In Their Late 20s, and Still A Virgin. Yep, These Singaporean Men Exist
All photos by Cheryl Tang.

For millennia, we’ve had an unhealthy obsession with unpopped cherries, using virginity as a way to police women’s sexuality. You’re a prude if you abstain, a slut when you indulge, and you can only ever be in the service of one man (and most men expect that to be him).

Case in point, Exhibit 1:

“She let him enter the kingdom and wreck chaos … you even let the guy came inside you like a tsunami.”

“I can’t see myself sliding my dick into her kingdom which has already been splashed.”

“To all those who suggested hymen reconstruction does it come with cleaning services? Like will the doctor clean her wall?”

The above captures the raving, impudent screed of a man finding out his girlfriend is not a virgin—courtesy of Singapore’s top provider of local comedy, NUS Whispers—a sentiment many men were sympathetic to.

So obviously the concept of virginity is a double standard that privileges men.

Or is it? Do men have it that much better than women? After all, while society imposes unhealthy expectations about sexuality on women, men are also victims of hypermasucline ideals.

The dominant cultural narrative is that men are inherently libidinous creatures, more so than their female counterparts. Therefore, men seek out sex aggressively, wanting exclusive dibs on as many (beautiful) women as possible. Sex becomes an obsessive dick measuring contest, and the more sex you have, the more ‘man’ you are.

But what if you’re a virgin? Are you failing at masculinity?

How would you feel if you’re a man in your late 20s—when most of your peers have hit their sexual prime—and haven’t gotten laid?

It doesn’t matter if these are troll posts anymore. They’re just too good.
At first glance, Alvin* is—and I say this with love—the textbook stereotype of a virgin. He’s bespectacled and nerdy, boasts slightly awkward mannerisms, and is completely unremarkable in appearance (reminds me of someone actually).

But like any misunderstood ogre, Alvin has layers. Despite his past painting an underdog story of resilience and hard work, his love life has been barren.

He recounts his journey through Polytechnic, NS, and working life, before deciding to take the A Levels as a private candidate. Now, towards the tail end of his 20s, he’s studying in a local university.

In school and work, sex and romance never happened, and Alvin isn’t the type of person who’s able to put themselves out there to meet and hook up with people.

All this came to a head at ages 23-25, when Alvin was in a job that gave him little genuine human interaction. This void made him feel frustrated, possibly even resentful at himself. He says that he nearly tipped into being an ‘incel’, and he filled his emptiness with a bounty of pornography.

These days, Alvin is mostly content with his status as a virgin, ranking himself a 3 on a 1-10  scale of frustration.

He describes this as being ‘sorted’.

“Being ‘sorted’ is the inner comfort with being single,” Alvin elaborates. “It’s having an understanding of where you stand regarding the relations and emotional connections you have with the people in your life.”

One can be sexually active and still feel inadequate because they’re not ‘sorted’ themselves. Alvin describes various acquaintances who have unsatisfactory love lives because they keep seeking external validation without having achieved internal peace with themselves.

Alvin’s process required him to recognise that there’s no shame in our biological urge to want sex, but that life can be fulfilling in other ways.

Thus, it’s no coincidence that Alvin became more ‘sorted’ as he renewed his purpose in life.

Firstly, the decision to hit the books made him focus on his studies for both the A Levels and his undergraduate career. But he’s also been returning to his faith after his sister convinced him to come back to church.

“With age, things like sex matter less,” he chuckles. “Time makes some things not worth fighting for.”

Being ‘sorted’ is a process, not a destination. Alvin fully recognises that there’s a possibility he could slip back into bad habits and spirals of self doubt. But through constant self acceptance, projects to keep him busy, and rewarding relationships, he manages to keep the urge for sex at bay.

He hopes that sex would be divorced from masculinity, in particular how male roles of sex include a sense of dominance and braggadocio. Between men, talk about sex often devolves into having ‘game’, and being about one’s performance in bed or the number of ‘conquests’ one has had.

“Why is it a rite of passage?” Alvin questions. He’s uncomfortable with how values like ‘power’ and ‘superiority’ are ascribed to sex, and that failing to have sex is seen as a failure in performing masculinity.

But men have many identities, and everyone should be able to explore their sexuality at their own pace without undue pressure.

“Don’t go through life as though you’re ticking boxes, as though clearing various challenges,” Alvin concludes.

Virginity does not exist materially nor biologically, despite the myths of hymen testing and its reconstructive surgeries. It’s a cultural concept, and its definition is both pliable and varied.

Many people believe that one loses their virginity only when they have vaginal intercourse. This dominant P in V paradigm is sometimes adhered to so strictly that some couples would engage in only oral or anal sex to ‘technically preserve virginity’.

But this mindset excludes many queer folks: people like Fred*, who’s a gay man.

A writer in his late-20s, he defines virginity as sexual inexperience. If you’ve come into contact with another’s erogenous zones from the nipple downwards, you’ve made your sexual debut.

When I ask Fred if his chastity is a matter of choice or circumstance, he reveals a grey area spanning more than 50 shades—a running theme for all my interviewees.

“I’ve been in half-relationships and had crushes, but nothing really took off for various reasons, e.g. personality clashes or unrequited affections.”

Fred continues by telling me that sex outside of a proper long-term relationship isn’t something he sees himself having. With romance itself not being on the table, sex would never follow.

So my interrogation into his virginity turns very quickly into a deep HTHT about his status as a single man. He reveals that while there are days when he might feel lonely, there are other things to look forward to.

“Like cats and dogs and chirashi don,” he grins.

Like Alvin, Fred feels comfortable in his celibacy. Unlike Alvin, this has always been the case, and Fred readily admits that he could see himself dying a virgin. Sex is nice to have, but far from necessary—like $158 melons and solo trips to Bintan.

There’s no FOMO because he doesn’t care that much. There’s no jealousy because he can’t miss what he doesn’t know about. He doesn’t feel alienated by others around him—especially given how the LGBT movement has been highly sexualised and marginalised—but he does feel disoriented.

Fred recounts his many friends generously detailing their delicious, colourful sexcapades, while he listens on with mild amusement.

“I do feel a little strange sometimes listening to what appears like a totally different world to me,” he shrugs.

“Imagine a colourblind person trying to picture what the experience of red is like.”

Being a closeted gay man, the discrimination in Singapore creates an added layer that complicates Fred’s relationship with romance. He worries about what will happen if any potential flings become long term; how he’ll tell his parents and friends—if at all.

He confesses that there were many points in life when he thought it would be much easier if he was straight or even asexual. Being gay exacerbates his already complicated relationship struggles, and though he takes pride in his sexual orientation, it’s been a bumpy road.

“If you haven’t already, you should try it some time,” he bitterly cajoles, making this joke more than once. He’s referring to being gay.

For Fred, there’s no cockblock bigger than his fear of coming out.

“God willing and if I don’t fuck up, I might just find out in a few years.”

At 29 years old, Karthik* is Christian and in a committed relationship. Due to typical millennial woes—housing, job security, and the cost of avocado toast—he hasn’t tied the knot, but is hoping to once he and his partner are in a more stable place.

Like many straight men, he defines virginity as vaginal intercourse. He hints that he’s had some encounters of a sexual nature, but it’s not enough for him to be considered experienced.

“Do I think about it? Yeah, of course! I’m rather looking forward to it, but there’s some anxiety surrounding my expectations.”

For one, he’s afraid of his performance in bed: “I don’t know if I’ll have the stamina. What if the angles are all wrong?”

And he’s afraid that sex will be like watching Game of Thrones Season 8: incredible amounts of hype, followed by mild grunts of pleasure and spectacular disappointment. After years of getting acquainted with his left and right hands, what if intercourse is somehow worse? What if it’s bad for his wife-to-be because he’s terrible at it?

Still, he doesn’t regret waiting. To him, virginity is something he’s able to gift his partner. Like fine wine, it’s a possession that ages well and hopefully becomes all the more sweeter when finally tasted.

Karthik tells me he straddles the tension formed by his expectations and anxieties by doing research and reading up.

“Not porn ah,” he reminds me, though he does later admit that he still watches it.

“A lot of Reddit. It’s full of shit but there’s also a lot of good, genuine advice there too.”

He segues into discussing how virginity occupies a weird cultural place in Singapore. On one hand you have the strange intersection of religion and traditional Asian values. On the other, youth these days are more liberal with their sexuality.

Karthik muses that Singapore is definitely moving towards the latter.

He cautions that it depends on how conservative or wholesome your church is, but in his experience, Christian men are also sexual beings. Even if many might still be virgins, it doesn’t stop them from desiring sex, and from holding masculine ideals of dominance and control. There’s still locker room talk that objectifies women.

“Nothing wrong with that, I know girls do the same,” he shrugs. But old values die hard, and the tradition of waiting till marriage still holds for many of these adults.

Despite being Christian, I glean that his faith isn’t entirely responsible for holding Karthik’s virginity hostage. Rather, he’s always had girlfriends who are also devout adherents to the faith. Perhaps it’s them instead of Karthik who have been hesitant?

I tease: would he would do the deed with his partner if she initiated it before they put a ring on it?

He laughs—a sound deep from his belly, his eyes turning glossy for a moment. It clears up after he blinks, and his tongue pokes at his cheek.

“I love her very much,” he whispers.

“That’s all that matters.”

To be a male virgin is to see yourself as weak; lacking; even impotent.

But for younger men anxious about being virgins: you’ll be alright. Being a virgin could mean that you have other things in life you care about, or that the right circumstances for sex hasn’t come by, or that you’re waiting for someone you love. The sooner you realise sex isn’t the be all and end all of intimacy, the more fulfilling your life will be.

On the flip side, there are those who put virginity on a pedestal. There are those who expect themselves and their partners to be ‘pure and unsullied’, that one should be a virgin until they meet the one—never mind that it’s almost impossible to know in advance if a relationship will work out—or they are married.

To each their own, of course. And sometimes, men don’t have a choice when it comes to how much sex they’re having.

But on this note, it’s worth considering how waiting until marriage to engage in any sexual activity or even discuss sex can be a recipe for disaster.

Firstly, both parties are clueless about their own desires or what to do. This ignorance manifests as anxiety performance—as in the case of Karthik—or an inability to communicate what you want. How can men be good and respectful partners in bed when they don’t know what they’re doing? Or worse, when they get all their information from porn, which is nothing like actual sex.

Secondly, what if these desires are incompatible? Maybe one partner expects life post-marriage to be a continuous stream of coital orgasms, but the other might only want sex once a month. Maybe one prefers no frills and missionary vanilla, but the other is more adventurous and enjoys power play. Now you’re stuck in a sexually unhappy marriage.

Placing undue importance on attaining or abstaining from sex benefits neither women nor men. Think about it, talk about it, but don’t obsess over it. Virginity is nothing more than an indication of life experience.

That sweet, glistening fruit isn’t going anywhere. If you really want a taste, you’ll get it eventually.

*Names have been changed to pseudonyms due to the sensitive nature of this piece. 

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