Research review: Feelings about losing your virginity

Different people view loss of virginity differently (istock:Yuri)

Different people view loss of virginity differently (istock:Yuri)

In our culture, there are many emotional, social and psychological connotations surrounding loss of virginity and these are heavily influenced by gender.  Losing your virginity is a personal emotional milestone. There’s been very little formal research about how people feel about losing their virginity. Here’s an overview of two studies that extend our knowledge about how people feel about losing their virginity.

Laura Carpenter, Ph.D., (2002) conducted in depth interviews with a small group of men and women, 61 participants in all, aged 18 – 35 about their personal feelings about what it meant to be a virgin and what virginity loss meant.

Terry P. Humphries (2013) expanded on Dr. Carpenter’s study by interpreting her data quantitatively (statistically) in order to expand our understanding of human sexuality.  Ms. Humphries found interesting patterns in the statistics about the research participants.

 Virginity as gift, stigma or process

Three major themes emerged from Dr. Carpenter’s interviews. The participants understood virginity to be a gift, a stigma or a process (Carpenter, 2002).  These themes are shaped by dominant social attitudes which deeply influence people on intimate physical, psychological and emotional levels. These themes reflect how individuals define and understand their sexual identities.

 

Virginity as Gift Theme Characteristics

Individuals who view virginity as a gift are comfortable, and likely, proud of being a virgin on both personal and social levels. The person who views virginity as a gift needs to find a partner who feels the same way, who respects and understands the value of the gift and ideally, can reciprocate with his or her virginity as well. And the sharing of the gift of virginity must be special (Carpenter, 2002).

About 40% of the participants of the study characterized themselves as viewing virginity as a gift. More women than men characterized themselves as viewing virginity as a gift. The average age for a gift-oriented individual to lose virginity was 16.70   People in this category said they had feelings of intimacy love and commitment associated with losing their virginity, and generally said they were in love with their partners. Men in this group were more positive about their first act of intercourse than women of this group. Gift oriented individuals were more likely to have a partner older than their own age. There was a high use of contraceptives in all groups. People in this category felt the loss of their virginity was special event in their lives that had a great impact on their subsequent lives (Humphries, 2013).

 

Virginity as Stigma Theme Characteristics

Individuals who view virginity as a stigma are not proud of their status on a personal or social level. They actively try to hide the fact that they are virgins.  They see virginity as a burden and are actively looking for an appropriate way/time/person to lose their virginity with. The person with who to partner with during the loss of virginity need not be a special life partner (Carpenter, 2002).

Only about 10% of the sample characterized themselves in this category (Humphries, 2013). More men than women characterized themselves as viewing virginity as a stigma.   The average age for a stigma-oriented individual to lose virginity was 16.94. People in this category said that they experienced feelings of relief around the event of losing their virginity and didn’t characterize it as having a big impact on their subsequent lives. Men in this group were more positive about their first act of intercourse than women of this group. Stigma oriented individuals were more likely to have a partner older than their own age. There was a high use of contraceptives in all groups (Humphries, 2013).

Virginity as Process Theme Characteristics

Individuals who view virginity as a process view losing their virginity as a developmental life transition; a normal stage of life in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Process oriented individuals view losing their virginity as a normal rite of passage, where learning more about sexuality is a normal part of life which expands the definition and knowledge of the self and others (Carpenter, 2002).

The greatest number of individuals in the study identified themselves as viewing sexual awakening as a normal developmental process, over 50%.  An equal number of men and women viewed the loss of virginity as a process event. The average age for a gift-oriented individual to lose virginity was 15.99. Less people in this category said they had feelings of intimacy love and commitment associated with losing their virginity, and generally said they were in love with their partners than in the gift oriented group. Men in this group were more positive about their first act of intercourse than women of this group. Process oriented individuals were more likely to have a partner closer to their own age. There was a high use of contraceptives in all groups.

Not surprisingly, the gender differences reflected the dominant social constructs surrounding gender and sexuality whereas women are expected to be protective of their sexuality and men are expected to be experienced and knowledgeable about sexuality. Interestingly, contraceptive use was high for all participants (Humphries, 2013).

 

These studies help shed light on what are the dominant societal sexual scripts that become personally internalized in individuals and then influence decision making about sexuality.

 

References

Carpenter, L, (2002). Carpenter, L. M. (2002). Gender and the meaning and experience of virginity loss in the contemporary United States. Gender &Society,16, 345–365. doi: 10.1177

Humphreys, T. P. (2013). Cognitive Frameworks of Virginity and First Intercourse. Journal of Sex Research, 50(7), 664-675. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.677868

 

 

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