The discourse on gender and sexual identity is an evolving one in the field of psychology. The ever-growing acronym from LGBT to LGBTQIA attempts to encompass and welcome those from all orientations, preferences, and walks of life. Recently, the idea of asexuality has piqued the curiosity of many. “You mean, people not interested in sex??” is the big question on people’s minds. And yet, there is finally a growing trend toward acceptance and embracing this as a sexual orientation openly. However, surprisingly, in contemporary U.S. society, there still exists quite a bit of social stigma around a concept not too far removed from asexuality—virginity.
While the average age adolescents lose their virginity in the U.S. is around 17, there is still a portion of the population that abstain from sex until marriage. Their rationales, cultures, religious beliefs, and backgrounds surprisingly are quite diverse. According to one statistic, the percentage of U.S. adults who wait until marriage to have sex is at about 3% which translates to approximately 10,000,000 individuals. The population of Americans who identify as LGBT is roughly 3.8%. Compare this with the roughly 1% of individuals who identify as asexual.
While a common misconception is that waiting until marriage is an artifact of highly religious conservative communities (e.g., virginity pledges, rings, etc.), the rationales of these individuals can vary. And the issue can be highly contested. Compare for instance, this article from the Huffington Post of 5 reasons to have sex before marriage versus an article on 7 reasons atheists wait until marriage. Celebrity virginity stories though rare also seem to make a splash. There are lists of top celebrities who waited until their “I dos,” with perhaps one of the biggest shockers coming from Victoria’s Secret lingerie model and sex symbol Adriana Lima remaining a virgin until her marriage at age 27.
Interestingly, among some sex therapists virginity can be seen as problematic, particularly when viewed as shameful or isolating. For older men remaining a virgin can be seen as a major problem. Take for instance, the comedy The Forty Year-Old Virgin, making fun of a man’s lack of doing the deed at such an age. This attitude prevails in society, as many young men and women feel a need or pressure to lose their virginity to appear more “normal.”
However, research suggests that for those who wait, a better and more satisfying marriage and sex life await. An article published in the Journal of Family Psychology by Dean Busby and colleagues (2011) found that even after controlling for religion, those who delayed sex until after marriage: rated sexual quality 15% higher than people who had premarital sex; rated relationship stability as 22% higher; rated satisfaction with their relationships 20% higher. While some claim the study must be biased coming from a religiously-affiliated university, its results support some largely common sense conclusions. In explaining the results, sociologist Mark Regnerus stated, “Couples who hit the honeymoon too early —that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship—often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy.”
So the question then stands, what is so wrong with waiting until marriage? When a fair number of individuals abstain from sex until matrimony, the research shows it can lead to better relationships, and even some celebrities claim they want to be “born again virgins,” why is it still so highly stigmatized and politicized? A choice to wait, is a choice to wait.
Whether one is Catholic, atheist, of an ethnic background where this is the norm, or simply a hopeless romantic waiting for “the one,” it seems this one is a choice too often under-represented in mainstream media. Instead, we are bombarded with images of one-night stands and steamy hotel room trysts. And even when it is portrayed in the media, we still don’t get it right. Take the episode of the new television show Super Fun Night where Kimmie meets a man in a hotel room for what is about to be her first time. He is surprised she’s never been intimate with someone before. But as the audience, we know how she is painted. Nerdy, full-figured, and a little awkward. Clearly what every virgin looks like.
Will virginity lose its taboo reputation? Or will it continue to be polarized with the only choices seemingly being absistence only models shoved down adolescents' throats or free-for-all orgies? Perhaps it can find a healthy middle ground free of judgment or raised eyebrows. Even better maybe a supportive dialogue can open up for those who live their lives this way in the spirit of sexual inclusion and diversity.