Freelance writer Noah Berlatsky talks about sex in college — or, rather, not having sex in college. Berlatsky was among the 10 percent of students who remain virgins throughout college, and this felt to him like an embarrassment — and a knock against his masculinity. But, he realized in time, it made him no less or more a man.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And now another takedown of an illusion about manhood.
NOAH BERLATSKY: Young men have sex, everybody says so so it must be true.
SIEGEL: That Chicago-based freelance writer Noah Berlatsky.
BERLATSKY: Well, when I was in college I slept with no one, never ever - not even a little bit. I didn't kiss a woman until I was in my late twenties when I met my now wife. She was determined and thank goodness. There's so much discussion about young men and sex that you might think that my long sexless stretch was aberrant or abnormal. Certainly it felt that way at time. The most painful part of being a virgin wasn't so much that I wasn't having sex nor was it that I was lonely since I had plenty of good friends. Rather the painful part was that I felt like I was not being a man in the right way that I was a failure. Futile crush blurred into futile crush and I just sat there doing nothing. Men were supposed to do things, men were supposed to have salacious anecdotes, men were supposed to have sex, I wasn't having sex - so what did that make me?- Some-not-man-thing wrong and broken and ashamed. But the truth is, it's just not that weird to not have sex in college. A 2011 National Center for Health Statistics study found that a full quarter of 18 and 19-year-olds, of both genders, hadn't had sex even among 20 to 24-year-olds more than 10 percent remain virgins. Roles have changed a lot over time, but one thing that hasn't changed is that masculinity is still defined in large part by failure. The images of perfect ideal men are everywhere from Superman getting Lois Lane, to James Bond getting everyone else. Being a man means failing to be good enough and failing to measure up. Freud was wrong, it's not women who are defined by penis envy - it's Men. And in worrying all the time about penises, men end up to the women as a means to an end. A woman becomes a way for you to be more manly rather than a person in her own right. It's hard to treat women well when you're obsessed with manliness. So how do we stop being obsessed with it? I have to admit, I'm not sure. Being married has certainly made the issue less pressing for me personally but at the same time there's still this temptation to make the story about its ending - to say I was not a man in the past and then I got married and now I'm a man - ta-da. The manly thing seems to be to belittle the younger me in order to better flaunt the older sex-having me. But the truth is I wasn't always sad in my twenties I'm not always happy now. And for that matter, the guy my wife liked enough to pursue there wasn't anything wrong or weird about him just because he never had sex - he wasn't a failure was just a virgin. Which is one not uncommon way of being a man.
SIEGEL: Freelance writer Noah Berlatsky. He's also the editor of the comics and culture blog the "Hooded Utilitarian." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.