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I’m a 36-year-old virgin.

A few years ago, being a virgin was something I touted proudly; it was a badge of honor. Now, with each well-meaning but hurtful remark about my continued singleness, I am far less comfortable with my virgin status.

I hate dating, and if I’m honest, I’ve had little practice. After high school, I attended college, began adulting and was confident it would eventually happen. I’d meet a man, we’d just know, and everything would fall into place. I read books, shared openly with trusted friends, observed healthy and unhealthy relationships, found myself in therapy and continued doing everything I was “supposed” to do to make myself worthy of being a wife. But my twenties came and went, and soon I was literally the last single woman standing.

Until I hit thirty, I wasn’t worried.

My friends married, and then came the babies. As time passed, I received fewer invites to spend time with these friends. I quickly realized it was because I wasn’t part of the club. (Anyone who has been single beyond 30 knows what I’m talking about.) It’s like I disappeared. If I was going to maintain any of these friendships, I knew I was going to have to work harder than before. I selected those most important to me and I initiated my ass off, making sure these friends didn’t forget I existed. It wasn’t always easy, but I’m happy to say the work was worth it. I’ve been gifted some wonderful friendships.

While watching dating and married relationships happen all around me, my shiny virginity became a shame trigger. It wasn’t new anymore, and it wasn’t valued. Purity became a swear word.

I was a 30-year-old virgin. Saying it aloud to myself stung, but hearing it from others was worse. I was met with jokes about my vagina being creaky from disuse. It hurt like hell. Years of well-meaning but shame-riddled messages became a painful burden:

Your virginity is the most important thing you can give your husband. If you’re not a virgin, you’ll be damaged goods and you’re not really a Christian. No one will want you. But if you do find someone to marry you, your marital sex-life will be ruined.

Men can’t control themselves so you are responsible to make sure they don’t stumble when they look at you. Don’t be a tease and don’t talk about sex, it’s slutty.

When you get married you must have sex whenever your husband wants it. If he cheats on you, it’ll be your fault for not satisfying his needs.

This year I decided I would take on the world; this would be my year. Translation: I’d figure this dating thing out. I’ve decided it’s time for me to attack dating the way I did my friendships, education, and career with intentional focus, hard work, and commitment.

I realized I have been ruled for two decades by a decision I made as a teenager.

A teenager. What does a teenager know about what it means to be well into your thirties and single? My virginity became an idol. The messages above were so damaging that I didn’t understand how to adult in this area of my life and I didn’t know where to turn. I found that I’d been hiding inside a metaphorical tower with my virginity on a throne and a chained, locked chest containing my heart. Growing up, I saw divorce and abuse at home. I was told, “Guard your heart,” and I believed God designed sex for marriage. I locked my heart away in order to protect my virginity and for fear of getting hurt. My tower – my religious response to those messages – is why I’m where I am today. My tower was my attempt at doing what was “right.” And in so doing, I sabotaged myself into perpetual singleness.

I’m learning there are many women sitting in towers of their own. We listen to the shame messages and demean ourselves. We feel unwanted, unlovable, undesirable, and have moments where any hope of sharing a life with someone seems lost. We are misunderstood and often ignored by the church body. At my church, I know three other single women over 30 and I don’t know of any unattached single men. Have you noticed how many more single women there are in the church than there are single men?

In my experience, dating only happens if I go online. And the men online, the Christian ones in my age bracket, you know what they want on the table before marriage? Sex.

My virginity has become a turn-off. 

In contrast to the messages that brought me here, there are a lot of people who love Jesus and aren’t hung up on the religious view of sex. I have a number of friends in healthy marriages who had sex before they were married. The Christian community tells us this doesn’t exist; that marriage cannot succeed if sex precedes it. I’m learning this is a blatant lie.

The way I see it, I have to destroy the tower and de-throne my virginity so I can either build a healthier commitment with myself, God and my future spouse to continue waiting for marriage... or I re-evaluate my views on the issue altogether. I don’t know what I’ll choose. There is no way I can express the battle raging inside of me, and honestly, it’s no one’s business. But I’m seeking and trusting God with my heart.

I confess: I’m a 36-year-old virgin. And if you are too, I just want you to know – you are not alone.

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