What Really Happens If You're a Late in Life Virgin

January 24th 2016

The average person has sex for the first time around age 17, but some don't engage in intercourse until much later in life. Certain people intentionally abstain from sex while others, like Steve Carell's memorable character in "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," can't seem to make it happen. But what does it mean if you don't have sex until later in life?

The social stigma surrounding virginity.

Though some people pride themselves on waiting until they're older (maybe until marriage, or until a stable relationship) to have sex, there is also a social stigma surrounding late in life virginity. This can cause late in life virgins to experience shame, Dr. Stephen Snyder, a sex therapist in New York City, told the Atlantic in 2014.

Snyder told the publication that he has seen a lot of sexual dysfunction among his male patients, who tend to be virgins or people who lost their virginity late in life. Snyder said that his patients seem to be more embarrassed about being late in life virgins the older they get. Because some of his patients suffer from immense anxiety as a result of being late in life virgins, he sometimes prescribes medication or performs psychotherapy on them to help treat the anxiousness.

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Social shame surrounding virginity is often perpetuated in film and TV. One good example of this is the show "Girls." In the first season, college student Shoshanna is getting close to having sex with an old friend from camp, but when he finds out she is a virgin, he says he can't go through with having sex with her until she has had sex with at least one other person because he doesn't want the burden of taking her virginity. He also tells her that virgins get "attached" and tend to bleed, leading her to explain that she will be different. He ends up taking off, and she experiences some shame for the way the situation played out.

Steve Carell's character in "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" is another pop culture example of someone experiencing extreme social shame for late in life virginity:

Though all of Carell's male co-workers in the movie mock him mercilessly for being a virgin, he ultimately ends up really happy because he marries the woman of his dreams and has great sex with her (even though it's not so wonderful for her the first time).

Research on late in life virgins.

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who lost their virginity at age 22 were more likely to report sexual problems than people who had sex around 17, a "normative" age to lose one's virginity. These issues involved struggling to reach an orgasm, struggling to become aroused, and struggling to maintain an erection. The sexual issues were more pronounced in men who waited until later in life to have sex, but the study also pointed out that having sex early in life can have negative consequences too.

"Early sexual debut is associated with certain long-term negative sexual health outcomes, including increased sexual risk behaviors and problems in sexual functioning," the paper reads. "Late initiation was also associated with sexual problems, especially among men."

RELATED: What Happens When Girls Have Sex Before Turning 17

Another study conducted by Ohio State University in 2007, found that adolescents who had sex early were at a higher risk of delinquency a year later compared to people who had sex at the average age for their school.

“Those adolescents who waited longer than average may be developing friendships and relationships that can help protect them from potentially troublesome behaviors as they become young adults,” study co-author Stacy Armour said in a release.

In 2012, the University of Texas-Austin released a study that found people who have sex at age 20 or later reported having more satisfying romantic relationships than those who had sex younger than age 20.

"Individuals who first navigate intimate relationships in young adulthood, after they have accrued cognitive and emotional maturity, may learn more effective relationship skills than individuals who first learn scripts for intimate relationships while they are still teenagers," co-author Paige Harden said in a release at the time.

The experience of losing your virginity late in life.

For some people, it's a matter of choice. Several years ago, writer Sophie Atherton published a piece in The Guardian about her decision to wait until age 32 to have sex, noting that her "self-confidence" was a contributing factor and that she didn't develop an intimate relationship with a man until after turning 30. She fell for a man in college when she was 21, but "was afraid of both his rejection or acceptance," so she never pursued him. While her friends had sex and faced challenges with relationships in their 20s, she focused on herself. This, she wrote, made sex all the more exciting when she finally had it.

"The legacy of my lengthy virginity goes beyond independence — I think it has given me extra resilience to deal with life's setbacks and has taught me about patience," Atherton wrote. "Our culture might be one of 'everything now' but I've learned how to wait. And one of the best things has to be sex itself. While some women my age have lost interest, I still find it just as exciting as the very first time."

Not everyone is so positive about being a late in life virgin, however. Last summer, a 41-year-old male virgin who asked to go by the name Takashi Sakai told CNN that he wanted to have sex but couldn't even get into a relationship.

"When you see a woman and find her attractive, you might ask her out, hold her hand, kiss and that's how it goes," he said. "But in my case, it did not happen for me. I thought it might happen naturally, but it never did."

RELATED: Why People Become Born-Again Virgins

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