Losing Your Virginity: A Better Experience Now Than 20 Years Ago, Says Science

By Stephen Marche

A study from Illinois State University, published in the most recent Journal of Sex Research, has provided one of the largest samples ever compiled of the emotional reactions to first time sexual experiences. Susan Sprecher examined in detail questionnaires filled in by 5,769 university students over the 23-year period between 1990 to 2012. And the results are very encouraging.

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For both men and women, losing your virginity has become a significantly better experience over that course of time.

The study set out to examine the gender differences between men and women in the experience of losing your virginity. Not surprisingly, perhaps, "men experienced significantly more pleasure and anxiety than women, whereas women experienced more guilt than men. The largest gender difference found was for pleasure, although the effect size was very large for all three emotions."

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The size of the emotional distinction led the researchers to believe that the experience of first sexual intercourse could be a candidate for inclusion in the category of the fundamental sexual distinctions between men and women.

That difference is shrinking, however. First-time sexual experiences are getting better and better, at least at this one Midwestern university: "Anxiety decreased over the three decades for men; pleasure increased and guilt decreased for women." Sprecher's explanation for these positive changes are cultural:

"The over-time analyses indicated that men's anxiety levels decreased (i.e., 1980-2012). There may be many reasons for this decrease in anxiety to first intercourse, including that perhaps more recent cohorts of men are less likely than cohorts from the 1980s and 1990s to have first sexual intercourse as a rite of passage and therefore as a stigma to shed (Carpenter, 2002), motives that likely would have been associated with performance anxiety. As first sexual intercourse has become associated with being in the context of a relationship (Risman & Schwartz, 2002), it is likely to be preceded by a progression of sexual intimacy. This might also explain why women's pleasure was found to increase over time and their guilt to decrease. Women's guilt may have decreased also because of a reduction, in general, of social regulation of female sexuality and in the double standard (e.g., Crawford & Popp, 2003) and the increase of role models for sexuality in the media for females (e.g., Petersen & Hyde, 2010). Although gender differences in emotional reactions to first intercourse have decreased over time, the first intercourse experience continues to be a more positive experience for men than for women."

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The reason first sexual experiences are so much better today than they were two decades ago is that kids are a hell of a lot nicer and smarter and more informed and just plain better people than back then. It's academic.

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