Lose Virginity, Lose Self-Esteem?

When women lose their virginity, they can lose self-esteem, too, experiencing a small drop. That’s what a recent Penn State study reveals.


Women college students were surveyed over time. Before sex the women felt increasingly good about their bodies. But after first sex they felt worse. Looks like when they’re in bed women start worrying about whether they look good enough. Masters and Johnson tagged the phenomenon of watching yourself from a third person perspective instead of focusing on sexual sensations or your partner, “spectatoring.”  Women are much more prone, being the objectified. Then, feeling they don’t measure up, self-worth drops.

Other usual suspects may also affect self-esteem, including the double standard that provokes worries about labels like slut and whore. Tracy Clark-Flory over at salon.com points to a 1995 study that found “women were significantly more likely to report that their first sexual experience left them feeling less pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement than men, and more sadness, guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, and fear.” Even now women continue to experience that bind.

The double standard strikes again when women feel used, unappreciated, and worried about reputations after short flings or one-night stands.

Meanwhile, a study I recently posted finds 35% of women in strong partnerships feeling sad, anxious, restless, or irritable, after sex. Researchers don’t know why. Commenters, speculating on their own experience with the phenomenon, fingered sexual repression or difficulties with orgasm (which are related to repression) as culprit.

Studies repeatedly find that women are less likely than men to enjoy sex. Other research suggests the problem is not biologically based, or inevitable. Women in sex-positive cultures enjoy sexuality a great deal.

We are going to have to move beyond sexism for women to reclaim their sexuality. That would benefit both women and men.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 28, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, men, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. It was definitely interesting reading about how other women felt after they lost their virginity. It makes sense to me why girls may feel about their bodies. From my own personal experience, it was the first time someone ever saw every part of my body so when I am not used to getting this certain attention to my body, it made me feel sort of insecure and uncomfortable. Also something that caught my attention in this post is that girls are concerned about what they look like during sex and something that I did was worrying about if I am doing something right or if I look stupid. I definitely felt embarrassed the day after when all my friends were asking me how it went because it was a one night stand and I honestly had no feedback to give them. I felt like if I were to tell them what happened, they would think of me differently as if I were a hoe even though I had never had any interactions with boys. I really hate that in college there is this double standard that girls can’t have fun sexually, but guys can go and have sex with as many girls in a sorority as they want.

    • I think it’s helpful for women to find out how common this problem is.

      It also says something about our society and how the scrutiny we give women’s bodies.

      And, the Narrows standards hurt both women and men. Because most men want women to be enjoying sex not worrying.

  2. I want to touch up on what Lan said. There is that double standard between male and females. Women are deemed desirable if they are virtuous and pure sexually, and men are virtuous and pure even if they are not a virgin. I agree that in many Asian countries the women are more submissive and are under strict orders to do certain things. This is why self-esteem varies from culture to culture. If America didn’t make women so physically “appealing” then there wouldn’t be all this ruckus of “do I look sexy when I am having sex?”

    I believe that women will lose their self-esteem if the person they decided to have sex with left some time after the sexual encounter. It doesn’t even have to be that the woman was a virgin, she will feel used, pissed, and hurt.

  3. Weiyi Xia (Klark)

    I do think that the double standard on men and women having sex has been the main factor that wears down women’s self-esteem after they have sex. In our society, having had sex with more “hot” women can make a man proud because he is “the man who can score”; women, on the other hand, are labeled as “slut and whore” if they have had sex with multiple men. Because of this double standard, I would assume that once a woman loses her virginity, she can possibly feel like being on her way to be a “whore”. The double standard has really gotten women to be treated unfairly not just by others, but by herself too. The only way to overcome such mistreatment on a certain group of people in our culture is to promote equality, which in this case is to raise women’s social status and reset the “standard”.

  4. Speaking as a virgin myself, and seeing the transformations people endure after committing to such a life-changing exerience, I completely agree with this blog post and would even further it by saying this can also affect boys as well. I have had a fair nuber of talks with both boys and girls that regret their first experience with sex (though I have noticed that boys will tend to disguise it with a graphic story). I honestly think this is because people jump to sex, and that is solely the reason why I have chosen not to. Sex changes people, whether it be the lowering of self-esteem or basic views on life, so far I already do not like what sex does to people. It is sad to hear that women lose self-steem over this, though.

  5. My biggest concern is often “how do i look?”. It cam be very destructive when I am trying to get anything done. Especially during an intimate time. Ideally to me sex is a very intimate, spiritual, safe experience yet when i am insecure or that safety is broken in any way it ruins the whole experience. For lack of better terms i “dry up” at any distractions. I am sick and tired of this society’s supression of women’s sex drive! How dare they rob us of something so whole and beautiful. It solidifies the whole sociological perspective that our androcentric society lowers womens sex drive.

    If women are feeling worse after sex (assuming they are in a monogamous relationship) there is a huge lack of communication. i lost my virginity very young, however me and my partner discussed it for about 6 months prior and we had been sexually active before then. The key to success is communication! I hear it all too often that women dont speak up during sex or intimacy and its like “HELLO! For crying out loud! You are not there just for him, both need to climax to ‘finish’. Speak up!!!” its a damn shame that most women are not reaching thier sexual potential.

  6. It’s a really interesting article for me, especially since I come from an Asian country where a woman is very concerned about virginity. The reason for this is because most Asian men constantly want their wife to have her virginity until the wedding. They always want to be the first person to have sex with their wife, but honestly men should ask themselves what percent of them have sex during a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship. Because of that thinking from men, many Asian women feel low self-esteem if they lose virginity before their marriage. Since I’ve been here, American men seem more open about this, and they don’t really expect their wife to have virginity. Moreover, women in this country are more independent and in control than Asian’s women. They get protection of law. They can support themselves. All of that make them feel stronger, and the virginity is not a big deal with self-esteem with them.

  7. Quite thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing.

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