SEXtember: International students’ perspectives on virginity
WHAT do international students think about virgins and virginity? Lunnie Gan chats to seven different students to get their thoughts on how culture, education and friends can set and change their perceptions on on those that have yet to have sex or have sworn off from it.
Anisa*, 19, Indonesia
In Indonesia, the [virginity] culture is really strong and most Indonesians really value virginity and try to stick to being a virgin.
For me, it’s very valuable. Why would I give it to someone who’s not guaranteed to be my husband, the father of my children? I guess [this perception] has to do with our upbringing, the culture and religion. In my family, my dad always tells me to be very careful, because we only have that [virginity] once and if we’re not careful, then it’s bye-bye already. It’s not something we can renew!
I know it’s becoming more common to have sex before marriage, especially here in Australia. For me, it’s okay [for someone to be sexually active], as I’m completely fine with having a friend who’s not a virgin anymore, because it’s a matter of choice for them. But for myself, I also need to think about my family and my purpose of being here [in Australia] as a student, so I’ll try to stick with it [being a virgin before marriage].
Martin*, 21, Norway
Young people are quite sexually liberated in Norway; we learn about sex quite early. My perceptions [on virginity] might be a bit different from the Asian point of view, but I don’t view it as good or bad. Virginity is definitely not an insignificant notion in Norway and losing your virginity is also quite significant to most. It varies for different people, but after your first time it might be less significant, but sexuality as a concept is probably much stronger.
In Norway the legal age of consent is 16 years old, but there are many that begin earlier than this. It’s not as if parents encourage us to have sex from early on, but we’re introduced to sexual education quite early. I remember having basic sexual education, such as ‘where and how are babies made’ as early as 3rd grade (eight yrs). Schools focus on creating awareness around sex as well, and there’s an emphasis on promoting and practicing safe sex, responsible sex, and of course the idea of consent.
I don’t see a difference in people who are virgins or not, so that doesn’t substantiate a significant difference from others. Sex is an intimate and personal thing to share, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t define a person’s character; there are many other intimate and personal experiences that can shape you equally as much as a person.
Bryan*, 22, Ecuador
It [the likelihood of being a virgin] really depends on where people come from. If they’re from western countries, it’s more likely that they’re not, when compared with those from Asian countries.
Generally, there’s not much pressure [to being a virgin or not]. But in your own circle, when everyone is sexually active, you’ll feel a bit more pressured.
For me, I’m totally cool with people either being one or not. I’m more open to it, I don’t really care and it’s not much of an issue with me. I guess it’s up to everyone to make their own decisions. So far, I haven’t met anyone who’s not okay with my perceptions on virginity and I think it’s a matter of being respectful too when it comes to [having a difference in views].
Josef, 21, New Zealand
In my observation, the perceptions that New Zealand students have towards virginity really differs person to person. It’s kind of in the middle of Eastern and Western, between being open and conservative. But definitely, going to university opens up a lot of opportunities for students to have sex. Especially since a lot of them are staying in colleges, where sex is readily available, well at least from what I had heard.
In New Zealand, we had the birds and the bees talk in year six and a more comprehensive sex talk in high school. In families, it depends. I found a lot of my Asian friends were not given the sex talk. And I even have this one friend who will not talk about it at all, even among friends. She can’t even say the word ‘penis’.
I’m a Catholic, but a pretty liberal one. My views on [the idea of virginity] is that I really don’t care. If you want to do that, then go ahead and do that, there’s no problem in that, as long as you think it’s fine, it’s fine. I don’t think you’re an evil person if you want to do it you know. But, keep safe. Sex education is important. Keep safe, don’t spread viruses, don’t get pregnant.
Ivy, 19, China
I came from a traditional family, growing up in values such as no-sex-before-marriage. But apparently, there’s a lot of Chinese students here who have lost their virginity already. I’m not sure it’s because I came to Australia early or just that it’s a common thing in China now, but a lot of Chinese people here really surprised me. Like they’d done it already!
I came here to Australia when I was 14. In recent years, China had became more modernised and westernised. Back then, we were not even allowed to be in a relationship in high school. If you’re in one, the teachers will tell you off and most parents wouldn’t allow it too. So I feel like [this repression] is the motivation [to lose their virginity] for most people who [have come] to Australia. Since parents are not here and no one’s here to watch you anyway.
Coming to Australia, I became more open-minded about it [virginity] but I don’t care that much. Do whatever you want to do, even if later on it turns out to be a mistake, I wouldn’t regret it, because I feel like it’s kind of an experience in life.
But still, if I met someone who I think is supposed to be a virgin, and they tell me that they’re not a virgin anymore, I’ll still be surprised.
Daniel, 22, Malaysia
Malaysians among other nationalities have the highest virginity rates, that’s just from my perspective.
About the reason behind it, I think it’s just the fact that Malaysians are more conservative compared to other countries. I’m going to use Singapore as an example, because I studied there for like ten years. When I was doing National Service in Singapore, I was still a virgin then. Everyone was amazed that I was one. And when people start talking about prostitution, everyone more or less had experience in it! Everyone thought that it was as normal as drinking coffee, changing socks or brushing your teeth. And so, that really change my mindset towards many things. I don’t see it becoming a problem if you lose your virginity before getting married.
For me, I think it’s no big deal to lose your virginity or to have sex regularly. But that only applies if you’re single. If you’re single, I don’t care what you do with your body. You can sleep around, you can do anything you want, since all the impact will be on yourself. However, if you’re in a relationship, I definitely believe in being faithful to just one person. I feel like once you’re in a relationship, it’s okay to have sex, as long as it’s just with one person. And wear a condom, yeah?
At the end of the day, I think it [losing your virginity] is just about curiosity and more of you wanting to experience new things.
Denis, 22, South Korea
In Korea, having sex is much easier. Our accommodation, as in the motels in Korea, are much more cheaper. Maybe five years ago, people get ashamed if they went to motel together. But now, people can just accept it. Of course we don’t reveal the details. But now it isn’t awkward if I said, “I had a great time with my girlfriend in the motel”. That’s fine.
For me, sex education in Korea is trash. It’s not practical. They mentioned about using condoms in school back then, but I bet even after class, no one actually knew how to use that. Movies and music also meant a lot in making young people today much more open. Yet, the school and the whole structure system is still very conservative and can’t really accept it naturally. While people are less conservative, sex education is left really behind, not catching up with the pace of young people’s mindset at all.
Names followed by * have been changed to protect the identity of students.