Let’s set something straight. Virginity isn’t something you “lose.” No cherry pops, no seal is broken, no jewel is lost forever. So the question is: what is virginity, then?
Virginity is a social construct. It’s a religious and cultural tool used to control women’s bodies and to establish men as the rightful owners of those bodies. It’s a myth that puts images of becoming lost, broken, and defiled at the forefront of our minds.
And it’s plain outdated.
So if nothing is lost, what really happens the first time you have sex? Well, you have sex. And with experience, you learn what you don’t like, what you do like, and how to communicate that to your partner/s.
This is certainly a less dramatic tale than the myth of virginity. It’s maybe even a little boring. But it’s the truth, and knowing the truth just may be the deciding factor in whether or not you enjoy sex at all. It may determine how able you’re to express yourself sexually. It may make or break your orgasms.
So, with your pleasure in mind, we present to you: the myths of virginity, the hymen, and beyond. As you’ll see myths and lore that aren’t medically accurate have consequences. And the truth shall set you free.
You Can’t Lose What You Never Had
There is no medical definition of virginity. Virginity is a cultural and religious idea, and you may subscribe to it or not. There are many variations of the definition, but it generally refers to a woman who hasn’t had sex yet.
Does anyone have a can opener for these worms? Ah, thank you.
Here’s the thing: this general definition forces us to define “sex.” And it forces us to define “woman.” Virginity and purity culture tends to regard sex as penetration by a penis to a vagina. And it regards a woman as a person with a vagina.
So we’ll leave these questions up to you: how do you define sex? Did you know that you’re free to define sex for yourself?
Sex is so much more than penetration. This idea of virginity centers the penis and regards the vagina as the only sexually relevant organ to the woman. But the vulva is a treasure map of nerve endings, and the capacity for pleasure (and orgasm) is not limited to the vagina!
And how do you define a woman? Today, the medical community knows that gender itself is a social construct, and that gender identity doesn’t correlate to a specific standard of genitalia, hormone expression, or sex chromosomes.
The Myth of Virginity And Other Strange Tales
Hidden in the myth of virginity are many other untrue messages. Some of these messages are…
Being sexually active makes you less respectable. It doesn’t. Being sexually active makes you a sexually active person. It means you have new responsibilities of self-care that include communicating your desires and boundaries, obtaining consent from the people you’re having sex with, and keeping your body healthy by using adequate protection.
Sex is a game and it’s your job to keep prospective men interested. Language around sexually active women we hear when we’re younger like, “loose,” “fast,” and “easy,” are all slut-shaming tactics. They imply that women’s bodies are a game to be played by others. And if women are sexually active, they’re just not challenging enough to keep other people interested.
Your first time is supposed to suck. The expectation that sex is supposed to be painful and that bleeding will most likely occur is a severe misunderstanding. Sex isn’t supposed to be painful. And while pain is common during the first time, it’s because the people involved are moving too fast, leaving no time for arousal to build. Or they may just not be using enough lube.
The hymen is a seal that breaks and bleeds during sex. The hymen is not a seal...did you know that? And it doesn’t break during sex. Bleeding during sex is caused by friction due to a lack of lubrication. The vaginal wall can sometimes tear and bleed or become sore. The hymen is just kind of there, like that kitchen appliance you never use but never throw away.
So then what is the hymen? What is its purpose?
No, The Hymen Doesn’t Break When You Have Sex
Sex education doesn’t exactly teach us how to locate our hymen, but if you have a mirror then you can typically find it. If you’re up for some self-exploration, follow along to the guide, Like A Virgin, on the Emjoy app to find yours.
Don’t be mistaken though: the hymen is not an indicator of whether the hymen-owner is sexually active or not.
The hymen is a thin, elastic membrane just inside the vaginal entrance. It doesn’t cover the opening; it lines the vaginal wall. And it looks different for everyone. Estrogen changes the hymen over time, but no matter what your sex life looks like, you’ll always have your hymen.
However sometimes the hymen stretches and wears away before sexual activity ever happens, due to physical activity like dancing, gymnastics, and even walking.
And here’s the kicker: not everyone is born with a hymen!
So let’s put an end to holding the hymen accountable for telling our tales of mischievousness for good, okay? If these vaginal walls could talk, they’d probably shrug their shoulders and direct you to the mouth.
How To Know If Someone Has Had Sex
The only way to know if someone has had sex is to ask them. And whether that person wants to share that information with you is up to them.
Ask yourself this: why do you want to know? Is it because you want to open up a conversation about safety and consent? Well, you can always do that before someone is sexually active, so don’t let their answer deter you from educating your loved ones.
Is it because you assign their value to whether or not they’re sexually active? Or because you feel they need to be stopped? You may be barking up the wrong tree if this is the case. Assigning value to someone based on their sexuality is incorrect and you’re just setting yourself up to harm your loved one.
You’re better off giving them all the tools they need to safely navigate the inevitable.
Call It Like It Is: Your First Time
Language matters. It’s time to look at how we talk about sex--what words are we using that are sending the wrong messages? “Losing” your virginity implies that something terrible happens. “Popping your cherry” implies that something is broken. “Deflowering” says that something is stripped of its essence.
Let’s start calling it like it is. How different does it feel to simply say, “I had sex for the first time?” Or, “I started having sex?” These phrases are neutral; they tell it like it is. They don’t assign a social narrative to it. They don’t condemn or praise. They don’t scare.
Instead, they tell a story of a first. The beginning of a journey. And a fundamentally human one at that.
And if you must have a little flair, try “I’ve made my sexual debut.” Nothing wrong with a little theatre!