Virtue and Vice: Changing Attitudes Toward Virginity
Despite modern notions to the contrary, losing your virginity is a big deal. Many people consider it just another stepping stone on the way to adulthood, as something that must be endured rather than a monumental decision with grave emotional consequences. And while most of us can admit that sex the first time is not the most enjoyable experience in the world, it turns out there may be much more importance attached to this occasion than previously thought.
Your First Time
Researchers at the Universities of Tennessee and Mississippi asked a group of undergraduate students – 206 women and 113 men – questions about when and how they lost their virginity. How content were they? To what degree did they regret it? To characterize these experiences, the undergrads used the words “anxiety,” “negativity,” “connection” and “afterglow.”
They then asked the students to rate their current sex lives in terms of sense of control, satisfaction, and general well-being. For the next two weeks, participants kept sex diaries describing and rating all of their “sexual interactions” (any encounter in which the purpose was sexual arousal).
Based on the study’s results, researchers determined that positive first-time experiences reliably predicted physical and emotional satisfaction in later sexual interactions. Those who had more positive initiations into sex rated higher for sexual satisfaction and esteem later on. Anxiety and negativity experienced when losing one’s virginity was associated with lower overall sexual functioning.
“These results suggest that one’s first-time sexual experience is more than just a milestone in development,” wrote the study’s authors. “Rather, it appears to have implications for their sexual well-being years later.”
Yielding similar findings, researchers from the University of Texas found in 2012 that people who lose their virginity later than their teenage years are more likely to enjoy satisfying relationships later in life. In a landmark study, they determined people who didn’t have sex until they turned 20 or later are more likely to end up in a happy relationship. Moreover, these people are less likely to be married and more likely to have university educations and work in well-paid jobs.
Virtue and Vice
Researchers are just beginning to investigate the impact of virginity on future life happiness. One question they often ask is if study subjects perceive virginity as a gift or as a nagging title that needs to be discarded. How participants answer this question often determines when and how they will lose their virginity.
For instance, those who perceive virginity as a gift want to have complete control over its distribution and the recipient. They also typically expect a gift in return – either the other’s virginity or more commitment to the relationship. Those who think of virginity as more of a gift are more emotionally tied to the idea of losing it and, as such, often wait to select a partner they deem worthy.
On the other hand, those who wish to discard their title of virgin are less inclined to consider virginity as a virtue. They view its loss as just a process in life, thus mitigating the emotional attachment of intercourse. As a result, people with this belief often begin having sex at a younger age.
Today, it appears that more young adults are hanging onto their virginity, likely because of their views on the subject. A 2011 study by Paula England of Stanford University found that 24 percent of college seniors claim to be virgins. This may sound like a small number, obviously the minority, but it’s significant nonetheless. In 2008, this statistic was at just 13 percent, revealing a dramatic change in college students’ behavior over merely three years. Virginity may just become the new “cool,” perhaps giving way to more fulfilling relationships in the future.