Things I Wish I Had Learned In Sex-Ed: Virginity

When you search “virgin” on Merriam-Webster, the results are; “a person who has not had sexual intercourse,” “a person who is inexperienced in a usually specified sphere of activity,” “an unmarried woman devoted to religion,” “an absolutely chaste young woman,” and “an unmarried girl or woman.”

It may seem weird that virgin is mostly specified to females but the word virgin actually came from the Greek and Latin term “virgo” that meant maiden.

In Greek mythology, “virgin was a label of strength and independence by being used to describe the goddesses who were immune to the temptations of Dionysus, Greek god of seduction and wine.” Virginity originally was a term of power.

In Willful Virgin by Marilyn Frye, she explains the original definition of virgin:

The word ‘virgin’ did not originally mean a woman whose vagina was untouched by any penis, but a free woman, one not betrothed, not bound to, not possessed by any man. It meant a female who is sexually and hence socially her own person. In any version of patriarchy, there are no Virgins in this sense.”

The root of obsession with virginity can be tied to male ownership. Mariology, or the Roman Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary, is credited with the popularity of virginity. In the 14th century, Byzantine theologians supposedly believed that Mary and baby Jesus were at the center of the universe. During the Middle Ages, this became even more prevalent because Mary became the “New Eve,” increasing the stigma behind the importance of a woman’s purity.

In Medieval times, the term virginity transformed into a term for a woman in the physical state of not ever being penetrated by a penis and was considered a gift from God, only to be given to one’s husband.

Later, Queen Elizabeth I of England was named the “Virgin Queen.” She ruled from 1588-1632, during which the public obsessed over her relationships because of the company she kept and because she was childless at 34 and because she never settled down to some she was considered the whore of England.

Originally, a woman was believed to be a virgin if her hymen was still intact and before weddings doctors would give women exams to prove they were still virgins. Blood spotted bed sheets would often be shown to the public proving a couple’s consummation of their marriage, along with the woman’s status of virginity.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers “obligatory inspections for virginity” a violent act against women.

Since purity was such an important thing to society, ways to protect and regain one’s purity became prevalent. In the 15th-century there was a magical potion mentioned in a Hebrew Book of Women’s Love that restored one’s purity.

In more modern societies, surgeries called hymenoplasties were created. These surgeries are offered to repair/replace the hymen, giving off the physical proof of being a virgin and can cost up to $5,000.

Kjeld Lindsted at Mic explains,

For a girl, the physical side of the virginity coin is thought to be the hymen which, when torn, is said to provide irreparable evidence that she has lost her coin. Once a girl allows her vagina to be penetrated she becomes less valuable to society, a fact she will be unable to hide because her hymen will permanently tear, forever testifying of the penetration — or so the tale goes. On the spiritual side both guys and girls are told that they will undergo permanent, albeit less noticeable, change. The idea is that the sex act (often defined exclusively as penis in vagina penetration) will psychologically alter the participants to reflect their new status as non-virgins and if this change happens under the wrong circumstances (i.e. outside of marriage) the consequences will be disastrous. We are told that no amount of piety will ever allow illicit participants in the sex act to reclaim their former (purer) condition.”

But here’s the thing about hymens: they’re not there to prove if a woman has or has not had sex. In fact, hymens can tear/break/rip easily throughout a girl’s life prior to her having sexual intercourse.

According to Our Bodies Ourselves the hymen or “vaginal corona,” comes in many different forms.

The mucous membrane that makes up the vaginal corona may be tightly or more loosely folded. It may be slightly pink, almost transparent, but if it is thicker it may look a little paler or whitish. The vaginal corona may resemble the petals of a flower, or it may look like a jigsaw piece or a half-moon. It may be insignificant or even completely absent at birth. The vaginal corona may tear or thin out during exercise, masturbation or tampon use, or during other forms of vaginal penetration. Because of this, no one can look at a vaginal corona and know whether a person has had vaginal intercourse, or even whether she has masturbated.”

In 2005, Durex Global held a sex survey that found worldwide, the average age that people lose their virginity is 17.3. However, now-a-days there is no clear definition of what “virginity” is since the believed definition confines it to penis-vaginal penetration. Most people believe participating in acts of oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, etc. allows them to still be a virgin.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 1999 where 60% of the 599 college students they questioned said they believed oral sex was not considered having sex. In 2008, the Guttmacher Institute released a study by Laura Lindberg where she said, “[there] is a widespread belief that teens engage in non-vaginal forms of sex, especially oral sex, as a way to be sexually active while still claiming that technically, they are virgins.” However, her study concluded that the belief in “the substitution of oral sex for vaginal sex is largely a myth.”

Sociology Dr. Laura M. Carpenter says “if you’re a gay male, you’re supposed to have anal sex because that’s what gay men do. And if you’re a gay woman, then you’re supposed to have oral sex, because that’s what gay women do. And so those become, like markers, for when virginity is lost.”

Historically, virginity and purity has been a bigger issue for women than it ever has been for men. Even in modern day society, that rings true. When you look at the Wikipedia page for “virginity,” you find a section labeled “Culture,” and under that, there are 7 sub-sections one of which is “Female Virginity,” which is 9 paragraphs and separated into two sub-sub-sections. Immediately after, there is “Male Virginity,” which is two paragraphs long and starts with the sentence, “Historically, and in modern times, female virginity has been regarded as more significant than male virginity; the perception that sexual prowess is fundamental to masculinity has lowered the expectation of male virginity without lowering the social status.”

So now for my opinion… virginity became a term that was used as a way to control women and make them feel that their worth was dependent on a man. There’s no way to change how society viewed it in the past, but we do need to accept that virginity is nothing more than a social construct with an unclear definition.

Today, virginity is still used to control women and empower men. The more sex men have, the better. The more sex women have, the less respect they get when they’re out in the world. This is obvious in the use of hashtags such as #NoHymenNoDiamond.

While our cultural norms and attitudes about sexuality have fluctuated over time, traditional gendered approaches to sexuality and virginity have not disappeared so much as they’ve transmuted into new configurations; it’s merely a new sexual double standard. Men can go out and have sex with little to no consequence — in fact, it’s encouraged and celebrated! — while women, to this day, struggle with basic reproductive rights and ubiquitous slut-shaming,”

Angella d’Avignon (The Establishment).

The idea of virginity is bullshit and here’s why: from an early age, we are taught that virginity is the end-all-be-all. That after we have sex for the first time, there is a gigantic cosmic change in our personality and lives. Honestly, I felt the exact same way after I lost my virginity that I did after walking at my high school graduation: that was it?

That’s not to say sex isn’t great – because it can be – but the first time usually isn’t life altering. I was the same person I was before I had sex as I was after I had sex. My life stayed the same.

Even the phrases “losing” and “taking” someone’s virginity is harmful language, telling people that, when you have sex for the first time, you are losing a part of yourself and someone else is taking a part of you. In reality, you are gaining something: you are gaining knowledge of what you like and don’t like sexually. You’re become a better, more mature, you.

Traditional virginity is not only harmful to women but to members of the LGBTQ+ community because of its fixation on penis-vaginal penetration, proving that the idea of virginity is complete bullshit. By traditional standards, anyone who has never had heterosexual sex could be considered a virgin their entire life. LGBTQ+ sex is just as important as heterosexual sex.

Traditional virginity also helps play into rape culture because men find something alluring about a girl who is pure and untouched. We’ve all heard about the suicide bombers who commit these crimes in hopes of receiving virgins when they get to heaven but what we haven’t heard is that in some African communities it is believed that having sex with a virgin woman can cure HIV/AIDs which has added to the increased numbers of rapes per year.

Thankfully, in the same study by Carpenter, she found most people do not consider rape losing your virginity, even though by traditional standards it would make the woman no longer a virgin.

The perpetuation of the virginity myth stands as one of the greatest travesties of our day. The virginity myth motivates much of the sexual violence around the world, unnecessarily limits the legitimate sexual behaviors of both males and females, tells young women that the physical pain and bleeding associated with violent male-centric sexuality are a natural part of sex, and contributes to our culture of sexual shame and guilt — particularly for girls. It’s time to put this particular sexual myth to bed.” –Kjeld Lindsted (Mic).

As a global society, we should try to revive the term virginity in a way that empowers young women. We should use the term virgin to describe a woman who is carefree and powerful.

There shouldn’t be so much pressure put on people to make sure their first time is incredible. Sex is just sex and should be treated as such. Of course, no one should feel pressure to have sex and society shouldn’t care how much sex someone is having. If people are having consensual sex with another adult nothing else should matter.

I would like to end this by bringing up a term Laci Green used in one of her YouTube videos. She said she did not like the term “losing your virginity” for obvious reasons, she said the term we should use instead was “sexual debut.”

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