“technical virginity,” technically speaking

technically it's a cherry...but virginity isn't so technical

Some things just aren’t that simple. For instance: Picking a nail color. Or a date outfit. Or figuring out what virginity is. And that’s not even technically speaking! So what is “technical virginity?”

Remember the early Christian church fathers who wrote that you could lose your virginity by having dirty thoughts?! Those guys didn’t even know about the concept of “technical virginity;” can you imagine how horrified they would be if they were around today?

Coined in the early 1900s, the term “technical virginity” was originally used by teenagers to describe those who engaged in heavy “petting” but not vaginal, penetrative intercourse. By World War I, middle-class courtship regularly included casual sexual practices, such as necking and petting. Sociologist Laura M. Carpenter notes, “Many unmarried youth felt that they could pet to a point just short of vaginal sex (but often to orgasm) without compromising their virginity. Indeed, doing so became so common in the 1920s that it garnered its own appellation: technical virginity.” A couple decades later, when the baby boomers came of age, young adults were enjoying unprecedented leisure time and disposable income. Just as petting had become more common among their parents, so did oral sex among ours.

This idea of “technical virginity” has enjoyed renewed popularity as its definition has grown to accommodate an even larger range of sexual behavior today. Thanks to having more personal freedom and access to contraception, we can and hook up today a lot more easily than they could a century ago. Vaginal penetration is still the mainstream standard for virginity loss, but it’s much more common for modern teens to engage in oral sex, mutual masturbation, and other forms of sexual activity that stop short of “going all the way.”

gURLs continue to draw and redraw the line for virginity loss at different sexual acts, but there’s really no agreement on what counts as “real sex.” Can a gURL stay a virgin by sticking to anal sex? What if she’s only been orally penetrated?  I’m all for throwing out definitions of virginity and sex out the window, but we should keep in mind that there are important real-world consequences to thinking that certain behavior “doesn’t count.” Because many teens don’t consider oral or anal intercourse to be “sex” and there’s no pregnancy risk, they are less likely to use contraception. No matter what you want to call last night’s hook-up, one thing is for sure: if it involves taking your pants off, you better make sure you’re keeping yourself safe!

Intrigued by our series on virginity so far? Keep reading … next week, we debunk the hymen myth!

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Posted in: Health, Sex & Relationships, Hooking Up, The State of Sex Ed, Virginity
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  • Vanessa

    Watching the movie Saved! inspired me to consider something along the lines of "mental virginity" as well, actually – in my books, I'm not a virgin in the physical sense – I've experienced vaginal penetration – but I haven't lost my virginity to that boy, because he and I are nothing more than "fuck buddies". I will lose my virginity to a boy that I commit to in a relationship.