Help! I’m a 26-year-old virgin
The truth is, now in my mid-twenties and it’s getting more and more difficult to find reasons to keep my virginity. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but society definitely makes you feel inadequate about it though! There’s a lot of pressure out there. A lot. – 26-year-old virgin
Dear 26-year-old Virgin,
Thanks for writing. I am honored by your honesty. And, being a 30-year-old virgin myself, I can relate – it’s not easy in this world to live the virtue of chastity. I’ve been out clubbin’ and have many friends who don’t live chastity. I know what it is like to believe you’re the only one left. However, I have also found things that help me gain confidence in this decision. I agree that the pressure is real, but some specific perspectives, real life stories and relationships have helped me remember what chastity is about and why it’s worth all the struggles.
Keeping Perspective about Pressure
First of all, understanding why the world is so cruel to the chaste gives me good perspective. I 100% agree that the world is not kind to the sexually counter-cultural – especially us “older” virgins. But, then I remember that the world wasn’t kind to Jesus either. Nor is integrity always very popular in our world. Being in chastity ministry for a few years, I’ve pondered why our world is so negative to the pure (aka naive, blindly innocent, relationally inept or inexperienced according to the world), and I’ve found some answers that make sense to me. One reason came from a friend of mine, Beth.
Beth said that she was one of the first girls at her high school to lose her virginity. A huge contributing factor, in addition to the sexual pressure from the guy, was her best friend. Her best friend gave away her virginity a couple months before Beth. During that time, she told Beth how great it was and how much it improved relationships, yada, yada, yada. Beth believed her best friend and was soon “de-flowered”. Looking back, Beth knew “it” wasn’t that great, and she knew something was wrong with it in this context (although no one explained to her or tried to tell her any other option). So, she focused on her best friend – if it’s okay for her, it must be okay for me. But, that wasn’t enough because there were still goodie-goodie virgins around that made her feel like she lost something. Therefore, Beth became just like her best friend, encouraging all her friends to join the two of them in the new club. The more people she drew in, the less she would feel something might be wrong with her behavior. She desperately wanted it to feel normal yet needed a sexually active peer group to make that happen. Beth and her friend were persuasive, they had to be, to ease the conscience and keep the boyfriend.
But, you’re probably thinking – Heather, isn’t that too elementary…peer pressure? Ahhh, but what adult can’t relate to the drama “masks”? – every one of them if they’re honest. We all struggle and we’re all susceptible to what others think of us. We’re all vulnerable. Although there are many reasons why the world doesn’t want us to be pure (Satan gnawing away at the source of all life and ultimate physical love has to be a big one), I think this one explains a lot of people in my own life. It doesn’t have to be a “best friend” like Beth’s, but just a societal, “it’s great, join the club” mentality that’s hard to deny. It is sadly elementary but very true. And, although many young “confident” adults link their sexual activity to wise, relational choices, they all start from somewhere and they’d have to be living in a cave to not be influenced by this oversexed world of ours.
The Source of Pressure
Also, I have tried to look hard at the source of the persuasion or pressure. Sure, there are nice, well-adjusted individuals who are critical of the chaste, but are they that way because of their own experience or the extensive prayer, study and practice they’ve put into what constitutes the most healthy and loving relationships? Church guidelines and mandates may seem constricting, but they only exist to lead us all to real love, fulfillment and happiness (and not just in Heaven, but also tastes of it on earth). Pope John Paul’s extensive work on romantic, marital and sexual relationships stems from years of being in the confessional, listening to hundreds of people honestly talk about these issues. Not too many of my friends have this depth of knowledge about human nature as well as spiritual wisdom and strength about the source of all love – Jesus.
When we play a game with teens called the candy game we hide a candy bar and have all but one or two teens yell at them (hot & cold directions) in such a way as to confuse them (the other two yell to help them find the candy bar). The vast majority usually wins – screaming louder than the “friend” or two who want to help the volunteer get to the candy bar. If the candy bar represents happiness and fulfillment, the Church exists to be a friend, to be a voice of love, to get you there. But, in our loud world of radio, movies, magazine, TV, we often hear the voice of the friend and yell at them (as a teen did once in this game), “Shut up, you’re too different”. The vast majority of voices don’t care whether or not you find fulfillment; they need to sell a product. And, even if these voices are of “friends” who aren’t selling a product to you, they’re often still figuring it out themselves – they don’t know exactly where to find it either.
Looking at the persuasion of an oversexed culture and the source of all the “voices” helps me keep all the pressure in perspective. I’m not crazy – I just want to love the best I can. Christopher West calls it the “flat tire syndrome”. In our sexually permissive culture, most everyone is driving around his or her cars with flat tires – they aren’t filled with real love or total fulfillment from soul to body – but they don’t know the difference because everyone else is flat, too. They’re all on the same level. Jesus came to save us from the flat tires, to be inflated by his Spirit, by his perfect love. So few in our world really care for it, though. It’s sad. But I must remember that I do want His love, I want inflated tires, I want more than the mediocre, depressed, confused, untrusting and uncommitted world.
But, does the “more” exist? Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones, but because of my job I get to hear many stories that prove to me that “more” absolutely exists. God’s grace is vast and His blessings are many when we’re open to them. Here are a couple stories in particular that keep me hoping for “more” and give me confidence in my decision.
When my sister got married, she and her now-husband had been dating for six years. All of his friends didn’t live chastity (which made it a HUGE battle for him), but on his wedding day, several commented that they deep down wish they could have what Jim has. They recognized that Kel & Jim’s relationship was different and they all knew of their choice to wait. They wanted that joy, the pure love of Kel & Jim. My friend Kathryn married a college baseball player who was submitted to years of the other players badgering him for not having sex with Kathryn. On their wedding day, once again, several approached to tell him they wanted what he had. And, even though I’m not yet married, I had a similar experience in college. When everyone shared their “first time” stories, I just shared my most romantic night – a very chaste event. When I finished, one girl asked, “why is your story so much better than ours?”
A dear friend recently wrote this, “As I am approaching marriage with my boyfriend, I have seen first-hand the many benefits of saving sex for marriage. In our FOCCUS test (given to Catholic engaged couples), the sexuality portion was the easiest of them all. Since we’re both virgins, all the potential issues of baggage, ghosts, comparisons, etc. were things we didn’t have to worry about. Instead, we talked about what bothered us about the other – not what darks sins will rear their ugly heads at the wrong times. (This couple isn’t ‘young’ either.) Think of the years we could have given it away to others – but instead our first living together and sexual experiences will be shared in marriage alone. We won’t need to know the loss or pain of even one former lover.”
The world might say this couple is naïve (and I disagree) and will struggle (which they will – that’s part of life, but they’ll love and savor their sexuality, too). The world will also say that it’s unrealistic to expect a sexually pure partner (and I disagree), so just give in (what? so we can make the odds of finding one even more difficult?). Don’t’ be discouraged – I can’t tell you how many friends I have who are recently married and they’re both either virgins or have started over in chastity (too many to try to count). And, personally, I was asked out quite frequently by many chaste gentlemen during my twenties. Not all of these guys were without past mistakes, but many of them were virgins, and all were on the journey of pure love and it was exciting. My current boyfriend, Michael, and I are living it, too. He’s 27 and I’m 30. It happens in real life – the “more” is tangible even if it takes awhile for the Miss or Mr. Right to surface.
Finding Mr. or Miss Right becomes so much easier when you have a close group of Christian friends. Some of the best things in my life are the friends, many close friends, who are living the same virtues. Being around them in a social setting makes me feel very normal and healthy. I’m not just lucky, though, to have these friends; to a certain extent I had to search them. And, I still have many unchaste friends. I have not chosen to leave these friends just because they have different values, but neither have I allow them to be the close, constant voices in my head. I leave that to people who are on the same road as I am. And, I pray that I can bring Christ’s light to all my friends – chaste or unchaste. But, from my friends who are strong in faith, I get Christ’s light and love in return. I experience the living God in their hugs, words, advice and love for me. I often feel like Jesus is directly speaking to me through my close friends. This gives me a lot of confidence.
Also, obviously, an intimate relationship with Jesus is my ultimate source of strength. Intimacy for us Catholics comes through the tangible God – in the sacraments. In my single years, I attend daily Mass as much as possible and go to Reconciliation at least monthly. A daily personal prayer life also makes my relationship with Jesus a regular part of life, like a spouse to me. This prayer life feeds my soul, the innermost part of my being to the point of overflowing. I love going to Adoration – visiting with Jesus. I did this a ton when I wasn’t dating someone. He was my “date” and He loved it. He often spoke to me and nurtured me personally. And, there were times when I didn’t feel anything for months, but I stayed faithful because it’s about more than my feelings. Our relationship fills me with confidence. He is the one I come to at the end of the night. When I put my head down on my pillow, it’s His opinion of my day and His love for me that matters more than anything. When I’m struggling or feel distant from God, I go out of my way to do more or something different to reconnect – fast, a Rosary each day, read a good spiritual book, journal more regularly to Jesus, etc. He fills me with graces all the time, even when I don’t feel it because I know I don’t have any confidence or hope in this dark world without Him. I’m very weak and I desperately need Him to make it day to day.
Also, having a spiritual director has given me some objective perspective on how I can grow spiritually, especially when I’m struggling. For example, when I wavered in my trust of God’s plan I sought out her advice. Here’s what she said, “Don’t get frustrated at all the times you don’t trust – if you trusted 24/7 you’d be in Heaven. Instead, be grateful if you get one or two moments a day when you truly do trust. Then, try to have one or two more the next day and focus on those.” This advice has helped me SO MUCH.
Lastly, my relationship with Michael has shown me that pure relationships not only exist but are completely worth the wait (and I waited a LONG time). And, you know where I met Michael? At a friend’s party – someone who also was living her faith. Those strong Christian friends can help lead you to a strong Christian spouse. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in my circle of friends.
Bottom line is that following the call of Christ isn’t easy – we must pick up our cross. This is part of being a disciple – the ridicule, the isolation. Welcome to His world, literally. I don’t know how your faith has been lately, but I can say that if you want to be in His world, it’ll be a challenge. Besides, what good comes easy anyway? The salvation of the world came from the slaughter of the innocent. Unfortunately, to be part of Christianity, that’s the road destined for us as well. It’s not easy, but it only leads one place…Heaven, the land of pure love and total fulfillment.
Okay, so this response is a novel. It’s been good, though, for me to evaluate exactly what has helped me on the road – what will I turn to if Michael and I don’t work out, or when marriage gets rough and I’m questioning God in other ways. So, thanks for listening to me ramble (if you did, in fact, get this far).
For one more perspective, check out Christopher West’s article: An Open Letter to Sarah, the 29 Year-Old Virgin