Molly* ’15 came into college without ever having been in a long-term relationship. She was a virgin and the least sexually experienced of her female friends — but she had plans to change that.
“I actually came to Swat and was like, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this my freshman fall, I’m going to make this happen one way or another,’” she said with a laugh.
Molly was prepared to forego romance in pursuit of penetration, but instead she quickly became involved with an upperclassman on her hall. She outed herself as a virgin on their first date. The couple, more comfortable cuddling than conversing, talked little about it until a bout of subpar sex saw Molly meet her self-imposed deadline just weeks later.
Suddenly, her boyfriend wanted to talk.
“I was sitting there going like, ‘Eh, we’ll build,’ Molly said. “But I think he was thinking, ‘That’s not what I was expecting from a serious relationship.’ So we sat and talked about it and it became clear that he was pretty much breaking up with me.”
Her boyfriend ended up beating a fast retreat to a previously scheduled meeting — but not before pushing a twenty into her hand and instructing her to buy Plan B as an extra precaution.
Negotiating the ins and outs of late-night dorm invites and Paces parties can be complicated enough without fretting about firsts. In a sex-positive climate with a rumored void in dating clientele, incoming first-years might feel like they’re the only ones not in the know — especially when friends fess up to being more experienced. However, polls and studies that attempt to find a numerical answer to the virginity question usually find that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of all college students in the U.S. are virgins.
While some students like Molly view virginity as a to-do list tedium, others retain romantic aspirations when it comes to their first time. Harold* ’16, who identified as bisexual in high school, came to college as a self-described romantic sap with no sexual experience with men. While he wanted to find physical intimacy, he also desired an emotional connection.
Although Harold waited to experiment with physicality until he was in a relationship, he found that his partner — an upperclassman on his hall — had a different understanding of dating dynamics. Despite the “very, very powerful” physical connection, the pair ended up splitting.
“It’s especially hard coming into college as a freshman and not really knowing what the rules of the game are, and to become involved with someone who has a very different understanding of them,” Harold said. “I was very wrapped up in, ‘Oh, we’re doing this together, it means that we have a lot in common and we’re really close to each other in all ways.’ But we didn’t communicate very well about having alternate narratives.”
While his initial desire for both romance and physicality kept him out of traditional hook-up hubs like Paces and the fraternities, Harold found that he was more open to casual physicality following his first relationship. It’s a pattern that other students additionally experience — or, in the case of Jeffrey* ’15, attempt to instigate.
Because he lost his virginity to an uncaring partner in high school, Jeffrey chooses to put the brakes on romantic romps if he discovers it’s his partner’s first time. Of the handful of men he’s gone home with at the college, only one had had sex before.
About half the time, he gets negative responses to what he recognizes might come across as a self-righteous attempt to control others’ bodies; however, he continues to pause the action and ask about past sexual experience out of respect for his partners.
“Sex can be really vulnerable for men who are coming out as gay or queer for the first time in college,” Jeffrey said. “In my own experience and talking to other friends, when you start coming out, you can get really excited and want to just try out everything without really thinking it through.”
In Harold’s opinion, queer students exposed to narratives of sexual repression may feel more pressure in a sex-positive campus climate to be open to frequent hook-ups.
“I have to remind myself that I can go out and not try to have sex with someone and that’s fine,” Jeffrey said. “I feel like there’s always sort of a push to be looking for that, like if you don’t want to be casually hooking up with people then you have archaic views on romance.”
Despite perceptions of collective campus attitudes, romance seems to play a role in many students’ expectations for their first time. For Mike* ’15, whose first serious high school relationship ended partly as a result of his unwillingness to move beyond oral, being in a trusting relationship was the prerequisite to losing it in college.
“I’ve always been really pro-casual sex in an intellectual sense,” Mike said. “I think it’s a good thing and there’s a lot of benefits for most people. But in my experience it’s just not something that I’m capable or fond of doing.”
The varsity athlete says he wasn’t anxious about coming to campus as a virgin and that he assumed he’d lose it eventually — which he did. Once he felt confident he was with the girl he wanted to do it with, he felt ready in a way that he hadn’t in high school.
All three men advised first-years to keep an open mind and maintain an open dialogue about expectations in both ephemeral and more long-lasting relationships. While Jeffrey recommended saving one’s first time for a caring partner, Mike said he had friends who regretted both ways, wishing they’d experimented sooner or procured fewer ex-lovers in their time at Swat.
Her story has a happy ending: her boyfriend apologized for his initial reaction and the couple continued dating. It’s three years later and they’re still together. She advises first years to worry less and feel comfortable with where they’re at.
“When I came into college, I was really worried that being a virgin would affect my dating life, and I was worried that the longer it went on, the more it would affect it,” Molly said. “I think in high school, people cared. It was like, ‘Oh, if you haven’t done this then you’re a loser.’ But in college I really don’t think anyone could care less.”
Although she doesn’t regret her first time, she thinks she might have if things hadn’t turned out as well as they did. As it is, she said with a smile, “it makes for a good story.”
*All names have been changed