Traditionally, the definition of a “virgin” is someone who hasn’t had sex. Up until recently, it was widely understood that sex referred purely to penile-vaginal penetration. If you engaged in other sexual activities, such as oral sex, anal sex, or even queer sex, you could ostensibly still call yourself a virgin. Most of the assumptions about virginity are based on false science (that the hymen must be “broken”), entrenched misogyny, and homophobia.
It’s time we upturned some persistent myths about virginity — and that’s precisely what we aim to do in this article.
Myth #1. The hymen is the core marker of one’s virginity.
Most hetero-patriarchal traditions believe the hymen is the essential marker of a person’s (specifically a person with a vulva) virginity or sexual activity. However, the “hymen” is a vague identity with meanings that have constantly shifted through time. At one point, the hymen referred to a bodily membrane, and then it referred to the womb, and then it referred to the vaginal tissues at the opening of the vagina.
In traditional culture, it’s believed that the hymen must be “broken” to indicate loss of virginity — the hymen is seen as a sort of natural purity ring that blocks access to the vagina. In reality, none of that is true. What we call the “hymen,” which is really just some vaginal tissues around the vagina, don’t block anything at all. They’re a stretchy and thin ring of tissues that open and close with the slightest contact.
The idea that the hymen is a firm vaginal barrier that’s broken forever after vaginal sex is a ludicrous concoction to control female sexuality.
Myth #2. Valuing virginity protects girls from external dangers.
In the patriarchal culture, women and girls’ values are placed in their virginity. The traditional culture tells girls that their virginity is held at such a high value for their protection. However, in reality, this is nothing but a control mechanism that strips women and girls of agency and self-determination.
The idea of “protecting” virginity has been used to justify countless acts of blatantly and less-blatantly sexist acts, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, misinformation about reproductive health, and the perception of rape as voluntary or a loss of innocence.
Myth #3. Vaginal examinations can reveal if you’re a virgin.
This is a damaging myth that often keeps young girls and women from accessing and consulting gynecologists. It’s assumed that health care professionals can identify your virginity status by examining your hymen.
However, in actuality, no one can tell whether you’ve had sex (even vaginal penetrative sex) just by looking at your “hymen” or vagina. The vaginal tissues surrounding the vagina are stretchy and often open regardless of sexual activity — virginity tests are not real.
Myth #4. Gynecologists can affect your virginity.
An extension of the myth that gynecologists can determine if you’re a virgin is the equally false but even more dangerous myth that gynecologists can affect your virginity. In actuality, gynecologists examine your general health, not whether or not you’ve had sex.
Everyone should go for regular vaginal examinations, such as the Pap test, to identify precancerous cells, which involves spreading the walls of the hymen and vagina with a speculum. This is essential, and it doesn’t “break” your hymen because, as mentioned earlier, the “hymen” is a stretchy lining.
Myth #5. Sexual partners can tell if you’re a virgin.
According to ancient myths, sexual partners could tell if a woman was a virgin based on a completely false understanding of female genitalia. Issues like bleeding, flexible vaginal walls (a sign of arousal), etc., could convince insecure men that their wives weren’t “pure.”
However, none of that is real — if gynecologists can’t determine the status of your virginity, however you choose to define it, then your sexual partner certainly can’t.
Myth #6. Penetrative vaginal sex is the core marker of your virginity.
As mentioned earlier, traditional heteropatriarchal culture defines sex as when a penis enters the vagina. That’s a completely redundant, false, and misogynistic definition of sex because it doesn’t account for queer sex or other forms of expressing sexuality, such as oral sex, anal sex, etc.
When 50 participants in a conference were asked about how they define sex, almost everyone gave a different answer. Some believed oral sex was also sex, while others didn’t agree. Some believed consent was essential for sex because rape is an act of violence, not a sexual act. Some believed ejaculation was essential for sex, but some deemed ejaculation to be irrelevant.
The ideas of whether something “counts” as sex often varies based on these factors:
- Ejaculation/ orgasm
- Length of time
This just goes to show that there isn’t anyone definitive marker of sex. Penetrative vaginal sex is just one of the many different ways to express sexuality, and they’re all equally valid. How you define sex is up to you entirely. And there’s no need to let external perceptions warp your experiences and sexuality.
Once we unshackle ourselves from these restrictive ideas of virginity, sex, and sexuality, we can feel free to follow our true desires, wherever they may lead us. And that’s all that matters.