Phoebe Hughes-Broughton investigates Instagram's effects on our mental health and happinessWritten by Phoebe Hughes-Broughton on 23rd November 2017
Being a Twenty-One Year Old Virgin: It’s Not a Big Deal
Life&Style writer Greg Woodin explains why being a virgin at university is not a big deal, despite media portrayal
It’s first year of university and I’m sat at a table with people I barely know. As many stories from freshers begin, we’re drinking. Several shots and Sports Direct mug spillages down and someone suggests we play a game of 'Never Have I Ever'. This is a game designed to get us all drunk, but I spend pretty much the whole game not drinking, and in one desperate moment I consider pretending to be an ex-heroin addict so my newfound friends don’t judge me for being ‘boring’ (wisely, I decide against this). And though thankfully it never comes, I wait in trepidation for someone to come out with the classic: ‘never have I ever… had sex’ - and for me to sit there, static, while everyone around me giggles conspiratorially through mock-embarrassed sips of vodka squash. Of course we’ve had sex. We’re all adults, aren't we?
“It’s difficult to escape the thought that I am in some way abnormal.
Nearly three years on and I’m still a virgin, and games of 'Never Have I Ever' are more fraught with embarrassment now than ever. It’s difficult to escape the thought that I am in some way abnormal. I’ve never sworn myself to celibacy for whatever reason, be it religious or otherwise, and although I have my moments of shyness, I wouldn’t consider myself entirely socially inept. Although in day-to-day life it doesn’t bother me as such, I’ll admit I never expected to wait this long; when everyone around you at university seems to take it for granted that you’ve had sex when you haven’t, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re slightly deficient as a human being - and especially as a man. I’m approaching an age where being a male virgin feels like something I should be ashamed of, like I’m some kind of weirdo who can’t get a shag to save his life. Like I must somehow be less of a man because of it. The older I get, the odder I feel.
So what is the root cause of my virginity? What unresolved issues are there, buried in the catacombs of my brain? Why am I, Greg Woodin, soon to graduate from the University of Birmingham with innocence intact? No matter how long I meditate, puzzle over these cryptic questions, delve into the depths of my psyche for answers, I get nothing. A blank.
And what I’ve realised is that I’m just not that bothered about sex at the moment. Maybe that’ll change, but for now I’m quite content with my life as it is. You might accuse me of only saying this because I’m sex-deprived and in self denial, but I’m confident that’s not the case. Speaking to people about sex has shown me there are plenty of people out there who were never really that fussed about sex until they had it for the first time with the person they loved. It’s shown me that it was ultimately good fortune that brought them together with that person to begin with. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that all my worries and fears were inflicted by what’s considered to be ‘normal’ by society, rather than some internal conflict in my head. I never expected to wait this long, no, but I was always perfectly happy waiting.
“It’s difficult to shake the notion that we’re all sex-hungry animals ready to risk all for a bit of action
The media place such a huge emphasis on sex that it’s difficult to shake the notion that we’re all sex-hungry animals ready to risk all for a bit of action. According to this view, the later you lose your virginity, the less successful you’ve been in attracting a mate. But when it comes to how hot we like our Nando’s, whether we enjoy heavy metal or not, our opinion on Australia’s inclusion in the Eurovision Song Contest (last time I checked, Australia was not in Europe), we know we all have different ideas, opinions and priorities. Why should sex be any different? The sooner we stop forcing a one-size-fits-all approach on sex, the better.
Being a virgin isn’t necessarily a negative or a positive - it just is. For some, sex is inherently connected to love, and sex in the absence of love isn’t worth pursuing; for others, sex is simply fun that can easily be detached from emotion. For some, the overwhelming urge to have sex overrides the inevitable anxiety surrounding first-time intimacy with another person; for others, it doesn’t. There are those who regret not waiting longer to have sex, who crumbled under the weight of societal pressure; but for each of these people there’s someone who doesn’t regret a thing. We need to recognise these differences when we talk about sex.
The problem is that if our experiences fall outside what society deems acceptable, we feel less comfortable speaking up about our experiences for fear of being judged. Add to this the fact that sex is, for some incredible reason, a taboo topic in our society, and often these so-called ‘deviant’ perspectives are not represented at all. There are other 21-year-old, male virgins around - that I’m sure of - and some of them might even be my friends, but we just don’t ever talk about it because we’re ashamed.
“It’s too easy to criticise ‘society’ at large for imposing an unattainable ideal on our lives
So we need to speak up about these issues, and the same goes for anything we consider important. It’s too easy to criticise ‘society’ at large for imposing an unattainable ideal on our lives, to envisage it as some external entity we don’t have anything to do with but that nevertheless controls us. We need to recognise that, in the end, we are all part of society and we have the power to change it, at least in some small way. It all starts with speaking up, making yourself heard. As I’ve come to realise, being a virgin isn’t a big deal, but I never would have known had I not talked to anyone about it. No matter how alone, weird, embarrassed you feel, there are others out there just like you. Don’t keep it to yourself - you deserve a voice.