What the hell is virginity?
I’ve been wondering what the answer to this question is ever since I saw an awesome documentary last night called How To Lose Your Virginity. The documentary explores the filmmaker Therese Shechter’s experience with losing her virginity at the age of 23 and how that–admittedly–underwhelming experience led her to ask a simple question: What’s the big deal about virginity in the first place? The film breaks down the concept of a virgin and questions how our society and the world at large places so much value and worth on a woman’s sexual status.
The film is funny, fresh and enlightening, but above all else it made one thing very clear: Virginity doesn’t have a clear definition, but we’re so controlled by it anyway.
We receive a ton of comments from our readers everyday about virginity and each and every single one only emphasizes my point about virginity not really having one, true meaning.
“Virginity is a simple concept. It is a vagina that has never had a penis in it. Once a vagina has been penetrated by a penis, it is no longer ‘virgin’.”
Okay, that’s nice and all and I’m sure the dictionary agrees with you. But dictionaries have never been the prime source of nuanced ideas. What if you have a vagina and have sex with somebody else who has a vagina? Are you still a virgin because a penis wasn’t inside of you? Well, that doesn’t sound right, unless virginity is some straight kids only club.
“Virginity is basically a fragile obstruction from the vaginal opening called the hymen.”
Okay, so those girls who “break” their hymens when they’re 10-years-old and horseback riding aren’t virgins, either? Did I lose my virginity when I used a tampon for the first time?
“Just curious, am I still considered a virgin if just the tip went in?”
Well, that depends: Do you want to go with the definition about p in v penetration or the one about your hymen breaking? Was it in the vagina or the anus because, depending on who you talk to, anal sex “doesn’t count” as losing your virginity. Or maybe blow jobs are enough to place one out of the virginity category if it is intense enough.
See what I mean? Doesn’t this all seem a bit maddening? I mean, if virginity was such a simple concept, there wouldn’t be so many people debating its definition. Instead, we’re wondering about penis tips, hymen breakage and what the dictionary has to say about our sexual status.
This begs another question: Why does it even matter?
We put so much power and so much self-worth onto the state of our vaginae, but for whose benefit? It doesn’t seem like it benefits us girls very much. Think about it: We’re judged if we’re virgins, we’re judged if we’re not. We use phrases like “technically a virgin” as if the only sex that matters or counts is if a penis (or just the tip!) wriggles around in your vagina. Girls around the world participate in promise ceremonies which, ultimately, place the ownership of our vaginas and virginity with our father and future husband. Rape victims suddenly aren’t virgins–pure, untouched, unsullied or whatever other bogus puritanical words you can think of–because of something they couldn’t even control…what good is this concept of virginity, really? Because for centuries it has been used as yet another way to police women’s bodies and, sadly, that hasn’t changed much.
Don’t believe me? Check out this comment we received:
I heard you have to bleed after having sex for the first time. My boyfriend and I had a big confrontation about this, because I was a virgin when we had sex and I didn’t bleed after our first time and [he] began to accuse me that I wasn’t a virgin.
So not only was this young woman’s boyfriend buying into virginity myths, he also acted as if her virginity status was something worth badgering her about. What is this, a modern day witch trial? How dare you not be a virgin! To the stake, with you!
I’m not saying any of this to make anyone who puts a lot of value on their virginity–whatever the hell it is–feel stupid. It’s totally legitimate if you want something as intimate as sex to be special or to be with a special someone. Hey, I haven’t found that person yet, either. But I can’t help but feel like this confusion over what it means to be a virgin can play into a lot confusion and perpetuate sexist narratives that define women’s sexuality and morality.
Next time you ask yourself if a, b or c makes someone a virgin, ask this as a follow up question: Why does it matter?
How do you personally define virginity? Do you think that putting an emphasis on virginity is harmful? Tell us in the comments!