Hookup: The stigma surrounding virginity

Aleli Balaguer/Staff

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This is the second installment in a four-part series exploring UC Berkeley’s “hookup culture.” Students’ names have been changed or withheld in order to protect their privacy and encourage honest conversation.

After a “pretty hard core” make-out session at a party, Wheeler recalled walking a girl back to her room at the Clark Kerr Campus. She invited him in and, predictably, they had sex.

But rather than the expected post-coital cuddle or casual exchange of phone numbers, the girl revealed to Wheeler that he had taken her virginity.

“Had she told me that beforehand, I would have gotten the fuck out of there,” Wheeler said.

Faced with this sort of “willing virgin” scenario, “some guys would just be overcome” and succumb to their biological desires,  another male student and fraternity member Evans commented.

However, he added that some males might be hesitant. Campbell, and arguably Wheeler, are part of this demographic of males.

In explaining why he would be reluctant to sleep with a virgin, Campbell stated, “If someone is emotionally into it, you don’t want to hurt them. It’s politeness.”

“It’s courtesy,” Wheeler agreed. “Chivalry? That’s going too far.”

The rhetoric surrounding virginity is one of the more sensitive and inflammable debates within the hookup culture on college campuses. Many see virginity as a stigma —  a label that pigeonholes the wearer into being perceived as inexperienced, undesirable or abnormally conservative.

While the majority of interviewed males ceded that they would not care whether a girl is a virgin or not, many interviewed females felt that the dominant attitude towards virginity is a chauvinistic — and decidedly negative — one.

Dwinelle, a female student, recalled one encounter that began with a guy bringing her to his room under the guise of giving her a shirt to replace the drink-stained one she was wearing.

“He starts making out with me, and when he noticed I was slightly reluctant because he was moving really fast, he immediately asked, ‘Are you a virgin?’ and I responded ‘Yes,’” she said.

Dwinelle remembered his response, which ended with him telling her that he was just looking to have a little bit of fun.

“I think he said this to me verbatim: ‘I’m sorry but you’re just going to have to leave. It’s not you. In my personal experience, girls who are virgins —  after they have sex with a guy — they tend to be really clingy and won’t leave him alone,’” Dwinelle said.

While this story is not representative of all hookups, some students noted that taking a girl’s virginity is now seen as a passe transgression. Once associated with a degree of esteem, the growing trend in contemporary times has been to reward those with sexual prowess, several students commented.

“It used to be hip for guys to take someone’s virginity, but now guys have gotten smart and learned that if you take a girl’s virginity, she will be clingy as fuck and expect a full relationship,” one female student said. “The thinking has changed from ‘I’m going to fuck as many virgins as I can’ to ‘I’ll never fuck a virgin.’”

Despite people’s desire to maintain emotional distance from their sexual partners, sex engenders a biological response that may make distance somewhat unreasonable for people to expect — particularly for females, according to nurse practitioner Traci Doherty.

During sex, dopamine floods the limbic system, and the sex hormone oxytocin is released. While dopamine is associated with pleasure and cravings, oxytocin plays a major role in creating bonds, particularly for women. In addition to being released at orgasm, oxytocin is also released when a mother is breast-feeding her baby.

Similarly, dopamine — a neurochemical also secreted with the consumption of drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine — has an addictive element that creates an emotional attachment between a person experiencing sensation and the source of his or her pleasure.

Dr. Vincent Serio used research done on rats to illustrate dopamine’s role in addiction in his work at Boise State University. According to Serio, scientists concurrently gave test rats a shock and stimulated dopamine-producing regions of their brains. The result was that the rats continued to seek “the noxious stimulus despite the consequences.”

Even if people make the decision to remain “just friends,” addiction and bonding can be involuntary side effects of sex that could make such relationships difficult for either party to maintain.

In addition to representing clinginess, virginity is also stigmatized for indicating prudishness or a lack of ability between the sheets, which, in extreme cases, can dissuade virgins from having sex.

One sophomore female said she cannot understand how sexual promiscuity can be “deemed cooler than being a virgin” because “the concept that (sex) can bring life into this world” makes her take it extremely seriously.

Karen Gee, a health educator who has worked with the University Health Services since 1985, noted that skills that are useful in the classroom do not necessarily translate with equal success in the bedroom.

Resume padding, for example, is often considered to be a logical requisite in presenting oneself in the best possible light for prospective employers. However, this proclivity for bluffing can negatively affect students’ sex lives, making open communication between sexual partners difficult.

“When you first start having sex, you’re honestly pretty terrible,” said Evans, a male student who reaffirmed nearly every interviewed virgin’s fears. “But if you’re saving yourself for someone you care about, then it shouldn’t matter.”

Some males also feel the pressure of virginity — especially if they are part of fraternities, sports teams or other  male-dominated organizations — and are constantly subject to hearing about the sexual exploits of their peers.

While some acknowledged that sexual experience equates to status and general popularity in their social circles, others maintained that virginity was really of no consequence.

“We have more than a couple guys in the house who are virgins. I don’t really think it’s something to judge someone on. There are other factors that are better judges of your manliness,” said one male fraternity member.

Despite the varying viewpoints and lack of consensus regarding sex, one commonality clearly stands out: The term “virgin” has become a label.

The fact that people specifically call others “virgins” and do not do the same for “nonvirgins” distinguishes virginity as an abnormality within hookup culture, which may make virgins vulnerable to the adverse effects of pack mentality and peer pressure.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Health Educator Karen Gee has worked at the Tang Center since 1985. In fact, Gee has worked for University Health Services since 1985. The Tang Center did not open until 1993.

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  • realitycheck

    this article kept talking about fraternities–get real– those cargo-short-wearin-losers on the west coast arent in real fraternities

  • EscapeHatches

    Her quote about him not wanting to be with a virgin because they get clingy is just about verbatim the line used in HBO’s “Girls.”

  • malecommenter

    IMO, this article is really far too dismissive as to what it’s like to be a virgin guy. I imagine there are challenges for females too (and this article does a good job of describing them) but to say that only “some” hold that having sexual experience is of consequence, and to imply that most maintain that “virginity is of no consequence” is just misleading. It matters, much more than the article lets on. Note that the article includes a perspective from a female virgin (and even goes as far as including a quote) but a perspective from a male virgin is missing. 

    • dsfgs

       I agree,  that perspective is missing, though it’s not surprising given that most articles on this subject won’t go near the subject of male virginity. Notice how the author went in depth on how virgin girls are treated by guys, but completely left out how virgin guys are treated by girls. I wonder what she was trying to hide?

  • Guest

    An interesting topic, but approached very poorly in my opinion.  It would be better to focus on what virginity really IS–an idea.  A social construct, if you will.  

    • Adsahjh

       Not really. Either you’ve put a penis into a vagina or you’ve had a penis put into your vagina, or you haven’t. It’s very simple.

      By your logic, everything is a ‘social construct.’ Have fun with your po-mo bullshit.

      • JJMMC

        Can tell if trolling or just really stupid.

      • Mitch

         Not really. “Virginity” is really just as ambiguous as “hookup” is in the following articles. Some believe that mere oral sex can account for the loss of one’s virginity while others believe simple penetration counts. It’s really not as specific as most think.
        In my opinion, it’s an outdated term. What we really should asking is if someone is “sexually active.”

  • gv3st

    I wish the horrible double standard was mentioned  of how virginity is stigmatized but women who are too promiscuous are also deemed undateable. Basically we can’t win.

    • Adsahjh

       Virginity among women isn’t stigmatized. Most guys would love a chance to have sex with a virgin. And most guys would appreciate a woman who has never had sex with anybody other than them.

      Also, there’s a happy medium between being an inexperienced virgin and being a slut. A girl who dated and had sex with two or three guys in college isn’t going to be see as undateable or as a slut. There are plenty of girls like that and guys respect them.

      • Bear

         I disagree entirely. I love it when a girl has had a lot of sex. And I really don’t give a fuck if it has been with a lot of different guys. Reason? Those girls tend to be better in bed! Additionally, they tend to think for themselves and not adopt beliefs that society has imposed on them (such as the very Christian idea that, somehow, sex is a shameful thing that should be avoided). I would never call a girl a slut and have a lot of respect for any woman who is promiscuous, unapologetic for it and does not allow the verbal assaults, from small-minded ants all marching together in a perfectly straight little line, offend her. I applaud women who think for themselves and act out on their sexual desires without caring whether or not they will be judged by people who think like you. Fuck double standards and lets all just fuck each other. As this article points out, it will make us all a lot happier ;)

        • Bear

           Oh, and before you start to preach to me about disease, I would like to
          point out a way to figure out whether or not it’s likely that a girl is
          clean. The test? Try to talk her into letting you have unprotected sex.
          If she is okay with that, then she is likely to have had a lot of
          unprotected sex and it is risky to have sex with her. If she does not
          consent, it makes it much more likely that she has made other guys wear
          condoms too and is much less likely to have a disease.

        • Rosie Rosie

          Just because a girl is saving herself for the right guy doesn’t mean she doesn’t think for herself. Did it ever occur to you that a girl could be saving herself because she feels that it’s right FOR HER, not because any religion tells her she should? A lot of the time, the girls who have HAD sex are the ones who are adopting beliefs that society has imposed on them – they do it when they don’t really want to, just because society tells them that they’re weird if they go past a certain age without having had sex. I’m a 27 year old virgin myself, and a lot of people have told me to just go screw some random guy to get it over with – I would actually be following “small-minded ants” if I were to listen to them. Because society thinks there is something wrong with me for being a virgin so long – and I choose not to give a crap what they say, instead focusing on what is right FOR ME. I don’t listen to that crap because I AM *thinking for myself.*

          Personally, I believe that we should all just do whatever we want – if a girl wants to have sex with a lot of guys, she should, and if a girl wants to save herself, she should. But you seem to think it’s not okay to call a girl a slut, yet you judge virgins in the same breath. It’s kind of hypocritical really.

          Also, yes an experienced girl would be better in bed at first, but if that is all you care about, that makes you pretty damn selfish. Just because a virgin would probably not be all that great the first few times doesn’t mean she can’t learn if she really loves the guy and wants it to be pleasurable for both of them.

        • TriqqerHappy

          “Additionally, they tend to think for themselves and not adopt beliefs that society has imposed on them”, so you’ve never been around a college or turned on a TV or gone on the internet I imagine. “Spartan women raise Spartan men”, “If they all jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”. Sorry dude, I find you to be “primitive”, my sons and daughters will be better off than your own.

  • GettingdownatCAL

    Great series. Read both so far and looking forward to the next one. And I’m a virgin for what it’s worth ;)

  • Guest

    What the heck is that second drawing supposed to be of…?

    • Bear

      Hands lifting a girl’s skirt from behind…A bit creepy, no?

  • joedoakes202

    . . . and one more thought  . . . for what ever it is worth . . . two things I would change . . . I would have waited . . . and I never would have stepped into “stripper world.”  Schopenhuar was absolutely correct, as was Mr. Mill . . . 

    For what ever that’s worth it’s up to you young people to decide how to live your lives . . .

    Make good choices and life is hard enough.  Make bad ones and it’ll come at you like a stone wall collapsing . . .

  • joedoakes202

    As a culture we have taken the most sensitive thing among us and destroyed it . . .

  • Guestabc

    To each his own.  There’s a time and place for love and relationships, and then for mastering the art of fucky sucky.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Personally, I am proud of the virgins at Cal.  Wait for someone you love and who loves you.  Don’t get suckered into the hookup culture like the rest of us.  Cal should be full of loving couples, but it isn’t, and that is partly because sex to early keeps us from really connecting with each other.