Today we're highlighting 31-year-old Anna Broadway, author of the book Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Long before Judd Apatow made the 40-Year-Old Virgin, I knew what my sexual choice branded me: a freak. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations about my reasons for staying sexless. While I’m not surprised when people disagree with or even insult my choices, there’s one response that’s surprised me: wistfulness.
A woman will realize I’m still a virgin and the next thing I know, she’s congratulating me and musing about her own love life, especially its disappointments. The bad sex. The frequent bad sex. The great sex with men who didn’t stick around. And those are just the stories they’ve shared with me. When I hear things like that, it lessens my sense of “loss” about spending a decade without sex (I’m 31).
We tend to think of abstention as missing out, but in reality, what my chastity has denied me is not 10 years of fabulous sex, but an even deeper pain on each occasion when some guy I liked or dated walked away from me. As Alain de Botton said in his novel The Romantic Movement, “A more melancholy way of looking at the history of sexual technique was to read it as a history of disappointment.”
No matter how good or bad sex with each man in my past could have been, whatever might have been would not have lasted. Thanks to the clarity of history, I now know that each time I met someone and thought we had great potential, my imagination far surpassed the reality. Even if I had had sex with those men, I still would not have married them — and that for me is the real goal.
I don’t want a boyfriend who, as a pithy coffee barista here in San Francisco once put it, would discard me like a shoe or car when he tires of me. I want someone with whom I can build a life. And if it takes only one person to make that happen, why should I need lots of lovers in the meantime?
Experience! You might be shouting. Practice! Finding out if you are compatible in bed, for God’s sake!
But the thing is, all this talk of compatibility translates to, Does he do what I like? Does he meet MY needs? And however common a mindset that might be, it’s fundamentally selfish. This sounds innocent and harmless when we’re talking about our own behavior, but it doesn’t take long to realize that we don’t wish others behaved more selfishly toward us. Sex, of course, is difficult. In fact, I suspect it might be one of the hardest human exchanges in which to try to putting another’s needs before your own. I doubt it can be done without extensive practice at unselfishness and denying self-centered impulses in other, easier settings. But since that’s a challenge I face every day when I board a crowded train or use the communal kitchen at the office, I can actually work on becoming the sort of person who’ll be a good lover without getting anywhere near a bed. And by the same measure, I can tell a lot about how selfish or self-giving someone is without ever spending the night with him.
At this point, some have objected that denying a boyfriend sex could in fact be selfish. But with said hypothetical boyfriend, it’s unlikely we would have yet reached the point of pooling all our resources, forging legal ties and so on. That means, there’d be parts of our lives where we’d still be holding onto things, refusing to share or to trust. Holding nothing and sharing everything in a physical sense, then, would mean taking greater risks with my body than I was willing to do with my finances or my future. And that’s not being unselfish, it’s being unwise and unhealthy.
This, in the end, is why I’ve become the most grateful for my chastity, freakish or not. It might sometimes earn scorn, derision and rejection, but it’s taught me the importance of being whole as a woman. I’d far rather have that than a fragmented pleasure.