I’ve gone on dates, had flings and situationships, but never had a committed relationship. I’ve kissed a few guys, yet I drew the line when it came to hooking up. I chose to lead an unconventional, yet solid career path but I am perpetually single. I have a driver’s license, but at least I’m a 29-year-old virgin who can drive.
As much as I wish the last sentence was a joke, it’s really not.
Born into a Chinese Indonesian family, I was raised in a conservative Christian household. During my childhood, I went to church every Sunday. At church and at home, I was taught that keeping yourself sexually pure was equated with piety and obedience. At school, virginity wasn’t talked about although basic sex ed was taught from grades five to twelve. The heteronormative point of view of penis-in-vagina sex was something that I was taught from childhood to adulthood.
As a teen, I could have made a choice to date or do typical high school things. But, my dad always said, “No hanky panky”. For the average Chinese Indonesian household, girls like myself were only expected to lose their virginity when we got married. Like an oath, my virginity was made into a big deal as losing it before marriage was considered shameful or embarrassing in my culture.
Like the typical Chinese Indonesian girl, going to Los Angeles for university was a dream. Though I went there on my own free will, I was expected to meet certain boxes on a checklist: go to church, meet a guy, get married and remain a virgin until marriage.
Since I did not date in high school as I wanted to focus on my studies, I tried to make up for it by dating casually in my first year of university. Dating apps weren’t a thing yet, so the campus gym was the perfect place to hunt for dates. A thirst trap playground for coming-of-age late teens to 20-somethings, I wanted to attract guys by working out. Though I had low self-confidence as a teen, I felt that I had to push myself to be confident by making the first move if I saw a cutie.
One day, I saw an Andrew Garfield look-alike at the gym. Eyeing him from the corner of my rowing machine, I took sneaky glances as he was doing push-ups. Though I was dressed in a baggy sweatshirt and Lulu Lemon leggings, I told him, “Hey, you look like Spider-Man”. We exchanged numbers, then he asked me to hang out with him at his dorm. The night we hung out, he took me upstairs to his room. Thinking that we were getting to know each other as newly acquainted friends, I felt that I’d have no issue showing up in no makeup and a baggy sweatshirt. Once I entered his room, the door shut. He opened his mini fridge and offered me some alcohol.
As the tension between us rose, I made the move to kiss him quickly on the lips. Spidey 2.0 asked, “Can you take off your shirt?” Confused and shocked by his question, I realised that he was interested in a hookup situation. I rejected his advances and then left the room. I never told him I was a virgin and neither did he. Although he did not explicitly state his plans to hook up with me, at least he had the decency to ask before making his moves and respecting my decision to say “no”.
I called my parents, who told me he just wanted sex. My naivety got the best of me then and I was mad at my parents for not warning me about these scenarios. I felt like I was deeply unprepared as having an abstinence-based knowledge of sex did not teach me about the importance of consent nor did it prepare me to anticipate these types of sexual scenarios.
Five years later, I still remained a virgin. Kissing was the closest thing to sexual contact for me and most of my dates did not pressure me to go all the way. At that point, I had scored dates by either being introduced to people via colleagues or bumping into cuties in my neighbourhood. Though LA was known for thei hookup culture, I was glad that I managed to date around safely in my early 20s.
Inevitably, I had to move back to Singapore as my student visa was expiring. Fresh off the boat from the US, being back in Singapore gave me a reverse culture shock. Not accustomed to this new way of living and local cultural mindset, I wanted a distraction to dissociate me from reality. As a temporary cure, I downloaded Tinder during a lunch break at my job. Anytime I was bored at work, I aimlessly swiped left and right until I stopped at one profile. Reggie*, a 24-year-old Sydney-based consultant, had a selfie with pink floating hearts on top. He looked similar to Justin Timberlake, who was my childhood celebrity crush.
Under the MBS moonlight, we had dinner at Osteria Mozza. Our meal felt like a therapy session where he talked about his mum’s multiple marriages and six half-siblings.
We agreed to stop by the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel after our dinner as most places at MBS didn’t open late for dessert. Once we got there, Reggie demanded, “Just come up with me” as he walked towards the elevator. I said, “No.” Again, I did not mention that I was a virgin as I was embarrassed. Hooking up on a first date was also a big no-no for me.
I had no regrets about rejecting him, and his insistence to go to his hotel room reeked of Harvey Weinstein, whose alleged assaults put me off from meeting with strangers in hotels. Things could have gotten worse, but listening to my instinct pushed me to protect myself from losing my virginity to someone who could have the potential to violate it.
Four years after, I went on plenty of more dates and none of them put me in an awkward position to hook up. With dating apps becoming the default choice to meet people safely during a pandemic, meeting people on Hinge gave me the freedom to not be afraid to speak casually about sexuality to strangers.
Filippo, a 23-year-old Italian expat, struck up a conversation with me over the phone. During our call, Filippo and I traded stories about living abroad alongside our expectations for this prospective relationship. Since some people use Hinge for hookups, we had to disclose our sexual histories. Assuming that I abstained to remain celibate, he asked why. I replied, “I’ve never had sex.”
“I thought you had sex, no?” asked Filippo.
“No,” I said.
“I thought that you already had sex while you were living in New York,” he said.
“No, I didn’t. I just don’t want to give it away to people I don’t know,” I said.
Inside I felt scared, but this moment felt urgent. Having to disclose my sexual history with prospective dates helped me to set healthy boundaries with myself and the person I was going to potentially date. Given that sexual boundaries were not included in an abstinence-based sex ed program, having the power to speak up gave me that moment to not be ashamed of my virginity.
From the experiences I endured, I learned that disclosing my status from the jump would have made a huge difference. Had I disclosed it ASAP, I would have been able to build a healthier form of communication between me and my dates.
Apart from that, keeping my virginity and protecting it pushed me to treasure it more. As an emotional person, I associated sex as the most intimate form of connection where I needed to be mentally and emotionally ready to go all the way with someone. Even though abstinence-based perceptions and teachings of sex are toxic, it taught me not to compromise my virginity for someone I was not emotionally invested in.
I still have my insecurities surrounding my virginity status, yet having to be openly confident about it was helping me to feel less embarrassed about being a virgin as I still saw it as a hindrance when casually dating. Despite my religious and socially conservative upbringing, being a virgin taught me to accept that my sexual choices were not to be embarrassed about.
To this day, I have yet to lose my virginity. In fact, I still choose to remain one until I am ready.