We are taught the concept of virginity in all different places of life. In school, health education teaches that a virgin is described as someone who has never had sex. In some religious context, we are taught to remain virgins until marriage in order to purify the wedlock. By our parents, we are either taught abstinence or sexual freedom—two very different approaches to educating about sex. From our peers and society, we learn that being a virgin is frowned upon but being sexually active shouldn’t be discussed. Are you confused yet?—because I am.
A virgin is described as someone who has never had sex. Colloquially, you will primarily hear of girls being referred to as virgins. Societal norms have constructed virginity into an unnecessary milestone for females and a conquest for males, therefore a common discussion amongst teens revolves around: “Have you lost your virginity yet?”
Virginity is not a tangible object, so how can you lose something that isn’t palpable? Is this a trade system? Would I have someone else’s virginity in exchange for mine?
Sex and virginity are topics that are often danced around when it comes up in conversation. A school or classroom atmosphere makes it sound sterile and strange. At home and with parents, sex is viewed as taboo and many girls and boys aren’t comfortable talking to their parents about virginity. The lack of conversation is what leads to a copious amount of misconceptions about sex, but virginity in particular. One of these utterly erroneous notions is that a girl isn’t a virgin if she uses a tampon.
Some religious or family beliefs may encourage girls to remain abstinent until marriage, and that the hymen is the determining factor of this “purity.” An even more extreme idea is that even using a tampon will tarnish a female’s purity because the hymen would be stretched. The belief that if the hymen is stretched or torn, a woman is no longer a virgin is complete ignorance; having a hymen is not correlated with never having had sex.
The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue at the opening of the vagina and, just like every other part of the body, the hymen is different for everyone. Some are small, some are bigger and some people don’t have one at all. For most people, the hymen is already stretched before they have vaginal sex, which could be attributed to biking, wearing a tampon, or masturbating. If the hymenal tissue is the determining factor of virginity, then we all “lost” our virginity after learning how to ride a bike at age 6.
Most importantly, virginity is different for everyone. While Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a virgin as a person who has not had sexual intercourse, it can mean different things for different people. Sexual intercourse implies penetrative sex, or penis-in-vagina sex. But what about oral sex? Are homosexual couples forever virgins? The concept of virginity is heteronormative and only implies the usage of a penis and a vagina.
For a lesbian couple, the loss of virginity may come after the first time a girl experiences cunniligus; or a heterosexual girl may feel like she has experienced a sexual encounter and is no longer a virgin. The same goes for a gay couple: is their virginity a factor when only giving or received fellatio or anal sex? All are still sexual experiences, but a loss of virginity is viewed through a cultural eye as being limited to penis-vagina sex, which is why the concept of being a virgin is exclusive and outdated.
It is critical to note that while it may feel like every high schooler is talking about sex, not every high schooler is having sex. Only about 41 percent of teens have reported ever having sex, but that doesn’t mean that it is recurring. This number has decreased in the past 14 years from 54 percent to 41 percent—possibly because abstinence education is being taught more often in schools. Many choose to wait to have sex until marriage for either religious, familial or personal reasons. Some are just still waiting because they haven’t found a partner they trust and feel comfortable with. Other people may not want to have sex at all.
The most significant thing we can do in society is change the conversation around sex. It is mostly looked at as taboo, but sex should be accepted as a part of life instead of something people should feel guilty about. Virginity can become a less isolating concept if it is viewed from the perspective of something that isn’t lost, but instead as something that is meaningful.