Sex is part of most adult lives in a world where the public is bombarded with sexual images in advertising, on television, in books and in magazines.
And in South Africa, as in most of the world, the average age of first penetrative sex is 18.
Despite this, there are many adults who are choosing to remain virgins.
Faranaaz* is a 28-year-old Cape Town professional. She is a single, ambitious, a devout Muslim and among the few remaining virgins she knows.
Faranaaz described herself as a “late bloomer”. It was only in her early 20s she learned about the opposite sex first hand.
She said in the beginning, her decision to remain a virgin until she married was because of her religion. But in her teen years, it became her personal choice.
“When I was in matric, several girls fell pregnant or got married. They experimented sexually because they were looking for something. At that stage I vowed I’d be a whole person before I gave my virginity away, and that it would be within marriage,” she said.
To her, engaging in sexual activity could lead to her being infected with a sexually transmitted disease, being an unmarried mother and suffering the shame attached.
As far as relationships go, she’s had very few.
“Partners are not always understanding,” she said. But she’s stuck to her guns. “It has been easy to avoid sex,” she said.
Most guys just chose to avoid her completely, she said. There were also some men who enjoyed the challenge of pursuing a virgin, but the pursuit was always shortlived.
“When they see the scarf they’re put off,” she said. “They sense that I’m not going to put out. So they just don’t approach me.”
Does she want to marry a virgin?
“We’re living in the 21st century. Many men my age have been married and divorced,” she said. The deciding factor would be whether he pressurised her for sex. That, she said, would be a deal breaker.
Sex, she said, would just have to wait until she was married. “When I give myself to someone, it won’t just be a union of body, but also of mind and soul.”
Elizabeth*, a 26-year-old, always thought she would wait for marriage because she’s sentimental. “I even dragged out my first kiss as long as I could. I ended up having my first kiss when I was almost 17,” she said.
As she grew older, she heard a few horrible stories of how girls lost their virginity in the back seats of cars, or were unable to remember the names of their partners.
“I decided I’d rather wait to do it with someone special. That someone just hasn’t shown his face,” she said.
Ideally, she would like to wait for marriage, but if someone special comes her way and she feels comfortable, she may have sex with him.
Elizabeth takes pride in her virginity. While people may judge her as a “kloosterkoek” (a nun) she simply feels her virginity is hers to give away when she wants to.
So far, Elizabeth has had only one boyfriend. She had to end the relationship because he put pressure on her for sex. She said he always hinted about when it would happen.
Elizabeth believes that when dating someone, sex is not an automatic privilege. “There has to be a balance between an emotional connection and sexual connection, but I can think of many other ways to have sex,” she said.
She hasn’t dated many men, but if the conversation heads in that direction, she mentions that she’s a virgin. Some like it, while others find it scary.
Elizabeth said at times holding out had been difficult. “Your body has been telling you for a couple of years ‘it’s time’. But I really don’t want any regrets. Or babies.”
As she’s getting older, Elizabeth admits to thinking about it more, and to being curious. “But it doesn’t rule my life. And I love kissing. I can kiss someone the whole day. That to me is perfectly fine for now,” she said.
City sexologist Dr Marlene Wasserman said remaining a virgin was a “solid” personal choice if based on information and not fear.
“Many people choose virginity out of fear, rather than informed choice, peer pressure, religious guilt or fear of rejection or abuse by a husband on discovering she is not as virginal as he expects her to be,” explained Wasserman.
Shee advised that virgins get to know their genitals so that they could be more confident when they did have sex, and not suffer from sexual dysfunction such as pelvic pain disorder. She suggested that women delay their sexual debut for as long as possible, as this allowed for healthier emotional choices and better decisions around partner choice.
Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh said that once the decision had been made, you needed to be able to discuss it openly and confidently with your partner. There should not be any pressure, she said.
“It’s fine to wait to have sex with your partner until you both feel ready for that step, or to postpone the decision,” said McIntosh.
Western Cape Health Department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said that abstaining was the only real guarantee for the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV and that this had been part of the national department’s campaign for several years.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.
X in sex is: Relax!
Many couples may be too tired or overwhelmed on the actual night to have sex.
Familiarise yourself with your genitals before your wedding night. Decide on contraception, so this doesn’t become an obstacle.
Avoid penetration at first. Instead get used to each other’s bodies and get comfortable being naked.
Use lubricant to ease penetration. Relax, let it be an intimate and engaging process.
Reclaim your virginity
Ever wished you could change the bad experience that led to you losing your virginity?
You can’t, but you can replace it with a more positive one.
Dr Elna McIntosh said that many people were choosing to become “second-generation virgins”.
This is a choice to abstain from sex for a few years or until marriage.
McIntosh said that for some, virginity was a state of mind and second-generation virginity was the reclaiming of power and control over one’s body.
“When someone forces or pressures you to have sex, or you feel your virginity was stolen, it doesn’t feel like that should be your first time,” said McIntosh.
“If being raped or pressured into sex has happened to you, you’re not alone.
“There is support, and your real ‘first time’ is still to come,” she said. It was in these circumstances that second-generation virginity allowed people to reclaim their virginity.
Children starting at a very young age
While the national average age for first-time sex is 18, an overwhelming number of boys and girls begin sexual penetration by the age of 12, says Dr Marlene Wasserman.
She said people were not clear about what the term virgin meant and commonly young people were being very sexual, and unsafely so, in order to remain virgins. “They will engage in anal or oral sex, anything but vaginal sex because the hymen has historic value, unfortunately.”
Health Department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn also confirmed that children were having sex at a very young age. Steyn noted that the average age at which girls started accessing birth control from state health facilities was 13; small numbers accessed for prenatal care between 13 and 14; and girls as young as 13 were having abortions.
Wasserman said there was enormous exposure to sexuality via social media and little via parents. “Pornography is the educator for our children.”
Celebs who have vowed to wait
“I’m living my life the way I believe is right, and that is to stay pure,” the former Hannah Montana star has said.
Miley, who is a singer and actress, is dating Liam Hemsworth who can be seen in The Hunger Games.
Defending her virgin status, the country music singer said: “I read a very creative rumour saying I’m pregnant, which is the most impossible thing on the planet. Take my word for it.” Taylor has in the past four years dated singer Joe Jonas, actor Taylor Lautner, singer John Mayer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
When the singer was dating Joel Madden, she said: “It’s harder having a boyfriend who is older because people just assume. But (virginity) is definitely something I like about myself. It doesn't mean I haven’t thought about sex, because everyone I know has had it and you want to fit in.” Today the singer is married to ice-hockey player Mike Comrie and has a son, Luca Cruz.
Long before the singer brought sexy back, he dated Britney Spears. Both claimed they were not having sex. He has since spoken about their relationship and On Saturday Night Live he spoofed it, saying: “Publicly, they’ll claim to be virgins. But privately, they hit it.”
Timberlake, who since then dated actress Cameron Diaz and others, is engaged to another actress, Jessica Biel.
Before starring in the reality show Newlyweds with her then husband Nick Lachey, Jessica said: “I promised God, my father, and my future husband that I would remain a virgin until I got married.” The couple divorced in 2006. Jessica is now engaged to Eric Johnson and gave birth to their first child, a daughter, on May 1.
The American Idols singer says: “Temptation is always there. It’s all about making the right choice and not putting yourself in that situation.”
Jordin is now dating fellow singer Jason Derulo. - Cape Argus