Denim Virgins

January 14, 2012

Originally published in the Umbrella Factory

August 2010

It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but when I was a young man, I used to masturbate with my clothes on. Late at night, while all the other teenage boys in America were either having sex or at least pleasuring themselves in the nude, I would flagellate the sinful bulge in the crotch of my Bugle Boys until I achieved an orgasm. I never actually touched my penis unless I was urinating or taking a shower.

I was twenty years old when I stopped doing this. That was 1995, the year I switched from briefs to boxers. It would be three more years before I worked up the courage to have sex with an actual female—and I kept my shirt on during the entire process.

To say that I was sexually repressed would be a bit of an understatement. Homosexual teenagers in Utah are sexually repressed. Muslim women in Iran are sexually repressed. I, on the other hand, had problems.

My father was a small-town evangelical preacher, and he believed in four things: Jesus, America, Nebraska Cornhusker football, and abstinence. In that order.

My first real kiss occurred the summer before my fifteenth birthday on a warm, starry evening at church camp. I was at the peak of my physical and emotional awkwardness, and had already resigned myself to a life of celibacy. That year, my body underwent an unholy transformation that can only be described as the opposite of the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis. My nose and ears doubled in size overnight, and my skin began to produce a strange, oily goop that could not be washed off despite obsessive showering habits and special-order skin-care products. To add insult to injury, my vocal cords couldn’t seem to decide whether I should be an alto or a soprano, so every time I tried to say hello to a girl, I sounded like a yodeling transsexual. I was a disgusting, greasy, inarticulate, pre-teen swamp monster.

And for reasons I still can’t explain, I constantly smelled like bologna.

The girl was also a freak. Her name was Susan, and she looked as though she had been raised in a windowless cellar by a family of Transylvanian vampires. Her skin was not just white; it appeared to be translucent. You could actually see the tiny, blue veins snaking through her hands, and I always wondered (though I never got the opportunity to find out) if, when she was topless, one could watch her heart and kidneys in action. The porcelain hue of her skin was made even more apparent by her mousey brown hair, which was parted in the middle and hung down like a mourner’s shroud over her sallow face. If she had possessed a sardonic wit or a clever sneer, Susan might have been mistaken for the cool Goth-girl type. But she did not have the confidence to be cool. She was timid and skittish and she rarely ate anything except buttered noodles because “exciting foods” disturbed her stomach. I fell in love with her instantly.

Emotions tend to run pretty high at church camp. You gather a group of insecure junior-high students together at a secluded mountain commune, force them to listen to Christianized versions of popular rock songs every day, and eventually some of them are gonna crack. Of course, our emotions were supposed to be focused on Jesus, but sometimes they got sidetracked. The camp counselors called these moments “setbacks.”

Susan and I suffered our first setback at twilight behind a grove of aspen trees next to the chapel/cafeteria. There were about a billion stars in the sky that evening and the air smelled like fresh pine needles and I was nervous and sort of gassy because it was Taco Tuesday night in the cafeteria and I kept trying to release silent farts when Susan wasn’t looking and then I would wave them away before she could detect them. The sweat pouring off my face mingled with the lemon-flavored lozenge in Susan’s mouth (she suffered from numerous allergies that caused sniffles and fits of coughing), making our kiss both salty and sweet. Despite the flatulence and the sniffling, it was the greatest night of my young life. To this day, the smell of cold medication on a woman’s breath makes my heart quicken.

After that, Susan and I had setbacks every afternoon following lunch and usually right before bed check. Our encounters were only partly sexual; we spent most of the time holding hands, talking about our limited life experiences, and working up the courage to lock lips once again. It was the type of tongue-less, dry (except for the sweat, of course) kissing that only naïve romantics find erotic.

On the second-to-last day of camp, our secret rendezvous were uncovered by a nosey lunch lady with a wart the size of Krakatoa on her witchy chin. We were both required to meet one-on-one with the Head Counselor, a 30-somethingish man named Gene who thought he understood our generation because he listened to Bryan Adams and sometimes wore his baseball cap backwards.

I don’t know what Gene told Susan, but I was informed that my soul was in danger. Satan was everywhere, said Gene. He was in the music I listened to and the movies I watched. He was in my non-Christian friends at school and the Stephen King books that I read for pleasure. But most of all, Satan was in my pants. Whenever I felt sexual attraction or excitement, that was Satan popping up to say howdy. By kissing Susan behind the chapel/cafeteria, I was damning both of our souls to Hell. We would burn in a fiery pit for all eternity, and for what? A few, dry, lemon-flavored smooches? Was it really worth it?

“Yes!” I wanted to scream. “It’s worth it, Gene, you smug little prick! And by the way, Bryan Adams sucks!”

But of course, I didn’t say that. I was fourteen and not nearly as brave as I wanted to be.

Instead, I broke down and began to cry. I promised that it would never ever happen again. I was a sinner. I was scum. I was a disgusting, greasy, inarticulate pre-teen swamp monster who constantly smelled like bologna. Gene nodded in agreement. He put his hands on my shoulders and prayed for God to cleanse me of my evil desires, and when it was over, I blubbered a submissive, “Amen.”

That night, I stayed awake in my bunk, staring at the ceiling and trying to work up the courage to sneak out and meet Susan. Was she at our spot waiting for me? Dare I risk the wrath of God for one last kiss? Dare I? Dare I?

I did not dare.

Susan’s parents arrived early the next morning, and I watched them drive away from my hiding place behind the grove of elm trees next to the chapel/cafeteria.

I was a melodramatic child, and although I’d known Susan for a total of five days, I mourned our separation for almost a year. I built up our brief encounter in my imagination until it became an epic tragedy, on par with Romeo and Juliet—or at least Joanie and Chachie. Wouldst I ever findeth true love again? Me thinketh not. My parents both came from stoic, Midwestern stock, and they didn’t understand their weepy little son. It’s not that they were insensitive; they were simply incapable of talking about emotions or sex. I made several attempts to bring up the subject, but every time I approached my dad, he answered by clearing his throat and turning up the volume on the television, and my mom simply volunteered to bake a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies.

This was why I didn’t understand my father’s reaction when he received a letter from my school requesting permission for me to attend a bi-weekly sex education class. The letter stated that we were to learn about penises, vaginas, condoms, and “heavy petting.” I didn’t know what half of those terms meant. I thought my parents would be relieved to pass along the responsibility of teaching me the birds and the bees, but that wasn’t the case. At the bottom of the letter, there were two options: (1) Yes, I agree to allow my child to attend this class, or (2) No, I do not agree to allow my child to attend this class. My father circled the latter with a red marker. Then, in the side margin, he wrote: ABSOLUTELY NOT!

When I brought the letter to my health teacher, he regarded me with pity and said that I could spend those bi-weekly hours in the library, where I read Spider-Man comic books while the alcoholic librarian, Ms. Dunkirk, sipped her “Irish coffee” and glared at me out of the corner of her good eye. I was the only student at Yuma High School who did not learn about heavy petting. Consequently, my petting skills are atrocious. Once, in college, I permanently damaged the right nipple of an unfortunate Alpha Phi in a horrible petting mishap. Her areola will never be the same.

My parents explained to me that sex should be taught in the home, not in the school. This is not such a terrible assertion. After all, there are countless sexual traditions and practices around the world that are probably best passed on to future generations by conscientious parental figures. My own family’s oral tradition was fairly simple: During a commercial break in the middle of an episode of Highway to Heaven, my father lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “When you’re with a young lady, remember that Jesus is right there beside you, watching you every step of the way.” I nodded, and we turned back to the television, where Michael Landon was zapping bad guys with his angel powers.

It’s incredibly difficult to have an orgasm while Jesus is watching you. He looks at you with those sad, blue eyes and scratches His beard and says things like, “That’s not where you’re supposed to put that,” and, “I’m telling my Dad.” Jesus is such a tattle-tale; that’s one thing the New Testament never mentions.

My father’s lecture served its purpose—I remained a virgin throughout high school and most of college. However, I was a denim virgin. For those who don’t know, a “denim virgin” is a young man or woman, usually a teenage Christian, who participates in the act of copulation while fully clothed. Bare genitals are not touched and no penetration occurs, although it is permissible to fondle the chest area as long as shirts are not removed.

The first time I did not have sex was with Karen Davis during my junior year of high school. She was a Lutheran cheerleader, and, therefore, an evil temptress, just like Delilah and Jezebel and Cher. Karen was the opposite of Susan—charismatic, blonde, the girl in the Noxzema commercials who doesn’t need Noxzema—and I was always worried that one day she would realize that I was a toad trying to pass myself off as a prince.

Karen and I nearly humped one another to death. This normally occurred in the front seat of my parents’ 1974 Ford Granada. We didn’t go to the back seat because that would have been a conscious acknowledgment of our sinful intentions. Instead, we pretended that each grope session was a freak accident that would never happen again.

After watching a movie or attending a local sporting event, Karen and I would drive down to Lake Yuma, which was actually a giant drainage ditch where all the gutter water in town flowed during the rainy season. We would sit in the parked car and talk about innocuous subjects, waiting for an opportunity to initiate some sort of physical contact. This usually happened in the form of tickling. Karen would bait me by saying something sassy and cute, in the vein of, “You’re such a weirdo.” I would respond with something incredibly intelligent, such as, “Oh, yeah,” and then retaliate by poking her in innocent, yet desirable anatomic locations (knees, tummy, hips, etc.). Karen would fight back by straddling me and grabbing my wrists. Giggling was followed by kissing, which was followed by necking, which was followed by Karen grinding on top of me like a wedge of cheddar on a cheese grater until I had an orgasm.

Yes, in my pants.

Afterwards, there were usually tears and apologies and promises that such a horrible thing would never happen again. Of course, it happened again about five times every week, until I finally graduated and moved to college.

In college, I joined Campus Crusade for Christ and immediately found an entire harem of denim virgins at my disposal. Everywhere I looked, there were sexually repressed Christians who wanted to make-out and then pray and then make-out some more. I became a complete slut without ever having sex. Sometimes I would not have sex with a girl and then not call her the next day. I was a Christian cad, a Protestant playboy. This went on until the youth pastor politely suggested that perhaps I should join one of the fraternities on campus.

At this point, I suppose I could have done some serious soul searching. I could have gone to the library and compared the theological arguments of C.S. Lewis to the atheist rhetoric of Bertrand Russell. I could have formed my own conclusions about the morality of traditional religious thought as compared to modern intellectualism. I could have done a lot of things, but I didn’t. Instead, I simply replaced my fundamentalist Christian beliefs with fundamentalist liberal beliefs. It was a fair trade, and I figured it would be easier than doing all that nasty reading.

I threw away my Amy Grant albums and started listening to Rage Against the Machine. I frequented dimly lit coffee shops, where I sat in the corner dressed in black and pretended to read Noam Chomsky. Very soon, I attracted the attention of a group of intellectual hippies who were amused by my conservative upbringing. I smoked pot and told them funny stories about my childhood, and we all laughed at my backwater family. I thought I was very clever and bohemian.

One day, following a protest march against either cruelty to animals, war, or pesticides (after a while, they all began to blend together), a glassy-eyed hippie girl invited me back to her dorm room, where she proceeded to deflower me. It was a painless, almost clinical experience, and afterwards I made the mistake of asking the girl if she had enjoyed herself. “Not really,” she said. “Next time, it would be better if you took your clothes off.” I looked down and realized that I was still wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt with a giant peace sign on the front.

I should have been embarrassed. After all, I’d just had my first sexual experience with a woman, and I had failed to remove my clothing, which is pretty much the most rudimentary part of the process. On the other hand, the world had not come to an end. Jesus did not ride down from Heaven on a white horse and smote my penis or anything like that. Therefore, I decided to ignore the girl’s criticism and focus on the two words she’d said that really intrigued me: next time.

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