In a fantastic editorial in the New York Times, sociologist Amy Schalet interprets new data from the CDC that shows that young men and women are now losing their virginity at about the same age. Never-married males between aged 15-19 have essentially the same probability of being a virgin as females:
Schalet draws on her own research comparing American and Dutch teenagers to explain this trend, citing fear and love. Regarding fear, she writes:
…I found that American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: “I could be screwed for the rest of my life.” Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time.
The other reason for the increase in the age of virginity loss among boys is romance. Even in the face of cultural narratives that tell boys that all they want is sex, they tell personal stories of love and emotional connection (yes, even to grown-up lady sociologists). This loosening of rigid gender roles can be credited to feminism, Schalet contends, and even if it has “largely flown under the radar of American popular culture,” it is nonetheless given boys the “cultural leeway to choose a first time that feels emotionally right.”
For more about Amy Schalet’s research, see Consequences of U.S. and Dutch Approaches to Teen Sex and Talking Sex, Relationships, and Teen Health with Amy Schalet.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.