Going To College As A Virgin? Please Don't Stress. Here's Why
There’s nothing wrong with moving at your own pace.
Ever had a sex or dating question you were too nervous to ask even your BFF? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. In Elite Daily’s monthly Don’t Make It Weird series, our Dating team will unpack an awkward topic to give you the shame-free answers you need.
The first few months of college were some of the horniest of my life. I felt sexual tension everywhere: in lecture rooms, the dining hall, at my first big party where I shot a flirty smile at the person holding the AUX cord. Everyone was wide-eyed, curious, and ready to explore — it was electric. But despite the sexiness of it all, I wasn’t actually having much sex. I was squeamish about hooking up, had debilitating body insecurities, and was totally out of touch with my own sexuality and desires. Turns out, I wasn’t alone.
Despite what anyone might think about horny incoming undergrads, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about going to college without much, or any, sexual experience. Harvard’s student paper, The Crimson, annually surveys its incoming students and found that, within the class of 2022, more than 60% of freshmen reported not having had sex before getting to school for the sixth year in a row. Similarly, a 2015 survey from The Cut polled undergraduates and found 40% identified as virgins. And the Online College Social Life Survey of more than 24,000 students at campuses across the U.S. found that 20% graduate without having sex.
If trends among Gen Zers are any indication, these numbers aren’t going down any time soon. Though considered more sexually fluid than any generation before them, Gen Z is eschewing the hypersexualized hook-up culture embraced by millennials. Take GQ’s July 2021 report on “puriteens” — a term that first emerged on Twitter to describe young people who have little to no interest in casual sex.
“[My generation] is characterized as being exceptionally concerned with trauma and consent, almost to the point of being prudish,” 23-year-old Luna told GQ. Jo, also 23, told the magazine, “...we see [casual sex] as objectifying, pointless, and not worth the effort.” Unlike millennials, this generation came of age as the #MeToo movement exploded in popularity, leading to a public reckoning about sex, harassment, and abuse. The national conversation around consent might have pushed people to more deeply examine what they really want from their sexual encounters — and conclude that some just aren’t that tempting.
But in spite of this evolving relationship to sex and sexuality, many still think that going to college a virgin is embarrassing. Luke Thao, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (LMFTA) with the PNW Sex Therapy Collective, and Kristen Lilla, certified sex therapist, both say this is a consequence of a persistent cultural preoccupation with penetrative sex.
“The focus on virginity is rooted in patriarchal society and our obsession with sex,” Lilla tells Elite Daily. “Sometimes people feel like there is something ‘wrong’ with them because of their lack of sexual experience and they worry no one will date them because of this. But I’ve met so many clients who have felt this way. We talk about having sex so much in our society, but not about people who have not had sex either by choice or lack of opportunity.”
It’s not unusual to feel insecure about a lack of sexual history. But those worries are, as Lilla says, likely rooted in centuries-old values that exist today only to perpetuate stigma and shame. The construct of virginity is powerful, and it dates back a long time. “Virginity is a Biblical term (the Virgin Mary) and is rooted in patriarchy,” she says. “Virginity was created as a way to preserve sex for marriage.”
There is a lot of peer pressure, shame, and harm associated with these concepts, and all parties lose.
The construct of virginity has different consequences for women and those socialized as female than it does for men and those socialized as male. “For those with vaginas, emphasis is placed on ‘losing’ or ‘giving’ away their virginity, and [they] are considered ‘sl*ts’ if they have sex too young or with too many people. In some religions or cultures, women who have had sex before marriage (including being raped) are considered ‘damaged goods’ and are no longer eligible for marriage,” Lilla says. “People with penises ‘take’ away someone’s virginity and are praised for having sex, although may feel ashamed or embarrassed if they do not have sex. There is a lot of peer pressure, shame, and harm associated [with] these concepts, and all parties lose.”
This stigma is the reason many people with vaginas might feel shame about having sex before marriage. Nowadays, an equal burden of shame is shared by people who haven’t had sex — by a certain age, by the time they go off to college, or by any other arbitrary checkpoint they define for themselves. But little sexual experience doesn’t indicate a “lack” of something, be it confidence, maturity, or desirability. Feelings about sex are complicated, and people wait to have sex for all sorts of reasons. Whatever your concerns may be, they’re valid.
Besides, penetration of a vagina by a penis is just one way to have sex — it can be so much more than that. “When I talk to clients about sex, I will say, ‘Sex, however you define that,’ and then offer other examples, including oral sex, anal sex, and digital penetration,” says Lilla. “These are just examples, and ultimately, it is up to the client to define. Our narrow-minded definition of sex is problematic to the LGBTQA+ community, those who experience pain with penetration, and those who experience pleasure in other ways.” And ultimately, all of these types of sex are just things people can do with their bodies if and when they want to. Sex doesn't have to be a big milestone because it bears no reflection on all of the other wonderful qualities a person can have.
Thao agrees that a single-minded fixation on how much or how little sex someone has had only leads to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. “Emphasizing sexual experience, or lack thereof, often warps our perception of one’s value and/or desirability as a sexual partner,” Thao says. It doesn’t matter how many intimate encounters you’ve had, or if you’ve had any at all. You can define sex for yourself, on your own or with your partner[s]. Whether you’re walking onto campus an accomplished dominatrix or someone with no desire to have sex any time soon, you’re doing it right. Be yourself and the experiences will follow.
Kristen Lilla, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator
Luke Thao, MA, LMFTA (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate)