I did a radio interview recently, the first words of which were ‘Kate Monro, why you are such a big perv?’ I was slightly taken aback but I also howled with laughter because it's a fair question. Why do I go around asking people such impertinent questions about their sex lives? To be honest, I can barely believe my own cheek when I think back to the beginnings of this project. What on earth impelled me to request such a personal story?
The clue is in the last word of the previous paragraph. It was never virginity loss per se that got me going. It was merely the most effective vehicle I could find with which to tap people for brilliant stories. We all know how we lose virginity. An entire book about the nuts and bolts of ‘the moment’ (as it were) would be as dull as dishwater. It’s the bigger picture that’s interesting. I wanted to get people to paint these pictures. I needed an under the radar entry point at which to do that and this was it. There aren’t many other life experiences that could garner such a rich selection of reactions than the moment we have sex for the first time.
I chose today’s story for two reasons. 1: because it didn’t make the cut for my book. Not because there’s anything wrong with it but just because I couldn’t find the right place to put it. And 2: it’s a lovely example of the bigger picture. ‘The Moment’ takes up all of two lines and there are no gory details. But it is the inspiration for an epic tale that takes in religious spliff rolling parents, a questionable church pastor, a young black man alone at college in Cambridge for the first time and a very big dilemma.
Whilst I am here, here is a link to a nice interview I did last week for ‘Love Matters’, a Radio Netherlands produced sex education website for teens. Watch and learn England, watch and learn.
Daniel Collins. Born 1967. Lost virginity aged 20
Afro Caribbean parties are different to the parties that I ended up going to at university. On one level, it was really laid back but on another level, it was scary because dancing is part of the culture and it’s all about the moves. You are seriously done for if you can’t do the moves. Revoke your badge; do you know what I mean? It is not good. You’re supposed to be all but going for it in the middle of the dance floor, wining and doing it and I used to get so nervous; I would be running hot and cold sweats. I think that the one and only time that I did actually get into a dance with a girl, she may as well have been dancing with a broom because I was rigid with fear. I was a nerd. I was a comic book reading, cartoon drawing, nerd.
My parents came from Jamaica and my mum has become a regular church attendee since my dad died, but for much of my life, she was very Christian without actually going to church. This is important, because I grew up not being that interested in religion. I heard a lot of things that my mum said about God and her absolute belief in him. But at the same time my parents were having parties and stuff and dad would be in the kitchen rolling one up and mum would be out there, dancing crazy and entertaining. I rebelled backwards, I didn’t smoke pot until I was twenty-one, and it was my mum who taught me how to roll properly.
When I was eighteen, a mate of mine that I had grown up with came round one evening. I was hanging around outside my house as you do at that age. He just seemed to be different and I couldn’t get my finger down on what it was that was different. Finally, when I asked him, he told me about this Born-Again Christian group that he’d joined and it was more the way he was, rather than what he said that I latched onto. It was the sense of him being a bit surer of himself. He seemed to have a confidence that he didn’t have before, so I went along with him the next time and I found myself getting involved. At first I was just curious but it didn’t take long before I was enrolling in one of the classes.
Dr Whitsun was an American preacher who had split from the church and he had started to interpret the bible in a ‘new’ way. Basically it was a ‘reformation’ sort of situation. All these people had strayed off the path and he was going to put it right. He really bought all these ideas to life for me and there was a real sense of an active movement, something that I am sure the apostles would have felt, you know? The act of really doing something, and I found myself joining up.
One of the tenets of this faith was no sex before marriage and we talked a lot about the influences around us that are designed to lead you off the path. We were to follow the examples of the original Christians, which meant that we were free to see partners as much as we like, but we were to refrain from sex. I was at an age where there was a real pressure to be sexually active and apart from my friend at church, I had always hung around with friends who had gone and lived life and had girlfriends, lots of girlfriends. At the end of the day it wasn’t like it was on offer for me to turn down, but maybe I was dealing with it, or possibly the lack of it, by using religion. But I felt that I was doing the right thing even if my body sometimes didn’t agree with me.
So I go off to college, I move away from home for the first time and now things really start to get interesting because I don’t have my touchstone anymore. I can’t go to Fellowship and get a spiritual refill and I think I became really quite Taliban-like in those first six months of college. I think my way of dealing with it was to get really hardcore about it. I was at a little arts and technology college in Cambridgeshire; it wasn’t in any way involved with the university. But it’s not a very big town so you would end up in the same parties with people from the university. You’d end up in conversations with people who think they know stuff and I had some heated stand up debates.
I never felt more alone in my life.
I couldn’t find anyone else like me. Even if there were other Christians there, I wasn’t even on their side because my denomination was just as sceptical of all the other, nice, organized religions as it was of the secular world. It was a lonely place to be and I am not sure how I dealt with that first year. I remember once having this stand up conversation in the canteen with a guy about faith and trying to tell him about the ‘Born Again’ experience. I was trying to convince him that I would be all right but he wouldn’t, which at the end of the day is what you’re doing as a born again Christian.
I gradually began to wonder about things. Everyone else seemed to be having such a nice time going to the college bar and drinking and I would be sitting there drinking my coke. In fact I did that for about eight months, not a drink, not a nothing. Just chatting. And then temptation came along. There was a girl who had been in the same canteen at similar times. We had seen each other a few times and maybe passed each other going to the bank. Then we ended up at the same party and I don’t know what happened but we conversed and stuff and somehow at the end of the night we were kissing and heavy petting. Nothing more came of it but I realised at that point that I had crossed over some kind of Rubicon.
Now I wasn’t so sure of what I was saying and I suspect it was at this point that I really started to ratchet it down. Osama had come out of the cave so to speak. But something had changed and I couldn’t tell anyone about it because this girl was known as somebody who would throw herself at guys. That was the worst thing about it: the irony; I’d gone from being Mr Chaste to being Mr Chasing and chasing the easiest kind of tail. I was very confused. I met the person I ended up having the ‘first time’ with not long after that.
I had fallen asleep in the library. I was supposed to be studying, and I sort of jerked my head awake and there was this girl sitting a few tables away laughing at me. I smiled but I was nervous and I knew that I looked a bit of a twat. Then we met at a party later on and got to know each other a little better. Nothing happened for a little while but soon I got to really dig her. The funny thing was that I ended up jumping straight in at the deep end with her so to speak. I was twenty by this point and I had to get rid of this dilemma. I didn’t go out of my way to ‘kill it’, not consciously at least, but sub-consciously I think I just wanted to let life go on.
It wasn’t the very best experience in the world but my imagination wasn’t that advanced and I really had no idea what to expect. On some level you experiment but it’s not the same as when you’re actually with someone. I had read books and seen porno mags and it wasn’t like that. It was all I could expect it to be, let’s put it that way. She knew it was my first time, or she would have known by the way I was. I didn’t exactly have it choreographed. At aged twenty it was a bit embarrassing to be that awkward but she was very caring. I knew I wasn’t going to be like superman lover and I didn’t think the world was going to explode either.
The relationship didn’t last that long and it stopped in a very abrupt way. I wasn’t pleased with myself that I was the instigator and that it was also for the most stupid, selfish, childish reasons. Basically, I thought the nerd in me had finally been killed. It was the end of the year and after we came back from the Christmas holidays, I was just like, its New Year and I’m gonna get me some new ladies. And I cut it. Just like that. That was the weirdest, hardest thing because I didn’t even explain myself to her. But how could you explain that?
It was done. I had done it before marriage. It was difficult for me to come back from that situation without looking like a hypocrite, without actually confirming everything that people thought, which was, say one thing and do something else. I did not want to be that person, so it was not like a coming of age experience for me. It was more like a step forward and a step back.
I never found a way to marry the two. And in fact what happened next was the pastor in charge of my church became involved in a sex scandal, the whispering campaign began and senior members of the church took sides, ultimately causing a split. Once I saw the bickering, that was it. I was off.
I felt like I had stepped out of the world I had been in and stepped into the world that everyone else was living in. But I didn’t know whether it was better. That was the price, you know. I knew I could say sorry for what I had done and ask for forgiveness but I think I knew that I was going to do it again so it was a bit of a hypocritical exercise. In some ways, everything has been up in the air since then. It’s not like the end of uncertainty for me.
I am not religious now but I am trying to get some spirituality back into my life to get a bit of balance. It is the sense that there is a pattern and a flow to things that I enjoy. I certainly don’t want to be as rigid as I was. I do think there are more shades to life and besides; I hate the idea of giving authority to any one person. Why would I do that? They are just as messed up as I am. If they can’t say, ‘I am actually just as messed up as you are’ then don’t be a ‘God’ as far as I am concerned. I am more leaning towards stuff like Taoism and the whole Buddhist thing. I like the sense of finding your place in the universe.