The O Factor: Virginity on the Rise, Studies Show

ABC News’ Stephanie Sy and Kinga Janik report:

It may go down as one of the most cringe-worthy kisses in television history — two virgins hitting first base on their wedding day.

Ryan, 31, and Shanna, 27, are part of TLC’s new show “Virgin Diaries,”  an hour-long reality special that chronicles the lives of virgins in their 20s and 30s.

But while they may seem like a cultural anomaly, the National Center for Health Statistics finds virginity is on the rise. The number of virgins between the ages of 15 to 24 has increased in recent years – 27 percent of men and 29 percent of women say they have never had a sexual encounter.

“Virgin Diaries” also includes three female roommates living together near Vancouver: Lisa Marziali, Tamara Larson and Danielle Michaud. All three are around age 30, and all are Christians.

In an interview with “Nightline,” Marziali said she has only kissed one boy.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m not going to have sexual intercourse,’ I’m actually going to honor the person that I’m with and they’re going to honor me,” Marziali said.

Michaud said she was engaged once: ”It’s challenging because of the stigma that’s associated with being a virgin, especially a virgin that’s older than whatever age people think they should be having sex by,” Michaud said.

And Larson is part of a subset of  so-called “reclaimed virgins” who were once sexually active.

“I remember I would be lying there afterwards and have the time I would end up crying,” Larson said. “It was always this feeling that there’s something missing.

But that doesn’t mean these three women aren’t ready to find love. The women are so ready for marriage and sex they’ve diagrammed their dating life.

Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and a research professor at Rutgers University, told “Nightline” there are down sides to waiting so late to have sex.

“They haven’t learned anything about sex. They haven’t learned about themselves, they don’t know how to handle anybody – not just in bed but in the courtship process,” Fisher said.

But Marziali is under no illusions about what her first time might be like.

“I don’t think any of us live in a fantasy or a fairytale and are like ‘it’s just going to be wonderful, and the first night is going be the best thing in the whole wide world.’ I don’t think that’s how it goes,” she said. “I think if he’s experienced, awesome, if he’s not, we’ll learn together.”

For women, admitting you’re a virgin carries less of a stigma. There aren’t many famous men who have advertised their virginity, save for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has been called “the only virgin in the NFL.”

But Steve Carell’s character Andy in the film “40-Year-Old Virgin” was no Tim Tebow. Just imagine the ribbing 35-year-old mortgage analyst Carey Ahr gets from his buddies.

Ahr, who also appears on the TLC show and says he is “not a virgin entirely by choice,” said he has only ever imagined his first time:

“I’d probably want music playing, and the lights off,” he said. “The music is to cover up the funny noises, and the lights off to cover up the facial expressions.”

Being a guy who is a virgin at his age is, well, let’s just say not even his mother could believe it when she found out, but is it really that unheard of? Even Oprah did a segment about 30-year-old virgins after her producers approached her with the idea.

To Fisher, there seems to be a certain age people reach when it becomes odd to others when that person hasn’t had sex.

“I think that most Americans do think it is strange if you make it into your mid-, late 20s and you’ve never had sex. People wonder, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” she said. “Sex is natural. It’s an enormously powerful drive, and a fundamental part of human procreation.”

What’s remarkable about the subjects in TLC’s “Virgin Diaries” is how they all clearly have normal sex drives but are doing just fine to ignore it – their brains have over-ridden their bodies. Carey Ahr says he makes fudge to address his desires, while Tamara Larson said she likes to go hiking. So what happens if you’ve never had “it”? You may not be a skilled or experienced a lover come “the special day,” but you may also have saved yourself a world of heartache.