What Is Virginity Anyway?

So, virginity is a term that is widely used but is not often examined critically. The standard understanding of virginity is one’s status prior to having sexual intercourse. However, nowadays this understanding is not so straight forward. To truly untangle the modern definition of virginity, and retroactively, the loss of virginity, we must first define “sex.” Does engaging in oral sex constitute losing one’s virginity? Is sex the penetration of two genital organs? Or simply any type of penetration? This continues to get more complicated when we consider non-heterosexual relationships where two people have the same genital organs. Losing your virginity is no longer so clearly defined.

Why am I so interested in the construction of virginity, well I grew up in a very sex-positive household. In my home talking about sex and all that entails was always something my parents (yes, with both my mom and dad), sister and I talked about openly. I became fascinated about virginity when I was 20. I was living in Chicago for the summer with a group of 8 other strangers. We ended up playing a game of truth or dare and I was asked what my favorite sexual position was. I was still a virgin at the time and thus responded with, “Well, I haven’t had sex yet so I don’t know.” “It will blow your mind!” a roommate responded aghast. He couldn’t believe that I was 20 and had never had sex. Interestingly enough, the following year in Chicago I started dating my current boyfriend of two and a half years and we had sex when I was 21.

I continue to find this construction of virginity very frustrating. It is something that doesn’t make much sense to me. When you look at the rhetoric that surrounds virginity we use phrases like “losing your virginity,” “taking someone’s virginity,” “popping the cherry” and so on. We continue to discuss virginity as though we have lost something instead of speaking about it as an experience gained.

I find this confusing and frustrating in a world where it becomes more common to have oral sex before penetrative sex as a way to remain chaste. This is the most arbitrary of distinctions. Is sex, in the context of losing your virginity, only lost when you have sex with two genitals or when pregnancy could result? Why does this define sex?

Historically, sex that could result in a pregnancy was all that really mattered. This is why virginity was conceived, to ensure that a man’s wife’s child was indeed theirs and not some other man’s. Virginity was really a tool for men to control their wife’s procreation. The enforcement of virginity was a practical tool for men. But nowadays we have birth control and paternity tests to ensure the father of a child, making the construction of virginity unnecessary.

It is my belief that we should change the rhetoric that surrounds virginity. We should talk about the gaining of an experience instead of the loss of something. It is far past time that we modernize the way we discuss virginity and first-time sexual experiences. We can change this rhetoric from the ground level. We simply must choose different rhetoric when we talk to family and friends about first-time sexual experiences. As Laci Green once said, “It’s your sexual debut.” By changing the conversation, we could eliminate the fear that many people, especially women, feel regarding having sex. I believe we are hurting women by telling them their most important gift is their chastity. When I had sex it was a good experience, but for many that is not the case. By changing the conversation we can change what is and is not considered normal.

by Lindsay O’Keefe

Originally published at obviweretheladies.com on January 11, 2017.