Years ago, my car mechanic, a man I’ve had many interesting conversations with sitting under the arches of his Latimer Road ‘shop’ asked me ‘but Kate, does a man even lose virginity?’
Probably not in the same way a woman does. There aren’t physical ramifications for men (don’t get me started on the ‘cultural’ ones) but one thing I do know is that men spend a lot of time thinking about it. Not so much in the ‘I’m desperate for that to happen’ way. That’s a given. I’m talking about the multitude of anxieties and questions that go through a man’s mind as he teeters on the brink of sexual communion for the first time. I may never have known this until I decided to write a book and a blog about it. I definitely didn’t think men would queue around a virtual block to enlighten me about their insecurities, heartbreaks and desires. I was so wrong.
Men have been some of my greatest, most forthcoming interviewees and if I’d ever stopped to think about it, why wouldn’t they be? Women have all sorts of opportunities to share their inner worlds. I have been encouraged to express how I feel my entire life. It doesn’t mean I do it but that’s not the point. The option is there and I’ve never been asked to quash my emotions in favour of ‘being a man’. I have not been told to man up when I am under duress.
I am as angry as the next woman about gender inequality. I’m angry on behalf of my mum who didn’t get to do half the things in her life that I’ve got to do in mine (although she has given it a bloody good bash). I am cheesed off about the mingy playground I played in at school whilst the boys got a big yard because ‘boys need to let off steam’. I’m still irritated by the way that some men were happy to intimidate me out of taking to the pool table as a teenager because it was deemed male territory. Play by all means, their faces said, but we are going to stand here and smirk at your attempts to connect the cue to the ball (until the day I played a lucky shot at a traditional smoky boozer and wiped the table out in one go. My smirking opponent, a stranger who had clearly thought he was going to show me the error of my ways threw his cue to the floor and flew out of the door muttering expletives).
All of this stands, but its important to say that for me at least, it is not at the cost of my empathy for men. In my mind, these two sets of thoughts and feelings can sit side by side and deciding that one is right and the other unquestionably wrong is not constructive. We won’t travel anywhere new by refusing to try and understand each other’s plights. I don’t need to cease being angry in order to try and give men a platform. Because the more men understand how I feel, and the better I package that up and communicate it, the more this translates in to real-time thoughtful behaviour. And vice versa.
Writer Matt Haig met with a barrage of vitriol when he proposed something along these lines earlier this week and that’s a shame. Everyone has got something to bring to the table and suggesting otherwise is unimaginative. Lets lick our respective wounds by all means. I have not stopped licking mine since the day I read this – but lets continue the conversation and attempt to evolve at the same time.
In the meantime, The Virginity Project has been moonlighting on behalf of masculinity. I’ve been back to my interviewing roots and talking to guys of different ages and backgrounds about how they experience being men. In doing so, I hoped to discover something about the way that masculinity has evolved over the last 75 years. As ever, my men folk knocked it out of the park. No one held back. Conversation flowed. Tea was drunk. Feelings were expressed. The (very edited) results are published in The Independent today.
I am also re-publishing a peep into the life of a young man, a virgin who wishes his life were otherwise. I will say no more.
‘I grew up in a very religious house. And I went to religious schools. When I started secondary school, someone asked about sex ed and was told that you would have to do ‘Leaving Cert biology’ to get that. At no point did we get any kind of sex ed prior to that. I did biology (for honest reasons!) and the talk could be boiled down to: ‘Sex happens between married couples. That was the talk. Nothing about safety, nothing about pregnancy. And if you have sex you will be punished. That was my sex ed.
Making matters worse, when I was fifteen, I developed psoriasis, a very unpleasant, genetic but noncontagious skin disorder, which didn’t help my growing interest in girls and my desire to look cool. I learned how to hide it, by growing my hair long and wearing long sleeves/pants all the time. I kept trying with different girls, but was incredibly self-conscious and would often find myself unable to talk to them about anything more than ‘nice weather, innit?’
When I reached college, having finally freed myself from the shackles of small town life, I decided that was a whole load of crap and resolved to get cool clothes, meet interesting people and try sex for myself. It was a bit of a shock to learn that I still had no clue about talking to women. In hindsight, I can see several situations that I could have possibly turned into something more. Maybe. But I kept trying to break out of the repressive programming of 19 years. And then I had a minor freak-out in a club. Under the strobe lighting, the psoriasis on my scalp and upper body stuck out like day-glo dandruff. And this happened every time I went to a club. I still had the bars and events and college. While studying for my masters, I moved into a house and found myself sharing with 7 girls (all with boyfriends). It was an education and I learned a great deal about women. But always, at the back of my mind, I kept remembering how bad the psoriasis could get.
Ultimately, I finished college without ever having a girlfriend. This is despite my friends, frequent trips out and the numerous societies I took part in. The psoriasis was a constant burden. I learned to cover up a lot of my problems in college.
After college, I was in search of work, and found myself in a few strange places, including India and Russia. The jobs and language barrier made it quite difficult to find people my own age. I eventually found employment back home, in the city I went to college. I knew the streets, I knew all the names, the doormen, I knew the bands; I was set. My job was hard and time consuming, but worthwhile. I ventured out several weekends a month, to different gigs or bars. I got a job with a music magazine, and would often get in for free. I started kick-boxing, along with volunteering at a soup kitchen twice a week. I was spending my days working, my nights hanging out with my new friends, and my weekends getting into gigs for free. It was great.
I was and still am generally happy with my lot in life. Yes, I would sometimes wonder what it was like to hold someone in my arms as they slept, but I would just remind myself of the numerous good things in my life and just say it will happen when it happens. I kept myself out there and did things I enjoyed and believed in. I have few difficulties socially, and can talk to most people, but when I try for something more, I fall flat on my face or miss the cues to act.
After an absolutely hellish week at work, I returned to my flat ready for a nice long weekend of sleeping, listening to music and watching TV. Instead, my flat mates had a few friends over and I got talking to a girl who I’m going to call Jess.
She was pretty; she was funny, she had similar hobbies to mine. After a few hours of listening to increasingly bad music, she looked me right in the eye and said: ‘This is getting a bit much. I bet your room is a lot quieter.’
As I led her up the stairs, all I could hear was the theme to Chariots of Fire. She stopped in the bathroom to do whatever arcane magicks women do to prepare, so I classied up my room a bit. The door opened, and a beautiful lady in just a bra and shorts entered my room. We haven’t even kissed yet. She begins to open my shirt, then paused. ‘What… the fuck? She stepped back, vomited on my bed, and asked ‘What the hell is wrong with you?!’
She pulled her top back on and walked out. After everything, after getting my life sorted, after getting someone who wanted to be with me because she liked me, and this was how it ended. I didn’t leave my room for the weekend. I didn’t eat, I just slept and watched porn and slept and watched porn. She was the last girl I approached. I haven’t tried since then, about 6 months.
I only ever told one friend of mine about that night. He recommended I see an escort, and gave me a list of his ‘go-to’ girls. Talking about escorts and prostitution opens up a whole other can of worms, I’m not the biggest fan of it, but I’m not going to condemn the ladies involved, and I can understand why some (not all) people go. He then told me to try the ‘pump and dump.’ Take a guess what that is. If someone, man or woman, wants a string of one night stands, I got no problem with that. As long as whatever happens is between consenting adults who use protection, then you can do whatever.
Trying to bring me around to his way of thinking, he told me about the ‘unholy abomination’ he woke up beside earlier that week. I’m sure there are plenty out there, men and women, who can tell similar stories. Go out, get drunk, go home with someone, cold light of day it’s a Hammer Horror. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be someone’s funny sex story, and I don’t want to have one myself. I’m not looking for true love, or waiting until marriage. I just want someone I care about, and who in turn cares about me. I want to bake cakes for someone. I want to hold someone in my arms until they fall asleep. I want to be with someone who wants to be there, not because they have an obligation or for money.
So that’s me. A 26-year-old genetic abomination who never kissed a girl.
Born in Wales'