The Rise Of The “Gay Virgin” And What It Tells Us About Gay Millennials
Article By: Nicholas Velotta
Sometimes it seems like losing your “V-card” in the gay community is as insignificant as a dental check-up…or getting an invitation to hook-up on Grindr. Whereas heterosexual adolescents tend to frame their first time as a “loss” of their virginity or innocence, gay youths often perceive their first time as a “sexual debut”. In one interview-based study, researchers from East Carolina University found that coming out is a more important rite of passage for LGBT students than their first sexual experience. Sex, in general, has little stigma among most gay circles—you’re pretty free to do what you want with who you want as long as everyone involved consents.
This liberal slant on sex is usually tacked up to the gay rights movement during the late ‘60s and ‘70s when the bodies of gay men began to be sexualized almost as much as the bodies of women at the time. For centuries, gay men had been persecuted and their sexual lives reviled. But circa 1970, their bodies—and the sex they had with those bodies—were symbols of their identity. (It’s also important to recognize that up to this point, most gay Americans weren’t afforded the heterosexual norm of seeking sex within monogamy or marriage, leaving casual or, at best, secretive sex as their only sexual outlet).
Now, almost four decades removed from the gay rights movement, a subculture of gay Millennials is starting to look at virginity and sex a bit differently. They’re reaching young adulthood in a culture replete of casual sex, hook-up apps, and friends with benefits, but they’re not exactly engaging in it.
Monogamy’s growing importance in the gay community.
The normalization of homosexuality may be at fault for some Millennial’s disinterest in the All You Can Eat style of gay sex culture. Many of the youngest Millennials weren’t as stigmatized as past generations; they came out early, saw marriage as the height of intimacy for both straight and gay couples, and they didn’t have to fight to assert basic sexual rights like the Baby Boomers.
It’s precisely this normalization that allowed some gay kids to see heteronormative relationship values like monogamy as, well…normative. And with the increased importance of monogamy comes the increased importance of sex. To some gay Millennials, who you have sex with, when you have it, and why you have sex really matter.
In his article “Gay youths as ‘whorified virgins’”, Michael Amico analyzes the rising concept of “gay virgins” who are not necessarily literal virgins, but have taken on the heterosexual concept of virginity to push back against the idea that they’re sexually promiscuous. Amico asserts that gay men haven’t had a place in the dominant (a.k.a. heterosexual) narrative of sexual development, and they're usually labeled “man-whores” simply because their behaviors deviate from more accepted heterosexual concepts of sex. By wearing the title of “gay virgin”, these young men are expressing an identity that’s more in-line with heterosexual concepts of sexuality than the gay stereotypes they felt stuck with during adolescence.
The consequences of casual sex.
Of course, that’s not to say there has never been inner-communal dissent about the association between gay men and casual sex. For instance, the AIDS crisis forced gay men to narrow the scope of which sexual liberties were acceptable and which were down-right irresponsible. And that’s probably another reason gay twenty-somethings are more cautious about who they're sleeping with: they don’t want an STI.
Although gay men are in the avant-garde of prescribed protection with the advent of PrEP and PEP, recent research indicates that loosening guidelines on what constitutes safe or normal sexual activity in our young, hook-up oriented gay community may be related to an uptick in STI prevalence among gay and bi men. “Everyone’s doing it” probably wouldn’t be a good arguing point for the proclaimed gay virgin.
What does it mean?
To be clear, gay men aren’t the only Millennials turning down hook-up culture; a 2017 study found that the youngest Millennials are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive than the generation before them. But it’s particularly interesting to think of gay men as included in this downward slope. And perhaps the real reason it’s novel to perceive young gays as sexually reserved is because of stereotypes that only capture one side of the gay community.
No one is expecting the gay community to reject casual sex wholesale (or even “half-sale”, let’s be honest). And yet, it’s worth considering whether or not the erotic images often attached to gay men are working for all gay men, and whether or not we should be listening to some of the lesser heard voices in our community that can help elucidate where our sex culture is now and where it may be heading in the future.
Nicholas Velotta is a sex and relationship researcher and writer located out of the University of Washington in Seattle.