Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Do I Navigate The Dating World as a 27-Year-Old Virgin?”

From the forums:

I’m a 27-year-old female virgin. I didn’t plan on remaining a virgin for this long, but after seeing sex produce so many negative ripple effects, I find it just kinda happened. I’ve watched the complexities of sex downgrade so many women’s lives and minds. Complexities like the insulting pain of being used and disposed like tissue, giving away your body to a man who won’t give you his heart, the emotional and physical trauma of abortion and being haunted by guilt, and the reality of merging your DNA with a man who honestly wouldn’t have been your first choice to build a family with. There’s the risk of single motherhood and becoming a target of pedophiles and having to journey through parenthood without a partner by your side. I’ve watched sex be used as an effective manipulation tool that keeps toxic, harmful, disingenuous people in one’s life.

I have yet to find a man who is worth those risks despite a former relationship of nearly four years. Would it be advantageous to save sex for marriage? What’s the best dating formula for someone who doesn’t plan on having sex? Am I making a foolish life choice and missing out on an important form of intimacy? — 27-Year-Old Virgin

I get a lot of letters – several a week — from people who have reached an age they think makes them unique or weird or even somehow damaged because they haven’t had sex (or, in many cases, even a date or a kiss). In fact, I have a reply at the ready that I copy and paste and send to the LWs since they are all essentially asking the same thing, which is: “Is it too late for me? Can I still find love? Am I dateable?” In my form reply, I link to past columns where I answered similar questions – columns like this one and this one and this one. Your letter is not like theirs though. You are not asking whether it’s too late for you, whether you can still find love, whether you are dateable. You are asking something else entirely: You’re asking whether love is worth all the potential risk.

I know, you’re saying to yourself that your letter isn’t about love at all – it’s about sex, but I’m arguing that “sex” is simply the word you use in place of love. For a lot of people, sex and love can be, and often are, separate. A woman can sleep with someone and not feel “used and disposed” like a tissue or distraught if a man didn’t “give her his heart” because… well, she didn’t want his heart in the first place; it was just casual sex and she wasn’t looking for anything more than that. Or, shocker! Sometimes there’s mutual love and respect between a man and a woman having sex and no one is “disposed.” Some of the risks of sex that you mention — like pregnancy and single motherhood — do remain, but, frankly, the risk of pregnancy is very low when highly effective forms of birth control are used correctly.

Even abortion isn’t something that is often “emotionally and physically traumatic,” like you say, leading to a woman’s feeling haunted by guilt forever. The anti-abortion rights people would like you to believe that, but there have been numerous studies done, including one I linked to yesterday, that have found that not to be the case at all. Maybe you have friends who have had abortions that were traumatic for them and I don’t mean to discount their experiences, but a wider lens shows a far different perspective and picture.

Here’s another perspective for you on the risk of a broken heart — which is what I believe you are most afraid of: While there is no guarantee that the pursuit of love won’t leave you broken hearted, I can promise you that such a pursuit, and even the broken heart it may result in, will bring you important and character-building life lessons. Having the experience of falling in love, even if the love doesn’t last in the way you hope it would, will enrich your life. And the experience of falling out of love, picking up the pieces, and moving on provides an opportunity for immense personal growth — the kind of personal growth that lessens the fear of future adversity by showing you how strong you can be. But you have to be open to the growth. You have to be willing to suffer a little bit.

The idea of suffering is a hard pill to swallow, I get it. It’s especially hard if you don’t recognize examples in your life of successful suffering (suffering that eventually led to a positive outcome) and you can’t imagine anything — or any man — worth the risk of suffering. And it may be that you won’t recognize such a path until it’s directly in front of you, and even then you might miss it, being so focused on all the hurdles and road blocks you imagine lie ahead. You say you have yet to find a man who is worth the risks you outline above, but I wonder how often you are really looking at a man and not, instead, at any signs of the hurt loving him might cause. I certainly wouldn’t advise you to ignore red flags, but I would advise you to let yourself be open to the imperfections the man who will love you and accept your imperfections will undoubtedly have. I would advise you to be open to imperfect love because it’s the only kind of love there is.

It’s ok if you aren’t open to sex without love. That can be your deal and you should let men know that upfront before you pursue a serious relationship. And it’s ok to save sex for marriage. But I urge you not to save love for marriage in the hopes that the legality of the union will save you from ever having your heart broken. It doesn’t work that way, and in withholding love from yourself — in avoiding intimacy and vulnerability – you withhold real joy from yourself, too. By closing yourself off to the possibility of love, you aren’t protecting your heart, you’re sacrificing it. And your life is much less rich as a result.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Allornone January 21, 2020, 11:20 am

    OP, you say that you haven’t found a man worth the risk, but that’s the wrong way of thinking about it. It’s the experience that’s worth the risk. Not the experience of sex, mind you, but the experience of the whole thing- of living, loving, reaching a place of intimacy you never thought possible, reveling in that closeness, opening yourself up to another human being and the simultaneous joy and fear of that vulnerability, experiencing something new and scary and wonderful. Trust me, I’ve been hurt. I’ve had sex with guys that I most definitely should regret. But you know what? As much as that heartbreak killed me in the moment, those experiences helped shape who I am as a person today. And that person is wiser and so much better able to understand and appreciate what actual love is and the type of man I know I should be with. I had to make those mistakes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known who I am and what I truly want from love and life.

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  • avatar

    Sea witch January 21, 2020, 1:09 pm

    Okay, for starters, you seem to think that sex is just something that women give to men and not vice-versa. If it’s good, it’s something that men also give to women! You aren’t being “used” by him any more than he is being used by you.
    Also, there’s this thing called “birth control” that can prevent you from becoming a mother before you’re ready.
    Honestly, you sound like you stepped out of the 1950s. Did you grow up in some kind of very repressive religion, by chance.

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    • avatar

      Nicole January 21, 2020, 7:07 pm

      Religious childhood imdoctrination and a religion that puts down women and sexy before marriage is my bet as well. It seem like this hits deep. It is horrible.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse January 21, 2020, 1:10 pm

    Most of my past relationships that were really bad. I’m sure if I was telling the OP about them, she’d use those experiences as evidence that she’s right. But I don’t regret them. All of those bad relationships, some more terrible (and actually abusive) more than others made me the person I am today and led me to a great man who I have a fulfilling, loving relationship with. The cliche is true, live and learn. Or never try anything new and stay in your safe bubble, I guess.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse January 21, 2020, 1:18 pm

      Ugh. Can’t edit.

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  • avatar

    tlee8 January 21, 2020, 1:42 pm

    Get yourself a toy. Figure out what you like and then you wont hold sex at such a high status. Dont wait for marriage. There’s really no reason to wait for that. When you feel ready, you’re ready. The best part of sex with someone is really everything that happens before and inbetween. The connection and intimate moments.

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  • avatar

    Ashley January 21, 2020, 2:45 pm

    You Sound so very very afraid. Unfortunately there is no path in life to guarantee you won’t feel loss, pain, or loneliness.

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  • avatar

    mjmaim January 21, 2020, 4:47 pm

    It is advantageous to save sex until you are ready for sex; that may be with a partner you meet tomorrow, or someone you date for years, or someone you date and then marry. No one can tell you when it is right and/or who you should have sex with, only you can determine what is right for you.
    However, it seems like you have a lot of fear and anxiety about sex and you are only focusing on the potential negative aspects. Sex can be fun, silly, romantic, passionate and feel amazing! Some people do it with as many people as possible just to do it, some people do it as an intimate act between loving partners and some people do it for a wide range of reasons between those two examples. Find what’s right for you and clearly communicate your wants and needs with anyone you date, but also consider speaking to a professional to help you determine why you have so many negative feelings and anxiety about sex.
    Yes, there will be some men who don’t want to date you when you honestly communicate that you will not sleep with them until you are ready (which may or may not be marriage), you are not compatible with those men so don’t worry about it. There may be some men who you date who will try to change your mind into sleeping with them before marriage, only change your mind if/when you are ready, not because you feel pressured by them or society. Use condoms and/or birth control if you decide you are ready.
    You will probably experience heartbreaks even if you don’t have sex, because all intimacy (emotional and sexual) can lead to disappointments, hurt feelings, etc. Just be clear, honest, hold true to what you want and need, and stay safe.

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    • avatar

      ron January 21, 2020, 7:06 pm

      mjmaim — but LW’s issues go way deeper than when and under what circumstances to have sex. It seems to be a general phobia about men and intimacy (not in a sexual sense) generally. She obviously isn’t ready for sex, IMHO. Everyone has experienced the pain of an unwanted break-up, most of us more than once. It’s a part of life. She’s unwilling to accept it as such. She has a seemingly pathological fear of a future break-up. If she ever wants a relationship/sex, gotta fix that.

      Perhaps BGM is correct that she needs a hook-up to separate sex and relationship and get beyond all of the virginity myths. Can’t say on that, since don’t know all that much about LW, apart from her fears.

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark January 21, 2020, 6:24 pm

    Just lose it. Soon. To a nice guy you find attractive. Be safe — obviously.

    Don’t expect it to be the be the end all of sexual experiences. Don’t expect it to mean anything or be anything other than a fine memory.

    The longer you wait. The more weighty it gets. The more heady.

    And really — the only the to gain by waiting is an unfortunate marriage to a sexual dud. Spare yourself. Take charge of your life — and your sexuality — sooner rather than later.

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    • avatar

      Allornone January 22, 2020, 6:58 am

      I’m not always in agreement with you (you’re smart and funny, but hella judgemental, especially of women) , but I think you might be right here. The longer she puts it off, the bigger “a thing” it will be. And it doesn’t have to be. If she’s ever going to enjoy sex, she needs to own it on her terms, and that can’t happen unless actually knows enough to know what she wants.

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  • avatar

    Nicole January 21, 2020, 7:04 pm

    I feel concerned for this person. Like the response said. She is afraid of taking chances. And it sounds like being religiously indoctrinated at a young age has ruined her and repressed her.

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  • avatar

    Nicole January 21, 2020, 7:09 pm

    I also find it a little alarming that she was in a relationship for four years and they never had sex? Unless this was in junior high and high school that is something I don’t understand.

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark January 22, 2020, 1:05 am

    Lemme guess. He, too, was religious? And a closet case no doubt. Nothing is more attractive to a closet case than a girl friend who doesn’t even want sex!

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  • avatar

    saneinca January 22, 2020, 1:09 am

    LW, I feel like you have a phobia about sex and you are finding reasons to justify it.

    I am surprised you have listed so many things negative about sex/relationships. But you never noticed or found anything positive about couples who are in a loving, long term relationship ? How about your own family ?

    May be you have been brainwashed or perhaps you have an OCD personality. I think you should seek psychological evaluation and therapy to overcome these fears. It is ok if you want to wait to have sex. What is more concerning is your negative feelings about relationships.

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  • avatar

    TheLadyE January 22, 2020, 1:34 am

    I was in my early 30s before I lost my virginity, due largely to a very religious upbringing and some physical limitations that needed to be addressed. Even so, I wanted to have sex and have a physical relationship with a man with whom I had a strong bond.

    LW, I have to say, your whole letter seems to be written out of fear. It is extremely negative and just, well, scared. Wendy is right – if you want to have a relationship of any kind, you have to open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. It doesn’t mean you’ll get accidentally pregnant, it doesn’t mean you’ll get STDs, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be “used” by a man, but many relationships don’t work out because of timing and incompatibility – but the thing is, it takes TRYING it in order to find that out.

    I will say – as a woman in my, ahem, late 30s now, I haven’t had a ton of sexual partners due to wanting a strong connection before I had sex, and I have found a wonderful, mutually loving relationship in which having sex/lovemaking is an integral part of us showing that love to one another and experiencing intimacy. It’s not the only way or even the primary way we show love, but it’s an important part of our relationship.

    Did that weed out a bunch of guys who didn’t want to be with a woman who was a virgin her late 20s/early 30s? Yep. Would they have made good partners for me? No, they wouldn’t, so no harm, no foul. Guys also rejected me because I had a small dog, so whatever. They’re not worth worrying about.

    Honestly? I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I wish I had taken the steps necessary to have sex that I needed to before I was in my early 30s. However, you live, you learn. I’m still very friendly with the guy I “gave” my virginity to, but I don’t want to be his girlfriend. I want to be my boyfriend’s girlfriend. It’s all about growing up and figuring out who you are and what you want. It can be a little intimidating, but no matter what, you’ll get through it even if you ended up breaking up with the guy you first have sex with.

    That said, only do what makes you comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, there’s no need to force it. I was ready. My sister, in her late 20s (older than you) was ready. Be sure you’re ready too.

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  • avatar

    mellanthe January 30, 2020, 7:00 pm

    As a woman who waited until I felt comfortable – and I mean, well beyond ‘wait til you’re 18 or 21’ level – the time will come when it feels right.

    I waited until I met someone that I really clicked with. I wasn’t religious, it just needed to feel right, and there were a lot of unrequited or soon-over things that went on. I’m glad I waited for someone that made me feel safe, comfortable, desired and respected – anyone who pressures you is not worth it and will be a lousy boyfriend. I did wish I’d met someone I felt comfortable with sooner, only because it means that I’d have gotten more comfortable in my skin a bit sooner. But once you start, you pick things up, and you explore things together.

    The person you meet, or people you meet, won’t be perfect, and it won’t be without risk. But you can’t form deep and meaningful rellationsips (with or without sex) without risk. I was scared, but I knew that if I didn’t take the risk, I’d never see if it would work out, or enjoy what intimacy had to offer.

    Losing it is special, if it’s done right. But it’s still not the defining moment – whoever you love at the current time is THE one. So don’t worry if the first one doesn’t end up being right for you.

    “Just lose it. Soon. To a nice guy you find attractive. Be safe — obviously.”
    I have to disagree a bit. Lose it when you’re ready. Yes, it’s better to not let it build into a thing. But nobody should go towards intimacy with the idea of just getting it over with. Sex isn’t something to be suffered through, but to be enjoyed. I wouldn’t have been able to make myself sleep with anyone who happened to be vaguely good looking just to get it over with, and I’m glad I didn’t. Not because it’s a big thing – it really isnt, once you get used to it. But because it has to be the right time for someone and they have to want it.

    Even if this person is repressed, or sex repulsed, or maybe asexual, they need help and support (probably professional) to help them figure out if sex is something they actually want to have, and how to work past their issues if it is.

    And if sex doesn’t feel right or isn’t something you want to do, maybe explore whether terms like asexuality or demi/grey sexuality apply to you.

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  • avatar

    dating sider June 1, 2020, 1:24 am

    This one really hit close to home… I’m also a 27 year old virgin.
    It’s not always easy navigating the dating scene when you’re highly inexperienced

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