Popular culture stigmatizes college virgins as outcasts


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In the movie “Easy A,” starring Emma Stone, a virgin senior in high school lies about her sex life to impress her friend and feel less like an outcast. In “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” a middle-aged man is found to be a virgin and comical adventure ensues to “fix” his virgin status.

The idea of being a virgin during the late years of high school and the early years of college has been deemed a taboo by society and by the media. In reality, being a virgin in college is far less taboo than most think. According to the 2016 National College Health Assessment conducted by WSU Health and Wellness Services (HWS), about 30 percent of WSU students have never taken part in any sexual activity.

“People overestimate the amount of sex their peers are having,” said Taylor Schwab, HWS Health Promotion Specialist and Health Education Coordinator. “They think the highs are a lot higher than they really are (and) the lows are a lot lower than they really are.”

Many college-themed movies and TV shows perpetuate the stereotype that all college students just want to party and have sex all the time. Nearly a third of WSU students do not fall within this generalization. The idea that someone is a virgin in college and choosing not to sleep with a significant other could deem that relationship as abnormal.

Movies and TV shows play major roles in assuming sex is a regular and crucial part of all relationships. They make those who remain virgins the punchline of jokes, which can weaken the confidence of college-age virgins and make them feel like their choices are wrong.

Women, specifically, are faced with a double standard when it comes to their sexual activity. They are not allowed to approach “slut territory” without developing a promiscuous reputation, but can’t be a virgin or they’re seen as a “prude,” which also carries an incredibly negative connotation. No matter her choices, if a woman is confident in how she carries herself sexually, she’s judged.

This idea that choosing to not have sex by the time college comes around is not only damaging to women, but young men as well. Young men are often seen as hyper-sexual beings. These unrealistic and narrow ideals are nearly impossible to achieve. So men are expected to prove their masculinity by having excessive amounts of sex.

These stereotypes that all men are hypersexual beings and that all women should have perfect amount of sex are damaging. Any time such broad generalizations are made, they cause those who don’t fit into these perfect boxes to feel like outcasts, Schwab said.

Overarching generalizations are due to societally-enforced gender roles. These roles state that a woman should be a perfect, innocent being by only having sex with a few people throughout her entire life.

“Easy A” demonstrates this double standard. As a senior in high school, Stone’s character exaggerates her sex life to feel less like an outcast. The idea that she has to do this is horrifying, and the reactions of her peers are predominately negative. At first, she is accepted. She is admired for no longer being a virgin, but when her “sex life” begins to include more men, she is once again an outcast. Stone’s character had to fit into a small box to appease her peers – a box designed by strict gender roles.

Men, on the other hand, are not allowed to be repulsed by any form of sexual activity. Gender roles go as far as to insinuate men who are raped should’ve just let it happen and enjoyed the experience.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” starring Steve Carell, is an example of media that insists all men should want sex. The middle-aged virgin is seen as strange for never engaging in sexual acts and his friends hire prostitutes so he can just get it over with. This is damaging to men who simply want to wait or who have little-to-no interest in sex, as their personal decisions involving sex are satirized.

Many gender roles are still in place because of the patriarchal structure of modern society. Men are generalized to be strong, sexual beings while women are stereotyped as submissive, and those who don’t follow these norms are categorized as bizarre.

“Gender roles give constrictive ideas of what men and women should be,” said Nikki Finnestead, HWS Violence Prevention Coordinator. “We need to be taking small steps as Cougs to help change these societal norms.”