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The 19-Year-Old Virgin

Sure, I've had the opportunity to have sex. Here's why I've decided to abstain.

(Illustration by Kim Rosen)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Emma Morgenstern
August 3, 2008

There we were, lying on my living room sofa after a smooch session. The boy I was with was a senior in college, making him two years my senior, and therefore wiser, more sophisticated, and, you guessed it, more experienced. I guess he was also more curious.

"You're not a virgin, are you?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"I knew it!"

Hmm. Six months later, I'm still not sure what he meant. I'm also not sure why he asked. He didn't put any hard-core moves on me. He didn't remove any clothing. Maybe he would have if I weren't the dreaded virgin.

You might be wondering what it's like, in today's sex-obsessed world, to be a virgin at the age of 19. Well, you get used to the stares after a while. If I confess my sexual status to the cashier at the movie theater, he'll often give me a children's-price ticket.

Before everyone starts calling me a late bloomer or, worse yet, a prude, it is worthwhile to explore just how unusual I am. 34th Street Magazine conducts an annual sex survey of the students at the University of Pennsylvania, where I go to school. According to the 2007 results, 82 percent of juniors had already lost their virginity. An ABC News poll from 2004 claims that people then under the age of 25 lost it, on average, at 16. So, as a 19-year-old rising junior, maybe I am a late bloomer.

How did I end up this way? I had a steady relationship in high school, but long before that I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn't do it in high school. This promise was motivated by paranoia and self-perceived immaturity; it was definitely not motivated by guilt, religion, or self-consciousness.

I've had some romantic encounters in college, too, but admittedly they've been few and far between. So I chalk up my virginity to my ability to, if you will, screw the social norms and wait for the right time for me.

Sexual experience can be viewed as just one more way to stereotype people. As one of few Jews in my high school, I got used to people assuming I wouldn't understand certain things about Christianity. "I'm not sure if you'd know this because you're Jewish," they would say, "but on Christmas we eat a festive meal." It's not uncommon for me to hear from a non-virginal friend: "I don't know if you'd understand this, but my boyfriend is out of town and I'm really horny." To be perfectly clear, Jews understand better than Christians what it means to eat a meal on holidays. And virgins understand better than non-virgins what it means to be horny.

Just as there is a certain difference in the belief systems of Jews and Christians, there is a difference in the experiences of virgins and nonvirgins, but those experiences are where the difference ends. I've been in a loving, serious relationship, while some of my friends who have had sex haven't. It's interesting that we have a way of referring to someone who has never had intercourse, but no term for someone who has never experienced love.

Sure, it's fun to label people by the little things - my girlfriends came up with the term "tripod" for the three who didn't have boyfriends in high school. And sure, I've shared a high-five or two with a friend because we're both virgins.

But I've realized that being a virgin isn't that big a deal - except for one thing: The one real downside (aside from not having sex, of course) is the unknowns that come with it. I don't know how my first experience will change my life or my relationship. I don't know if my first time will be with someone I love. I don't know how to buy condoms. That's OK, though. I know I have plenty of time. Being a virgin simply means that a person hasn't had sex and therefore probably has more unanswered questions about it. But maybe even this isn't accurate - after all, that senior on my couch seemed as if he had some things he wanted to ask.

When she's not away at college, Emma Morgenstern lives in Westford. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

STORY IDEAS You may send yours to coupling@globe.com. The magazine cannot respond to unsolicited ideas or manuscripts.

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