Sex Life of the American Male

How new technology, new mores, and current events impact male sexuality.

Involuntary Sexual Virgins: The Latest Research

Indicators of involuntary virginity appear early in life

The majority of people engages in some form of shared sexual activity during their youth. A 2006 study, for example, estimated the percentages of young adults between the ages of 18 and 27 who were virgins. It found that about 8 percent of its sample fit into this category. The researchers concluded, "Premarital sexual activity [is] the almost universal sexual trajectory into young adulthood."

Who are these virgins? The 2006 study indicated some clues, including being younger, non-Black, not advanced in physical maturity relative to peers in adolescence, having higher body mass indexes, being more religious, and perceiving parental disapproval of sex during adolescence. However, as a therapist treating males with sexual concerns, it is not rare that I encounter men in their twenties, thirties, and forties who have never had sexual contact with another person. Certainly, all want to, and sometimes desperately. Also, ethnicity and race, religiosity, parental expectations, even weight, can no longer be blamed as impediments. The popularity of the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin depicts the titular character as a basically likable guy with bad luck. Is this then the reason for virginity into mid-life and later?

An intriguing 2011 study by Marie-Aude Boislard, François Poulin, and Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck offer more tantalizing clues. The researcher found that there is no singular route to adulthood virginity. While media attention has focused on young people purposefully choosing sexual abstinence, others seem to remain a virgin due to a lack of choice. And indeed this is an accurate description of the men that I have worked with. The study found that, during late childhood, individuals who matured into involuntary virgins were: more victimized and ridiculed by peers as children, socially withdrawn (preferred to play alone), and also less liked and accepted by their peers.

Does this mean the childhood mistreatment by peers can predispose one to involuntary virginity? Or are personal characteristics leading to involuntary virginity already impacting peer relationships during childhood? According to Boislard, "Our study suggests that a proportion of adult virgins have been on a life-long trajectory of low integration and unpopularity among peers. This seems to extend to a lack of sexual opportunities in emerging adulthood, but more research in the area is needed to draw conclusions." It doesn't seem, however, that the image depicted in films is necessarily reflective of reality; delayed virginity isn't merely the result of bad luck and missed opportunities.

References:
1. Boislard, M.A., Poulin, F. & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2011, March). Childhood predictors of adulthood virginity: A 10-year prospective study. Poster session presented at the Eastern & Midcontinent Joint Region Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Philadelphia, PA.

2. Tucker Halpern, C., Waller, M.W., Spriggs, A., & Hallfors, D.D. (2006). Adolescent predictors of emerging adult sexual patterns [Electronic version]. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(6), 926.e1 - 926.e10.

Michael Shelton is a writer, therapist, and educator focused on male sex and sexuality issues.

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