Virgins are now stigmatised for their lack of experience and premarital sex is the norm, according to a study conducted by Indiana University's Kinsey Institute.
“We’ve really seen this generational shift where people are becoming more sex-positive as a culture,” says study co-author Amanda Gesselman.
Associate Professor Kane Race, chair of gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, says that cultural changes to sexuality such as using the contraceptive pill have been underway for generations.
He believes that gender plays an important role. “Prior to this time, notions of virginity indicated a woman’s value and respectability and purity before marriage,” he says.
“These seem like fairly antiquated notions in today’s more egalitarian climate – few people expect women to abstain from sex until marriage. Sex is more likely to be understood in terms of experience, ability, and developing emotional maturity.” It's also not restricted to marriage with the same moral force.
Young people from more conservative cultural backgrounds may experience a clash of values.
Study participants – all heterosexual - indicated that they may be less likely to consider sexually inexperienced adults as committed relationship partners, regardless of their level of experience.
“Especially when it comes to questions of partnering or settling down, sexual inexperience may indicate that a person is not ready to settle down or that they don’t have the life and relationship skills one might look for in a sexual or romantic partner,” Race explains.
Young people from more conservative cultural backgrounds may experience a clash of values, though Race says, “In families where virginity is considered a cultural or familial expectation, there is often also an expectation that young people would be partnering with people from the same culture, so in these instances it may not be such an issue.
The value of the virginity largely derives from heterosexual traditions around women and marriage.
“People from these backgrounds who grow up in Australia may choose to conceal any sexual experience they do have from their families if they think it will be judged harshly.”
The results of the study are less of an issue in the LGBTQI community. Race says the value of the virginity largely derives from heterosexual traditions around women and marriage.
Clinton Power, psychotherapist at Sydney Gay Counselling, says the LGBTQI population tends to be more comfortable with negotiating relationships with types of openness such as multiple sexual partners.
Power has noticed in his clinical work that the younger generation are much more comfortable not defining their sexuality. He believes this cultural change has allowed people to explore it more fully without feeling the need to conform to cultural or societal expectations.
“For most gay men, exploring their sexuality through multiple sexual encounters before and after coming out is a normal part of healthy gay sexual development,” he says. “So for this reason, it is unusual to come across a gay man who is a virgin.”