3 min

A bowl full of cherries

In search of a virgin, just to see if there are any

I recall the loss of my own virginity the way I recall Expo ’86. It was meant to be something important, something with fireworks, but I can’t for the life of me remember why I participated, how it felt to be there, or who else was present.

So, when it came time to write about taboo sex, and I thumbed through my Rolodex of sexual accomplices, it seemed to me the real mystery lay in the stuff preceding sex-not the act itself but the blank space before that stretch of life began.

Is there such a thing as a gay virgin? There are websites, I’m sure, rife with reasonable facsimiles. But where, in this culture based on sex, do we make room for those who know what they want, but don’t want it yet?

I asked my friend Ken if he knew any virgins I could interview. He looked at me as though I’d asked for the password to an underground lair.

“Do I look,” he said, “like someone who would know a virgin?”

Another friend, Tyler, said he thought he knew someone, but that his virgin wouldn’t speak about it. Several friends just laughed and told me I was too young to be a chicken hawk. Undeterred, I kept at it. Virginity, it seemed, as I searched my acquaintances for signs of untrampeled snow, is as distasteful as it is elusive.

A typical exchange:

“Why are you asking me? I’m a slut.”

“Yes, but perhaps you know someone…”

A thoughtful pause. A sip of coffee. “No. But I’m sure they exist.”

The general understanding is that, like baby crows, virgins do exist, but no one seems to recall happening upon one.

Perhaps the problem stems from a gay confusion surrounding what constitutes sex in the first place. At university, my friends and I divided carnal action into two camps-baby sex (blow jobs, the Princeton rub) and big boy sex (anal intercourse). Do we perhaps have a gradient of virginity to work through? Hand jobs to blow jobs to bum stuff?

If so, what extremely well-attached cherry might be in line after that? Fisting? SM? Love? In short: is virginity more useful as a fuzzy adjective than a report on one (possibly banal) experience?

When my mother attempted to engage me in “the talk”, I was 13, still wore sweatpants to school, and ate two bowls of Honey Nut Cherrios every day at 3:30.

“It’s really nothing,” my mother said, making dinner. “Just a bang, a blip, and then it’s over.”

I nodded sagely, running my hand through my bangs, as though to say I, too, found sex somewhat tiring. In truth, the activity had not yet occurred to me. Was that when I possessed true virginity? In that soupy, unconscious vacuum?

“It’s just not worth it,” my mother continued. “Don’t tell your father I said that.”

I sat and pondered. I have an excellent thinking face. My mother asked what was on my mind.

“What if a man says he’ll kill me if I don’t have sex with him? What should I do then?”

I could never ask her something so crass now. (She wears pearls, she buys me soothing teas, she phones all the time with tips on how not to fall victim to credit card fraud). But then I was green and there was a cool nonchalance about me-I suppose it was an arrogance, a selfishness, to think you can say anything and damn the consequences.

“Even then,” she said, scrubbing a pot.

“Even if he’s going to kill me, I shouldn’t have sex with him?”

“There’s nothing worse than that.”

But did she mean nothing worse than rape, or sex with men, or the choice? I couldn’t ask her now. And didn’t know enough to ask her then.

I think I may have lost something then-a virginity of sorts-at the kitchen counter, talking to my mother.

I wonder how strongly fear and virginity are linked.

After the bedlam decades that were the ’60s and ’70s, which our parents seemed so thoroughly to enjoy, my generation must have a rebellious approach to free love. We all rebel against our parents.

And in a way, what with the grotesquely forbearing “sex education” we were inculcated with, we were never proper virgins. In Elizabeth Abbott’s History of Celibacy, she notes how “with breathtaking swiftness, AIDS joined teenage pregnancy as a primary justification and facilitator for the renewed call to celibacy.” Can we call the children of the ’80s virgins, when they were frightened at such a young age with so much sexual anxiety?

I never found a virgin, not one that would own up to the fact. But many men riffed on the same joke: “I’m practically a virgin again, it’s been so long.” Or, “After a year, you grow another cherry.” As an aged dandy, Quentin Crisp wrote a book called How To Become A Virgin, in which he posited that we never arrive as whole humans, that we are always in a process of becoming. What’s more, our connections with other humans, sexual or otherwise, remain mysteries: “People are never with me, they are always in my presence.”

We grow old and feel ourselves accumulating this detritus called experience, but maybe we remain estranged life-virgins all. Perhaps there remains some permanent naiveté written into our sluttish comings and goings. Some salt-smack taste of constant exploration.