Having sex for the first time is a huge milestone in a lot of people's lives. Many of us spent our teenage years talking about whether we were ready, what it would be like, and who had and hadn't done it. But it may be time to rethink the way the way we talk about the concept of losing our virginity. Though it can be a significant moment in someone's life, the rhetoric about "losing" and "giving it up" is heteronormative, and it sends the wrong message. First off, virginity is a social construct. Oftentimes, women are the ones described as doing the 'losing,' implying that virginity is something that's taken — and that men do the taking. The idea of "losing" your virginity is too close to the puritanical idea that having women should be protecting their sexuality, and the idea that sex makes women somehow blemished or used. It harkens back to the notion that we are only worthy if we're untouched. And, more than any of that, it implies that we are passive participants rather than active sexual beings.
“Instead of saying, ‘losing your virginity,’ I use the words, ‘making your sexual debut,'" licensed psychotherapist and sex therapist, Mary Fisher, CMHC, tells Bustle. "'Losing' usually has a negative connotation, and your sexual debut should be a positive experience." It's also a great way to make sure that we're including things in the definition of "sex" that are beyond just penis-in-vagina penetration, which is both heteronormative and reductive.
"Considering the fact that there are many ways to start being sexual with another person, it simply makes more sense to define your 'sexual debut' as a premiere series of consensual sexual explorations with another person," Fisher says.
While the way we talk about it as a society is still problematic, it's natural to be curious about how and when these first sexual experiences start happening, and how they differ among different generations. DrEd, an online health consulting website, recently surveyed 500 Europeans and 500 Americans to get an idea of not only when they first had sex, but also when they started having a sexual awakening — those first little butterflies or urges. And there were some interesting findings. For example, those who identify as gay had some of the earliest sexual awakenings — averaging at under 14 years old — but were one of the latest groups to lose their virginity. And Republicans lost their virginity at an average age of 17.4 years old, but were the latest to have a sexual awakening — apparently that didn't come until a year later, at 18.4 years old.
"The vast array of catalysts for sexual awakening could be an indicator of just how different our tastes can be when it comes to sexual exploration," a spokesperson for DrEd tells Bustle. "Or, perhaps these people and images just happen to be in the right place, at the right time!"
And one thing that really stood out was how the age that people started having sex varied through the generations. Here's what the survey found.
Generation X: 18.1 Years Old
Generation X, the generation between Boomers and Millennials, are usually considered to be those born between the early '60s and early '80s — and they were also the latest to bloom. They were the only generation that started being sexually active over the age of 18 — 18.1 years old to be precise.
Millennials: 17.4 Years Old
Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, tended to lose their virginity at 17.4, which also happened to be the average age people started having sex across all generations.
Generation Z: 16.2 Years Old
The bright young things born after 2000 are known as Generation Z — and are the earliest starters of the group, having sex at an average age of 16.2 years old. That's almost two years younger than the Generation Xers.
It's really interesting to see how old different generations were when they started to become sexually active, but it's important to remember that there's no right or wrong age to start having sex. It's all about what's right for you. So as long as it was consensual, healthy, and happy, the age you started your sexual journey ain't nothing but a number.