‘There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered’. Nelson Mandela.
The moment I read this quote, I knew I had to use it to head up a chapter of my book. Clearly Nelson was not thinking about virginity loss when he uttered these words but I like to think he might have been. He neatly sums up a journey that I have witnessed people take many times as they recount stories to me. Our virginity loss experiences are carved into stone. The facts and figures cannot be changed – but we change.
Something special happens when you get a person to re-live a watershed moment, particularly from a decent vantage point. This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get teenagers to talk about virginity loss experiences with any sense of perspective. Quite apart from acute embarrassment, they haven’t had time to ‘compost’ the experience. The rest of us have tucked this experience away in some random equivalent of a folder marked ‘private’ and forgotten about it. Dusting it off and taking a fresh look can be an eye opener, hopefully for the better.
I like today’s story for lots of reasons but mainly because our story teller acknowledges that, when all is said and done, virginity loss is just a blip in amongst many other millions of blips that make up a life. This is what gets me about people who set this experience (more to the point, other people’s experiences) on a pedal stall. As long as it’s passable, in the general scheme of things, it’s not that important. If it’s a nice experience, great. If it’s wonderful, consider yourself lucky. What really counts is the overall picture in your life. What kind of person are you? Do you try to contribute to the wellbeing of the people around you and therefore, to society at large?
To all the parents who have ever given their sons or daughters a hard time for not losing it in the ‘right’ way/at the ‘right’ time/with the ‘right’ person, you really need to get a life. And try – as today’s story teller does - to lead a genuinely good one at the same time.
Bob, born 1942, ‘Lost’ virginity, 1964 aged 22
I lost my wife of thirty eight years to a brain tumour some eight years ago. That started a reappraisal and major recalibration of my life. That reappraisal continues and I have to say it is things such as reading your book that keep that process rolling. I have looked at many choices I have made in growing up and living my life. There are many things that make me cringe in embarrassment, some grimace in pain but there has also been reassurance and sources of pride. Have I found the answer? At best, a tiny hint, some pointers. I won’t claim that they are right but there are some things that I have found that work for me. I suspect that that is as good as it gets.
I think there is so much for us to learn that we will be working on this for a long, long time. I think that is our job, what we are here for, to learn, mostly about our selves and so about our brothers. Please don’t spin your wheels over gender issues but I feel strongly that we are all brothers, every last one of us. The term as I mean it ignores gender, race, culture, indeed all the things we use to delineate between us and them, or me and you.
Do you want my story? Here it comes anyway. You say you want context, so I’ll give you some. I grew up, a working class kid in a working class district, a coal mining town. I saw myself as just that and never likely to be anything else. My older sister tells the story that one day we saw a car driving up our street when I was very young, about four. The car had a trailer with a boat on it, a very rare sight in the 1940’s. I creamed my jeans over it; boats and anything to do with water just grabbed me by the short and curlies. Dad noticed and patted my on the head and said, ‘not for the likes of us, son’. And so a curse was laid upon me. I know now he meant well, not wishing me to be disappointed with unfulfilled expectations. That’s how I remember my childhood and youth, full of unfulfilled expectations and longing. Poverty is no fun, the poverty in the head is worse. That was the curse, the poverty that fills the mind.
I left high school at fifteen and commenced a trade apprenticeship, fulfilling my own expectation of remaining a working class kid. One thing I gained from that apprenticeship was the realisation that I didn’t want to be a tradesman. I began a course at the Technical College to gain a university entrance. That meant working full time, attending college at night and studying whenever I could fit it in. That didn’t leave much time for socialising, meeting girls and certainly no time or energy for sex. Somehow, I ended up meeting Rosie. It was all neatly arranged by the girls at work. They arranged our getting together. It was as though I was just a placeholder for something, some idea that someone, perhaps, Rosie, had. I was barely a participant. My focus was elsewhere but choosing not to choose is a choice and I take responsibility for that. I blame no other.
It was nice to have someone to be with and do the bit of experimenting that young people do, kissing and fondling, etc. There was a problem though. Pauline came from an excessively emotional family. Everything was immersed in extreme emotional drama. I couldn’t buy into that because my energies were directed to advancing myself. And as much as I would have loved to make love to Rosie, I recognised that it would have exposed her to a lot of stress. It would have raised an incredible amount of drama for her. No problem could be looked at objectively; no difficulties identified and fixed or worked around. It all had to be built up into some huge crisis with lots of crying, wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth, yelling and abuse plus any other stray emotion someone felt like throwing in. Frankly, I didn’t think it worth going through that so I told myself that I will wait until we marry. Everything will work out fine, won’t it? It will all come good on the day, we’ll both be ready and we can go for it hell for leather. How naïve could a boy be!
What did I think of when I considered losing my virginity? Not much. I didn’t see it as a manhood thing. I did see being with Rosie intimately as the real goal and sex was a big part of that intimacy but not all of it. It didn’t feel like a strong passion that I had for her, but there was something even if I couldn’t name it. So I found myself being married. Our first time was disappointing for both of us, we were still pretty uninformed and inexperienced. The disappointment I felt was not related to the performance on the night; it had more to do with not being able to get to a deeper level of intimacy with Rosie, the whole person not just the sexual person. I have to be careful not to impose how I see things now on the man I was then but I think what I have said is true. I guess, it worked well enough for us to stay together for the next thirty eight years. In observing Rosie, I’d say that having our daughter was a bigger awakening for her. She was certainly a more sexually liberated and fulfilled person after Sacha’s birth.
The greatest liberation I felt in my life came with my graduation from university. Gaining that bachelor degree opened my life up for me. I guess it got me, if not a brilliant career, then a path full of fascinating challenges and experiences in various interesting places of employment. And you know what? That feels sexy to say even now as an old man.
Regarding sex education, it was non-existent in my day and the investment in ignorance that society makes appals me. My daughter Sacha, born in 1968, says that it wasn’t much better in her day in the 1980’s. There was some stuff presented about the plumbing but nothing of real use. One of the things I got from reading the stories of other’s virginity loss in your book is that it really doesn’t matter that much. When it comes down to it, it isn’t about sex, it isn’t even about the emotion that we call love. That seems to fade away anyway if it was there in the first place. It is about slogging it out through our lives together, dealing with whatever comes along, supporting one another in the painful times and celebrating our joy when we can. Perhaps it comes down to a man being a carer and a woman being a nurturer. Whatever it is, it is about being. It is not about having or owning or achieving. I won’t claim to have got there yet, to get to just be. One of the greatest things I ever did was to nurse Rosie at home through her illness, right up to her death. It was the greatest thing and the worst thing. Losing virginity was a mere blip on the horizon.
Oh, the boat on the trailer story at the beginning! I had forgotten that story or buried it in my childhood. My sister told me about it one day when she and her husband were with Rosie and I on my boat, having lunch on Lane Cove River, a tributary of Sydney Harbour. I have had a life with a lot of sailing in the offshore yacht racing scene in Sydney, competing in the Sydney to Hobart, Sydney to Mooloolaba, Sydney to Lord Howe Island and Sydney to Noumea Yacht Races. Life has its little ironies. I think dad would have enjoyed that.
PS. In writing this I have come to see how much I loved Rosie, perhaps not well enough, but that love was just what it was and that she loved me as well. I think that writing this has helped me put in perspective the disappointments and losses that I have felt through my life. They don’t add up to much, don’t take much away from all the plusses. By the way, I never did count giving up my virginity a loss nor do I now and, somehow, I don’t think Rosie did either, but that’s not really for me to say.