Religious school and sexuality

Hi Alice,

I grew up in a religiously conservative family, and now I go to a private Christian college. I will be a junior this year, but I've known since freshman year that the school and the religion just weren't right for me. I love the education, but I'm afraid I'm sexually deprived. When I hear all my friends who go to public school talk about parties and sex, it makes me feel like I'm really missing out. I wanted to transfer, but it just isn't fiscally possible. I'm a very mature person, but I haven't done anything sexual (not even kiss!). The girl to guy ratio at my school is 3:1, and most of the boys are very awkward. I want to experiment, but no one at my school does that. I'm afraid that when I graduate, I still won't have done anything, and no one will want me because I have no experience.

—the virgin who wishes she wasn't a virgin

Dear the virgin who wishes she wasn't a virgin, 

So, you want to experiment sexually, but you're stuck in an environment where such experimentation seems hard to come by (no puns intended here). It might be helpful to note that studies have shown that college students’ sexual activity is far below people’s perceptions of sexual activity among college students. In other words, most students thought their peers were more sexually active than they actually were. That said, you might not be as behind on experimenting as you think. A good place to start might be to consider what sexual experiences mean to you. Read on to learn more! 

To start, it may be helpful to demystify sexuality among college students. According to the National College Health Assessment survey, the majority of survey participants (all of which were current college students) had either no sexual partners or only one during the previous year. The data also showed that many students’ first time having oral or vaginal sex was in their late teens and early twenties. While first-time sexual experiences are common in college, so too are experiences of students not having sex. 

As you’ve alluded to, growing up in a more conservative household (and attending what may be an equally conservative university) may make it more difficult to explore what you’re into sexually. Perceptions of virginity can be both internally personal and influenced by external religious and family values. Just as there are students who lose their virginity in college, there are also students who choose to remain virgins until they’re married or even forever. What’s important to recognize is these decisions are individual and often made for a variety of reasons (e.g., personal, fear of becoming pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), lack of desire, etc.). 

As you get older, your perception of virginity may also change. While being labeled a "virgin" may be discouraging when you’re younger, some adults express that the pressure to lose their “virgin” status and the feeling that something may be "wrong" started to decrease as they got older. Consider reflecting on questions like: how do you want to define virginity? How do you want to define your sexual experiences? No matter where you fall on the sexual spectrum, how you define virginity, and the loss of it, is entirely a personal choice. You might also choose not to put so much emphasis on your sexual escapades, and instead shift your energy to considering what types of traits you look for in a sexual partner.  How do you want to define your sexual experiences? No matter where you fall on the sexual spectrum, how you define virginity, and the loss of it, is entirely a personal choice. 

If you decide you’d like to do a little more sexual exploring, but you don’t have a partner, you might consider starting out solo. How do you feel about masturbation? Though this can be tough if you live in a dorm or have a roommate, experimenting with masturbation, fantasies, and different positions may be a way of letting off steam and getting to know your body better. This may also help you feel more confident communicating what turns you on with future partners. If you've already been doing things solo and find that it's not enough, it may be time to look off-campus. Getting involved in the community by volunteering can also be a good way to meet people with similar interests, as is getting involved with local clubs (e.g., book clubs, running groups, team sports) that center around your interests. Many people also create and browse online profiles using dating sites or apps. 

Good luck on your journey and remember—you're just as desirable whether a virgin or seasoned sexual expert. 

Last updated Oct 13, 2023
Originally published Jan 21, 2011

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