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Has virginity lost its virtue?

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Throughout history, virginity has been a prized quality before marriage. But though it would come as no surprise to many people, the times are a-changin': A new look at sexual inexperience in the modern age suggests virginity in America has lost its virtue.

Lack of sexual experience is no longer a trait that most people want in a partner, according to researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in Indiana. In fact, even virgins themselves did not find other virgins to be attractive partners.

While the findings aren't great for virgins — suggesting virginity is now a barrier to a new relationship — there is an upside for everyone else. "As a society, we are moving away from judging sex as a negative thing," says Amanda Gesselman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinsey Institute and coauthor of the new study in the Journal of Sex Research.

Gesselman and colleagues surveyed 560 heterosexual adults — both attached and single — about their sexual history and asked if they felt odd or abnormal because of their level of sexual experience. The virgins in the group perceived themselves to be outsiders, stigmatized in society and treated differently due to their inexperience.


But was that stigma accurate or just perception? The team then turned to an annual national survey on dating and sexual behavior conducted by the Kinsey Institute and funded by The questionnaire asked, "How likely are you to consider getting into a committed relationship with someone who is a virgin?" A majority of the nearly 5,000 single adults were hesitant to do so. Surprisingly, Americans who were virgins were even less likely than non-virgins to want to be in a relationship with a virgin.

Gesselman hypothesized that the stigma stems from a mental archetype of an "involuntary virgin" — that is, someone who is awkward or a loner and can't find a partner. To test that theory, she invited a group of 353 young adults to evaluate the profile of a potential mate on a fictional dating website. The profile included the person's degree of sexual experience and the number of previous romantic relationships.


Even if a virgin had been in many romantic relationships, participants still did not find them as appealing as a sexually experienced individual who had been in fewer relationships, suggesting the archetype of an involuntary virgin isn't the root of the stigma. Another reason people may not want to date virgins is because they consider taking someone's virginity as a big deal and a strong commitment, Gesselman suggests.

Whatever the reason, virginity appears to have shifted from an appealing characteristic to an undesirable one, says Gesselman. But that's good news for non-virgins, she adds. "Since most people aren't virgins in adulthood, it's nice to see that sexual experience is a good thing to have in a partner."