A journalist from a well known British broadsheet got in touch with me a couple of years ago because she wanted to see if I could provide case studies for an article she was writing about virginity loss. In short, she wanted to know if any of the people I had interviewed for my book would be prepared to go public. Quite apart from the fact that having offered them unconditional anonymity - and then hassling them to waive it for a newspaper article seemed un-utterably naff - why couldn't she find respondents of her own? Surely a newspaper of this stature had the resources to find people who are prepared to reveal this information?
'Well', she said, 'it's a funny old thing. We have a bunch of people that we go to when we want to feature controversial issues. Masturbation, incest, fetishes, these people don't baulk at anything. But when we asked them to talk about their virginity loss experiences, not one person responded.'
This doesn't surprise me. Years ago, I interviewed a warm, forthright but formidable tantric sex teacher for my book. Hers was a wonderful story, illustrating as it did, her dramatic journey towards a more enlightened and adult view of sex. I was pretty new to the interviewing game at the time so I took her at her word when she insisted I use her real name for her story. A while later, when I was proofing it, I had the foresight to check back in with Diana* just to see if that was still the case. I was so glad I did. She had completely changed her mind. 'Its not just about me', she said. 'It's about my family as well and I don't want to embarrass them'. But even if we aren't forthright tantric sex teachers, it still doesn't mean we want the world to know where our heads were at when we lost our virginity.
This was bought home to me last year when my own story was to be featured in a newspaper article. I felt fine about it. After all, I had always intended to tell it in my book anyway. It was to be my way of saying thank you to my interviewees. People who had shared huge, great big chunks of their intimate lives with me. All good on paper but when it came to actually pressing the send button and dispatching my own (very run of the mill it must be said) tale, I felt the full force of my own... how can I say this? Extreme vulnerability?
And therein lies the clue. When we think back to ourselves at that age, we are reminded of what we were. It doesn't matter what great status we have achieved in life. It makes no bones if you head up the account management division of a successful creative agency now. Once upon a time, you were a bumbling, fumbling teenager who didn't have a clue what you were doing. We have all been there -- and very few of us want to go back, at least in public.
And yet anonymously, the stories keep on coming. And that's because people get something out of recollection. Its almost as if going back in time allows us to see how far we have traveled. I have often sat and watched people have mini revelations about their lives as they have recounted this experience. They suddenly understand their teenage motivations in a way that they couldn't when they were so wet behind the ears. And it's the same on my blog. I have a steady stream of strangers who feel compelled to write these stories in the hope that they will gain some clarity about their inner worlds. And occasionally they just want to tell me a cracking good story.
If you yourself feel the urge, I would, of course, be delighted to hear from you. And I promise I will never, ever ask you to waive your anonymity.
*all names changed to protect anonymity