Goodbye virginity

HOW did you lose your virginity?

Did the earth move, was it an amazing experience?

Or was it an anti-climax and a major disappointment?

Losing our virginity happens to almost all of us, yet it is one of the few aspects of sex that is still very rarely discussed. Until now.

Kate Monro, an English author, has spent the last few years interviewing men and women, young and old, gay and straight, Christians and Catholics about their first sexual experiences and has now included their stories in her book The First Time — True Tales of Virginity Lost and Found (including my own).

The idea came to Monro whilst sitting on a Californian beach with a friend discussing how they lost their virginity. “It was then that I had a lightbulb moment, I realised that everyone has a story to tell. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, we all possess our virginity and at some point we all step over this threshold into adulthood,” she explains.

Her book provides an interesting snap-shot of our changing sexual values and history over the past 70 years. Like the story of Edna, who at the age of 93 was one of the oldest interviewees, and freely admitted that she had never seen a naked man until she lost her virginity on her wedding night in January 1940. She was 25 and had no idea about sex.

“I was frightened on my wedding night and when I saw how he looked, I laughed. I’d never seen anything so funny. In spite of having two brothers I didn’t know what a man looked like. My mother had never told me anything. She never said anything about what would happen when I got married, I had to find out by myself. On the first night I might tell you, I thought this is much ado about nothing, but then I got to quite like it,” she recalled.

Then there is Sandra Jones, who lost her virginity in 1963 when she was aged 20, and only got her sex education from reading the problem pages of her grandmother’s Woman’s Own magazine.

“It was a strange time to grow up because nice girls simply did not do it. If you did, you were nasty,” she explained.

When she met Ian, a medical student, he suggested using a solution of vinegar and water as a method of birth control. Not surprisingly, Sandra soon fell pregnant.

In stark contrast, Monro says she now gets a lot of emails from teenage boys asking whether she thinks it is okay to lose their virginity to a prostitute.

“Maybe I did it so I could practice, so that I would get it right and be good by the time I got into a relationship,” says Damon, who lost his virginity to a prostitute when he was aged 16, in 1997.

Perhaps one of the most moving stories is Ash’s. Disabled from birth, the only touch he had ever felt were from his parents and his carers. In 2010, at the age of 36, he was determined to lose his virginity, and with the help of his personal assistant, he met Ruby, an escort.

“She gave me a brief kiss on the lips to start with, and from that point on I was completely ready for anything — as that kiss was the most intimate moment I’d had in my life up to that point. It felt so pleasant and natural; and the sensation was unique,” he recalled.

According to Monro most people were disappointed after losing their virginity, they all had high expectations, herself included, and the common response afterwards was “is that it?”

“I think the book will help break down the taboo, people want to be reassured that their experience is normal but on the whole there is always an element of disappointment,’ she says.

“I feel I am in a unique position, watching and listening as people go down memory lane. I find it fascinating as they recall their innocence and realise how much they have learnt.’

Although the younger contributors have benefited from sex education lessons, so at least know the basics, Monro says they still felt the same pressures, the fear of the first time. “Their expectations are so high, I want to tell them don’t aim for perfection. Life doesn’t work like that. It is only the first time. You do get better,’ she says.

However for Monro, the biggest surprise was how open and frank the male contributors were. She had expected them to be reluctant interviewees, unwilling to openly talk about their most intimate moments. Instead, they were all very honest, sensitive, and, Monro realised, that they all felt an intense pressure to perform.

“It was emotional for them talking about it. There are far few outlets for men to talk, so this was a perfect opportunity for them to talk openly. It was anonymous, there are no repercussions, so for some, it was like a therapy session,” she says.

Indeed, her two favourite virginity-loss stories are both from men. Charlie Thomas, a Thalidomide victim whose arms finish at his elbows, was 16 when he lost his virginity in 1978. “He lost his virginity to the foxiest girl in his school. She asked him to dance at the school disco and the rest is history. A week later she asked him if he would also mind sleeping with her best friend as she was going off to college and didn’t want to be a virgin anymore. I think you can guess what his answer was,” says Monro.

“I like this story because it challenged my subconscious preconceptions. I had assumed that his disability had hindered him and he was going to tell me an awful tale, but far from it. It was actually one of the most positive and uplifting tales I had ever heard.’

Whilst Monro also loves Derek Carver’s story as it is so understated. He lost his in 1959 at the age of 13, when he met two sisters, who invited him back to their house. Afterwards he joined his friends playing football, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

“This story brought home to me the differences between the generations,” she says. “Our grandparents were raised to be thankful for what they had. My generation have very little concept of this idea and it filters through to our sex lives.”

Mono says men still find their virginity a far harder ‘burden’ to carry than women. As ‘bench press guy’, an 18-year-old American virgin, told her: “If you can’t get a girl to engage in intercourse with you, you are effectively sterile. Nature has not selected you. Your genes will not be passed on. You didn’t make the cut.’

Perhaps the most surprising story of all is Simon’s.

He is 38, has been married for 10 years and is still a virgin. Monro believes he has a phobia and is frightened of hurting his wife.

“No other story has messed with people’s minds in quite the same way that this one has,” she explains.

After all her research, Monro suggests the best way to lose your virginity is with someone you like and are comfortable with. “I think it is important to do it with a person that you enjoy spending time with, that you can talk to and are comfortable with, then together you can navigate a lot of the pressures.

“Don’t be a perfectionist, be realistic, it is only the first time and there is this pressure that everyone expects it to be great, but with practice it can be,” she says.

Monro adds that she is still always looking for new and different stories. She would love to interview a traditional Muslim about their experiences and would also like to hear a ‘laugh-out-loud” story.

“I would love a bit of slapstick, something probably hideously embarrassing like your parents walking in, or you falling off something. I’d like the comedic effect,” she says, laughing.

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