From American Pie to Blockers, there are plenty of teen comedies about students trying to lose their virginities before graduating high school. Watching these movies, you might think that starting college without having had sex is something really strange and unusual. But research shows that that’s not the case at all — and that’s without getting into the complications of what virginity even means in the first place.
According to the CDC, the average age at which American women first have penis-in-vagina sex is 17.3 years; for men, it’s 17.0 years. But keep in mind this is an average, which means that there many people are older than 17 when they first have sex. According to the same CDC data, 70.7% of 15- to 19-year-olds have had sex — which means about 30% have not. Other studies show similar results. For example, the Guttmacher Institute found that the average age at which Americans first have sex is 17.8 for women and 18.1 for men. SKYN’s 2019 Sex & Initimacy survey found that the average age respondents first had sex was 18, and that 30% of Gen Z respondents (ages 18 to 22) have never had sex. Other data shows that millennials and Gen Z are losing their virginities later: one 2016 study found that people born in the 1980s and 1990s were more likely to have had zero sexual partners at age 18 than previous generations.
Complicating the discussion is that fact most of these studies define “losing your virginity” as your first time having penis-in-vagina sex, which is a pretty narrow way to look at it. Plenty of LGBTQ+ folks never have P-in-V, after all. In reality, people view “losing your virginity” in a whole range of ways — such as their first time having an orgasm with a partner, their first time having consensual sex, or their first time having oral or anal sex.
All that said, if you’re a college student who’s never had sex, it’s understandable if you feel a little insecure about it, thanks to all the messaging we get from pop culture. Liz Goldwyn, founder of The Sex Ed, a multimedia platform for sex, health and consciousness education, tells Refinery29, “You may be surprised to know how many mid-20s, 30s and older ‘virgins’ there are out there who feel ashamed of their status.”
If you don’t feel great about your status, she has two pieces of advice. First, rethink the concept of “virginity.” "Try to have a broader view of what ‘sex’ is — this can include oral, fingering, orgasm with a toy (with or without a partner) and more," she says. "We need to challenge what the construct of ‘virginity’ is in the first place."
Next, try not to compare yourself to others. “Don’t compare your sexual status to anyone else (as hard as that may be) — we have to be responsible for our OWN level of comfort and desires," Goldwyn says. "That is what being sex positive is all about.”
Being a virgin in college isn't unusual — and it isn't anything to be embarrassed about, either. Plenty of your classmates have never had sex, either, even if they don't talk about it. And even if being a virgin in college was rare, there's nothing wrong with having a different type of sexual experience than someone else — no two people are the same, and that includes their sex lives.