Is it okay to be an adult virgin?

If there was one thing I picked up at an early age, it’s that there’s an expected timeline for romance, a ‘norm’ that most people seem to stick to.

You get your first kiss… you have your first sexual experience… you might have fun at university and through your twenties… and then you find ‘The One’, settle down and have kids.

This was also the ‘normality’ reflected in the films and fairy tales of my youth.

The Little Mermaid went to the surface and fell in love with the prince at 16. Both Liesl in The Sound of Music and Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles taught me to expect a kiss from a boy at a similar age, and later, films like My Best Friend’s Wedding gave me the impression that not being married by 28 was almost certainly a social calamity (that age being a turning point is so laughable now I think if the film were remade today, they’d probably need to add a decade, if not two, on to the age of the leads to make it plausible).

While it shouldn’t be seen as ‘weird’ if you’re a virgin beyond young adulthood, unfortunately, it is.

Films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin teach us that adult virginity is still very much taboo, something to be laughed at and that if these milestones aren’t passed by a certain age then there must be something wrong with you.

It’s no wonder so many people force themselves into situations that they aren’t ready for or comfortable with just for the sake of perceived normality – nearly 52% of women and 44% of men say they were not ‘ready’ when they lost their virginity, according to 2019 research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Society drums into us that having sex, desiring sex, and being sexually desirable, is all important.

But what if we take the time to understand that it’s really not? That people do things at their own pace, and that some people might not want to have sex at all

In fact, a 2019 study of Japanese National Fertility found that a quarter of adults in the country between 18—39 were virgins; a figure that’s growing. According to the 2015 Online College Social Life Survey a study of more than 24,000 students at campuses across America, 20% of college students graduate without ever having sex.

I went to university in 2002 kiss-less, something I remember being ashamed of. Huddling with other girls in halls late at night, slightly drunk, I felt completely alone despite the fact that many of us had not had a boyfriend yet.

An insufferable romantic, I was nervous about ‘pulling’ anyone for the sake of it. I wanted it – along with any other intimate experience – to be meaningful.

But slowly, the number of girls who remained inexperienced dwindled. I gave up on the romance. My first kiss ended up being in my final year of university (very drunk by the bar of a torrid Durham nightclub), and I still remember the relief of getting it over and done with.

Now, a decade and a half later, I’m single, living in north London and contentedly looking after my numerous bichon frises, yet the pressure to reach those milestones (including even more experiences after that kiss) has stayed with me.

And I have certainly been surprised throughout my life of the number of friends and acquaintances who have admitted they also think of themselves as late bloomers.

Yet there aren’t many positive and confident representations of ‘late bloomers’ in film or TV. In fact, there’s more pressure on adult virgins than ever.

Take the hit show bridgerton: yes Daphne’s virginity storylines were sensitively played, but the general bodice ripping would have you thinking that everyone was at it in 1813.

Add to this the curse of Covid, where singles are isolated and finding it harder than ever to meet a suitable partner.

So I decided to write the book I wanted to read. Adult Virgins Anonymous is an upbeat story about two characters who find a mutual understanding, who can potentially explore their sexuality together in a fun way, and are definitely not ‘weirdos’ because of their inexperience.

Keenly feeling the pressure society puts on them, they both seek out a safe space to talk about it – enter the titular support group – where they meet characters with different kinds of sex lives; idealists or asexuals or those who just quite simply hadn’t had the opportunity arise for whatever reason.

While the book is fiction, it was important for me to create something that reflected a reality that rarely gets depicted.

I can’t say I regret my drunken first kiss or any of the other experiences that came after, but would they have happened differently had I felt more assured about what I wanted, free of any preconception of what was ‘normal’?

Had I had more diverse examples of late bloomers earlier in life, I wouldn’t have felt so ‘different’ and my hope for anyone reading this in a similar situation is that they won’t feel so alone now either.

Adult Virgins Anonymous by Amber Crewe is published today in paperback (Hodder & Stoughton, priced £8.99).

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