If you're a college student and consider yourself a virgin you might be curious about how many of your fellow students are also virgins. Depending on where you go to school and where you grew up, you probably have an impression of what everyone else's sex life (or lack of sex life) is like. You might imagine that everyone has had sex except you. Or you might go to a school or live in a community where not having sex is prized, and the understanding is that no one has sex until a certain age or a certain point in their life.
Whatever you think you know about other people's sex lives, you're probably wrong. I don't say that to suggest you aren't smart or that you're unaware, it's just that we're told so many lies about sex and most of us live with some degree of sexual shame that honest sharing about our sexual lives isn't something most of us do with each other. As a result we all tend to have a pretty skewed idea of other people's sex lives.
This question about virginity is one that sex educators who work on university and college campuses get asked a lot, and given the way that mainstream society values ideas of normal sexuality it's understandable that you want an idea of where you fit in.
But estimating how many college students are virgins at any given college at any given time is a challenging task.
For starters, when you're in college things can change, quickly. For many people the experience of leaving home for college and the years that follow are a time of huge transition and fast paced change. It may be your first time away from family and friends. It might be the first time other people, strangers, treat you as an autonomous adult. It's a time to try things out. New ideas, new identities, new ways of being in the world with others. And just as quickly as you pick something up you might drop it when it feels off. All this change means that people who call themselves virgins one day might not the next. So when researchers start asking people in college about their sexual activities the answer may only reflect the reality that day.
And there is a much bigger problem that anyone answering this question should address. What exactly defines virginity? If you're curious about college-age virgins do you mean people who haven't yet had vaginal intercourse? Does oral sex count? What about serious make out sessions? Or masturbation? In order to count the virgins you need to describe them first. And you should know that across time and across communities and cultures, the definitions do change.
There's a lesser problem but one worth noting. Which is how do you define "college age"? People of all ages go to college and if you're reading this in your dorm room and it's your first year of college the fact is that the students in your year range in ages, probably from as young as 16 or 17 up to folks in their 30s and 40s. So you've got to define virginity and you've got to specify an age.
Of course lots of researchers have done just that. In North America there are hundreds of studies considering the sexual behaviors of college age people. Most of the time when researchers are asking about virginity they mean age of first vaginal intercourse. Older research didn't always specify this definition of virginity but studies today almost always do. Of course by using vaginal intercourse as the measure of someone who is no longer a virgin, researchers leave out all the people whose sex lives don't ever include vaginal intercourse. This is the case for much of the sex research that's done and it should be remembered since the data ends up being used to describe all of us, when really it only describes some of us.
Every study comes up with slightly different numbers, but a recent large scale study using a nationally representative sample of just under 14,000 US adolescents found that by the age of 18:
- 75% of people reported having had vaginal intercourse
- 67% had engaged in oral sex
- 11% had engaged in anal intercourse
A much smaller study which also used a nationally representative sample reported the following
- 31% of 16-17 year olds reported having vaginal intercourse
- 63% of 18-19 year olds reported having vaginal intercourse
A recent report from the CDC in 2012 included these findings, which only relate to sexual activities with someone of the "opposite sex":
- 46% of women and 44% of men 15-19 years-old report never engaging in any kind of sexual contact.
- 10% of women and 13% of men 20-24 years report not having had any kind of sexual contact.
So what does any of this mean to you? Well if you consider yourself a virgin, you aren't alone, that's for sure. If you really care about statistics then it's probably safe to say that more than half of the people around you have had sex. But of course it depends a lot on who you hang around with. There are enough people who at the age of 17 or 18 still haven't engaged in lots of sexual behaviors that you wouldn't have to work to hard to find yourself in a room with lots of people we might call virgins.
It also, hopefully, means that you won't let numbers or social pressure be your sole guide in making sexual decisions. Invariably they do have an impact, after all we live in the world with other people and we can't help but be influenced by them. If you're still curious about virginity as a concept or your own sexual status and what to do about it I highly recommend checking out some of Heather Corinna's articles on the subject. You can start with Magical Cups & Bloody Brides: Virginity in Context. Happy reading!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Prevalence and Timing of Oral Sex with Opposite-sex Partners Among Females and Males Aged 15 - 24 Years: United States, 2007-2010". National Health Statistics Reports No. 56, August 16, 2012. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Halpern, C.T. and Haydon, A.A. "Sexual Timetables for Oral-Genital, Vaginal, and Anal Intercourse: Sociodemographic Comparisons in a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents" American Journal of Public Health Vol. 102, No. 6 (2012): 1221 - 1228.