June 3, 2022

by Holly Pelesky


The other virgins are proud of it. The first week of college, one by one, they announce it to us girls on the dorm hall in that morally superior way: I’m saving myself for marriage. They wear rings that say True Love Waits on their fingers because they’re married to chastity. They date boys who act like they agree.

The virgins assume we are all like them, just less boastful, holding onto our hymens because of God. I don’t tell them my hymen is intact only because I’m too shy or maybe too ugly or too weird.

My friend Dalia isn’t a virgin but she doesn’t let on to anyone but me. The other virgins would call her a whore, deem her unholy, tell her to repent. Dalia answers any question I can think to ask, like what to do with your pubic hair—keep it trim, this isn’t the eighties—and how to give a blow job—you actually don’t blow, you suck—while I scribble everything she says down in my Lisa Frank notebook leftover from childhood.

The virgins walk around in skirts cut right to the knee and cross their legs in class which hikes their skirts up higher. They can want it, but they can’t have it, Sarah says and all of them laugh. Then some of the other virgins start saying it too in different variations but Morgan can’t remember it exactly and says, they can have it, but they can’t want it and the other virgins gasp. She apologizes and the other virgins appear to forgive her but later, in the lounge, I overhear them complaining about her when she’s not around.

I am ashamed of my virginity so I don’t admit to it, but the other virgins suspect it, maybe by the way my cheeks flush at the mention of the boy who runs the computer lab. Dalia says not to be ashamed, but she has sex in parking lots twenty miles from campus to be sure nobody suspects her. The boy Dalia is screwing is Sarah’s boyfriend and he told Dalia, Sarah lets me put it inside her, but only in her ass. When Dalia tells me, I squeal in horror and delight.

My curiosity about sex is growing bigger than my body and some days I feel like it’s going to crawl right out of my mouth and reveal itself in our hall prayer meeting, but Dalia is finding new ways to keep me quiet, just last week she brought a banana from the breakfast bar to our dorm room and rolled a condom down it and then she asked me to try it. Just in case, she said, you don’t want to get pregnant.

The other virgins, in prayer meeting, ask us to pray for their boyfriends to be strong against temptation, awhile longer, until they can get married. They scour the internet for engagement rings that cost less than $1,000 so their boyfriends can afford them this summer as a college freshman or sophomore. Marriage is when they can unsave themselves, I suppose that’s what they’re after, I’m not really sure what saving yourself means to begin with.

Dalia came from a state school and she says there the dorms are co-ed and people have sex all the time and no one thinks anything of it, it’s a function of our bodies, something we do when we want to or need to, like taking a shower. I try to imagine a world where sex isn’t something perverse, something my parents have always been shielding my eyes from, but my imagination hasn’t grown that secular yet.

If I can keep this all straight, I think what I’m hearing is: Sex is bad if you’re single but once you’re married, you can have it all the time, just with the same person, forever, because divorce is also bad, but don’t talk about the sex you’re having, that’s untoward and if the boy you marry turns out bad at sex, too bad, poor choice in the selection department, better find something to occupy you that isn’t orgasms, maybe knitting or I hear crocheting is even better.

I figured out how to masturbate, purely on accident, but I suppose if you root around long enough you’ll figure it out. I didn’t orgasm, at least I don’t think I did, but my face flushed hot and I didn’t want to stop so I skipped Hermeneutics class which is my first absence all year, but I think it’ll be OK, my grades are pretty good and can withstand a single pursuit of orgasm.

In French they call an orgasm La Petite Mort Dalia told me which means little death and it makes sense. That is what I’m after, all this time on earth just waiting to die, that is what Christians are raised to do, get through life without succumbing to temptation, keep your eyes on heaven, be good enough to get there. I think masturbating is within the rules so unless someone decides to marry me, I’ll just keep at this until I get really good at it. I’ll teach myself how to die a noble death over and over again. Like Christ did, but without all the gore, that’s not really my style. I look down at my W.W.J.D. bracelet before I slide my fingers into my underwear, think to myself, Christlike, and don’t tell a soul I’ve found the secret to saving myself.



Holly Pelesky writes essays, fiction and poetry. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska. Her prose can be found in The Normal School, Okay Donkey, and Jellyfish Review. Her collection of letters to her daughter, Cleave, will be released by Autofocus Books in August. She works, coaches slam poetry, and raises boys in Omaha.