There’s a lot of talk about virgins at the moment. Specifically, later-in-life virgins. Married At First Sight featured 29-year-old virgin Matt having sex for the first time with new wife Lauren last night. Then there’s the current Bachelor in the States, 27-year-old virgin Colton Underwood.

All this virginity chat made me want to tell my own story about when I first had sex. Unlike the majority of Australians, who according to the Australian Study Of Health And Relationships last survey have sex for the first time at the median age of 17, I was still a virgin at 26. And it was FUCKING HARD to deal with. Lol, pun not actually intended.

See, I spent 10 formative years of my life as a born-again Christian. I’ve come to terms with the experience now, but for years I cursed my teenage self for going to a Hillsong event and subsequently dedicating my years from 14 – 24 to the born-again lifestyle – a lifestyle that saw me abstaining from sex (and I mean SEX, like everything from boob grabs to oral to even sleeping over at a guy’s house was a no-go in my church) as well as all the other partying stuff all my non-church mates were getting around. Suddenly I was entering the “real world” at 24 with little to no experience of a normal 20-something life.

My church experience and extricating myself from that rigid lifestyle is a story for another time – but you can probably guess that it wasn’t easy. I’d never had more than one or two glasses of alcohol. I’d barely been out to nightclubs and bars. And when it came to sex, while I had a boyfriend for two years in church – we’d never done more than some heated making out.

I suddenly found myself thrust (lol, pun intended) into this world that, while not as hedonistic as my pastors had made out, was definitely full of people who were far more experienced than me in many areas. The party culture was easy to catch up with – a few nights out with some new work friends and I’d mastered ordering “normal” drinks at the bar and had more than my fair share of throwing-up-in-the-street stories under my belt. Some I could maybe have just not experienced, ideally.

But sex? Sex was harder to play catch-ups with.

All of my new friends had been having sex for years, and were having a fair amount of it. Stories of hook ups, fuck buddies, and sex with the ex abounded in our conversations – the culture was (and still is), the best way to be in your 20s is to be sexually experimenting and talking about it relentlessly. For someone who hadn’t so much as seen a penis (yes, really) – this was a LOT to deal with.

I kept my virgin-status pretty under wraps. I was happy just going out dancing with friends until the early hours of the morning, finally having excuses to buy fun party dresses and heels. For at least a year, that was my focus. Then, travelling. I’d never been any further than Queensland, so I spent my 25th year of life going to Europe and America, soaking up other cultures and getting the travel bug sorted.

By 26 though, I fell in love (well, probably not but I thought I was) with a guy I met through friends. It was the first time I’d had a crush on someone since leaving church, and for a while it was all very unrequited. Then, 6 months into said crush, we ended up drunk together at a gig. We made out like horny teenagers before he suggested we go back to his place. Like the naive gal I was, I agreed – not even THINKING that “go back to my place” always hinted at sex. Sure enough, we end up in his bed, things escalated, and I panicked. I drunkenly told him “I don’t want to have sex though” and he responded with “why, are you a virgin?”.

I think if I was sober I would have lied and just said something about my period, but I was drunk so it showed on my face that yes, I was. We made out a bit more, he was weird, I went home, and the next day he told me over text he “was really sorry, but he couldn’t do the virgin thing”.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. It was more than devastation – sheer panic and anxiety kicked in. This guy was dumping me not because he didn’t like me, but because I had a huge sexuality tick-box left un-ticked. He didn’t want the pressure of being the first guy I slept with. It was everything I feared would happen.

I spent six months in this panic-anxiety spiral, crying to my sister and my best friends. I felt like I’d never meet someone who could “handle” the virgin thing. While now I’m aware this guy was either not that into me, or wasn’t mature enough, at the time it felt like EVERY guy would find my virginity to be a death sentence for our blossoming relationship.

Then I met my second boyfriend. After three dates I felt like I needed to bring up my virginity. I’d been too burned to let myself get emotionally invested again. Surprisingly, he was totally cool with it – in fact, his words were “oh, that’s all? I thought you were going to tell me you had cancer, that’s how intense you sounded just then”. A few months into our relationship, I felt comfortable enough to take things to the next level. It was scary-but-great – I can only speak for myself but it didn’t hurt, it was just a really intense experience. While we ended up having a tumultuous on-off relationship for 2 years riddled with issues, I’ll never regret him being my first time.

I wish we would change the way we treat sex in our 20s. The culture is fucked up. We’re becoming so inclusive as a generation – we’re so aware that we all walk different paths, come from different backgrounds, want to feel accepted and loved for who we are. But when it comes to sex, we still judge people based on their “number”, their experience. We still treat sex as a rite-of-passage you HAVE to be a part of, and if you’re not, you’re an outlier.

Here’s what it’s like when you’re a virgin in your 20s.

1. You Feel Defective

Essentially, you feel like you’ve done life wrong somehow, and you have this secret you need to keep so no one realises you’re not like everyone else. Think about how often you talk about sex with your friends. How much you see on TV. How much advertising is driven by sex. It’s EVERYWHERE, so if you’re not having it, you feel like there’s something wrong with you.

2. You Feel Out Of The Loop

Aside from feeling like you’re defective, you’re also left floundering when sex IS discussed. I can remember SO many rounds of “Never Have I Ever” where I just lied and drank for things like “had sex in a tent!” and “given a blow-job in a car!”. Not to mention in-depth conversations about the best position, etc etc. It’s like sitting in a work preso where you have NFI what anyone is talking about, so you nod and smile and say “mmm, agree”, except all the goddamn time.

3. You Feel Like You’re Missing Out

There’s also the attitude toward sex to consider. Not only is everyone talking about it around you, they seem like they’re having the best time everrrrr. Add in all the sex-related memes, funny articles about wild sex stories all over the internet, and so on – basically, you feel like there’s a whole world you’re not a part of, and you’re watching it fly by.

4. It’s Genuinely Hard To Date

My story above about the dude who didn’t want to date me because I was a virgin? Not uncommon. Think about your last few relationships, or even your little dating flings. Sex often comes into the equation around a few dates in, or earlier. When you’re out in society and most people are fucking, if you’re NOT fucking it becomes this elephant in the room, at least in your own mind. I think many people are actually more open to the concept of dating a virgin than virgins think, but you can’t deny sex is a huge part of 20-something dating culture. Many of my friends met their current partners via a casually hooking up at a party, for example. Even once I was sexually active, I remember purposely waiting to sleep with a guy I was dating for 5 dates, simply because I wanted to try a new approach. And I remember him asking around date 4, when I said I wouldn’t go home with him, if it was because I was a virgin.

If you’re a virgin in your 20s and it’s fucking you up, I want to tell you something. Sex IS great. It genuinely is. But it’s not everything, OK? It’s absolutely not everything. I’ve had good sex now and I’ve had bad sex, and all the in-between (it’s usually the in-between, by the way). That whole message of “nothing is better than sex” is total bullshit – for example, I would happily trade a LOT of that in-between sex for, say, a large bowl of really good spaghetti and 10 Things I Hate About You.

You can do it for the first time with a random, if that feels good for you. Or you can wait and hold out for someone you feel a connection with, like I did. You can even do it on a high-rating reality TV show. There’s no right or wrong here on how you choose have your first time. And while yes, the world of sex is fun and exciting – it can also be equally shitty and emotionally taxing. Like any experience in life, there’s good and bad. So don’t feel like you’re a defective human being, or missing out on EVERYTHING, OK? You do you, you’ll get there when it’s the right time for you – or maybe you never want to have sex, and that’s okay as well.

And if you’re reading this as someone sexually active, I want to say this. We should be encouraging our friends and the people in our world to feel okay with whatever their sexual number is, as long as it’s that way because they are doing what’s right for them. It should feel like a comfortable world to be able to say “I haven’t had sex yet”.

I really hope it becomes that way soon.