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Has Virginity Lost Its Virtue?

If you want to be desirable to romantic partners, get some sexual experience.

A topic of concern to many of us, especially adolescents and young adults of all sexualities—is the merits and drawbacks of virginity. Gesselman and associates (2017) recently explored this issue, but only with heterosexuals, in three studies across diverse populations. Given that sexual-minority participants might have different attitudes and value systems, they were excluded.

The basic premise of the research was that with changing attitudes in recent times regarding premarital sex, being a virgin when pursuing a romantic relationship might not be perceived as a plus by a potential partner. Indeed, being a virgin might have lost its desirable status. We know from previous research that being developmentally “off-time” is frequently not a good thing. Thus, if you are a virgin when most of your peers are not might stigmatize you, both to yourself and a potential partner. You might well consider your virginity to be a negative factor in your attractiveness to prospective sexual and romantic partners.

What the authors found might surprise traditionalists and sexual conservatives.

Virginity Is a Disadvantage

The authors reported:

1. Sexually inexperienced adults more likely perceive themselves to be stigmatized because of their virginity. They see themselves as less attractive than those with more sexual encounters.

2. Virgins may not be desired as romantic partners, even by those who themselves are sexually inexperienced.

3. A new social sexual script in our culture has largely abandoned virginity as a virtue. Indeed, having “no” sexual experience may be just as stigmatizing as having “too much” sexual experience.

Young Adults

In particular, young adults reported that sexual inexperience is detrimental to finding relationship opportunities. This might well reflect “cultural changes in the value of sexuality, where young adults today place greater emphasis on sexual engagement and ability in their partners than did those in past generations.” Millennials might well value engaging a partner who is sexually experienced rather than chaste as it might well result in less awkwardness and more fun.

Sex Differences

Perhaps surprisingly, men were less interested than women in having a virginal partner. It went both ways. Traditionally, a man demanded that his romantic partner practice chastity prior to him (for reasons I won’t elaborate here)—but that may be declining. Traditionally, a woman wanted her romantic partner to be more experienced so as to be a better lover and teacher—but that may be declining.

Final Thoughts

One final thought from the authors: “Although abstaining from sexual activity may bestow some health advantages, our studies show that being a sexual ‘late bloomer’ may result in negative interpersonal consequences such as limited opportunities for romantic relationships.” This is not good.

Obviously, this research does not advocate to youth to “go out there and have as much sex as possible if you want to find romance.” It does, however, prick our assumptions that virginity is as highly prized among our youth as it was for us older adults and that traditional gender roles are the rule of the land. Youth might well be leading us to a new notion of the meaning and significance of sexual activity and that “to be a man/woman” is drastically changing.

However, if youth adhere to a more traditional value system, they might only want to be with those who also hold to a premarital virginity status. In such circumstances, it might not be a good idea to have premarital sex.

References

Gesselman, A. N., Webster, G. D., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). Has virginity lost its virtue? Relationship stigma associated with being a sexually inexperienced adult. Journal of Sex Research, 54, 202-213. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1080/00224499.2016.11440…

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