What It's Really Like to Be a Virgin in Your 20s

"Some of us want to have sex, but are just waiting for a time that feels right, and not scary."


Female virginity is often regarded so highly in our culture, but only up to a certain age that some people deem acceptable. Here, we spoke with three women about what it's like to be a virgin in a world that often told them to wait to have sex and then made them feel weirdly for waiting too long. 

How old are you?

Woman A: 21

Woman B: 25. 

Woman C: 21. 

What is your current relationship status? 

Woman A: Single. 

Woman B: Single. 

Woman C: Single. 

Have you made a decision to remain a virgin until marriage?

Woman A:  No, I'm definitely not waiting until marriage.

Woman B: Nope. 

Woman C: No, I actually hope to lose it before marriage because I don't want to marry someone who I've never had sex with.

Was maintaining your virginity a conscious choice or did it just happen that way?

Woman A: In high school it was a somewhat conscious choice, but not in a "I'm not having sex before marriage" kind of way. The first few people I had dated were my high school boyfriend who I wasn't attracted to sexually and didn't realize that was the problem until after we ended things, and then my prom date who was more sexually aggressive than I was, which made me uncomfortable obviously. In both situations I was criticized for how I was performing different sex acts and asked things like, "Do you even know what you're doing?" which still makes me feel nervous to this day even though I was just learning. In college, my main relationship was with my first love, and I thought I would lose my virginity with him, partly because he was a virgin as well. Our relationship was very tumultuous though and there never seemed to be a time where we wanted to take that next step because I think we were both scared it would physically hurt ourselves or the other person somehow. 

Woman B: It was never a conscious choice. I'm an introvert and have struggled with anxiety issues in the past, so dating hasn't always been easy. I also went to a women's college, which was a fantastic experience, but didn't leave me a lot of opportunities to meet guys. I've honestly just never met a guy who seemed worth it. The few guys I have considered sleeping with were situations that didn't work out. Either we met briefly while I was visiting a friend in a different city, or we went on a couple dates and then things faded out. I don't feel comfortable just casually hitting up someone to take my virginity at this point.

Woman C: It just happened this way.

How often do you watch porn? Masturbate?

Woman A: On average I masturbate pretty often, maybe every other day or every day. I watch porn pretty frequently and lately I watch it almost every time I masturbate. If I was in a relationship, I probably wouldn't use it as much because I'd be thinking about specific situations or partners. However, I don't watch porn in which straight people are having intercourse. I guess because I don't want the experience to be "ruined" for me by spoiling it with watching the act, so I mostly just watch scenes with a lot of foreplay or masturbation stuff. Gay and lesbian porn is fair game too.

Woman B: I masturbate every couple of days and I usually watch porn when I do it.

Woman C: About 3 times a week-ish for both. 

Have you dated people?

Woman A: I have. I had a fairly serious high school relationship that lasted nine months. He came out as bisexual halfway through the relationship, but I kind of suspected that he was gay, which he later told me he was. Then I was kind of seeing my prom date for a while and that was the first time I'd known how it felt to be really, actually attracted to someone. The only relationship I had so far that felt was real started in college. We were super compatible and very attracted to one another, but he was a man-child and we broke up after almost a year. However, we kept hooking up on and off for almost three years, with several heartbreaking, painful mini breakups in between. 

Eventually, as we got more experienced with oral sex and fingering and I was feeling more and more in love with him, I wanted to lose my virginity to him. The only thing that stopped me was I had always felt that since our relationship was so turbulent, sex with him seemed like it would've just ended up hurting me in the end. Overall, the fact that I hadn't had sex yet and wanted to and that push and pull in my mind felt like a constant pressure. Now I regret not doing losing my virginity to him. 

Woman B: I've never really had a relationship. In high school I had an intense relationship with a girl I met at a summer program. In hindsight, I was really depressed and so was she, and I felt like she was the only person in the world who understood me. She was attracted to me and I liked that, so I convinced myself I must be into her physically too. We started fooling around, but it only lasted five minutes and I cried afterwards. I told her I was crying because we didn't live near each other and couldn't be together, but really I didn't want to have sex and felt ashamed that I'd used her emotionally and told her I wanted to have sex when I didn't. Years later I wrote her a letter apologizing for leading her on, but I never heard back. I felt guilty about that for a long time, but I've forgiven myself now. I was 16, and really deeply unhappy, and the boys I liked weren't into me, and I just took whatever affection I could get. After that I never had any real romantic experiences until college. I made out with a few guys at parties and once with a close male friend. Over the years I've met a couple guys I've liked enough to make out with but it's never been a situation that could turn into dating. I've gone on dates with guys, mostly via Tinder and Hinge, but it never leads anywhere. I enjoy my own company and cherish my own space and I find dating really exhausting. Most of my friends are in relationships or are gay women, so I tend not to meet people other than via online dating, and it's so easy to write people off on dating apps. Like, why should I invest two weeks of my life texting this stranger and then meeting up when I probably won't like him anyway?

Woman C: I have never had a serious, committed boyfriend. Most guys where I live and in my age range aren't looking for a serious relationship, which is what I want, as opposed to the rampant hookup culture that's surrounding my generation. In high school I talked to this one guy for about a year. We were on-and-off "hooking up," and by hooking up I mean just making out because we never got past second base.

Do you view oral sex/handjobs/genital contact as being different than penetrative sex in terms of whether or not it "counts"?

Woman A: I try not to think of it in terms of what "counts" or not, more for my own sanity than anything else. I think focusing primarily on those acts is great because they allow you to actually get good at foreplay and you're really concentrating on getting each other off. Doing things outside of penetrative sex feels like it's enough experience to get me up to par with other girls my age so I can participate in conversations related to the topic. I am very aware though that I am missing out on the experience of intercourse and the cultural significance that comes with it. I feel left out of my generation. 

In terms of compromising my virginity, I do feel like fingering and oral sex are foreplay and are different than sex, but I will say that I wouldn't participate in anal sex because logistically it's a similar penetrative experience that I would want to have vaginally first and it seems pretty painful so I wouldn't want that to be my first penetrative sexual experience with a partner.

Woman B: I guess I could say that I'm not really a virgin since I'd started to have sex with a woman, but I don't really count that experience because of how terrible it was and how brief it was, not because of the gender. I'm attracted to guys, so for me penetrative sex with guys is what counts. I probably would still consider myself a virgin if I had just given a guy a blow job or whatever though. I guess it all goes to show how socially constructed it all is. 

Woman C: I don't think any of the above "count" as much as penetrative sex. I feel like in an ideal relationship, you get through all those other sexual things before actually having penetrative sex. The penetrative sex is the big one, the highlight, and you wait for that. So I don't think that hand jobs, fingering, or oral sex count. 

Do your friends know that you're a virgin? How did they react when you told them? 

Woman A: My close friends know. Everyone is pretty accepting because I'm blessed with intelligent, fabulously feminist women that know my worth does not rely on my virginity. I'm sure I also have some street cred because I've dated people and done a lot of other sexual stuff. There are a few friends that are more sexually active than I am and try to pitch me the "it doesn't matter" or "it's not that big a deal" after-school-special kind of nonsense about virginity. The worst thing they've said is "you're not missing much." That makes me sad. 

Woman B: All my friends know. They mostly say that it's not a big deal, that virginity is a social construct anyway, and that I'll eventually find someone I like. Sometimes they add the fact that Tina Fey was a virgin until she was 24.

Woman C: My closest friends know but most of the people I hang out with don't. When I do reveal that I'm a virgin most people tend to be sort of shocked because they "didn't think I was." I'm not sure what that means.

Are you friends with any other adult virgins that you know of?

Woman A: Yes, a few actually. One is my best friend and roommate. She's super hot, social, and smart and she's also remained a virgin for pretty much the same reasons I have. It makes me feel better to know that someone amazing is in a similar situation. She reminds me that it's about waiting for a situation that feels right. Overall, I try not to mention my virginity to new friends if I can avoid it, especially with girls who are more sexually experienced than I am because I feel like I'd get a more judgmental response from them. I haven't even told my therapist I'm a virgin.

Woman B: No. 

Woman C: Yes, but it's not something that we really bond over.

Do you tell people you date that you're a virgin? How do they react?

Woman A: With the exception of my prom date, everyone I've dated has been a virgin as well. I don't know how that's happened, but it has, so it has never really been an issue. That situation is good and bad though because on one hand, I've never felt pressured to have sex and it allowed me to feel comfortable with the people I've been with. On the other hand, no one I've dated has ever openly asked me to have sex with them and I think it's made me believe people don't want to have sex with me.

Woman B: I've never gotten comfortable enough with a date to tell them. I usually don't go on more than two dates anyway.

Woman C: I don't tell guys I date that I'm a virgin right away. Plus, my dates don't usually last long enough to get to the point where I feel comfortable revealing something like that to someone. 

Have you ever had someone react particularly negatively towards it? 

Woman A: They've maybe sounded surprised, but not so much disapproving. I think most of the negativity, if any, is just my perception and not the reality. I put a lot of pressure on myself so if someone acts surprised by it, it automatically feels like a slight against me even if it's not. Having parents or authority figures say things about how they think losing your virginity at 22 is losing it "late" makes me feel even worse about it. It's also a bummer when people ask me if I'm "still" a virgin.

Woman B: No. 

Woman C: Thankfully no. 

Do you feel like your virginity makes dating difficult? 

Woman A: In terms of having an actual love life, not so much. I also often feel pressured to just have sex so I can feel like I'm in the "real" pool of daters, though. Sometimes I feel that because I'm a virgin more experienced people just aren't attracted to me for some reason. I know logically this isn't true because it's not like it's branded on my forehead.

Woman B: Yes. I feel like I can't just have fun and see where things go with a guy because at this point, even a casual dating relationship would probably have the expectation of sex. I don't want to date a guy for two months and then realize I don't want to sleep with him and to have wasted everyone's time. I don't want to tell a guy I'm a virgin and have him get weird about it. 

Woman C: Definitely. It makes me feel really insecure sometimes. If I like a guy and things are going well, I'm nervous to tell him I'm a virgin only because I don't know how he's going to react. Plus, I saw that episode of Girls where Shoshanna tells a guy she's a virgin and he stops going down on her and leaves. I'm really scared of that. 

Do you feel a pressure to lose your virginity at a certain time?

Woman A: Absolutely. It's funny because I was told the pressure to have sex would come in high school. I didn't expect to have sex then, but I always thought I'd have sex in college. Now that I'm about to graduate and still haven't had sex, I feel badly about myself. I feel like I missed out, like I messed up, or I must be unattractive or doing something wrong to have gone through all of college without even having a random hookup. The media portrays men as always wanting to have sex with anything that moves, so to believe that's true, and then to feel as though you aren't even good enough for supposedly horn-dog, hormone crazed college guys is a really, really frustrating and degrading feeling. I recently broke up with someone and although I'm happier being unattached, I was simultaneously kicking myself because I felt like I was losing my last chance to have sex before college ended, since I'm pretty sure I won't be in anything serious anytime soon.

Woman B: Before 30 would be nice. I just feel like I'm missing out on something fun. I wish I had lost it when I was around 17. I don't even care that it probably would have been bad then. Women my age are supposed to be running around having sex with just anyone and I just can't do that. I need to trust someone and I've never found someone I can trust.

Woman C: Yes and no. I am confident that at this point I'm going to wait until I find the right man, so I don't feel pressure in that sense. But I would like to lose it sooner rather than later, meaning I would like to meet the right guy very soon. 

Have you ever come close to having sex, but you didn't? 

Woman A: Several times I've been in no-clothes, almost-sex situations where the penis has been so close to the vagina because we're doing "everything but," but then we started doing something like oral sex instead. There was also the instance of the after-prom incident which, if I had not had my period, probably would've resulted in the guy asking me to have sex with him. I'm not sure what I would've said though.

Woman B: Yes, with a guy friend of mine. We were friends for a long time and during college there was a summer where we hung out a lot and it got kind of intimate. I remember one time it was one billion degrees outside and we slept on his porch in our underwear but neither of us did anything. Then in the fall I was home for a visit and went to a party with him at his school and we got really drunk. He took me to an observatory on a roof and we kissed. He told me he liked me and we held hands as we walked back to his apartment. I felt like I was too drunk to have sex so I told him that, and he was like, "Yeah, of course that's fine." We made out a little more and then we just went to sleep in his bed. We never talked about any of it. By the time I came back from school for winter break he was dating someone else. He's been with that girl for years now. 

Woman C: I have. I've been asked to have sex with someone before, which is nice, but I said no because it wasn't really a situation where I wanted to lose my virginity to that guy in particular. I didn't really feel anything for him more beyond just a physical attraction and I really want to make sure I give it to someone who cares about me and who I'm comfortable with and trust.

Do you have any ideal way you'd lose your virginity? 

Woman A: I used to want it to be in a committed relationship, but now that's not as much the issue. I just want to like the person and really want to fuck them. Lately, I feel like I'm only meeting guys that I don't want to bang but they're nice or I'll meet cute guys when I'm out at a bar but I don't know them at all so I'm not comfortable going home with them.

Woman B: Honestly my ideal is a guy I like, am attracted to, and who I trust who doesn't make a huge deal about it. I feel like at this point it's going to be a let down no matter what but I'd like it to be as chill as possible.

Woman C: When I was younger I always thought I'd wait until marriage. Halfway through high school I started to experiment and realized I actually liked doing sexual things . Currently, I my only "requirements" for having sex are that it's with a man who I love, who I know loves me, who I trust and feel comfortable being vulnerable around. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about adult female virgins?

Woman A: I had a huge problem with shows like MTV's "Virgin Territory", or just media in general, because the videos I saw made it seem like virgins were this rare, strange breed of people that they needed to expose. Newsflash: some of us want to have sex, but are just waiting for a time that feels right, and not scary. The more people put down virgins over the age of 21, the worse I feel about myself. It becomes this weird cycle where you think it's OK to wait or an adult has told you that you have to wait, but then you wait until you're older and find that apparently you're too old, so people start becoming surprised and react negatively. Then you feel badly about yourself and it inhibits your ability to confidently find partners. It's insane because women have always been told not to sleep around too early, which is total BS. The biggest misconception though is that you need a "legitimate" or religious reason to be a virgin. The reality? You don't.

Woman B: That we're waiting for some fairytale or that we're afraid of sex. I enjoy masturbating and I want to have sex with someone I like, but I'm not willing to roll the dice on some random from Tinder.

Woman C: I think people, mainly men, think female virgins are boring and prude, which is really, really frustrating. I'll do sexual things, but I just won't go all the way, and I don't think it's fair that that makes me a "prude." I also hate it when someone refers to my virginity as a cute thing. It's demeaning and it makes me feel like I'm five. I have lots of great qualities that make me who I am more than my virginity does and as cheesy as this sounds, I think I'm really fun. I'm not boring or uptight just because I've never had sex. I'm also not less of an adult because I've never had sex. That notion is ridiculous to me.

What advice would you give to other female virgins out there?

Woman A: Support other female virgins. It makes all the difference knowing that other attractive, cool women with nothing wrong with them are just waiting for the right person. Don't call people "virgins" in negative contexts, as if it's the only thing that defines them. Be kind, because some people aren't sure why they haven't had sex yet. Remind your fellow virgin friends that they are lovely and worth it, and that any person they choose to have sex with should deserve them.

Woman B: Try to not let all the societal messages and bullshit about virginity get to you. I'm not less of a woman or a feminist because I haven't had penetrative sex with a man. And I'm also not less of a feminist or a woman because I want to.

Woman C: You only do it for the first time once. That's an experience you never forget and I hope other female virgins remember that. Also, being a virgin doesn't make you less than. 

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Lane Moore

Lane Moore is an award-winning comedian, actor, writer, and musician based in New York City. Her first book, How To Be Alone: If You Want To And Even If You Don’t became a #1 bestseller and was praised as one of the best books of the year by The New York TimesNew York Magazine, NPR, Good Morning AmericaFast CompanyMarie Claire, and many others. Moore also gave a TEDx Talk based on the book, called How To Be Alone. Her comedy show “Tinder Live!” is regarded as one of the best comedy shows in New York City and has been praised by The New York TimesEntertainment Tonight, CBS, Time Out New York, and New York Magazine. She has a monthly sold-out residency in NYC, and also tours rock venues and colleges worldwide. As an actor, Moore plays Kelsey on HBO’s Search Party, and has a recurring role on Rooster Teeth’s What Do You Know? and had a memorable role on season 5 of  HBO’s Girls. She also frequently appears on Comedy Central, VH1, MTV, truTV, and IFC shows. As a musician, Moore is the front person and songwriter in the band “It Was Romance.” In her time as the the Sex and Relationships Editor at Cosmopolitan, she won a GLAAD award for her groundbreaking work championing diverse, inclusive coverage. Moore also hosts the live streaming comedy show How To Be Alone on Twitch, which she calls “PeeWee’s Playhouse for lonely adults.”