Do you think there's anything wrong with being 30 and a virgin? Some people might not think this is an issue, but for two women, it's become a big problem.
At 30 and 31 years old respectively, Shayla and Carmen have never been in love, have never been in serious relationships and have never had sex.
Both women say they wrote to The Oprah Show because they're ready for a change. "I have brick walls surrounding me," Shayla says. "I knew that I would have to confront a lot of the issues that kept me so closed. It's fear—fear to live, to love, to be vulnerable."
For the past month, Carmen and Shayla have been working with sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman, who says both women's issues run much deeper than sex. At the root, their issues are about fears that all women deal with—body image, broken hearts, being abandoned and being hurt, she says.
"It's not necessarily bad [to still be a virgin], and there are all sorts of reasons why women remain virgins," Dr. Berman says. "Some are because of religious or moral reasons. And some women are virgins at 30 and totally fine with that. But for these two, it wasn't okay."
Shayla says she wants to have sex, but her fear of relationships is holding her back. "I shut men out a lot, but they don't know it. I'm very slick with it," she says. "When they start calling more and want to see me more, [I tell them]: 'Oh, I'm busy. Busy, busy, busy.'"
Dr. Berman discovered that Shayla's intimacy issues began when she was 13 and her mother suddenly died. The two had an extremely close relationship, but Shayla's mother never told her that she had lung cancer. So when she passed away, Shayla says she felt hurt and betrayed that she never got to say goodbye. After a few months of grieving, she says she was "blindsided" when her father started to bring other women around.
Shayla: It made me sick because I thought, "Damn, 20 years of a great marriage that my parents had, and in three or four months, my mother's replaceable?
Dr. Berman: So were you mad at him for replacing her?
Shayla: Oh, mad? There isn't a word for what I felt. Absolutely. I felt like it was a betrayal, because he would express to me he's still in love with my mom but he needs somebody to have sex with him.
Dr. Berman: How old were you when he's saying this to you?
Shayla: Thirteen or 14. He needs somebody to have sex with him. He needs somebody to fill that companionship role. ... And as much as that hurts [me], that is not going to prevent him from doing it.
Dr. Berman: So your dad, who was your best buddy, this great dad, the ideal father, if he can betray your mom, and they had the perfect relationship, what can I count on?
Shayla: Me. That's it.
For Carmen, it's her body issues that are standing in the way. Weighing close to 300 pounds, she says her body feels like a "fat suit" that she can't get out of. Calling her bedroom her "little cave," Carmen says she stays in bed as long as she can so she doesn't have to deal with the outside world.
When she first meets with Dr. Berman, she tells her she'd like to be in a relationship, but she can't accept that anyone would want to be with her. Recently, she says there was a man who seemed interested, but she blew him off because she got scared.
Dr. Berman: What's the worst thing that can happen?
Carmen: The worst thing that can happen is that we get to the point where we're, you know...
Dr. Berman: Where you're what?
Carmen: We're about to have sex basically.
Dr. Berman: Okay.
Carmen: And I'll have to be naked and ... it would just turn him off. Like he would scream, "Oh my God, that's disgusting." Then just kind of leave.
Dr. Berman: Would you feel any worse than you feel now?
Carmen: I think I would. Worst case, yeah, if I grew the nerve to actually get to that point and then someone were to just reject me.
Dr. Berman: So your fear—both of those fears—end up in the same place. Where you're alone.
Dr. Berman: And that seems really scary and sad to you. ... What are you feeling?
Carmen: I just feel hopeless—like it doesn't matter. Like sometimes I think, "Why bother?"
Now that Dr. Berman has talked Carmen and Shayla through their problems, it's time to put them each to work. Shayla has to face her intimacy issues that were brought on by her mother's death and her father's promiscuous behavior. Dr. Berman tells Shayla to write a letter to her each of her parents, who are now both deceased, to tell them about the anger and sadness she still feels toward them. Next, to combat Shayla's constant need to be in control, Dr. Berman prescribes a girls' night out—planned entirely by Shayla's friends.
Lastly, Dr. Berman says Shayla needs to face the physical side of things. Shayla says she can handle a date, but when it comes to sex, she feels lost. Before she can know what to do with a man, Dr. Berman says she needs to figure out what to do to herself. Dr. Berman has one final assignment for Shayla: She tells her to try masturbating.
"You've got to love your vulva if you want anyone else to," Dr. Berman says. "And I know you don't know what a vulva is, but you've got to find out."
Carmen's first assignment is to take control of her health—an issue she has been avoiding for years.
More than 10 years ago, Carmen's size mysteriously climbed from a 10 to an 18 in just nine months. Since she hadn't altered her diet at all at that time, she knew something was wrong. Carmen was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can cause rapid weight gain.
Carmen's hormone levels were outside normal range, and she couldn't keep the weight off. She tried medication, but when she experienced a side effect, she gave up on treatment and never went back to the doctor.
Dr. Berman tells Carmen she's sending her to three different medical specialists—an endocrinologist for her polycystic ovarian syndrome, a nutritionist and a psychiatrist to evaluate her for depression. On top of that, Dr. Berman is sending Carmen to a stylist for a "mini makeover" and is making her get in touch with the guy she blew off.
After tackling her homework from Dr. Berman—plus four blind dates that were also thrown into the mix—Carmen says she's surprised herself.
"This is not something I would have done a month or two or even a year ago, but I am proud of myself," she says. "It's still a work in progress, but I feel better."
Shayla says Dr. Berman's assignments—particularly writing the letters to her parents—were "shockingly helpful." According to Dr. Berman, this is because there were so many things left unsaid for Shayla. By writing the letters and finding some closure with her parents, Shayla was able to break down a wall that stood between her and intimacy.
"The most important people in my life are gone—that is a fact," Shayla says. "I can either choose to deal with it, to process it and to move forward, or I can stay where I was. And I was too afraid to move forward."
Dr. Berman says she has seen huge progress in both Carmen and Shayla. They've each been able to open their hearts and minds, she says.
"The bottom line is for all of us, especially women, is you need to know that everything you want, you can have for yourself," Dr. Berman says. "You don't have to depend on anyone else. If you want to take the reins of your life, you can create the love in your life that you most want."
A few weeks after the show taped, we checked in with Shayla and Carmen to see how they're doing.
Shayla says she's branching out and checking off things on her life to-do list, like learning how to swim and making an effort to meet new people.
Carmen tells us she's feeling good and even has a date lined up! She's heading to a friend's wedding soon, where she will be wearing one of her new dresses...and keeping her eyes peeled for a cute groomsman.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 15, 2014