Being an Adult Virgin – A Modern Day Relationship Curse?

Irrespective of the reason for being an adult virgin, new research coming from The Kinsey Institute indicates that it can be tough in the modern day, thanks to a ménage à trois of negative stigma and discrimination coming from more experienced adults, other adult virgins, and themselves.

Being a virgin until married, not so many moons ago, was regarded near enough the world over as a symbol of purity and respectability, and premarital sex was typically shunned. But today in Western societies in particular, premarital sex in adolescence is generally the norm. Yet an approximate minimum of 1.1 million American men and 800,000 women between 25 and 45 years old characterize as heterosexual virgins.

The three studies, published in The Journal of Sex Research, assessed perceptions of, and attitudes toward, heterosexual adult virgins — defined as the absence of experiencing vaginal penetrative intercourse.

Study 1: Virgins and non-virgins perceptions of stigma & discrimination

Study 1 involved a survey of 560 heterosexual American adults revealing that 141 participants were virgins (25.2%; 79 women, 62 men), with an age range of 18 to 52 years old.

Incorporating a stigma assessment scale in the survey also revealed that adult virgins feel more stigmatized for being a virgin than non-virgin’s feel stigmatized for being sexually experienced, irrespective of if they had 8 or 38 previous sexual partners.

This suggests that relative to non-virgins, being a virgin feels less like a social blessing and more like a social curse.

Study 2: Virgin discrimination in the form of limited serious relationship opportunities

A U.S. nationally representative sample of 4,934 single, heterosexual adults (21-76+ years old) were asked: How likely are you to consider getting into a committed relationship with someone who is a virgin?

The response? Chances look slim.

There was a low likelihood of considering getting into a relationship with a virgin across all participants, yet particularly with:

  • younger participants (particularly women)
  • sexually experienced participants (particularly men)
  • virgins themselves (particularly women)

Seeing as participants in the same situation of relative inexperience discriminate against other virgins, the authors suggested that relationship opportunities for sexually inexperienced adults may be pretty limited.

Relatedly, another study found that women experience more sexual guilt compared to men, with levels of guilt increasing the more religious the woman is.

On the flip side, by process of elimination, one could loosely hypothesize that those most likely to enter a long-term heterosexual relationship with an adult virgin may be older virgin males or older sexually experienced females, cougars some might say.

Study 3: Less discrimination observed on online dating websites

To reduce bias, 353 heterosexual young adults aged 18 to 26 were misled into thinking they were helping test a new online dating website. Each participant was presented with a single online dating profile that included the usual demographics and personality profile. Additionally, the only notable varying item viewed from participant to participant was level bars that indicated how romantically or sexually experienced the potential match was.

The participants were then asked what they thought about their potential as a partner with a series of questions. A few findings emerged:

  • Sexually experienced participants found both experienced and inexperienced potential dates equally attractive.
  • Virgins found a sexually inexperienced participant more attractive than those with more experience.
  • Having greater romantic experience did not influence the effects that sexual experience has on datability. Nonetheless romantic experience was an important factor in evaluating partners.

So in relation to the second study, when asked about a virgin’s potential as a partner in a serious committed relationship, virgins were not considered popular by both non-virgins and virgins. But in this study, in the context of rating a potential date on an online dating website, being a virgin doesn’t appear to register on the radar and actually attracts virgins?

It could simply be that generally, online dating websites are more increasingly viewed as a path leading to sexually orientated, yet noncomitant, experiences or a quick route to a one night stand or fling. Indeed, research has shown this is particularly true for the young Tinder-savvy adult generation, like the participants in this experiment.

This may imply that flings with virgins via online dating are considered more likely than a committed relationship is. However, the way responses to the questionnaire were manipulated in the experiment does not allow the assessment of this, and further research is required to get a more detailed understanding.

Although other research indicates it is possible for one to have too much sexual experience, the study in question indicates that adult virginity is linked with social stigma and discrimination, where virgins are considered as less desirable partners in committed intimate relationships.

In conclusion the authors suggest that:

Because intimate relationships are essential to wellbeing, especially across the adult life course, it seems that being a late bloomer with sexual debut could lower chances of healthy intimate relationship development even when one is open to such relationships and thereby have a negative impact on wellbeing.


Abbott, E., & Abbott, E. (2000). A history of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo DA Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Eisenberg, M., Shindel, A., Smith, J., Lue, T., & Walsh, T. (2009). Who is the 40-Year-Old Virgin and Where Did He/She Come From? Data from the National Survey of Family Growth The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6 (8), 2154-2161 DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01327.x

Gesselman, A., Webster, G., & Garcia, J. (2016). Has Virginity Lost Its Virtue? Relationship Stigma Associated With Being a Sexually Inexperienced Adult The Journal of Sex Research, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1144042

Lipman, C., & Moore, A. (2016). Virginity and Guilt Differences Between Men and Women. Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Regan, P., Durvasula, R., Howell, L., Ureño, O., & Rea, M. (2004). GENDER, ETHNICITY, AND THE DEVELOPMENTAL TIMING OF FIRST SEXUAL AND ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 32 (7), 667-676 DOI: 10.2224/sbp.2004.32.7.667

Vrangalova, Z., Bukberg, R., & Rieger, G. (2013). Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31 (1), 93-113 DOI: 10.1177/0265407513487638

Wellings, K. (1995). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States; Sex in America: A Definitive Survey BMJ, 310 (6978), 540-540 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.310.6978.540

Image via seagul / Pixabay.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
See All Posts By The Author