Hi Yana,

I’m a virgin and I’m in college. Being in college seems to come with a hookup culture and an expectation to be having sex which isn’t the case for everybody. I find myself either lying or being very quiet during conversations about sex with people I’m not comfortable with (like male teammates or people I don’t know).

This fear of rejection also comes with a fear of intimacy, which I’ve been recognizing more and more recently. This makes me anxious to meet new people who may have expectations about sex in relationships.

I’m not waiting for marriage, but I’m waiting for someone who I feel I can trust wholeheartedly. Are there any steps I can take to get over a fear of intimacy and be able to put myself out there more? Thanks so much for any help.

Looking to Put Out, But Not Like That


Dear Looking,

There are many great perks to waiting to have sex until you’re older than the national average (the “age of first intercourse” in the U.S. according to the CDC circa 2017, is 17.2 for women and 16.8 for men) but perhaps most importantly, having more time to get to know yourself can be really helpful in creating positive first-time experiences with sex.

“Virginity” itself is traditionally narrowly defined as someone’s first time having penis-in-vagina penetration, which just doesn’t encompass everyone’s experience of or desired version of sex. There’s been a shift away from defining “virginity” in this way and towards the concept of a “sexual debut,” which is more inclusive and looks at sex as defined by the people having it (fingers! mouths! toys! an orgasm! whatever!) and includes a self-determined timeline that allows people to decide when their “first” time doing XYZ is/was (this is especially important for survivors of assault).

I hear your fears about others’ expectations, intimacy, and rejection. These are all very common feelings to have whether you’ve had sex zero or a zillion times! The truth is that all of us have specific desires, experiences, and limits when it comes to introducing other people to having sex with us. This will be true for you as a virgin, for you after you no longer consider yourself a virgin, and also true for whoever your sexual partner/s may be now or in the future (regardless of their sexual experience).

For some, the loss of their virginity is everything — a huge deal! For others, it might just be a pesky first to get out of the way, or maybe just something somewhere in the middle like learning a new skill or traveling by plane for the first time. Ultimately, the bigness of the virginity-losing woop is in the eye of the beholder. You get to decide.

I can’t emphasize this point enough: you get to decide!

In my time as a sex columnist and therapist, there are a few things I’ve observed that make for pleasurable and happy sexual experiences: self-awareness, healthy boundaries, clear communication, the feeling that we can express ourselves safely and freely to our partners, and trying our hardest to have no shame in our game.

I sense from your letter that you’re worried about being judged for your decision to wait to have sex — a decision that I want you to know you’re 100 percent entitled to make! You get to decide your boundaries. And this includes setting healthy boundaries around who you choose to share this personal information with. You don’t need to share your sexual status with teammates, dudes, or people you otherwise don’t trust with your highly personal information.

Part of your quest to lean into intimacy is setting yourself up for success in having intimate experiences — so I think you’re already doing a great job via choosing who you share this information with. Talking with trusted friends about your virginity or hopes for your future sexual experiences can be a great way to reduce shame and increase your confidence in your decision making and choices. I suggest you start there!

For a great example of a later-in-life virgin who is clear, confident, and self-assured, check out Insecure actress Yvonne Orji’s interview with Cleo Stiller.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.