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Heather Corinna replies:
I am a 19 year old female. And a virgin. The thing is I feel ready to experience sexual intercourse. Not only that, I feel it is a "stepping stone" that will allow me to "grow-up". All of my friends at this point have lost their virginity, including my 16 year old cousin! I feel left behind almost as if they've grown in some grand way that I have yet to experience. It's like everyone else getting their license and you're still riding your bike to school. I have another dilemma that rebukes this problem as well - I'm waiting for the "right guy" to `come along. But the trouble with that is, I don't know who "Mr.Right" is! Sure I've dated and such but they never seem right for me. Will I be the only virgin in my circle of friends and family forever?
Driving a car to school instead of a bike doesn't make someone more mature: it could just mean one person is wealthier than another, that one person is so close it's just silly to drive, that a person wants to spend their money on other things or that someone is being environmentally conscious. I'm pushing 40, know full well I've got a good deal of maturity and I choose not to drive for financial and environmental reasons. That doesn't make me less mature or less adult than my friends and colleagues who do drive, nor did it in high school (where most of us took the subway or the bus, anyway). It just makes me a person who chooses not to drive because not driving better fits my own unique set of needs and wants.
People, all the time, have partnered sex being irresponsible or immature about contraception, safer sex, sexual health or their own or other people's feelings or bodies. Plenty of folks have sex with partners without any real regard for them, as if they were just masturbating on another person, rather than creating and sharing something that's supposed to be about both people. There are people in the world who have been sexually active for years, and yet still can't even handle calling their genitals by name or ask for what they need from a partner during sex. Lots of people who are sexually active can't respect -- and some don't even feel they should have to -- the limits, boundaries and wishes of others or have the assertiveness and self-esteem to express their own. And as someone who has counseled young people about sex for ten years, I can tell you that I often hear disappointment voiced about how sex doesn't create maturity, or even leave some people feeling all that differently than they felt before.
Simply because we have sex can't make any of us more mature.
If sex, all by itself, had that capacity, we'd live in a very different world than we do now. How we have sex can certainly develop our character and nurture emotional maturity, because partnered sex has complexity to it, and to really do it right for ourselves and our partners, we have to invest care and emotional energy in being compassionate, loving, considerate, attentive, fair and healthy. We have to (if we're doing it right) do things like learn to express and respect limits and boundaries, to keep our minds open with our desires and those of others and to honor and work out diversities. I think it's also apt to say that being vulnerable and open with another person, and experiencing pleasure together, is often a growth experience. But we can and usually do experience all of these things in other arenas than just with sex, and we can have sex in ways where we experience none of those things.
As well, vaginal intercourse isn't somehow different as compared to other kinds of sex when it comes to anyone's maturity. Lesbian women who never have penis-in-vagina intercourse aren't someone less mature or ribbed of some critical experience. It also isn't always "grand." What friends tell each other about their sex lives often is not particularly honest: people tend to exaggerate their sexual experiences with peers, which is why self-reporting has always been understood as notoriously unreliable in the study of sexuality. Some will even report having been sexually active when they haven't been because of feeling the way you say you've been feeling about it. No kind of sex is grand all the time, but for women particularly, vaginal intercourse is often not the most satisfying for many of us, and the majority of women do not reach orgasm through vaginal intercourse alone. Intercourse also presents risks other kinds of sex do not -- the risk of pregnancy -- which at any given time we may or may not want to deal with or feel equipped to handle.
You're not as alone as you think. In the states, around 30% of women your age have not had vaginal intercourse. The average age of late for first intercourse is around 17 for women. As well, other sexual activities aren't just lead-ups to intercourse: all kinds of things are sex, and all kinds of sexual activities or experiences have the capacity to be (or not to be) potentially life-changing or rites of passage.
Know what are some marks of maturity? Knowing what feels right for you, what you need, and honoring that. If you haven't yet had a meeting or relationship with someone who felt like a good choice of a sexual partner for you, and have thus elected not to do something on a situation which feels right, that's part of emotional maturity. If it's really important to you -- and it is for plenty of people -- to only have sex with someone who is a "Mr. Right," or a partner you want to be with for a long time, honoring your own values in your life choices is about maturity. Recognizing that doing something just because others are doing it -- choosing to do something just to fit in or feel homogeneous -- is emotional immaturity. Figuring out what we are and aren't up to handling, and making sexual choices best in line with our life goals is a mature thing to do: some people limit or abstain from intercourse, for instance, because an unplanned pregnancy could do a real number on their education or other goals. Thinking about it and realizing that there are some pretty deep flaws in an activity being framed as being a mark of maturity regardless of the context or quality of that activity or experience is about maturity and adulthood, too.
Even when it comes to what is considered an "adult" sexual debut, we might ask ourselves why it's so often framed as heterosexual intercourse: why isn't it about masturbation, when we first really looked at our own genitals, our first orgasm, the first time we brave a sexual fantasy, the first time we have our fingers or mouths on someone else, particularly since so many people discover that ideals about vaginal intercourse -- sexual, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal -- are often overrated or contrary to their experiences? Why isn't a sexual experience with a same-sex partner considered as important, or the time a couple has sex that results in a wanted pregnancy or the last time we ever have sex in our lives? And if -- unlikely, but still -- the right situation for sex never happens for a given person, why isn't choosing not to do something likely to feel or be substandard as highly valued?
We're all different. We can try and make ourselves the same, but it's a futile and unsatisfying endeavor much of the time. Someone else's schedule, pace or life that works for them may or may not work for you. What you want to do is to explore and discover who you are, and what choices you make, and opportunities you take, are best for you. And prepare yourself to be surprised: who knows what it is and will be in your life which is the most character building, and what your own unique rates-of-passage will be. Sometimes the things we discover are our benchmarks are maturity are not what we would have expected them to be.
None of that is to say that having sex with someone else is somehow immature: rather, it's just not something that's about maturity, save in that we can come to it with some, and when we do, it's usually better than when we don't. But overall, sex is about mutual, shared pleasure, about personal and interpersonal exploration and discovery, about everything from the deepest stuff in your heart to the most playful silliness ever, about intimacy, about self-expression. It's about the actual experiences you have and share more than it is about some kind of symbolism. If and when a partner who feels right for you shows up, by all means, go for it.
Just do yourself a favor and be open to what the experiences you have really are, uniquely, rather than getting your head stuck in a place that insists that one given activity or setting is unilaterally more important than others, or will give you something that other experiences cannot. The very best way to have experiences -- sexual or otherwise -- in life that have meaning to us is to stay open to the idea that everything can be meaningful and be about growth, not just one limited batch of things that someone before us or who isn't us found meaningful for them.
Here are a few more links for you which can get you more filled in on all of this: