My flip-flops finally smacked pavement when I reached the street between the parking lot and the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, a complex that covers the quiet, northwest corner of the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus.
I traipsed across a covered courtyard, where a handful of fellow grad students in the Department of Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling congregated at picnic tables. I walked into the building. Inside, the cold air eradicated all evidence of the late-afternoon heat from the mid-May sun outside. I took off my sunglasses and turned a couple of corners toward classroom 1636 for the first session of my human sexuality class.
I sat at the back of the room, plugged in my laptop,and pretended not to be nervous. The professor, Dr. Dae Sheridan—a young, spirited sex therapist—interrupted my anxiety by inviting the class to shout the names we know for sexual activity and for the body parts we associate with sex.
I yelled it like a season-ticket holder at a sold-out sports arena. Classmates shouted other body parts (some by their proper names, and others less so). Some students shouted sex positions or slang words, and we laughed so hard our sides hurt. The ice breaker, designed to desensitize us to words bound to come up in class that otherwise might make us uncomfortable, was the start of what turned out to be one of my favorite classes—even if it illuminated what I didn’t then talk much about at school: my sexual inexperience.
I was a twenty-five-year-old Catholic virgin, out of place in a graduate-level, secular sex class at a state university. It neither looked nor felt right to carry around a thousand-page sex instruction manual, parts of which I had to read for class. I had never done what “everybody” does, and worried it meant I wouldn’t know what “everybody” knows.
The class, I thought, theoretically could warrant real-time discussion of chastity with a bunch of people who probably thought chastity was abstinence. I worried that in fumbling for the right words to explain the difference, I would out myself as unprepared and inarticulate.
Then, in a small-group discussion in class, a classmate shared a secret: “I’m a late bloomer,” she said. I waited with bated breath for her to elaborate. I, too, am a late bloomer, I thought. First date at nineteen, first kiss at twenty-three, still a virgin at twenty-five. Late bloomers for the win!
“I had my first kiss at fifteen,” she said, giggling like a seventh grader in a rousing round of “Truth or Dare.”
Fifteen? My eager, internal pep rally ended abruptly. If she is a late bloomer, I am keeping my mouth shut. I concluded that classmates who count fifteen as late for a first kiss are not ready for an adult to disclose her virginity.
The truth was, I wasn’t ready to disclose it in that classroom.