Keith McDorman walks into the back room of an Austin, Texas coffee shop. With his dirty-blond hair, light eyes, week-old beard, and striped button-down shirt, he looks like a younger, shorter, bohemian version of Bradley Cooper. He tosses his scooter helmet onto the wooden table, sits across from me at a booth that barely fits us both, and talks before I ask a question.
“My mind doesn’t comprehend how much sex I have,” says McDorman, a 29-year-old carpenter from southern California.
That statement brings glances from studying college students. We opt for more privacy by heading outside, where we talk over a live rock band at a high table near a vegan food truck. McDorman continues by telling me about a conversation he had recently with his girlfriend, in which he expressed fear that his libido had dropped. She laughed, since, well, they had had sex six times that week.
He told me this less as a brag and more as a preface. McDorman had lost his virginity just a year prior. He abstained from sex because he had low self-esteem, which he says heightened after learning about his sinful nature at church. He didn’t want to be ostracized from his Christian family and friends. And he didn’t want to prematurely ejaculate while messing around, which had happened to him once in college. So he didn’t have sex until he was 28.
What eventually made him feel ready was practicing orgasmic meditation, which entails stroking a woman’s clitoris for 15 minutes. The class, which he joined after hearing about it from a friend, eased McDorman into being sexual in a permissible environment where he felt safe. Soon after, he lost his virginity to a girl in this community and later met his current girlfriend.
Like McDorman, many individuals who lose their virginities “late” do so for many reasons—not just the stereotypical “can’t get laid” or “super-religious” assumptions. Whether it’s by choice, circumstance, or both, late virginity loss can bring anything from pride to sexual dysfunction for the few Americans who experience it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age Americans lose their virginities (defined here as vaginal sexual intercourse) is 17.1 for both men and women. The CDC also reports that virgins make up 12.3 percent of females and 14.3 percent of males aged 20 to 24. That number drops below 5 percent for both male and female virgins aged 25 to 29 and goes as low as 0.3 percent for virgins aged 40 to 44.
Of course, those statistics only represent heterosexual penile-vaginal sex. The question of “what is virginity?” obviously has a different answer in the LGBT community. And straight people, too, sometimes feel that oral or anal sex counts as virginity loss. Still, the most common definition of virginity loss is penile-vaginal intercourse, as Planned Parenthood points out on its website.
Statistically, if you didn’t have sex in your teen years, you’re in the minority. But most people I asked in my unscientific poll felt virginity loss wasn’t “late” if the person was still college-aged. Many thought 25 was the first late age. One friend told me that for secular people, “late” is 20 and older, and for religious people, 40 and older. The popular 1999 film American Pie suggests that late is freshman year of college. And the character Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel) on New Girl stated in a flashback in a recent episode, “In three years, I’ll be 25. I can’t rent my first car as a virgin. They’ll know.”
Not only does the perception of what is “late” vary among individuals, it also varies among communities. For Sarah and John Devaney, who lost their virginities to each other on their wedding night, being a 30-year-old virgin was not too outlandish within their Christian community. When they got married, Sarah was 31 and John was 30.
The couple recently Skyped with me, sitting on their bed in Reno, Nevada. John, now 33, would look like a college professor if he weren’t wearing a University of Nevada, Reno sweater. He’s an online math teacher with thick-rimmed glasses, neat dirty blond hair, and unblemished white teeth. Sarah is a 34-year-old brunette who smiles with her whole face. She has bangs, dark eyes wrapped in black mascara, and is a director for a Christian ministry.
The couple’s Christian convictions partially motivated their decision to wait until marriage but they say those weren't the only reasons. The two also wanted to avoid STDs, pregnancy, and the emotional damage they had heard can come with having sex with someone who ultimately leaves. They speculate that they would have lost their virginities later than average even if they weren’t Christians. John thinks he would’ve lost it after college, in his 20s, since he admits he didn’t know how to talk to girls before age 20 and wasn’t ready for sex before then. Sarah says she had low self-worth before age 25, making her believe she would’ve eased into sex piece-by-piece in college.
Their wedding night wasn’t spectacular but their sex lives continue to improve.
“The first time felt good to me but he didn’t orgasm,” Sarah says. “We knew we wanted to keep learning, to figure it out more. It took lots of experimentation. Neither of us had anything to compare it to. If I didn’t orgasm or he didn’t orgasm, it’s not like, ‘You don’t love me.’ It’s more like, ‘Oh, how can I do that better or different next time?’”
John agrees with her, adding, “I think we’re in a very satisfying sexual relationship. We don’t have many issues.”
Not every person who loses their virginity later in life fares as well as John and Sarah, though. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, survey respondents who lost their virginities “late”—a mean age of 22—more frequently reported sexual problems than those who lost it at a “normative” age—a mean age of 17.5, in this study. These sexual problems include having trouble reaching orgasm, maintaining an erection, and becoming sexually aroused.
Dr. Stephen Snyder, a sex therapist in New York City, has seen his share of sexual dysfunction among his male patients. These patients, who often are virgins or men who lost their virginities in their 20s or 30s, most commonly suffer from extreme shyness, social anxiety disorder, or anxiety about their bodies.