I’m 20 and the pressure of being a virgin is overwhelming | Life and style

I am a 20-year-old woman who has struggled with my body image since I was 14. My first proper kiss was when I was 18 and I almost lost my virginity a year ago but, for some reason, it didn’t happen. The pressure of not having had sex is overwhelming – people look down on you when you say you haven’t. I feel as if people my age judge me as immature because I’m a virgin and, lately, it has compromised my social skills in general. I feel more confident about my body, but still wonder if I’ll meet someone with whom I’ll be comfortable enough to be naked.

First of all, your sexuality – including your experience or lack of it – is nobody’s business except your own. You do not have to disclose such private information, and it is well to bear in mind that many people lie about it anyway. It would be smart to avoid submitting to this pressure.

Rehearse some answers you might give if the subject arises, and enjoy being mysterious and noncommittal. Most importantly, make friends with your body. This is a vital, long-term prerequisite for personal happiness, so start finding ways to make peace with it. If you assume that prospective lovers will always judge you, it will be harder for you to connect erotically with them. But if you are comfortable with your body and know what feels exciting and sensually appealing to you, others will be attracted to you.

Take your time. There is no rush to explore your sexuality. Find someone you genuinely like and trust – and avoid agreeing to hasty intercourse just to complete a checklist. Learning to enjoy sex with another person is a challenging process of trial and error, so give yourself an advantage by soberly choosing kind, accommodating and trustworthy partners; they do exist.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

If you would like advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms

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