Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Question: What are ethical and logistical factors for exploring sexuality when you're a person out of age and place? I spent half my life in limiting and socially isolating religious circumstances; now I'm a reconstructing middle-aged virgin, and what I haven't experienced in life feels infantilizing and disqualifying. It's surreal and hard to communicate.
If I'm understanding your question correctly, you were subjected to some form of insular, sex prohibitive religious community for half your life, and have started the process of deconstructing those beliefs (and possibly reclaiming others), but are now feeling at a loss over how to navigate your newfound sexual liberation during middle adulthood? If so, welcome! You are joining thousands of former evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and [insert any sex prohibitive religion here] who are shedding the harm caused by a steady diet of misinformation about sexuality, and are creating a new sexual ethic that is authentic to your true self.
That deserves a round of applause in and of itself.
First, to address the "middle-aged virgin" factor, it's important to note there is no timetable for sexual experiences. Some people progress all the way to butt stuff in their teens, whereas others don't have their first kiss until their 60s. One is not better than the other. What's better is ultimately getting to the place of understanding your own sexual values and living according to those values.
And it seems like you have.
When you were in limiting religious circumstances, I'm assuming your sexual behavior (or lack thereof) aligned with your sexual values. Now that your values have changed, you're starting to explore how your sexual behaviors can align to this new value system. You're right where you're supposed to be.
Moving forward with dating and sexual relationships, yeah, it's going to be awkward. But it's only awkward because it's new, not because of your age. This awkwardness is felt by post-grads navigating the dating field outside of the bubble of campus life for the first time. It's felt by those recently divorced who haven't been on a first date since before social media when they had no ability to see if a potential partner has posted shirtless bathroom selfies holding a fish.
It is true that some people who will cross your path in the dating world may be put off by your inexperience, but others won't be. Your sexual history, whether you've had 100 sexual partners or none, is not disqualifying you from experiencing the types of sexual behaviors and relationships you desire in the future.
And while you may have started the process of deconstructing, and possibly even rejecting, the fables of fruit-tempting snakes and seven-headed dragons, there's also the process of deconstructing the sexual purity and policing often intertwined in those fables. But this is no easy task. You can’t go from a fundamentalist who believes short skirts are sewn by Satan to hosting Eyes Wide Shut styled orgies overnight.
This deconstruction and reclamation of your sexuality takes time. During this process there can still be lingering guilt and shame mixed in with your newfound sexual liberation. You are pushing back against decades of misinformation (and often disinformation) fed to you by a faith community that probably still thinks a menstruating woman is a witch.
But throughout this process, never lose sight of the fact that the god assigned to you at birth doesn't have to dictate your sexuality for the rest of your life.
You can change the channel on the stream of misinformation over to sexuality education that is medically-accurate, inclusive, and comprehensive. You found me (thank you), and I encourage you to explore other sex educators, researchers, and therapists. You can see who I follow on Twitter or Instagram, and then see who those educators follow. Soon you'll have access to dozens of sex educators eager to provide you with scientific information about sex and dating that will likely make your religiously conservative aunt slowly shake her head in disapproval.
And that's a good thing.