According to a recent study out of University College London, millennials are waiting longer to have sex than members of previous generations, with 12.5 percent of them abstaining until age 26.
But some wait even longer than that. We recently talked to three people who have remained virgins well into their 30s — one by choice, the other two by happenstance. Below, they tell us more about how they’ve remained abstinent this long and what it’s like to date when you’ve never had sex.
Responses have been edited for clarity and style, with last names withheld for privacy.
People remain virgins for so many different reasons. For you, was it an intentional choice to abstain from sex?
Brianna, a 35-year-old programmer from Indianapolis, Indiana: My reasons are a bit of a mixed bag. I was raised very conservatively and was told that sex before marriage was a sin, so that kept me a virgin for a while. Then, when I outgrew that thinking, it was a matter of waiting to find someone I felt comfortable enough with to consider that next step. It just hasn’t happened. I date and have had a couple of relationships get as far as three months or so, but no one long term. So, I’m still a virgin.
Matt, a tech industry worker in his mid-30s who lives in Lansing, Michigan: I grew up with fairly severe social anxiety, which I’ve never completely overcome. I had some early rejections in late high school and early college that completely ruined what self-esteem I had. We live in a society that mostly expects the guy to be the initiator and ask a woman out ― in a heteronormative context, anyhow. At the same time, you hear platitudes like, “It will happen when you least expect it!” quite often, so I went through my 20s thinking, “It will happen when it happens.”
Then I got into my 30s, the last of my close single friends got married, I had never been in a relationship, and I realized that I had a problem. I’d always struggled with my weight. In my 30s, I got bariatric surgery, where they removed 80 percent of my stomach. I lost 140 pounds, thinking that was the problem. And while I do land a few more dates now than I did before, I’ve never had anything progress past the second or third date. It is difficult to step outside myself, but in a nutshell, I blame my social anxiety and introverted personality.
Kate, a 33-year-old conservative writer who lives in Washington, D.C.: I would say that the reasons evolved over time. I bought a chastity ring when I was 16 that said, “True love waits.” In college, I bought a different ring that I still wear to this day, because my understanding of chastity evolved. I realized it wasn’t just about “waiting,” it was choosing to love. The ring that I bought says “John 3:16” in Greek: “God so loved the world that He gave His only son.” It’s a reminder to me to strive to be that most perfect love in the world and that I deserve someone who strives to love me in that most perfect way. We all deserve that.
“Most guys that I know or have dated are really supportive, and many even share my beliefs. But I do get guys every once in a while that give me hassle about it ― and the worst is on social media.”- Kate, a 33-year-old conservative writer who lives in Washington, D.C.
What have your dating experiences been like now that you’re in your 30s?
Matt: I don’t date a lot. Sometimes it will be a few dates in a month, sometimes I’ll go a few months without going on a single date. Even on dating sites, it’s difficult to attract a woman’s attention. Everybody is there looking for something different, but I think that women get bombarded by so many messages that it becomes difficult for an ordinary guy to stand out.
For me, sex is something that I’ve been without for so long that it’s become something of an abstraction. You can go without sex. That’s much less of a problem than going through life alone and without affection.
Kate: I’ve tried online dating and using the apps, but I think I’ve had pretty much the same experiences as everyone else. Like most people, I don’t list out every single thing that I believe, and things like chastity or me being pro-life wouldn’t come up until a second or third date. But I don’t think my dating experiences have been much different or even more awkward or weird than anyone else’s.
Brianna: Dating is about the same as anyone else looking for a potential partner who may be unwilling to have sex on the first date. My dating life has its ups and downs. Sometimes I feel the need to online date, but then get tired of that and stop for a while.
How far have you gotten with someone physically? What’s your relationship history been like?
Kate: I’m still a virgin. My relationship history, like that of a lot of other people in their 30s, is too long to recount.
Matt: Hugging. Not petting. Not fondling. Just hugging. No relationships.
Brianna: Handjobs (giving and receiving). I’ve not done or had any oral. I’ve had some relationships that lasted a few months, but nothing longer than that.
How do people you’re romantically interested in respond when you tell them you haven’t had sex yet?
Brianna: A couple of the guys were virgins, too ― and relieved. Some also grew up in the same kind of church as I did, and while they weren’t virgins, they understood how I could still be one. But with most dates, there’s never a second or third date. We just didn’t date long enough for it to come up.
When I get to the point where I’m starting to get more physically intimate with someone, I’ll make it a point to tell them the next time we’re together. I don’t do it in the middle of any action, though. That can throw cold water over the whole situation.
Kate: I’d say the reaction is mixed. Most guys that I know or have dated are really supportive, and many even share my beliefs. But I do get guys every once in a while that give me hassle about it ― and the worst is on social media. I’ve gotten a lot of vile attacks from men on social media following an op-ed I wrote on about my beliefs.
Matt: Unfortunately, I’ve never had a relationship progress to the point where this has come up.
What misconceptions about late-in-life virginity bother you the most?
Brianna: That we’re all crazy cat ladies sitting at home in sweaters.
Matt: I don’t know what conceptions people have about people in their 30s who happen to be virgins. It certainly isn’t something that I advertise. In this day and age, I suspect that a lot of people would think of the incel community ― a group I do not in any way identify with or condone.
I’m not angry about being a virgin ― it is only one facet of the incredible complexity that makes up a person. I don’t hate women. I haven’t lived with my parents in over a decade. I’m a classically trained musician, have a full-time job with a living wage, my own apartment, my own car and good personal hygiene.
Kate: That it isn’t a feminist choice. As a 33-year-old single woman, looking back on my life, I can honestly say that I’m glad that I chose to buy that chastity ring at 16 and that I chose to live my life in this way. There are so many times throughout my short life that my commitment to chastity has saved me from bad situations, bad people ― and has, in fact, provided me with the freedom to live an incredible life and live out my dreams. I’m living out the feminist dream, in part because of my commitment to chastity.
“I don’t really feel like I’m missing out. I take care of my own orgasms. I use my fingers and toys. I enjoy porn. I’ve given myself all my best orgasms so far, so I don’t really know what I’m missing.”- Brianna, a 35-year-old programmer from Indianapolis, Indiana
Are you open to having sex while dating, or just sort of indifferent?
Matt: I would certainly want to wait until things became serious. I’m significantly more interested in getting to know someone and building attraction and affection than jumping into bed.
Kate: I am looking for long-term love and hope to get married before sex. I’m looking for someone who is imperfect, like me, but is striving. We’re all works in progress and I want someone who is striving to be a better person, like me, and who challenges me to be a better person. Someone who loves deeply, someone with hopes and dreams, and someone who cares for others and who treats others with respect and love.
Brianna: I’m open to it, but I’m not in a rush. I’ve waited this long. I’d rather try to ensure some level of pleasure rather than just “getting it over with.” And I’m guessing it will be a serious relationship, just by default. I have a decent, good life: good job, great friends, active social life.
I don’t really feel like I’m missing out. I take care of my own orgasms. I use my fingers and toys. I enjoy porn. I’ve given myself all my best orgasms so far, so I don’t really know what I’m missing.
What’s your best advice for people who are virgins who want to date?
Kate: Recognize that chastity in 2018 really is a mosh pit of opinions and experiences. Some people really respect it and think it’s cool and hip (like avocado toast and craft beer), others think it’s weird and old-school. Actually, I probably get the same reactions to my choices that hipsters do for theirs.
Brianna: Be yourself. If someone you care about is that turned off by virginity, then they’re not a decent enough person to spend your energy on. And if you don’t care about it being someone special? Then go out to a bar or get on Tinder and safely get fucked! It’s your body.
Matt: Don’t panic. You’re in good company. Or at least company.
“It’s Not You, It’s Me” is a series that looks at dating in America from the perspective of different ethnicities, sexual identities, life experiences and circumstances. Do you have a unique perspective or experience with dating? E-mail us about it at ItsNotYou@huffpost.com.