In my twenties, I distinctly having a conversation with a group of women at a bar when, as it always does, the conversation turned to sex. Someone mentioned it had been a while since she’d had sex (about six months), and one of my friends swirled her glass of wine and said, very matter-of-fact, “You know, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Your hymen can grow back, which means you’d have to lose your virginity AGAIN.”
Everyone shrugged it off and giggled, recalling whatever awkward, fumbling experience they knew they were never destined to repeat and the night continued.
I don’t know why, but that comment stuck with me. I didn’t lose my virginity to a boy crush who fumbled around in his parent’s rec room or the backseat of a car. I was date-raped in my junior year of college by someone I thought I knew quite well.
I had romanticized for years about giving myself when the time was right to a well-chosen suitor, but in reality I was betrayed by someone I considered to be a good friend, someone who placed the flat of his arm against my throat so I could barely breathe, and all I could do was watch the clock and kept trying to whisper the word “No” without passing out.
Sometimes, I secretly wondered if what the friend swirling her wine said was true. There are really no do-overs in life when it comes to these types of experiences, but when something you hold that precious is ripped away from you, there’s always a part of you that wishes you could have done it differently.
I spent years working on that issue, convincing myself that my sex life was completely my own, attempting to reclaim my body through many attempts at relationships. Sex was always a means of connecting with someone in a relationship with me, but it was never really about the pleasure. The memories always came flooding back, the pain of that fateful night manifested itself in my mind for decades. It was always the third person in every relationship, the shadow in the corner that always appeared right before I could really let go.
Cut to four years ago. The devastating end to the biggest relationship of my life, the man I had known for decades who I trusted more than any other said he just couldn’t do a long-distance relationship, that we needed to part ways. It broke me in half, and I was just tired of being broken.
Awash in a sea of alcohol for a while, I made a pact with myself that I would recapture that childhood resolve, that I wouldn’t give it away until someone was really, REALLY worthy. I had to heal myself from the inside out. I needed to make sure that my body was really MINE again. I needed to get everyone and everything out of the picture until I really knew that it was time.
It took four years of healing, of getting sober, of losing the excuses, of owning everything about myself. It took four years for me to realize who I was, to stoop down and build a whole new house using the wreckage of the old with a better building plan. It took four years to finally forgive myself for a night that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for what happened, but moving forward these days and nights would be up to me. It took four years to trust myself, that I wouldn’t let myself purposely come into harm. I learned how to connect with my body, and I learned to fight to protect it.
Four years without intimate contact is complicated. You have moments where you start to feel as if no one will ever touch you again. You can only do so much yoga to “reconnect with your spirit” when your body wants something more. Massage therapy has its limits. I jokingly used Margaret Cho’s comic line with friends, that if it didn’t happen soon, I would “cover myself in leaves and hope someone falls in.”
Last month, I made the choice to try it again, with a new someone with whom I had a strong connection. It happened in his apartment. There was softness, there was desire, nervousness but no terror. There was constriction, there were moments of awkward discomfort. I felt something give way, and suddenly I had given myself the second chance that I had needed, and this time it was on my terms. I looked around and the shadows were gone. I felt myself release. It was one of the best moments of my life.
Since then, I’m going about dating anew as a 42-year-old with a whole new perspective on my body. I have appetites, but I am able to whet them. I have a history, but now I have a better present and future than ever. I wouldn’t trade anything for the time it took for my mind and body to heal. I can never take back the things that have happened, but they’re part of my history. My body is finally my own, and I can’t wait to explore all the amazing things we’re going to do together. I am whole.