Doing something for the first time can be significant: driving a car, leasing an apartment, the first time you totally mess up your hair with an at-home dye job (maybe it’s just me on that last one). But doing something for the first time can also be completely forgettable and unimportant, too: shaving your legs, wearing deodorant, getting a cell phone (or maybe your first flip Nokia really was earth-shattering). The question today is: why do people still cling to the idea that, for everyone, virginity is an earth-shattering and important event?
On the surface, the idea of valuing virginity seems like it should keep people safe – abstinence is the only 100 per cent, surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, after all. In reality, quite the opposite is true. The preoccupation with virginity, specifically with the virginity of girls and young women, is hurting their self-image and ability to seek pleasurable sexual experiences; abstinence-only education actually increases teen pregnancy and birth rates.
Spending my adolescence voluntarily immersed in evangelical church culture, I heard every argument for “staying pure” and “saving myself.” I made a virginity pledge at age 14 to remain a virgin until marriage as a commitment to “myself, my future children, my future husband, and God.” It’s not just church culture that values virginity though, this sentiment is everywhere, from the word “slut” intending to be an extreme insult, to police asking what women were wearing or if they were virgins at the time of their rapes, to our total obsession with whether or not teen celebrities have had sex. Aside from being a gross analogy, there are flaws in that argument and a total erasure of certain people’s sexual realities.
There is the issue of what constitutes virginity; it is widely accepted that being a virgin means never having a penis in your vagina or vice versa. There is, however, no working medical definition of what virginity is. Anywhere. The idea that P-in-V intercourse is somehow different from other types of physical intimacy is problematic. One of the most common things that I’ve heard when talking to my friends of all genders is the simple truth that sometimes a good make out session or the act of giving or receiving oral sex can be just as, if not more, intimate than intercourse. For some people I speak with, depending on the circumstances, there is a huge difference between “just screwing” and “making love.”
Then there’s the whole issue of people who are queer; if they never have P-in-V sex, then are they still virgins? Looking at virginity outside of the context of heterosexuality makes things infinitely more complicated, but does make one thing more clear: that virginity is a weird thing and pretty much useless. I think that you learn countless things about yourself, relationships, love, and people through sexual activity and to define penetrative sex as the defining moment that you start learning them seems ridiculous.
Waiting to have sex until you’re ready is wise; waiting until you’re married—if you plan to be married—or until you’re in a long-term committed relationship are both completely legitimate decisions. However, I think everyone will be better off when we stop using a meaningless term to describe someone’s sexual experience or lack thereof. Defining our own sexuality by the pleasure we get from it, the joy and playfulness we experience with it, and the connections we make—when we choose to, on our own terms—seems much more accurate.
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