One of the most common myths surrounding human sexuality is that you can tell whether someone (women, or people with vulvas in particular) is a virgin just by looking at them.
While this may focus mostly on what the vulva looks like, some people (men) will go so far as to ask whether you can tell if a woman is a virgin by the way that they walk. I mean, really???
When typing “virginity” into Google Search, incredibly sexist and stupid questions came up. But is it their fault? We, as a society, have failed to educate both children and adults about sex.
While I can go on and on about the harms of inadequate sex education, I’ll leave that conversation for another day.
TW: sexual assault mentioned near end of post
Problem #1: Purity culture
There is so much hype around making sure that you are pure and untouched. One touch and she’s ruined forever! It’s like women are born and bred to be objects for men’s sexual satisfaction.
“How dare she want to enjoy the pleasure her body gives her? She’s mine.”
“How dare she be touched by another man?”
Dude, women are not your property.
Your worth is not defined by whether you are a virgin or not.
While there may be many religious and cultural reasons for wanting to save sex for marriage, most of the underlying tones are incredibly sexist. All of the focus is on women, and men can just go around doing as they please. If a man lusts after her, it’s seen as the woman’s fault for being too much of a temptation.
Do you see the problem here?
If you want to save sex for marriage, great! Enjoy it, you do you! But know that the concept of virginity is only a social construct. It has no physical or anatomical basis.
The hymen is not an indicator of virginity.
Yes you read that right, the hymen does not indicate whether a women (or person with a vulva) is a virgin or not.
The hymen is a thin membrane that partially covers the opening of the vagina. The hymen is made out of very elastic tissue that can stretch and then go back into position.
The fact that it only partially covers the vagina, and stretches so well, is important. This is what makes it possible for menstrual blood and vaginal discharge to come out. This is also important for inserting tampons and even having speculum examinations at the doctor’s office.
So no, tampons and doctor’s examinations can not cause you to lose your virginity.
There are also some people who, from birth, have never had a hymen at all!
Here are some examples of the different types of hymens that occur naturally:
Did you notice that the most common types of hymens actually have big holes in them? That hymen can stretch to accommodate tampons, fingers, toys, or even a penis without tearing at all.
The imperforate hymen is the most rare type. This hymen covers the entire vaginal entrance and can actually lead to problems during adolescence when menstrual blood needs to pass through.
If menstrual blood does not pass through, it can lead to a medical condition called haematocolpos. This is a condition where menstrual blood collects in the vagina over many years. The treatment requires a minor surgery to create a hole in the hymen for the menstrual blood to pass through.
I’ll say it again: you cannot tell whether someone is a virgin by looking at their vulva.
Still need more convincing?
In 1906, in a Norwegian study, Dr. Marie Jeancet examined a middle-aged sex worker and noted that her hymen was still intact without any damage. Yes, you read that right. You can have sex (or a lot of sex) and still have an undamaged hymen.
You can learn more about this in the amazing TEDx Talk by Nina Dølvik Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl.
If you’re not “losing” your hymen, then it makes sense to say you aren’t “losing” your virginity.
“Popping your cherry” or “deflowering” are common terms used to describe losing your virginity. But what are you losing exactly?
You are not losing anything! There is nothing to be lost.
What has happened is that you have decided to explore your sexuality and simply gain an experience.
Some people like to use the term “sexual debut” to describe the first time they have sex. This may be a far more positive way of viewing it, especially if it is celebrated in the same way that young girls are celebrated for having their first menstrual period.
But that does leave another question:
What do you consider to be sex?
Is sex just the act of a penis inside of a vagina? What about the LGBTQIA+ community? What about oral sex, or anal sex? What about masturbation, or what I like to call “solo sex”?
Everyone’s definition of sex may be different, but I’d like to share my personal definition of sex. Sex is any consensual intimate activity that is sexually stimulating. So when I refer to masturbation as solo sex, I consider it to be a valid form of sex all on it’s own.
And let’s be real, our brains cannot tell the difference between an orgasm during partnered sex or through masturbation.
Harmful ideas surrounding first time partnered sex
Myth #1: The first time you have sex, it will be painful
Sex should never be painful, even your first time! If you have pain, something is wrong and you should stop.
Maybe you didn’t put enough time into getting warmed up beforehand. Maybe you need to use some lube. Or maybe you have a medical condition called vaginismus or vulvodynia which makes sex extremely painful or even impossible. There are so many reasons why sex can be painful.
Let’s stop normalising pain during sex and expecting women to just lie back and deal with it.
Myth #2: The first time you have sex, you will bleed.
As we discussed above, a lot of the time the hymen will simply stretch to allow penetration. It does not break or tear dramatically, covering your sheets in blood.
Therefore you cannot tell whether someone is a virgin by whether they bleed during sex or not.
There are many reasons why you could bleed during sex though, and that includes: vaginal infections; rough sex which leads to tiny tears in the vagina or vulva; or more serious conditions like cervical cancer.
But people always say, “The first time sucks!”
Maybe so. I know my first time did! But it wasn’t because it was painful, or because I started bleeding. It sucked because I didn’t really want to do it and felt coerced. I was very religious at the time and felt extreme guilt during the whole thing. When it was over, I felt worthless and like I was ruined forever.
Looking back now that my views on sex have evolved, even though my first time having penis-in-vagina sex sucked, my first sexual experiences before that were wonderful.
My first sexual experience was with myself, and when I was ready, I opened myself up to sexual experiences with my best friend at the time. We were totally in love (and totally in denial about being gay) and exploring each other came naturally. It was safe, and it was beautiful. My first experiences with her will be forever cherished, even though we don’t talk anymore.
Sex can suck for so many different reasons, but it’s usually simply due to inexperience or a lack of communication. We all suck when we try something new.
The point I’m trying to make here is that your first sexual experience can shape how you see sex for the rest of your life. And I want you to enjoy it, you deserve it. We all deserve it.
PSA: Sexual assault isn’t sex.
Sexual assault is frighteningly common. In a 2014 study, it was found that up to 34% of children (under the age of 18) have reported sexual abuse. The real prevalence is probably much higher as most cases go unreported.
I want to tell you now that if your first sexual contact was during a sexual assault, you are not ruined. You are not dirty. And you are a virgin. Remember our definition of sex and virginity from before? Sex is consensual. And if it is not consensual, it is not sex. It is assault.
No matter what has happened in the past, you can still choose how and when you want to have sex for the first time.
The hymen has absolutely nothing to do with virginity. In the same way that you cannot tell whether a man is a virgin by looking at his penis, you cannot tell whether a woman is a virgin by looking at her vulva/vagina.
It doesn’t matter when you lose your virginity. What is important is the how. Is it consensual? Do you feel safe and relaxed? Are you enjoying it? If not, don’t do it.
It’s time to throw out the virginity myth – like the rubbish it is!
Take care of yourself!
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Disclaimer: This blog contains my opinions and doesn’t reflect the opinions of the Department of Health of South Africa or The Southern African Sexual Health Association. All information is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge, but it’s possible that there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. While I am a qualified medical doctor, I am not YOUR doctor. The information presented on this blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as professional medical advice. If you rely on any information presented, it’s at your own risk. Please consult a professional before taking any sort of action. I reserve the right to manage this blog as I see fit, including the right to remove harmful or unhelpful comments.