Sex and My Mental Health

I am a second-semester sophomore in college. I have never had a boyfriend. I’ve only kissed one person. I’ve never had sex. Yes, we exist.

I grew up in a fairly conservative household where sexual activity before marriage is frowned upon. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16, around the time when many people had already had their first kiss. My parents told me that my senior year homecoming date already had two strikes against him before we even left the house because he was late to pick me up (super lame btw) and he didn’t shake my dad’s hand as soon as he exited the vehicle. I never really got “the talk." Masturbation was never introduced to me as a healthy way to feed into sexual desires. I mentioned birth control and my parents were SHOOK. In short, I’m kind of a late-bloomer when it comes to sex and relationships. That’s not to say I blame my parents for my lack of experience, but my background has a significant impact on what I’ve done and felt comfortable doing.

Related: How to Discuss Your Sexual Health with Your Parents

Going into college, my expectations were probably a little too high. I assumed that, now that I was free to do whatever I wanted, I would do it all. That was true to some extent. I did go out to parties and openly flirted with guys I didn’t know, but I really wasn’t good at it. And to be honest, I’m still not. I thought that if I dressed up cute and danced with people my first kiss would just kind of happen. Maybe it wouldn’t be as magical as I had imagined it in high school, but I was convinced that at the very least it would happen by the end of my first year in college. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.

Throughout the year, I tried to put myself out there, hoping to gain some of the experiences that everyone else seemed to be having. I would try to flirt with a guy at a party and they would shut me down. The guys I was interested in didn’t seem to be interested in me. So I decided to lower my standards. Maybe my expectations were too high and that’s why nothing had happened yet. I thought that accepting shitty treatment from a guy at a party was worth it as long as I got to dance with someone for a few hours. But I was wrong.

This mindset led to more than a few breakdowns throughout the semester. I would allow a guy to treat me a certain way at night and the next morning I’d hate myself for lowering my worth. I let myself be treated badly in order to at least partially fulfill the desire for non-platonic attention I had. I would make a decision, knowing that I would end up regretting it, just for short-term satisfaction. To be clear, I still had not kissed anyone or done anything sexual with anyone. But the way I allowed myself to be talked to and treated was enough for me to realize I had the wrong mindset and deserve better.

At the end of the last school year, I had a rough time. It seemed like everyone I knew was either in a relationship or having far more success than I was in the sexual department. What was I doing wrong? I really started to doubt myself. I had the thought that crosses all our minds: am I going to be the lonely old cat lady of the friend group? After a full year of making mistakes with what seemed like no progress, I was starting to give up.

Related: How to Handle Feelings of Loneliness When You’re Single

At the beginning of last semester, it had started to take a toll on my mental health. I was still doing dumb things to get attention because I thought that just being myself clearly wasn’t good enough. While part of me just wanted to fulfill my physical desires, another part of me was frustrated and upset when my body seemed to be the only thing a guy was concerned about. Every time I went to a party or hung out with my friends, I was painfully reminded of the fact that I was the least experienced one in the room and maybe I always would be with the way things seemed to be going.

I started to get reckless and my friends had to sit me down and tell me to stop. It was obvious that I was being messy and trying way too hard. Some of the things I did are embarrassing, but I’m lucky to have friends who stopped me before I did something I really regretted. It was hard to get a little bit of tough love, but they also gave me a lot of support. They told me that I didn’t need to be worried about my lack of experience because, even without it, I was still more than enough for them. Knowing that I was loved and appreciated helped me out a lot. While this didn’t necessarily help curve any of my sexual desires, they started to help me realize that I wasn’t satisfying those desires in the right way.

One of my professors gave me some invaluable advice one day after I had a breakdown in class ( be like that sometimes). She knew that I was having a tough time being confident in myself because of how many times I had been shot down. She sat me down and told me: “You are enough.” She told me that it can be really hard to be confident sometimes but it’s important to try. So she challenged me. She said: “For the next week, I want you to try saying ‘Fuck it’ more often. If you mess up an assignment, or don’t particularly try putting together a good outfit, or don’t have time to put makeup on, ‘Fuck it,' Because you are enough as you are.” And let me tell you, that woman is a genius.

I knew it was going to be difficult, but it was important that I give myself a chance. That night, I went to a Halloween party. I made a playlist of my favorite songs to listen to while I got ready and put on my costume and girlllll, I was FEELIN’ myself. I knew the people at that party had seen me make too many mistakes before and I was ready to redeem myself. I fully and totally adopted the mindset of “fuck it” and I felt happier and freer than I had in a while. And that night, I had my first kiss. I’m telling you this “fuck it” mantra works wonders!

Now I would be lying to you if I said everything magically got better after that because it didn’t. Learning to love yourself is a really rough road and I’m still learning that having self-worth means I need to value every part of myself. Even the parts that I may still be lacking experience in.

Related: How to Start Loving Who You Are

A lot of my self-confidence issues stem from my lack of sexual experience and the fact that I’m still single. I do get upset about that a lot, but my incredible roommate gave me some great advice. She told me to remember that, just because I’m a little bit of a late bloomer doesn’t mean it’s because I’m worth less than anybody who has more experience than me. My personal experiences affect where I am now, and it’s different for every person.

I grew up in a conservative household so I missed out on learning about this stuff at a younger age. That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way it is. I had some guys I liked in high school respond badly when I tried to be open and emotionally vulnerable with them, so I wasn’t as willing to be honest with guys I did like in college, but was more willing to accept the bad treatment from the ones I didn’t like as much. She reminded me that every experience I had was unique to me and each one of them continues to affect the way I think now. And that can be frustrating, but I just have to accept it. (Also, yes, I know my roommate is a genius. She’s a psychology major and she is absolutely incredible.)

So while I may be one of the only singles in my friend group and I am still a virgin, I’m learning to accept that as a part of what makes me unique. I wouldn’t be the collegiette I am without my experiences (or lack thereof). It’s okay to be at any level of experience! Learn from my mistakes. Don’t let something like sexual attention determine your self-worth. I promise, whether you’re single, in a relationship or you’re with a different person every month, you are special. You are enough.