When I was ten, I arbitrarily decided I wanted to save my virginity for marriage. Yet, by the time I hit high school, I had effectively abandoned that plan and was ready to trade in my virginity at the first opportunity. To my great relief, I was able to trade in my V-card well before my graduation day deadline. When I got to college, however, I was shocked to discover that not only were plenty of my peers living my greatest fear—going to college without having done the deed—but they appeared to be doing so while leading happy, fulfilling lives.
It turns out, there are plenty of college-aged and even recently graduated young adults who have yet to have had sex, with “New York Magazine” even calling the estimated 20 to 40 percent of college students who are choosing to save their virginity a “silent almost-majority.”
Of course, most modern sex-positive rhetoric condemns the idea of virginity at all, finding it a generally harmful and ultimately meaningless social construct. As usual, society hasn’t quite caught up with the most progressive line of thinking when it comes to the matter, and while social notions of virginity have a long history of promoting slut-shaming, the V-card has become a double-edged sword in recent decades. Perhaps still best explained, like most matters of the teenage heart, by John Hughes: “If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut.”
In an attempt to atone for my own regrettable virgin-shaming tendencies, I reached out to a few college virgins to learn more about the lifestyle I spent most of high school fearing. It turns out, they’re just like the rest of us.
Don’t You Need Experience to Get Experience?
One of my biggest concerns about my virginity was the idea that there was only a small window of time in which it would be acceptable to be inexperienced, and that window was rapidly closing. It felt a lot like applying to my first job in high school. I had no experience, and had to hand over an all-but-blank resume to an employer, hoping for the best. Sure, that may have been okay at fifteen; everyone has to start somewhere. But once you reach a certain age, potential employers—and sex partners—are going to expect you to have some experience.
Rachel, one of the so-called “almost majority,” expressed a similar anxiety: “All throughout high school, she held out, stopping sexual encounters just short of intercourse, with the idea that sex in college would be better, more mature and evolved. Then she got to college and realized that the expectation was that she would have had sex already.” This repeatedly surfaced as a main concern among my respondents as well, both male and female. One participant, a twenty-year-old woman, acknowledges anxiety that “the longer I wait, the greater the chance that future partners will get frustrated or view me as less desirable.” Another respondent, a nineteen-year-old male, admits that his biggest concern is being viewed as “unappealing” to more experienced partners.
Despite these fears, however, these students don’t seem to feel any need to lie on their resume. Respondents generally agree that their virginity is not something they feel any need to actively keep secret from friends or potential partners. Most participants report that their friends are aware of their virgin status, and none of the respondents give any indication that they would attempt to hide it from a partner. “I tell them when we start to get intimate,” says one student, while another reports having “no issue disclosing it.”
What Are You Waiting For?
Asked what the biggest misconceptions about college virgins are, most respondents list predictable stereotypes. One reports a “misconception that they’re socially awkward” as the most troubling, while another is most irked by the religious connotations of virginity, citing the beliefs that “Virgins are saving themselves for marriage, are prudes or super religious” as chief among the annoying misunderstandings from the de-virginized.
So if these students haven’t hung onto their V-cards for any of the cliché reasons, what exactly are they waiting for? “A serious relationship,” was the more or less universal reply. One respondent specifies additionally that marriage must be at least on the table: “I would need to confirm that the partner sees marriage in the future,” he says. The respondent goes on to confirm that the decision has nothing to do with religion, upbringing or reruns of “7th Heaven,” but rather, a “moral policy about waiting for the ‘right’ one.”
The “Right” One
Interestingly, quotes on “‘right’ one” aren’t mine, but the respondent’s himself.
As “New York Magazine” ultimately concludes, “Sex isn’t mystical or transcendent. It’s just something normal.” So maybe, as that respondent seems to suggest through subtle punctuation, there isn’t any “right” one. But ultimately, if you feel like waiting around for them anyway, you’re not missing much.
While modern ideas of sexual liberation most readily call to mind sexual freedom and promiscuity, respecting abstinence is just as important to a truly sex-positive mentality. As Rachel Hills writes in “The Sex Myth,” “Sexual liberation should be the idea that people can have sex, or not have sex, in whatever ways they like.” Speaking of having (and not having) sex in different ways, most respondents indicate that their sex lives are far from barren, despite their virgin status. One respondent reports engaging in oral sex, while another vaguely confirms that his history includes “most other intimate activities.”
Personally, I’ve always thought the line where people draw virginity is a pretty arbitrary one. You’ve had genitals in one orifice, you’ve had them in every orifice. But, hey, whether you’ve had someone’s genitals in just any orifice or THE orifice, the important thing is, it is nobody’s goddamn business. Unless, of course, someone asks you to fill out an anonymous survey about it for a magazine article.