According to a recent survey by Indiana University, percentages of individuals partaking in various forms of sexual activity peak between the ages of 18 and 39 with the sharpest increase occurring between the 16-17 and 18-19 age groups. While not all individuals surveyed attend college, the data shows that sexual experiences increase in individuals around the time most students enter college.
Despite these numbers, there are a number of individuals who identify as virgins.
Sophomore Stephanie Hawes identifies as a virgin and explained that she does not feel negatively influenced by any sexual stigmas.
“I don’t think it’s a negative thing to be a virgin. It hasn’t made me be upset to have not been in a sexually romantic relationship,” she said. “I feel perfectly healthy as is, and I don’t think I’m missing out on anything by being a virgin.”
For Hawes, not having sex is not a religious choice, as it may be for many who choose to abstain from sexual activity. Instead, she remarked that she has not yet been in a situation where she could have had sex or has wanted to engage in sexual activity with another person.
“I’ve never had sex and would be leaning more towards the side of abstaining. Also, I’m very terrified of being pregnant. I’m not waiting for marriage, though. Significant other-wise, I don’t know what the future holds for me,” Hawes said.
Hawes identifies as bisexual, which complicates what it would mean for her to lose her virginity.
“I was taught about virginity from the heterosexual standpoint,” she said. “The [bisexual] viewpoint didn’t occur to me until sophomore, junior year of high school when I realized I was bi.”
Despite her own views on sex, Hawes does not look down upon others who are sexually active.
“I’m actually glad the viewpoint is shifting toward ‘It’s your body and you can choose to do what you want as long as you’re safe,’” she said.
Virginity has become a much more loosely used term in recent years.
Senior Victoria Klimaj, who is currently conducting senior research in sexual psychophysiology, explained the ambiguity of virginity as a term.
“Personally, I see a disconnect between how I approach it for myself and other people in general,” she said. “It’s up to self-definition because different people have different meanings and associations, sex acts and different ways of expressing their sexuality … for myself, I would consider the traditional definition of vaginal intercourse to be pretty representative to what a loss of virginity is, but I don’t think that applies to all people.”
According to Klimaj, sexual orientation factors into the definition of virginity. A change in one’s sexual orientation can complicate whether one identifies as a virgin or not. A female may have engaged in vaginal intercourse, for example, but then later in life identify as lesbian. This person may choose to consider oral sex with another female as a signifying a loss of virginity.
Klimaj explained that the intensity of a sexual experience can factor into what an individual signifies as a loss of virginity. Some individuals can see virginity as more of a “gradient” where they might see the loss of virginity as having taken place over a period of time.
She also remarked on social perceptions of virginity in the college environment.
“I think there’s a little more stigma to being a virgin rather than not … the stigma assumes that our culture holds virginity as a sort of ideal, but then in our age group … it’s seen as a little stranger and may be more stigmatized,” Klimaj said.
On the subject of sexual health and safety, Klimaj said sexual activity can be healthier for one person, while no sex could be healthier for another at a particular point in their life.
“If someone’s abstaining but they have some deep shame and guilt about sexuality, feelings that they’re not thinking about, feelings that are making their abstinence associated with suppressing normal desires, that’s unhealthy. But if someone’s being abstinent and that’s the choice they made or they just don’t want to be sexually active and it’s not associated with any turmoil or negative associations, then I think it’s perfectly healthy. Same thing with sexual activity: I think there are many who approach it in ways that are healthy and unhealthy,” she said. “It does have an effect on people’s lives in certain ways. Risky sexual behavior can be good for one person and detrimental to another.”
Additionally, Klimaj discussed how sexual activity can affect a person’s life in general.
“It seems like the implications of behaviors aren’t as considered in sexuality research. It’s hard to make claims on what’s behind behaviors. I think that should be considered. I think there are ways that people have sex that are beneficial to them personally or relationally,” she said. “A person’s experiences will affect their future thoughts and behavior patterns.”
Overall, Klimaj feels that virginity is only a small part of how sex fits into a person’s life — something individuals “can get too hung up on.”
“We’re so focused on this word rather than how sexuality influences people’s lives,” Klimaj said.