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.

Correction(s):
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.