What It’s Like to Be a 58-Year-Old Virgin

In search of lost time
Photo: Photography by Manuel Atienzar

Such statistics are notoriously slippery, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionthe average American loses their virginity at age 17 (here, virginity is defined in heterosexual terms as penetrative vaginal intercourse). But there are those who hold out, making it to old age without ever having “done the deed” — while it’s dangerous to imply that there’s a “normal” age for first sex, therapists generally agree that you’re a “mature-aged virgin” if you haven’t had penetrative sex by age 30. Rumor has it that Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton were members of this club (Tesla apparently believed such hedonism would distract him from his work), and if he doesn’t get married soon, the famously virginal-for-religious-reasons Tim Tebow will also become a member in a few years.

Social and cultural norms attach a lot of stigma to holding on to your virginity, and the importance of penetrative sex in general, meaning that honest discussions about the feelings attached to being a virgin rarely happen. Here, a 58-year-old man from Paradise, California, describes living as a virgin for almost 60 years. 

So, when you say you’re a virgin, how do you define that? Have you engaged in any sexual acts at all?
Nothing whatsoever, with anybody. I gave a girl a kiss on the lips when I was a kid, but it wasn’t a make-out or anything. That was before adolescence; those hormones and desires hadn’t kicked in. 

The last, and the only, time you kissed a girl was nearly 50 years ago.

What was your childhood like?
My father was very abusive. He was always telling me I was useless and would never amount to anything. Once I was in my grandfather’s plane at 12,000 feet and my dad was yelling such terrible things that I tried to open the door and jump out. 

Was he like that with your mother, too?
Yes, he subjected her to physical and emotional abuse. She was a homemaker and couldn’t drive because she had a lot of neurosis. My dad was a construction supervisor and didn’t stop bossing people around when was done with work. He was in the war and, according to my grandmother, he was one of the only survivors on a ship of 250 people that blew up. She says that’s when he snapped — he had to be taken home in chains. Apparently he was a nice person before that. 

Did you have siblings?
I have a much older brother and there was a baby boy who passed away before I was born. He was crying, as infants do, and my dad made mom take the crib outside in the rain and leave him there until he stopped. My dad refused to take him to the hospital and he was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. 

When your father was violent, what did he do to you?
I was such a small, skinny child and he was a strapping Marine; I didn’t even come up to his knees.  Once he accused me of stealing his bullets from a drawer. I did not steal those bullets, so I denied it, but he insisted I was lying and whipped me with a belt each time I sad no. Eventually I pretended I did it so he would stop and then he kept asking me why. I didn’t even know what “why” meant. So he whipped me more and more until I finally became so terrified I managed to jump off the table and run out onto the street, but my dad caught up and upon me like an eagle. He would confine me to my room. I read seven volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover, over and over. There really wasn’t anything else to do. He’d wake me at 3 a.m. in the morning just to beat me and then walk away with this grin like he was doing something he enjoyed. 

Was there any sexual abuse?
Not from my father, but I did have a babysitter who tried to force me to suck his penis when I was about 3 years old. I refused and said I’ve got to go to the bathroom and slid out the window and hid in a juniper bush. 

How did you discover what sex was, or explore what bodies are like?
I found copies of Playboy under my dad’s bed. I was drawn to boobs and I liked to see women in bikinis. I saw internet stuff, but a lot that can get pretty weird so that put me off. I found I’ve never watched a pornographic movie. The closest I’ve come is Baywatch or that film Earth Girls Are Easy, but I got so bored that I fell asleep halfway through. Actually, now that I think about it, I remember when I was a teenager I saw a man giving a woman oral sex while watching a movie at a drive-through. 

Have you ever seen a woman naked, in real life?
When I was in my 20s, I lived by a lake and I saw some skinny dippers, but I didn’t talk to them because I didn’t think they’d be interested in me. I saw them walking on the road, but they were out of shape.  I did see some better-looking ones, but I could only see their breasts. It wasn’t as if I went to watch them, I just happened on them.

What fueled your sexual fantasies?
Not those women, but the ones I had seen on the internet. Sometimes I would imagine myself having sex or holding a cute person I knew.  But I don’t masturbate these days because it just causes misery and suffering. Also, I think I’ve got to the point where I no longer have much of a libido. My sex drive is just about gone. 

When you were younger, did you fantasize about having sex a lot?
Of course.  

How often did you masturbate?
Every second or third day. Sometimes I would go a week or a week and a half. I never had any problems reaching an orgasm. 

What sort of women are you attracted to?
I find the woman from Ghost very good-looking. I used to find that gal that played the bionic woman cute, too. 

Is sex on your mind a lot?
Up until about five years ago, yes, and it was absolute torture. When I was younger, I’d lay there hour after hour burning with passion. It was like your hormones dictated your thoughts and they were stronger than I was. I recently said a little prayer and decided to stop thinking about it; also, as I said, my sex drive has diminished as I’ve gotten older. 

What faith are you? Did you grow up religious?
No, I got baptized in my 20s. I moved in with my grandparents, to get away from my dad. They had little cabin by the river. It was beautiful; it reminded me of the Katharine Hepburn film On Golden Pond. There was fishing and gold panning. My grandmother introduced me to religion. Even though I’m religious, that’s not really what’s stopped me from having sex. When people ask me why I’m a virgin, I tell them I suffer from terminal ugliness. I have an eye that doesn’t line up with the other one. I’d probably look better if I wore a pirate patch.

What was your social life like when you were growing up?
I had some friends, but I was beat up a lot because of how I looked. I was a rail-thin nerd; I’d stuff cardboard in my shoes to make myself taller and my left eye is messed up. I was afraid to sleep when my father was around, so I was always exhausted. One time I fell asleep sitting up and smashed my eye on a knob on the bedpost. It severed a nerve that closed my pupil. The pain was so extreme I couldn’t face the sun even with my eyes closed because it hurt so much. I had to walk around with my head tilted.   

What did you do when you left school?
It was almost impossible for me to get a job when I was younger. I don’t have the kind of face that attracts people to want to hire me. I lived with my grandmother up until I was about 30 and I really felt trapped, lonely with no way out. I got a job as a telemarketer but quit when I figured out it was a scam, so I did some construction work before going to college to study computer programming when I was 32. 

So you were a 32-year-old college student who was a virgin? What was campus life like?
It was hell. Everyone was enjoying spending time with women and I felt invisible. If I got attracted to a woman, my mind would just go blank and I couldn’t think of anything to say. Typical nerd. I felt like a freak. Everybody was getting something and I wasn’t. There was a time where I was just getting so inflamed and lonely I would have done it with anyone who offered.  

Did you date or have girlfriends?
I’ve only ever been on one date and I have never been in a relationship.

What was that date like?
We went to La Comida, Mexican restaurant. I used to call it La “Crumeda” because the food was a joke. You only eat there if you are poor. I could tell she was bored with me, so I was too scared to broach the subject of sex. I think she only went on the date with me to be nice. When I was in my 30s, I made friends with a woman who worked at an A&W. I’d watch her as she served customers and she seemed supremely unhappy. She was probably about five foot six, with long blonde hair and a sweet smile, but her sadness was written all over her face. I saw her in that state of abject misery for years. All I know is her husband wasn’t faithful to her. He left and she had two kids to look after all alone.

One day she told me she really liked me because I was easy to talk to. I expressed my interest but that just scared her off. I guess I’m glad it didn’t happen because I wasn’t financially stable and I wouldn’t have been able to support her and that would have caused a whole lot of worry. Back then I didn’t realize how lacking I am in the skills it takes to make a partner happy. There was another friend I was interested in who I thought liked me but there was another woman I’d met and become friends with who lived Portland. I found a job and moved, but when I arrived she didn’t want to see me. I don’t necessarily blame her. I might have come on too strong.

How so?
She was sitting next to me and I was leaning into her too much. If only I’d been more aware of how she might feel. I don’t really blame her; I blame myself. So, out of a misguided sense of loyalty for someone who was just playing me for the fool, I missed out on both women. I wish I’d known the situation up there and reciprocated with the one who actually liked me. I tried calling her when I got back, but I was just too shy to be direct about what I wanted. 

Do you think it’s harder trying to lose your virginity if you’re a man because you have to initiate?
I think so. Women either think I’m going too slow or too fast and I can’t seem to find an in between. 

What happens when you try to talk to women?
My mind just goes blank. There’s nothing I can think to say. 

Did you have trouble knowing when a woman is interested?
I had a friend at college who pointed out that this girl liked me. He said you could tell by the way she crossed her legs when she was talking to me.  “She wants you,” but I had no idea. There was another time I was at the beach by the river talking to this girl who was wearing a bikini that was a few sizes too big for her, kind of showing me her breasts. I should have realized she was interested in me. I probably would have gone for it if I had really known at the time that she was indicating that she wanted to have sex. But I didn’t do anything. 

Did you ever think of just asking a friend to have sex with you so you could have the experience?
When I was about 15, I did ask a girl, but she said, “No, my mom won’t allow it” and she wasn’t going to have sex until she was a responsible adult. 

But what about when you were older, did you ever think about seeing a prostitute?
In the past, I thought about it, but I told myself, What’s going to happen if I pay for sex and just have it once? It will just be worse because I’ll know what it’s like and then I’ll want more, like having a taste of a fine steak and then learning you will only get to eat hard beans and drink water for the rest of your life. 

Do you work at the moment?
No. I have problems with my back and my legs, so I’m just waiting to get a decision on my disability. I’m staying in my friend’s trailer. I have about $500 left. I don’t have to pay him any rent, though, or utilities.

What do you usually do during the day?
I watch Netflix and play around on the internet. Typically I check out Facebook first thing in the morning. I have a lot of friends, but they’re not intimate friends. I made a Tesla Coil like Nikola Tesla; it creates lightning that looks like what comes off the emperor’s fingers in Star Wars.

Is it fair to say that you’re scared of having sex?
I think so. I worry if I will be able to bring pleasure to my mate? Will I be a complete drag? I’m scared of getting rejected afterwards and also just not knowing what to do. I might not measure up to her expectations. I think there must be some sort of learning curve involved in it before it becomes fun. Any activity requires practice before you are really going to enjoy it.

Do you think you have a fear of relationships as well?
Yes. I’ve seen firsthand how bad marriage can be. So many people are just focused on their own needs. I consider myself damaged enough, emotionally, to never be able to function in a relationship. I think you need a certain amount of stability to cope with the dynamics.  I can’t handle harsh criticism and lack the social skills to relate to another person intimately. I have such low self-esteem; I can’t take it when someone says something mean to me. 

Have you felt lonely your whole life?
Yes, except when I consciously stopped thinking about sex. Before that, I’d often wish that I would simply go to sleep and not wake up. I guess there are still times where I feel that way. I live a fairly drab life in a little trailer in a place called Paradise, California. I have no mate. I have no car. I have financial worries. There’s really nobody to talk to. I can get on the phone and share little events about my life, but there’s nobody right here with me. 

What about kids, is that something that you wanted?
It’s good I didn’t have kids because I’m scared I’ll end up treating them like my dad treated me. 

Do you think there’s something deep inside you that’s stopping you from having sex or pursuing a relationship?
I think it’s the fear of knowing people don’t find me attractive. I had one woman tell me she thought I was cute, but that was about 10 or 15 years ago when I didn’t look like an old man. I have this story I tell people. I saw this guy and he was a train wreck. He had this white balding head, an eye that wandered off to the side, and a crazed look in his eyes. I tried angling away from him because those kinds of people make me nervous. The more I angled away the more he angled towards me … Don’t you hate mirrors? I laugh at myself like that. 

If you really feel like your physical appearance is standing in the way, have you thought about ways you could change that?
I don’t have the money. But really, the biggest problem is that I’m so shy around the opposite sex. Women are attracted to confident guys and I am not confident. I end up friend-zoned. It infuriates me when I see some stunning gal who I would treat like a queen and she’s in a relationship with some knuckle-dragging jackass. I always get told, “Oh,  you’re so sweet.” Well, sweet doesn’t cut it.  

What’s the hardest part about being a 58-year-old-virgin?
Laying alone at night, falling asleep and then getting up in the morning and remembering you’re alone. It’s like waking up to the same nightmare every single day.

What It’s Like to Be a 58-Year-Old Virgin