On Coming of Age

I didn’t have sex until I was twenty-six.

Most people think of sex as a coming-of-age event, that moment when you become a man (or a woman, though not in my case).

When I tell people that I didn’t have sex until I was twenty-six, the most common reaction is disbelief.  The second most common reaction is for them to say,

“Good for you.”

As though I was saving myself for someone.  Saving myself for a special occasion, like a present wrapped so long ago you’ve forgotten what it was.  As though this saving myself was a struggle.  As though I chose this, it was a choice, a state I was choosing and an action I was unchoosing.

I suppose I was.

I admit it.  There were times when I could have had sex, at least in college, at least so my friends tell me.  The only time I know sex was a possibility was with A. in Athens, Greece, when I think she even brought it up but I was afraid that sex would make us too linked, too intimate…

No, I thought sex would be the physicalization of a promise that I couldn’t fulfill, that I wasn’t sure I wanted to fulfill, that I already felt myself drawing away from because I’d – we’d – admitted love too early as a fact and for me it was still a dream.

I tell this to people, and they say,

“I admire you.  I’m not sure I would have had the strength to resist.”

I’m not sure it’s strength.  It could just as easily be cowardice.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it was cowardice.

Because, at that moment, A. was at her most vulnerable.  Over the years previous, she’d suffered a sickness which left her face scarred.  That these scars did nothing to diminish her beauty wasn’t the point.  She, like most of us, wasn’t aware of her beauty, just her flaws.  I, like most of us, wasn’t aware of her flaws so much as her beauty, and though I’m sure I told her she was beautiful, words are easier than actions.  They cost less.  They leave no evidence.  You can always deny them later.

Sex is often talked about as though it’s the game for adults.  More to the point, it’s talked about as though it’s a game.  If so, it’s a rather boring one.

At least it is if the sex is all you’re after.  People say,

“If the opportunity is there, I’ll take it.”

Sex with a person is different than sex with a body, though people also talk about sex – in the throes of it – taking them out of their bodies, taking over their bodies, leaving them a spectator or even erasing the will in those moments so it is afterwards, cooling down with the flush shedding through your skin, you realize what exactly you did when and what you meant to do and what you didn’t mean to do.

When kissing A. for one of the first times – in the hotel room, just back from the airport – she said afterwards that I bit her lip.  I don’t remember.  I don’t deny, but I don’t remember.

Most of the time, though, I don’t lose myself.  I’m aware fully.  I’m entering into every action with my eyes open (which doesn’t always help when the lights are off) and accepting responsibility.

But is that coming of age?

If so, why do I feel like I’m missing something?

The lights are off so I can better see you with my hands.

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