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I started having sex at 36. I missed out on years of self-discovery but I still don't regret waiting.

April Zimmerman   

I started having sex at 36. I missed out on years of self-discovery but I still don't regret waiting.
  • I didn't plan on being a 36-year-old virgin, but I believed in the purity plan.
  • My ex-fiance broke up with me a month before our wedding leaving me at 31 and horny.

We laid shirtless on his bed. The room was dark. Thoughts kept running through my head, "Should I tell him? Do I owe him that conversation yet? Do I owe him anything?"

"Hey," I said. "I wasn't sure when to bring this up, but it seems topical now."

What I said next was that I had never had sex. It was a conversation I'd repeated since high school. The only difference: I was 36 and didn't want to wait anymore.

I never planned to be a 36-year-old virgin. I didn't grow up religious, but somewhere in my teens, I subscribed to the Christian purity plan — in which you live a life free of corruption, compromise, and avoid temptation.

It wasn't a profound decision. I'd never been part of the fraction of people emotionally equipped to handle casual sex. Abstaining felt safer all around.

I thought marriage was never going to happen

I began attending church in college and continued into my 20s. I met my post-college boyfriend at 23, but we split before I turned 25. Six years later, my fiancé ended our relationship one month before our wedding. I didn't know how to navigate my sexual desires as a suddenly single, horny 31-year-old. What if marriage never happened for me? Purity culture certainly didn't have a handbook for that.

When my partner and I started having sex, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy. I was new at it, and he was not. Certain positions hurt. For a while, I needed lube every time. I was intimidated by his experience and my lack of it.

"We often get hung up on the over-importance of some things and the under-importance of others in our relationships," my counselor said during one of our sessions. For a long time, I was overly caught up in our sex life. I wanted it to be great. Of course I did. I waited my whole life for this. But I lost sight of what I wanted more than anything — real intimacy.

It feels like I missed years of self-discovery

For most of my adult life, my sexuality felt like a distant, hidden part of me. It's taken the last three years for me to peel back the sheets and find my stride. I bought my first vibrator. I leaned into things I knew I liked. I drew boundaries around things I didn't like. I surprised myself with what I was open to and what I enjoyed.

Do I regret waiting? Yes and no. Now, at 39, I wish I had explored more in my sexual prime. It feels like I missed years of self-discovery. On the other hand, I recognize that the innocence of young love can cause us to give more than we're prepared to, and I'm glad I didn't give beyond my readiness.

Recently, I watched "The Reluctant Traveler" with Eugene Levy. At the end of season two, Levy takes a boat into the Strait of Gibraltar. He points across the water. "That's Africa. I can hardly believe I'm here." The boat eventually comes to a stop amid a pod of curious pilot whales. Levy peers over the bow in wonder as they surface and whistle around him. He looks up at the camera and says, "You're never too old to get acquainted with the world you live in."

In the same way, I'm never too old to get acquainted with the body I live in. Is it strange to be in the early years of my sex life while those around me are in the (much) later years of theirs? Sure. Is it also liberating to experience sexual awakening in mid-life? Absolutely.

I've probably had some of my best orgasms already. But I think the best sex is still ahead of me.