It was the first step on a long journey to healing.

Ten-year-old girls want to believe in fairy tales. Take this pledge and God will love you so much and be so proud of you, they told me. If you wait to have sex until marriage, God will bring you a wonderful Christian husband and you’ll get married and live happily ever after, they said.

Waiting didn’t give me a happily ever after. Instead, it controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.

I don’t go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn’t figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex. Every single day is a battle to remember that my body belongs to me and not to the church of my childhood.

I have to constantly remind myself that a pledge I took when I was only 10 doesn’t define who I am today.

When I have sex with my husband, I make sure it’s because I have a sexual need and not because I feel I’m required to fulfill his desires.

I’m now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality. If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn’t go to hell for it. We would have gotten married at a more appropriate age and I would have kept my sexuality to myself.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back but I can give you this message as a culmination of my experiences: If you want to wait to have sex until marriage make sure it’s because you want to. It’s your body; it belongs to you, not your church.

Your sexuality is nobody’s business but yours.

This article was originally published at xoJane. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Before I reached the age of consent I was desperate to lose my virginity while it was still illegal. I thought it would be two fingers up to authority. Who were THEY to tell me when I was ready to have sex? But it didn’t happen, despite the fact that my first kiss, aged 15, had almost gone a lot further. Instead, I ended up doing something far more rebellious and unusual: I kept my virginity until I was 32.

Some people might think that waiting that long means there’s something wrong with me. But I believe I gained a lot by delaying my sex life. I’m sure this was, in part, responsible for the strength of character and forthright nature that has set me apart for most of my adult life. I have to credit my parents with giving me the foundations of an almost unshakeable self-confidence, but I think what I’ve built on it has come, in quite large part, from not being in an intimate relationship with a man until I had passed my 30th birthday.

As a teenager, there were times I loathed being virginal and was desperate for some male attention. But looking back, I realise that the male friendships I made had a level of equality that many of my female peers didn’t get the chance to enjoy. I could have been a pariah after turning down a number of blokes from the same group of friends, but I seemed to go from being a potential conquest to “one of the boys”. Whether this was due to my forceful personality, or the fact my big brother (both older and more than 6ft tall) also hung out with us, I’ll never know.

My best mate would complain that when she met a man who liked the same music, books or films as her, she always thought she had made a new friend – only to discover he wanted to ask her out. She wanted to be able to relax with boys without worrying what they thought of her: she wanted the very friendships that I enjoyed.

My diary of the time shows that, like most teenagers, I was an emotional whirligig. I had boyfriends, but always drew the line at penetrative sex. There were a variety of reasons for this: I worried that it would hurt, worried about getting pregnant, and, growing up in the late 80s, just as Aids was hitting the headlines, I was also incredibly conscious of the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. These fears were further complicated in my late teens by a five-year spell of illness – glandular fever leading to ME – which also played its part in putting me off sex.

Most of my female friends lost their virginity aged 18 or 19, and have few regrets. The only disappointment some of them share is that, having fallen in love early on, they have only slept with one man. That’s a view I can sympathise with. I started university when I was 21 and fell in love with a man who lived in the same halls as me, but was too scared to tell him. I was afraid of both his rejection or acceptance. The former might have ruined our friendship, but the latter might have prevented me from ever “playing the field”. I was so in love I was sure we could be together for ever and my feelings for him lasted nearly a decade. I think it was only once my love for him died, not long before we lost touch, that I became interested in other men again.

As my virginity persisted, I had the unusual experience of being able to develop and grow without the influence of a male partner. I’m not a man-hater – quite the opposite; having spent so long without any men under my feet, I have had the chance to appreciate their company more than I would have otherwise. Having lived with a man for nearly two years (and I should make it clear that this isn’t a complaint about the man in question!), I wonder what sort of woman I might have been if I’d spent my last two decades of adulthood living with all the niggles created by the differences between the sexes. There are the petty squabbles over the remote control, the age-old battles over the division of labour, all of which simmer nicely to boiling point due to the different ways men and women communicate. While my friends dealt with these distractions, I spent my 20s pleasing myself in various flats in various towns, moving around for work without having to consider anyone but myself. Friends would compliment me on my independence, which used to baffle me, but now I can see what they meant. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anxieties and misgivings about going it alone, and seizing every opportunity. It was that I did it anyway.

I sometimes wonder whether I would stay a virgin if I was a teenager today. Re-reading old copies of Jackie and Blue Jeans from the late 80s and comparing them with today’s teen magazines, it’s impossible not to see the difference. The ones from my youth may not have been the most empowering in the feminist sense of the word, but they presented girls and women as active subjects, making decisions for themselves, rather than being on display for others and doing what they were told. Maybe I took those messages on board when considering whether to have sex. I’m sure they led me to spend more time chatting with my mates in the pub, or dancing in a moshpit to the Ramones, than kissing and hero-worshipping boys.

I wasn’t always completely happy with being the only virgin among my peers though. I sometimes felt like a freak, but mostly I was proud of it and didn’t hesitate to bring it up in conversation. But at 32, I felt I was ready. In truth, I was more than ready. I couldn’t hear my biological clock ticking, but my libido was banging on the door to get out. There was also a tiny part of me that feared I might reach old age, or death, without ever having had sex. Up to that point there had been little to suggest I would find a lover by chance, so I decided to make sure it happened.

Not that I’d had an entirely sexless existence up to then – I simply managed my desires with my own hands, learning what I liked and how to satisfy myself sexually. Like many women I owe a debt to Nancy Friday, the pioneering writer on women’s sexual desire and experience. When it came to going to bed with a man I was not going to fake an orgasm; if need be I would instruct him in what to do.

If I’d been looking for my first lover at a more conventional age, maybe I wouldn’t have needed the internet, but it provided a quick, easy and free way of advertising for a man. Oddly, despite not wanting to lose my virginity to someone who might not speak to me when I saw him in the pub the next week, I didn’t want a boyfriend. At least I didn’t think I did. I could see myself having a regular sexual partner, but I’d been single for so long I literally couldn’t imagine having a boyfriend. My ad wasn’t a blatant call for someone with whom to lose my virginity, but it hinted at that, saying I was a late starter. I hardly waited a day before being deluged with responses. I weeded out the unsuitables, conducting initial “interviews” by phone and email before meeting those on my shortlist. That may sound cold and business-like, but it was actually a lot of fun. I felt in control in a way I never could have done as a younger woman.

The man I chose made the experience special, memorable and something I don’t regret but, despite my maturity, I didn’t work out that he was married until too late. Suffice to say, our affair was brief. I was hurt, but not devastated, forgave him and moved on. In the four years since then, I’ve clocked up six sexual partners. To begin with I just wanted to have a bit of fun with whoever I fancied, but after a while I met someone with whom I clicked on more than just a sexual level and we’ve been together nearly three years. I now live with him and his two daughters.

Virginity is probably never going to be seen as cool, especially as it has been claimed as a “cause” by devoutly religious groups. I wouldn’t want to join them in trying to spread a message of the benefits of abstinence – the decision about when to have sex is a personal choice. But it would be a step forward if young women today were confident that they were able to make their own decision, rather than feel the choice was being forced on them by others.

For a woman to say “no”, and have sex only when she truly wants to, is a basic but incredibly empowering act. It demonstrates that she is independent and free, and perhaps the longer a virginal woman waits the more her self respect and sense of ownership of her body increases.

The legacy of my lengthy virginity goes beyond independence – I think it has given me extra resilience to deal with life’s setbacks and has taught me about patience. Our culture might be one of “everything now” but I’ve learned how to wait. And one of the best things has to be sex itself. While some women my age have lost interest, I still find it just as exciting as the very first time.

A recent Harris poll found that 51 percent of people think that couples should hold off on sex until marriage, and (somewhat surprisingly) 47 percent of Millennials (ages 18-36) agree. The statistic is unexpected, given the ubiquity of premarital sex depicted in popular culture, but these numbers, which span age, sex, race, education and region, suggest that not everyone gets it on, or thinks you should, before getting hitched.

With these statistics in mind, we polled our Facebook readers to ask if they waited to have sex before they got married—and how they feel about their decisions today.

Over 100 people left comments. Here is a roundup of a few of the anecdotes that our readers shared about their experiences waiting to have sex for the first time until walking down the aisle (note: some are edited for length and clarity):

“My husband and I were each our firsts, and neither of us regret it. I’m thankful we were raised with such high standards and self respect.” —Miranda Meidinger Stevens

“All too often, we as a society jump into a sexual relationship. But when it comes down to what type of relationship you are wanting in the end, I wanted to make sure my husband loved all of me, my quirks, habits, everything, etc. I think that if you date someone long enough to get to know the real you, that just maybe it could possibly lengthen if not preserve the relationship forever. Everyone loves sex; make sure you find the right person before the right penis.” —Kerri Torrez

“Waited before my first marriage, total disaster. Don’t recommend it ever.” —Ivory Blossom

“Yes I did wait for marriage before sex. For me it was very important to keep my virginity for the man I loved with all my heart, and to have sex on my wedding night for the first time was a bonus. It was an honor to be a virgin. I got married at age 24. Proud to have kept my virginity for marriage. It was my choice.” —Liz Kubie

MORE: The Secret To A Long and Happy Marriage

“Sex is a learning experience for everyone, and if you both approach it as virgins, it’s even more special because you’re learning together! Sex is also NOT the most important thing in a marriage, though it’s a wonderful perk.” —Lesa Brackbill

“We waited. So many relationships nowadays are based around sex. When that gets boring, what do you have? My husband and I wanted to make sure we were in love with each other, not our sex. We were together for three years, engaged for one year. The wedding night? Very exciting and amazing, as it should be! Not something you can get if you’ve already been intimate.” —Leah Michelle McElroy

“I am very glad I waited and don’t regret waiting until marriage at 23. Everyone does what is right for them, however, in today’s progressive society people who wait are scorned for their choice, whilst those who sleep around want to be free from judgment. Why can’t both sides remain free from judgment? I never slept around—why should I be ridiculed for such? I did what was right for myself.” —Michelle Nicole

MORE: The Weird Health Benefit of Marriage

“I waited for my husband. I was raised believing that it was how God meant it to be, and I felt if there was a chance my marriage would be blessed because of it, I wanted that. As I grew up, I realized that I was only going to give my virginity to a man who truly valued and loved me. And until I met the man I married, no one before him was worth it to me. When my husband and I started dating, he said, “I won’t be the reason you break the commitment you have made.” And for four years, he never pressured me into changing my mind. We have been married three years, together seven, and I know I am blessed both by the man I call my husband and the fact that I don’t carry the weight of past (sex-related) regrets.” —Lindsey Romo

“It was the best decision we made.” —Odell Valencia Mahabeer

Of course, not all of our commenters waited—or agreed that waiting to have sex was a top priority for them. Here are a few comments from some women who had a different take on the situation:

“My true question to all of you saying, ‘It is the best decision I (or we) have ever made’… How do you know it is the best decision if you have never experienced it with anyone else? That is like saying, ‘Chili’s is the best restaurant’ without ever trying anywhere different.” —Cara Maree Crotts

“Call me modern, but a women’s virginity does not define her.” —Vanessa Surtzy

“I personally didn’t wait until marriage, but I’m not a promiscuous person either—have had only one partner for years now. He might be my future husband, he might not. Either way, I don’t think not waiting makes you anything less decent of a woman. My fear had always been that maybe if you wait until marriage, it may or may not work out in bed with that person and then you’re already married and maybe wonder if it would be better with someone else? I don’t know, just my opinion. But I respect everyone who does, and hey, if it worked out, great for you.” —Issa Villacorta Diaz

“Personally, I’m not buying a car before test-driving it. Respect yourself, be safe, and wait for love and a monogamous relationship. But wait for marriage? No thanks.” —Kelly Pacillo Deen

“I didn’t wait, and I don’t regret it. At 25, I have a beautiful blended family with three beautiful children. Marriage is not in the near future. Its not something that is a priority. Marriage does not define how much some one loves you, and neither does sex.” —Julia Merrin

MORE: 10 Secrets of Super Happy Couples

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Did you wait (or are you waiting) to have sex before you got married? What drove that decision? What about those of you who didn’t wait? We want to hear your thoughts! Share them in the comments below.

I grew up believing that I would wait to have sex until I was married. What I didn’t realize was truly how hard that would be. I wasn’t taught tools (or if I was, I didn’t hear them) of how to navigate that as an adult. When I lost my virginity in a blackout my sophomore year of college to someone that I didn’t actually know, it sent me on a long journey of discovering how boundaries actually set me free to date and help me to stay true to myself.

It’s not just the influence of alcohol that makes sticking to your guns difficult when it comes to sex. Dating guys who are not on the same page as you also makes holding off on sex really hard.

After losing my virginity, I hoped the next man I would have sex with would be my husband. But I have since dated men who pressured me so much that I have given in (which by the way, led quickly to the end of that relationship).

I have also dated many men who respect me for my beliefs. Still, when he is following your lead and your lead is a little confusing (let’s face it, just because you are waiting for marriage doesn’t mean you wouldn’t totally love to have sex in certain moments!), your willpower can get a little shaky.

You might correctly point out that it is obviously ideal to date someone who has the same belief as you, so things are simple. But it’s also completely possible to meet good men who haven’t held out for the “I dos,” and navigating whether that’s a deal breaker can be difficult.

Boundaries are a powerful tool to help you date with intention. It took me a few missteps to realize just how much. Knowing what I do now, these are things I wish I’d known before I started dating.

01. Know the difference between a guy who truly respects your decision and a guy who doesn’t.

It is possible for a guy to not feel strongly about holding off on sex before marriage but to respect your decision and not pressure you in any way. Honestly, many people these days just take sex at a certain point in the relationship as a given—and don’t really give too much thought to whether they would ever do it another way. Presented with this more alternative way of dating, a guy who likes you may totally be willing to give it a try.

A guy who respects your decision to hold off on sex will accept your explanation without question, ask you how he can be the most helpful in this regard, and encourage you to let him know if he is crossing any lines or making things difficult for you.

A guy who is just hoping he can wear you down and get what he wants behaves differently. In my experience, if he is overly shocked or surprised that sex isn’t in the forecast for date two, three, or four, this could be a sign that he isn’t going to be super-supportive.

Pressure can be subtle, too. For example, if he is constantly asking you to explain yourself or defend your decision, that’s a red flag. Even if he is just joking, this subtle pressure doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship.

02. Don’t wait until you are already in a horizontal position to tell him.

Probably the biggest mistake I’ve made over the years, especially early on in dating, was not telling the guy that I was waiting for marriage until things had already gotten heated and we were in a horizontal position on the couch or in a bed. Men get excited, and while you may only be cuddling, he is surely already thinking about what’s next. What’s even worse (and I am guilty of doing this) is stopping mid-heated-kiss to tell him you’re abstaining.

This creates a lot of frustration, and I’ve seen far too often that men feel defeated. They take it personally and react much more negatively than if I share my feelings when we are at dinner one evening. Talking about sex in a nonsexual environment allows him (and you) to think properly with his head rather than his body.

03. Learn to articulate yourself with confidence.

For those who choose to wait, the rationale of this conviction can feel almost obvious. But for others it can be a really foreign concept. If you are dating a guy who isn’t necessarily on the same page as you, it helps if you can clearly articulate your conviction, without judging the guy who doesn’t feel the same way.

I have a unique perspective, which I admit makes it a little bit easier to explain, in that I’ve been on both sides of the argument. Rather than talking about what I can’t do, I prefer to talk about the freedom that holding off on sex provides by keeping me physically and emotionally safe and why I value fostering friendship and emotional intimacy before physical intimacy. Whatever your reasons are, don’t be ashamed of them, and be open with your guy about why you are going against the grain on this one.

04. Don’t play dumb.

I don’t know about you, but I love a good cuddle and kiss. Recently, I was going over a list of all the men that I had dated and looking at what went well and what ultimately went wrong. I read the list to someone I trust, and at the end she said to me, “It sounds like you really just like cuddling.” I replied, “Well, yes, I do. My love language is physical touch.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have come away from a compromising situation feeling frustrated and thinking something like, “But I just wanted to cuddle.” My mentor helped me to see that I am no longer a little girl whose cuddles are innocent and childlike. I am a fully grown woman, and while cuddling is enough for me, a man—especially a man who has no intent on waiting for marriage—will get another message from what I assume is a simple cuddle. I can no longer pull the card of “I just wanted to cuddle,” and I really have to think of the consequences of my innocent actions.

05. Get physical touch from other outlets, such as going for a massage or practicing yoga regularly.

I crave physical touch. But my love for it can send mixed messages when I am trying not to lead a guy on. If your love language is physical touch, don’t go to your new boyfriend for a back rub. Massages are a time-tested form of foreplay, and you don’t want to put yourself in the situation of having to keep saying no.

Recently I’ve found that paying for massages helps alleviate my need. I also practice yoga most days of the week. Not only does it help me be in tune with my own body, but I also secretly love when the teacher touches me to adjust my form.

06. Discover his love language to show him how much you love him in other ways.

Our society tends to make us believe that sex is the only way to show someone we truly, deeply love them. But the truth is, it can be so easy to fall into bed together because our bodies crave it so much. It takes more effort to show love in other ways, and this ultimately sets us up for a deeper and richer experience. Oftentimes I have found that a man just wants to feel loved, and if you want his body, he feels that. He may have never had someone love him in a different way.

Getting familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages as a couple is a great starting point. As Chapman explains in his time-tested book, your partner may feel most loved though acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, or physical touch—but there is so much more to physical touch than just sex.

I think every man believes his love language is physical touch, but if he takes the test, he might be surprised to see that he really feels love when you notice the trash can is full and take it out for him. Or maybe he actually feels loved when you make him a silly card and drop off coffee at his work.

There are so many ways to show love, and you would be doing yourself and your guy a favor if you explored all the possibilities.

Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro

Anticipation is great. To be honest, I wonder what’s the problem with waiting, why we think everything has to be so fast. Fast food, fast tan, fast sex. I’m pretty sure that most people who know me know I’m a virgin. I suppose it’s a label that’s stuck to me for the past few years and it really hasn’t bothered me that much. However, the fact that I’ve actively chosen to stay a virgin so far is what perplexes and sometimes even bothers some people.

Now, at this point, I’m guessing, some guys are cringing at the thought of not having had sex by the age of 18 and yes, I’ll admit, it can be pretty tough. There have been times when I have doubted my decisions, when I wish I did go upstairs with that girl at a party but why have I not? Well, the simple answer is that I want to have sex with only one woman in my life. One who I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. I have to admit, I’m a bit of an old-school romantic and part of this probably stems from my Christian beliefs, but nevertheless it is a firmly personal choice to save myself for one person and, without Bible bashing, I’d like to explain why.

I believe that sex is an incredibly strong symbol of love between two people. Think of it as a glue. Once you have had sex with someone, you’re connected to them emotionally and physically. If you tear that bond the rip leaves open scars where the glue once was. That’s why “casual sex” never works in the long term, it just doesn’t. You only have to watch Friends with Benefits to see this (granted, it’s a class film). I believe it is best to only enter a sexual relationship with someone who, really, you would be happy marrying and, contrary to what many of my mates believe, you can have a relationship without sex, and a very good one at that.

This leads me on to a common misconception about serious relationships and sex. When talking to a friend of mine recently, he remarked “but would you buy a car without test driving it?” My first reaction was to laugh but then I was suddenly taken aback by the pure bluntness of his attitude to sex. Basically what he was saying that the only thing relationships are good for is for sex. A car’s function is to drive, therefore a relationship is there for only for sexual pleasure. This car analogy, however, has huge pitfalls. I mean, if I was to carry on with this car analogy, I’d much rather my partner were a shiny new Ferrari than a fourth hand, slightly worn out Volvo … You get the picture.

Things are changing across the country with regards to sexual activity within our age bracket. While researching for this, I was expecting to find shocking statistics on the rise of sexual activity among young Britons but what I found surprised me. More and more young people are actually abstaining, with no less than 27% of 15-24 year old men never having any form of sexual contact whatsoever in 2011. This is up from 2002 where only 22% had never had sexual contact with another person. I guess I’m not the only crazy guy around after all.

So, to all those reading this who have not yet had sex and feel pressurised to do so because “everyone else is”, they’re not. I promise. For the majority of the time, people lie about how far they’ve been that weekend or with their boyfriend/girlfriend. So the “incredible” sex life that your friends boast about probably doesn’t exist. Life isn’t always about being first: just take your time.

• The Value of Virginity by Phin Lyman was originally published in his school magazine, The Wellingtonian