Adam*, 23, is pretty much like every other dude on Tinder: he just moved to New York City from the Midwest, he loves watching John Oliver clips and he has the requisite beard, as well as a profile that says "let's get pizza." The only difference is, Adam's never had sex.
"I would say [I'm waiting] for the right person," he told Mic.
He's not in a hurry to have sex, but admits if the situation presented itself, he wouldn't turn it down. But don't expect Adam to disclose he's a virgin on a date "unless the other person is expecting sex ASAP, which is unlikely for girls," he said.
"Truth is, most people see losing your virginity as a big scary thing," Adam said. "I really felt more scared about losing my tooth."
A not-so-rare breed: Statistically speaking, Adam isn't that rare of a breed. Anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests plenty of young adult daters, both gay and straight, wait to have sex for any number of reasons — personal, physical, relational or religious. And you better believe they're online dating.
While the national average age for losing one's virginity is 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 12.3% of females and 14.3% of males ages 20 to 24 have never had sexual contact with the opposite sex. We're living in a time where, according to a recent New York magazine profile, college virgins are a "mostly silent almost-majority," with one survey of 24,000 U.S. college students concluding that up to 20% of college graduates complete school without ever having sex.
But that's not the way it always seems, if pop culture is any indication. The messaging in TV shows like Master of None and Girls has many virgins suffering from "the Superbad effect," as Nerve called it, or the belief that everyone around them is having sex and thus they're way behind.
"We internalize this idea of sex as something that is constantly available and that everyone is doing, and if you're not doing it, there's something wrong with you," Rachel Hills, author of 2015 book The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, told Mother Jones. Hills was inspired to write the book as someone who graduated from college as a virgin and was struck by statistics showing how many 20-somethings were in the same boat.
To find out what it's really like to be a virgin navigating the fraught, often sex-obsessed landscape of online dating, Mic asked 20-something virgins about their dating habits, disclosing their sexual history, and why the hell they chose to download Tinder. (Since the experience of virginity loss is subjective — some people consider various sex acts on par with penetrative sex, while others adhere to a definition of virginity loss as vaginal sex — Mic interviewed men and women who were self-identified virgins.)
The "let's get this over with" tool: While some of the virgins Mic spoke with have no interest in having sex right away, some are using dating apps for one reason only: to have sex. For a virgin on a mission, swiping their V-card should theoretically be as simple as finding the neighborhood's best Thai food.
"I started walking down the stairs and I only got half way before he had his hands around my waist and pinned me against the wall," one 22-year-old woman wrote in a post for Thought Catalog of losing her virginity via a casual Tinder hookup. "Just like that, my virginity was gone. Six months of planning and it was over. ... It was good though, and I didn't feel any remorse or guilt over letting a stranger take my virginity."
She'd prepared for the date by practicing with sex toys, masturbating and going to Planned Parenthood. Finally losing her virginity eased her anxieties about sex. "Now it doesn't consume my thoughts, I think about it pretty frequently though and I'm hungry for more, but it doesn't stress me out anymore," she wrote.
In fact, there are a number of 20-something women who have specifically utilized OkCupid and Tinder to facilitate first-time sex. Reddit, for instance, is flooded with people crowd-sourcing the best ways to land a date and lose their virginity. "I just feel like I need to get this out of the way before I can actually have any success meeting people," female user allinthebattery wrote in a thread on r/OkCupid.
Other posters are former virgins who return to the thread to provide advice on how to navigate the online dating landscape. "Do what makes you feel comfortable, and share as much or as little information as you want," one woman wrote on another thread. "I ended up finding an amazing guy that I've been dating for more than two years. OkC worked for me, but I had to weed out the jerks."
"I just feel like I need to get this out of the way."
Often, the topic of disclosure comes up in these forums: Do virgins have any obligation to warn their OkC and Tinder matches they've never had sex before? There's no consensus on this issue.
"Virginity is not herpes. There's no need to notify your partner about it. Just tell him to start off slowly. That's all," user gunstreetgirl305 advised a 28-year-old female virgin who wasn't sure when to drop the V bomb on her date.
Ravi*, 24, a Muslim who hopes to lose his virginity to his future wife, falls on the pro-disclosure side of the spectrum. He said he's open about being a virgin when he goes on dates. "I could [tell a date I'm a virgin] on the first date if I feel a connection," Ravi told Mic. "I am pretty proud of myself for having been patient. So, if she doesn't understand and walks away, good for her."
Online dating is "one big trick question": While virginity is not a big deal for some, for others, it's a kind of stigma on their dating lives. A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Sex Research found that often female college virgins associate virginity as a source of pride and male virgins associate it with a source of shame or guilt. More often, it seems a combination of both.
"The embarrassment takes over and I turn into ultra virgin extraordinaire," Gloss writer Ashley Reese, who posts about dating as someone who has never had sex, said about creating dating profiles in her column. Reese pointed out that filling out a dating profile can feel like "one big trick question," because "it's not like I'm going to wiggle that potentially important piece of information seamlessly into my profile introduction. 'I'm a 23-year-old writer from LA living in Brooklyn. I'm really into music, style, being a virgin and discussing current events.'" she wrote.
Most mainstream online dating sites and apps are hard to navigate for the sexually inexperienced, especially when sexual know-how seems paramount on so many platforms. For instance, Mic looked at a randomized sample of the 50 first match questions on OkCupid and found six specifically targeted sexual experience and sexuality. Someone who's never had sex, for instance, would be unable to answer OkCupid questions like, "Would you sleep with someone on the first date?" and "Do you want your partner to be kinkier than you?"
Others, though, are not so concerned with the prospect of coming out as a virgin to a partner they just met on a notoriously sex-focused app. "It's not really a big deal," Adam said. "It's like playing a game for the first time with a friend. Once you mess up, your friend will ask, 'Have you not done this before?' You say, 'no,' and they say, 'Cool, I'll show you.' Or so I think. That's why it's important to be with a friend."
The app of fantasies: As an app that's been heralded as the "dawn of the dating apocalypse" and plainly "the sex app," Tinder might seem like an odd choice for people who are waiting until marriage to have sex. But as an app that boasts about 1.6 billion profiles, Tinder is too popular and too enticing for virgins to ignore. "It was free, easy and has the most people," Adam said.
Ravi said his Tinder window shopping might actually get in the way of his religious beliefs. "My religion condemns premarital sex. Then again, I've broken many Muslim laws, so I might just get it over with," he said. "I don't know yet. I'm contemplating."
Yet another subset of online dating virgins said that they are only swiping to fantasize about what might be out there. That's not a huge number of people, according to WaitingTillMarriage.org, which estimates that only about 3% of Americans are waiting to tie the knot before they have sex. But that doesn't mean they don't have Tinder accounts.
Jacob*, 20, is one of those virgins. His Tinder profile is blank, he said, but his photos reveal a normal guy on the beach, hanging with his friends. Jacob told Mic he takes his Jewish faith incredibly seriously and insists he isn't actually looking for sex on the app. "I've never really tried to get a date," he said.
For Jacob, Tinder is much like window shopping: He gets to eye a carousel of tempting women without actually engaging with any of them. In fact, he's never told a woman he's a virgin before.
When Jacob first heard of Tinder, he was grossed out, referring to it as a "sex market." "I believe that sex is about something more than just getting pleasure. According to my faith, I shouldn't be [on Tinder]," he said. "I really can't even answer to myself why I'm on [Tinder]."
Jacob said most of his friends in his religious community (all of whom are virgins) don't even have smartphones for fear it will tempt them to download dating apps. For the abstinent, it's a sexual can of worms. "Let's make it clear: Both of us know that if I want, I [could] have sex tonight, and if not tonight, not more than a week from now. But [...] the bottom line is that I do believe in my way," he said.
"I'm going to delete it," Jacob assured Mic.
Nothing casual about casual sex: While the stories of virgins using Tinder as a medium in which to lose their virginities seem empowering and fun, some men looking to use the tool say stereotypes about men looking for casual sex work against them.
Jon*, 20, plays recreational sports and has a huge, welcoming smile. His Tinder profile includes a quote from comic Bo Burnham Jon has done sexual stuff, but not had intercourse: "I had this weird experience where my ex girlfriend said we could insert but not move ... That was the farthest we ever went," he told Mic.
About a month ago, the issue of sex — Jon wanting it and his ex wanting to remain a virgin — broke the pair apart. "But now we're not together and I want to experience it, which leads me to Tinder. I guess the reason I am [a virgin] is because I held onto thinking it was only worth it with one person and that person wouldn't do it with me."
In his first month on the app, Jon has been on two promising dates. He went into each with the rule of thumb that he'd keep his virginity status a secret, unless things were "escalating in bed."
The results? "One girl was down to [have sex]. We got lunch, and I eventually explained my situation to her when her intentions became clear." His Tinder date didn't really care that he was a virgin. "She knew I was cute and probably knew my way around a vagina because I still did things," Jon said. "I have her number, but I still feel apprehensive."
It's not that Jon doesn't want to have sex: He does. "I look at her and I think I could be inches away, face to face, naked. But I can't say my answer is 'yes,' as bad as I want to experience it," Jon said. That's because while Jon isn't looking for love, he doesn't want to be labeled a fuckboy looking for casual sex, either.
"I guess being a virgin on Tinder isn't the hard part. The hard part is going about asking for casual relations, at least for me," he said. "You wanna be outright with your normal human sexual desires, but you fear being labeled a 'fuckboy,' 'scumbag' or 'disgusting man.'"
"I got a lot to learn": Though virgins like Jon are apprehensive, his notion that waiting could turn out well isn't completely unfounded. Research from the University of Texas at Austin found that people who lose their virginity later than the average age tend to have more satisfying romantic relationships when they become adults. In fact, there are a lot of benefits to waiting until you're ready: You're more mature, both physically and emotionally, and you probably have more knowledge about sex to begin with.
"I got a lot to learn anyway," Adam said, adding that he had no timeline for when he'd lose his virginity, despite all his online dates. "Baby steps."
*First names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely about private matters.