Recent research has highlighted that off-time sexual transitions such as maintaining virginity into adulthood are often experienced as a stigma. Based on stigma and identity theories, adult virginity is conceptualized as a concealable and stigmatized identity. The literature on concealable stigmatized identities emphasizes the significance of their disclosure and the personal and interpersonal consequences of their concealment. Little is known about the subjective experience of adult virginity as an identity and about adult virgins' experiences of disclosing this identity to others. The present study explored personal and social experiences of adult virginity (i.e., perceptions, motives, identity) and its disclosure (i.e., confidants' reactions and their impact) through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 11 heterosexual women aged 24–29 who identified as virgins and had never engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse. Data was analysed using directed content analysis and two main conceptual categories were identified: a) Framing virginity: Making sense of not having sex, and b) Disclosure and concealment: Managing virginity stigma. Participants perceived the meaning of their virginity as likely to endure despite its anticipated temporary nature and described the risk of losing a relationship opportunity as present whether they disclosed or concealed their virginity. The results of this study highlight the need to challenge virginity stigma by increasing awareness and the visibility of adult virginity as an identity. Implications for sexuality educators, clinicians and researchers are discussed and focus on interventions that frame adult virginity as a form of sexual diversity.


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pp. 190-202
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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