“Like a Virgin”—Whatever that Means!

Now that you have that catchy, classic Madonna song stuck in your head, I want to talk to you about virginity. More specifically, this blog is going to talk about adult virgins. Among American adults aged 25 to 44, 2.3% of men and 1.6% of women are virgins, defined as having never engaged in heterosexual (penile-vaginal) intercourse (Chandra, Mosher, Copen, & Sionean, 2011). These percentages are even higher for single adults in this age range: 14% of single men and 9% of single women would be considered virgins (Eisenberg, Shindel, Smith, Lue, & Walsh).

There has been some limited research on adult virgins, and I plan to add to this literature with multiple studies as part of my doctoral dissertation. However, studying virginity is no easy undertaking, and this is largely due to the fact that virginity as a concept is difficult to define. In the stats I described above, anyone who reported not having yet engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse was considered a virgin, but hopefully you can already see the issues with this definition!

For starters, penile-vaginal intercourse is only one way to “have sex”. In fact, even though it seems straightforward, defining what it means to “have sex” is actually pretty hard to do! In one study, a sample of college students was asked “Would you say you ‘had sex’ with someone if the most intimate behaviour you engaged in was…” (Sanders & Reinisch, 1999). Probably not surprisingly, nearly all participants said “yes” for penile-vaginal intercourse. Around 80% said “yes” for penile-anal intercourse, and 40% for oral-genital contact. Although less frequent, some participants even responded “yes” for deep kissing, manual and oral touching of breasts, and manual touching of genitals. Is a person still a virgin if they’ve never had penile-vaginal sex, but have engaged in oral or anal sex? Does it depend on the person? I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I hope they make you think about, and perhaps challenge, your own definitions of virginity and sex. 

The perspectives of sexually and gender diverse (SGD) individuals (including, but not limited, to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) for defining virginity have been examined. Unfortunately, the research on definitions and perceptions of virginity in this population is extremely limited, but the research that does exist suggests some differences from heterosexual individuals. In one focus group study, SGD participants were asked about their definitions and perceptions of virginity (Averett, Moore, & Price, 2014). Many gay men described their virginity loss occurring as a result of anal penetration with another man; in contrast, many lesbian women defined their virginity loss in terms of vaginal penetration with a man. Some participants saw the possibility of multiple virginity losses: once as a result of heterosexual intercourse, and again with one’s first same-sex partner. Most participants agreed that virginity among SGD individuals is difficult to define, and that different people may have different definitions. Overall, virginity is not much discussed in the SGD community; there is more of an emphasis on an individual’s “first time” with a same-sex partner, and virginity is viewed as more of a heterosexual concept. 

Clearly, narrowing down what it means to be a virgin (or even what it means to have sex) can be extremely difficult. So why bother conducting research on adult virgins at all? Well, there’s still a lot about this population we don’t know, like the extent of their sexual experiences or their attitudes toward sex. As well, previous research tells us that, compared to sexually experienced heterosexual adults, adult virgins report feeling more stigmatized due to their sexual status, and single adults with a range of sexual experiences report a low likelihood of entering into a relationship with a virgin (Gesselman, Webster, & Garcia, 2017). Given this stigma, it is also important to investigate non-virgins’ perceptions of virginity, in order to better understand their attitudes toward virgins. Hopefully, with some additional research, we will be able to shine some light on what it means to be a virgin in adulthood, and reduce stigma and misconceptions. Stay tuned for future research studies—and results—from the SexLab on this topic!

Meghan McInnis, MSc, Doctoral Student

 

References

Averett, P., Moore, A., & Price, L. (2014). Virginity definitions and meaning among the LGBT community. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(3), 259–278. http://doi.org/10.1080/10538720.2014.924802

Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Reports, (36), 1–36. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf

Eisenberg, M. L., Shindel, A. W., Smith, J. F., Lue, T. F., & Walsh, T. J. (2009). Who is the 40-year-old virgin and where did he/she come from? Data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2154–2161. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01327.x

Gesselman, A. N., Webster, G. D., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). Has virginity lost its virtue? Relationship stigma associated with being a sexually inexperienced adult. Journal of Sex Research, 54(2), 202–213. http://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2016.1144042

Sanders, S. A., & Reinisch, J. M. (1999). Would you say you “had sex” if…? JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(3), 275–277.

Rainbow Reflections: Mobilizing Knowledge on Body Image for Queer Men!

SexLab member Stéphanie Gauvin has been busy with her team members from Dalhousie University developing a comic book called Rainbow Reflections to help mobilize knowledge on body image for queer men!

Rainbow Reflections: Body Image Comics for Queer Men is an anthology borne from an initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, including the Institute of Gender and Health called Hacking the Knowledge Gap. In February 2018, a diverse group of researchers from across Canada with shared interests in LGBTQ2S+ health was brought together to develop innovative projects to address LGBTQ2S+ health inequities. Research teams were paired with design students, members of both community and national organizations, and other stakeholders to bring multiple perspectives to the table. The idea behind the initiative was to close the gap between research and clinical practice and to enhance knowledge translation or the ways in which LGBTQ2S+ health research is communicated to the public and healthcare providers. More effective communication of health research allows findings to be more fully put into practice, improving the health of our communities.  

There are a number of critical topics that influence the health of the LGBTQ2S+ community but this anthology draws upon the previous work, knowledge, and expertise of the team, Stéphanie Gauvin, Phillip Joy, and Matthew Lee, to focus on the health of queer men in relation to body image. The overall goal of Rainbow Reflections is to blend academic research on queer men’s body image with the powerful narratives from queer artists. The final comic anthology opens up dialogue about the social constructs of body image and how such constructs shape the sexual, emotional, mental, and physical health of queer men. We believe this anthology is an exciting way to explore the consequences of body dissatisfaction to the health of queer men and to highlight the resilience that queer men experience against body dissatisfaction. 

Body image can be thought of as how you view your body or how you picture yourself in your mind. Although there are many components of body image, we have chosen to focus on weight and muscularity as these are the most widely researched components of body image. The way queer men come to view and experience their bodies is complex. Cultural and social norms about sexuality, gender, and beauty ideals are ever-changing and are constantly shifting in ways that influence our beliefs, values, and practices about our bodies. It would be impractical, if not impossible, to trace, review, and critique all of the integral components that come to define our bodies. We hope that the comics in this book will bring to light some of the factors that shape the bodies and health of queer men and the challenge the way view we think. 

Within the pages of Rainbow Reflections are comics from artists from all over the world including Canada, the United States of America, France, Great Britain, Australia, Denmark, and Greece. The diverse comics represent the voices of the artists who draw upon their personal experiences, creativity, and knowledge. Interspaced between the comics are what we playfully refer to as our health ads. These inserts, inspired from the golden era of comics, provide you with brief snippets and summaries from research studies that are currently happening in the area of queer men’s bodies and health. The snippets also include a few evidence-based exercises that you can try to increase comfort with your body. 

In addition to the work of the artists, researchers, and funders, Rainbow Reflections was made possible with the support of Ad Astra Comix, a Canadian publishing collective specializing in comic books with social justice themes. The ultimate goals of this project are to begin conversations on body image, to explore and create knowledge on the topic, and to disrupt, challenge, and shift the ways queer men view and understand their bodies. To this end, free copies of this work will be distributed to LGBTQ2S+ health centres and community organizations across Canada for public use. We will also be releasing select comics for free online on our social media accounts (which are listed below).

To stay up to date on information about Rainbow Reflections, launch party dates, and to see all of the amazing comics that we’ll be releasing on our social media accounts, follow us at:

You can also pre-order your copy today by visiting: https://book.adastracomix.com/ 

We hope you enjoy Rainbow Reflections. It was a pleasure helping to bring it to life!

Stéphanie, Phillip, and Matthew