Imagine this. You are talking to someone who is an acquaintance and, after listening to a short synopsis about your new book, they lean in close to your ear and whisper – ‘So, is that how you lost your virginity?’
Leaving the propriety of asking a near stranger that question aside (for I am guilty of such social travesties myself), I really wonder what kind of answer one can expect from such a question.
Do they expect an immediate, no-holds-barred disclosure? ‘Oh, yes! I wrote it just how it happened!’ Or do they expect coy avoidance? ‘If it was, my lips are sealed.’
Virginity, and loss thereof, is one of those magical no-go zones – along with politics, religion, salary and bowel movements. Yet people find the topic fascinating and, I’ve discovered, don’t mind a bit of confidential whispering about it. Perhaps it’s our need to reassure ourselves that our fumbling first attempt was not out of the ordinary, or perhaps it’s our desire to believe there is such a thing as the perfect de-flowering – if only we’d found the right partner/environment/moment etc. Whatever it is, it seems the release of The Yearning has pushed the question straight into my stratosphere.
Virginity is a strange charm. Socially it seems to be more highly valued in women than men. A female virgin is seen to be a chaste prize, a male virgin is seen to be surprising, if not laughable. (Remember the hoo-hah when Guy Sebastian admitted to his virginity? He handled the public scrutiny on his sex life with great poise, I felt). It’s another one of those cultural gender imbalances we have around our sexual values.
Losing your virginity at any age is a big deal. It’s a mysterious rite of passage. For some it’s awful, for many it’s just okay, for a few it’s the most amazing experience they’ve ever had. Much as I’d like to say the scene in The Yearning where the young girl loses her virginity to Solomon was based on my, or someone else’s, experience, I can’t. It’s pure fantasy. Having said that, I know there are people out there for whom The Union was their truth. Some people had the dubious fortune of a skilled, mature lover their first time.
I say dubious because first consensual sex, whether it’s the first time ever or first time with a new lover, is bound to either build or destroy its mystery. And while the idea that the first time could be a knock-out is an alluring one, I don’t know that it would do any of us any good if it was. Imagine your first time with a lover who takes you to a place of pleasure you never imagined existed. Then imagine how disappointed you’re going to feel as you grow into life and realise that not all sexual experiences are like that one. No sexual experience is ever going to match it.
I wrote The Union chapter as a short story many years ago. I think it was a dormant fantasy just waiting for the right moment to pour from my unconscious onto the page. It was sort of inspired by my own crushes on teachers of various persuasions. But it also arose from the revelation that sex can be a profound erotic experience. The scene in The Union describes the kind of sexual experience everybody longs for, if not when they lose their virginity, at least once in their lifetime: a powerful, transformative, erotic connection to a lover.
For those who particularly want to know, at 19 I arrived relatively late to the fully fledged sexual experience and I’m glad of it. We were good friends and it was as much an experiment as a romantic interlude. I think we played Kate Bush and he wore new pink socks (?). Looking back, I’m glad it was ordinary. I wasn’t mature enough to cope with the consequences of a skilled lover, and I might well have been ruined for future relationships, as happens with my young protagonist in The Yearning. And because it was all the things losing virginity should be - sweet and awkward and laughable – I can look back on it now with great fondness.