With hashtags like #NoHymenNoDiamond and #PoppedCherryDontMarry slithering around the Internet recently, we figured it was time to have that very important talk about this whole virginity thing. It's a topic that makes its way into too many after school specials and movies to count, yet isn't always totally understood.
For something that's so damn hard to define, the concept of virginity can cause a lot of damage. Let's be real: If you're not lighting a ceremonial black flame candle, virginity really isn't as important as society makes it out to be.
Luckily, plenty of high-profile figures -- like YouTube sex educators Laci Green and Dr. Lindsey Doe, as well as feminist author Jessica Valenti -- have addressed virginity misconceptions in the past.
Here are some very basic things you should know before deciding if you want to let virginity play any role in determining your partners, your friends or your own self-worth:
It's not something you "lose."
When you make the decision to have sex, it shouldn't feel like something's being taken away from you (it's sex, not taxes). Nothing about you -- who you are, what you care about, what you do -- changes once you make your "sexual debut." You're simply making a decision to do something that makes you feel good. (Way to go!)
It doesn't involve a "cherry."
Let's talk about the hymen. This thin 'lil membrane covers the vaginal opening but is often worn away by adolescence, regardless of sexual activity. Pain or bleeding during sex isn't the hymen breaking, but rather can happen if your body isn't ready (that is, relaxed or turned on enough). That's sometimes normal, especially if you're nervous during your first time. TL;DR: Nothing pops.
It's got some crunchy sexist origins.
Virginity, as a social construct, has a pretty nasty history. It was often invoked in the days before birth control to make sure that any potential spawn belonged to a particular father (since baby-making and marriage was often more like a business transaction in the past). Since women were largely "owned" by the men in their lives, a virginal daughter meant that a father could 100% guarantee that any kids would belong to her future suitor -- resulting in a woman's value being tied to the supposed state of her vagina. Yuck.
It's generally used in a lot of unsexy, shaming ways.
Throughout history virginity has been used to reinforce the notion that women are more valuable when they're "pure" (just look at those super shady sex education practices that compare non-virginal people to chewed-up gum or used tape). The fumbling wedding night first-time cliché has been framed as the only moral option for many people -- and those who don't conform wind up on the receiving end of serious social stigma.
It's super hard to define.
There are a lot of different ways to have sex with another human, and we don't get to decide what intimacy markers mean to other people. If your definition of "no longer a virgin" starts and ends with a "popped cherry" or only includes penetrative sex by a penis, that's leaving out a lot. As Laci Green so aptly puts it: "What if I never have [penis in vagina sex], but in the next hour I give 500 blowjobs? Am I still a virgin?"
It's not at all inclusive.
On a similar note, if we're using those most common definitions of "virginity," are all people who don't have penis-in-vagina sex eternal virgins? That definition -- coming out of those old heteronormative business transactions -- doesn't leave a lot of room to consider people who have different kinds of sex with different kinds of bodies. It's super exclusionary, to say the least.
It says nothing about who you are as a person.
There are plenty of things in this world and decisions you make that reflect on what kind of person you are -- like having cold pizza for breakfast three days in a row, or sending an "I just got this" response to a text you ignored for nine hours. But having had sex or not (especially that narrow definition of it) is just not one of them.