The 'V' Word
The choice to abstain in an over-sexualized college culture
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 00:02
College students have sex. Older generations shake their finger at hookup culture while students themselves grapple to make sense of it all. Maybe they’re looking for love, connection, pleasure or some combination of the three, or maybe they’re looking for nothing at all.
Yet, for all the think pieces that focus on sex at college, most of them leave out an important demographic: virgins. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 61 percent of American 18-year-olds have had sex, and while that may be the number people focus on most, there’s another 39 percent of that group that are virgins. By age 20, the number of people who have had sex goes up to about 72 percent, leaving a quarter of that age group sexually inexperienced. There is no major difference between the numbers for men and women.
Within that population, there’s a lot of diversity. There are those who abstain for religious or moral reasons. There are those who haven’t found the right person. There are students for whom it’s simply not a priority, and there are those who have tried to lose it — with little success.
With sex such a frequent topic among college students — and, in some cases, a point of pride — it’s obvious why some who fall into the minority category might feel anxious about their virgin status. A quick Google search shows thousands of articles about the topic, ranging from adults recounting their own experiences as collegiate virgins to current undergrads explaining why retaining their V-card makes them uncomfortable. The website College Crush calls it “The Burden of Being a Virgin.”
Kate (COL ’16)* identifies as a virgin, and, while she admits that her inexperience may keep her from taking risks, she doesn’t consider it a “burden.” She hasn’t had sex yet mostly because she hasn’t found someone she wants to lose her virginity to.
“The option hasn’t presented itself. I would have to get to a very comfortable state before even considering it,” she said. Kate doesn’t see herself having sex before she’s in a long-term, committed relationship, which she has yet to find at Georgetown.
Kate isn’t sure how her sexual inexperience compares with her friends’ lives, partially because the phrase “hook up” can have so many meanings. To different people at different times, it can mean making out, oral sex or sexual intercourse. Some of Kate’s friends use the term interchangeably, making it difficult to distinguish the implications.
“You never really know what a person’s perspective is on [casual sex] because you don’t know what their definition is,” she said. “People talk about [their hookups] all the time. … What did you actually do, and what does that mean to you?”
Kate personally has no interest in the hookup scene, in any sense of the word.
“I don’t think I would ever meet a stranger and have sex with them, not at this point,” she said. And while her friends often make out with boys they meet at parties, she’s not comfortable doing that with someone she just met.
For those in the LGBTQ community at Georgetown, the matter of remaining a virgin is further complicated by certain expectations and stereotypes.
Aaron* (SFS ’16), like Kate, also wants to wait until he trusts his partner completely before he has sex. That means that, although he has been in three relationships, he has remained a virgin.
“I don’t do anything [sexual] unless I’m in a relationship with someone because I personally like that emotional connection. I think it just heightens it,” he said. “I need to trust this person completely before I can make that jump to sex.”
“There definitely is a big pressure to have lots of sex in the gay community,” he said. “I’ve had three long relationships, and so a lot of people think that within a couple weeks you’re having sex.” Aaron felt that pressure to hook up soon after arriving on campus.
“When I got to college, you go to the first Pride party or you go to Town [Danceboutique, a gay bar] and it’s all hooking up,” he said. “Someone told me if you talk to a guy for more than 10 minutes, you’re supposed to go home with him.”
Once Aaron made it clear he was not interested in hooking up, he quickly found himself labelled a “prude” and “bitch.” He thinks part of the problem is the way newly out members are brought into the community. More experienced gay men immediately want to hook up with these men, in order to “show [them] what being gay is.”
“What it creates is [that] all these people coming out, they only associate being gay with sex and not the romantic aspects of it and not the community aspects of it,” he said. Aaron believes that because so many newly-out gay men associate the community solely with sex, they don’t realize that they have the choice to opt out of that culture — partially because not having sex is rarely discussed.
“You don’t talk about [virginity] as much,” he said. “I’ve had to pretend I’ve had sex for some people because people just assume [I have], and I don’t want to go into it with strangers.”
Giovanna Kimberly (COL ’16) sees sex as something other than a collegiate bucket list item. She plans to remain a virgin because she wants to be in a trusting relationship, and for her, this means abstaining from sex until marriage.