How Do We Define Virginity?

Walking to my grandmother’s house from high school one day, my friend asked an odd question. “So, if it goes in but he takes it out before anything comes out, are you still a virgin?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Oh,” my friend said, pausing. “Well, guess what!?”

The above is a very real conversation I had with my friend around the age of 16. Clearly she had sex, but she wasn’t sure if that meant she had lost her virginity. In fact, if you walk around a school and ask, you’ll get many different answers about what virginity actually is. Supposedly, it’s this special thing we’re supposed to save, but I have yet to encounter a solid definition.

I sought out Dictionary.com, hoping there was at least a solid definition. Turns out, there’s no mention of intercourse, vaginas, penises or sex. Here’s what the dictionary has to say:

Virginity is…

  • the state or condition of being a virgin.
  • the state or condition of being pure, fresh, or unused.
  • Informal. any naive, uninitiated, or uninformed state.
  • the condition or fact of being a virgin; maidenhood; chastity
  • the condition of being untouched, unsullied, etc

Perhaps you consider pure, chaste and unsullied to be words related to the state of a human body that has not had sex, but that’s really more of an opinion. I don’t think having sex makes a person less pure or sullied. Hell, I have plenty of sex and people can’t stop telling me how innocent I am (if only they knew, right?).

Until recently, I considered virginity to represent a person who never had vaginal intercourse. A person who had anal or oral sex still had their virginity. A person who was fondled or fingered still had their virginity. Yet, what was my virginity really. Monday, I discussed the thought process that lead me to believe having sex before marriage was the right move for me. While I consider 2011 to be the year I lost my virginity, other friends think I lost it earlier. Sure, I wasn’t having vaginal sex, but that didn’t matter to their definition of virginity.

We have a problem. If we are telling young women to keep their virginity, going so far as to shame them when they don’t, shouldn’t we at least provide a solid definition? To say that being a virgin is the state of never having sex is not enough. What is sex? I remember my father uncomfortably telling me that there were ‘other things’ you could do besides sex. It was just a passing comment, but his tone seemed to imply these ‘other things’ were just as wrong. Unfortunately, these things would never be described to me. I have been left, abandoned by adults, authorities figures and my trusted dictionary, to define virginity for myself.

So I have.

Having done many of those ‘other things,’ all the while still believing I was a virgin, and then moving on to lose my virginity, I don’t think virginity has anything to do with any specific sexual action. Virginity is more of a state of being. It’s not innocence. It’s the emotional state of having never given all of yourself to someone. When you finally let go of all your walls and give yourself completely to someone, that is a loss of virginity.

I didn’t feel like I lost my virginity before 2011 because my emotional state didn’t change. My walls were still up. I wasn’t giving anything away. The only thing I considered to be ‘giving it all away’ was vaginal intercourse. So, it wasn’t until then that I ‘lost’ anything (to say that I lost anything isn’t really true, though. That’s a blog for another day).

The way I see it, if those ‘other things’ also resulted in a loss of virginity, certainly I would have noticed. If sex is such a big, momentous deal, it should have been quite obvious what was happening. Instead, I was left with a question mark. In fact, sex is the opposite of obvious without a solid definition. Why else would 0.08% of America’s pregnant teenagers still believe they are virgins? Maybe that doesn’t seem like a large number to you, but when you consider that an average of 750,000 teenagers get pregnant every year, that number becomes pretty large.

There are still questions to that. How many of the other 99.2% of those pregnant teenagers thought they weren’t really having sex until they fount out they were pregnant? How many non- pregnant teenagers are having sex without know that’s what they are doing?Perhaps even more dire, how many out there avoid using safe sex practices, putting themselves at greater risk for STIs, because they don’t think their actions are sex?

I’ve heard the excuse that humans have had sex for years without a class as a way to support imposing ignorance on our youth. We have learned about sex through the years, though, as much as we have learned about anything else. We have learned about emotional impacts, physical impacts and diseases. Our children deserve to know the truth. If nothing else, they deserve to have a solid definition of what sex is and what virginity is. Without a solid, descriptive definition, what is the point of preserving or losing virginity?

How do you define virginity? How has that definition changed over the years? Do you think teenagers can understand what we mean by sex and virginity with the poor definitions we give them today? 

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24 thoughts on “How Do We Define Virginity?”

  1. I am not sure how I define virginity…but perhaps I could stand by your definition. I think I’ll have a better idea of how to define the word when I become sexually active. I am pretty sure teenagers know very little about sex. I mean, lest we educate them so there are less abortions and less teenage pregnancies. Better to give them abstinence-only education. (She says sarcastically).

    1. I’m not sure if people are comfortable defining virginity after losing it. Especially if you want to keep your virginity or teach your children to keep theirs. If you can’t define sex and virginity for them, how do they know?

  2. I’ve always held that the more medical and biological definitions are inadequate. If you don’t have a hymen, does that mean you never lose your virginity no matter how many times you have sex? Or that you were never a virgin? If you are being sexually intimate in other ways, surely that undermines the “innocence” definition of virginity? I think, therefore, each person has to determine for themselves when they feel they reached that milestone in their sexuality because no one else can really define it for them. I think we also have to ask ourselves whether that’s even an important milestone any more. And why it is communicated as being more significant for females than for males. Perhaps if we focused less on ideas of virginity and vaginal penetration we could be communicating more successful messages to our youth in particular about what it really means to be sexually intimate with someone and all that that involves.

    1. ” I think, therefore, each person has to determine for themselves when they feel they reached that milestone in their sexuality because no one else can really define it for them.”

      I really think that should be the key going into the future. From what I understand, this whole virginity think started so that men would know whether or not they fathered the children a woman gave birth to. That’s why it was more important for women than men. But we no longer live in that world and 90% of all Americans have sex outside of marriage (although I’m not sure if they mean vaginal penetration or any sexual act).

      Growing up, the hymen thing wasn’t, well… a thing. It wasn’t until college that I started hearing about keeping the hymen in tact. No one ever told me anything like that (but Catholics are good at listening to common sense science). I did, however, believe in God’s loophole. When I started doing those things, I never once felt like I lost virginity. Like I said, my walls were still up.

      Virginity certainly has a physical component, but I think there is an emotional and/or spiritual side that goes beyond that. For some, that will mean 2nd base is a loss of virginity and for others, full on sex may still make them feel like a virgin if they also didn’t give themselves on an emotional/spiritual level.

      So, in the end, maybe religion is on to something. It’s not the physical act, though, so much as giving yourself over in full spirit.

  3. “to say that I lost anything isn’t really true, though”

    I love that sentence. I always found it strange that so many people considered doing a thing to result in losing a previous state of being, which is only really based on having not done a thing. It seems strange to me for a person to define themselves by something they haven’t done.

    1. I had actually typed a whole paragraph talking about how I didn’t lose anything when I lost my virginity, but I decided that was getting away from the point of this post. Maybe I’ll touch on that in the future.

  4. When I was younger, I had people asking me if I was a virgin so many times. I would define it as a sexual experience with somebody else, i.e. a girlfriend or one nights stands. I think though that sex education and relationships in particular should be more of a general subject in schools I think to help the youngsters understand.

    1. I agree. And questions should be answered frankly and truthfully. I hate how we laugh at sexual topics. I think that prevents us from having serious discussions, too. I once told someone about my senior thesis on FGM. I answered all their questions, but they couldn’t stop laughing at the words clitoris and vagina so I eventually just walked away.

      But seriously, I think that virginity must just be one of those things that is different for everyone. Why else would some people feel a lose of innocence with oral while others could have intercourse without feeling any loss?

  5. Since i knew what virginity is, i associated it with the “hymen”. I thought that your hymen breaks, then you’re no longer a virgin. But the other day i read somewhere that the hymn is a thin membrane that can be broken by “normal” physical activities like biking or horse riding. Now i think that they are two kind of virginity: the physical one, which is the virginal intercourse and the emotional one and that’s what you talked about. I know many girls who have had sex (physically) before but they say that they really felt like they lost their virginity with their current boyfriend.

    1. See, when I learned about virginity, they hymen wasn’t a thing yet. I don’t think they teach that in the Catholic religion, knowing how easy it is to break the hymen without any sexual activity. I once had a religious friend in all seriousness tell me “TK, I think I’d know if I broke my hymen.”

      Um… if you fell of your bike and scraped your knee, pretty sure even if you could feel your hymen break, it would be overshadowed by the pain in your knee.

      I can see there being two kinds, but I think those who are interested in preserving their virginity are only interested in the physical one.

  6. Virginity is not just about penetration, it is about purity of not practicing sex. Sex is not just a physical connection, it is one involving the heart, the spirit, the mind as well. To be a virgin is: not practicing sex, in any context. If teens play around with sexual activity they are no longer a virgin. A glass of pure water is no longer pure if it is 99 percent water and 1 percent sewage.

    1. Even that “playing around with sexual activity” lacks a full definition. So, is kissing losing your virginity? Is falling in love enough of a spiritual connection to count as loss of virginity? Teens are having these natural urges and they will take things down to a specific degree. That’s why many of my friends did “everything but…” they were all very religious and seriously believed they preserved their virginity that well. Hell, so did I. That seemed to make sense. No one told us otherwise. All were were ever told was “don’t have sex” and sex was vaginal penetration.

      I think I could agree with the water analogy assuming sewage is penetration. But there are other minerals and such in water that we still consider pure. Some thing certain minerals make it pure while others say the same minerals taint the water. Like sexual behavior, I don’t think we have a black and white answer. Or, if we do, we’re not talking about it. It’s like we’re afraid to define exactly what we mean.

  7. I completely agree. We have a way of being far too vague about sex, sexuality, and virginity with younger generations due to our mutual embarrassment when the topic comes around. We give next to no clear guidelines on what to do in those fairly inevitable situations. We say things like “be safe” and “use protection” and hope the school system taught them what that means. We also have a pretty giant failure to define consent. Sure, there are some pretty clear situations where people can say consent was refused, but what about all those times when a decisive “no” wasn’t given? We don’t teach people how to clearly refuse or give consent, or how to recognize that certain actions do or do not relay consent. Its all so convoluted.

    1. Defining sex, virginity and consent should be at the top of the list in sex ed. Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons those topics aren’t taught is that people have different definitions for them. Imagine if school taught that you were a virgin until you had intercourse. Imagine the outrage of those who think anal and oral also count as a loss of virginity?

      Maybe we just haven’t reached a point where we can have an open discussion on these subjects yet.

  8. Food for thought – I have a 4 year old daughter and I have a feeling I will need to come up with satisfying definitions for this sooner than I had hoped. I feel like virginity is very much tied to vaginal penetration but I think that’s crap for the most part – to me it’s more of a loss of a certain innocence when one has intimate relations with another, and that can happen without any kind of penetration, and therefore makes the virginity definition more applicable to all groups of people, men, women, gay straight, bi, trans. Thanks for posting 🙂

    1. I believe the michanics of sex are important to detail before they reach the point where they feel like all their friends are doing it. It’s not something to laugh at. It’s serious and it’s fun. At a bare minimum, every pre-teen should know how to protect themselves for STIs and unwanted pregnancy. They should be taught a solid definition of consent and I would argue they also deserve to know sexual assult stastistics. For example, most rape victims are raped by someone they know, during the day, near or in their home where no drugs or alchohal are involved. Let’s teach them real ways to protect themselves instead of telling them not to wear pony tails to bars.

      Beyond that, I think losing your virginity is the act of completely giving yourself to someone. This is done through a sexual act, but also requires an emotional release. You give yourself over mind, body and soul. That’s where you lose something. That’s where you give someone the keys to your heart and hope they use them well. It’s not a negitive thing either, but it is risky an important that they lose their virginity with the right person.

  9. This is a really good post and I’m surprised you haven’t been inundated with comments. Culture has to play into the definition, I’m sure.

  10. I happen to have a really…really strict definition of the word. Being a virgin is both a physical and mental. I mean that every sense of the word. So yes that also involves mastubation (or any form of sexual self pleasing activities…all of them!) and yes kissing too…mind=blow. As for the mental I am talking about people who are thinking about sex, watch porn (or even any sexual thoughts of any form). If you do any of those things you are not a virgin. Was that a strict or what? But it is what I chose to live by. You don’t have to agree with me but it’s true when you think about it. Most people just chose to think they are virgins when they are not because growing up they were never told the hard knocked truth. The miseducation of the United States is a classic when it comes to parents not telling theirs reality. Other countries are really straightforward for answers like that and can even get graphic. Some chose to go in denial because they don’t want to feel like a lesser human being from those who are actual virgins. Some lie to themselves because they think being a virgin was important to them or to someone they look up to. They told themselves that lie long enough that they actually now believe it’s real. They genuinely think they are actually virgins. As hard it is to believe but they are virgins out there!!! You be surprised to who fit that definition and who doesn’t. No one can really check if another person is a virgin or not but should know that answer yourself. You don’t have to agree with me but in my book you miss TK are not a virgin! But it’s okay because the thing is people get things like that wrong so much that most people are not virgins whether they know it or not. Being innocent has nothing to do with it nor does it has to do this that whole “given yourself to someone completely” theory because that theory is heavily flawed. If you really think about it your theory kind of say that prostitutes are actual virgins. Prostitutes are humans too as much as society seems to treat them like trash.They are humans too and deserve to be treated just like the rest of us. Those people don’t give themselves wholly to anybody because they give themselves with anybody who can pay for it. I don’t think any prostitute can actually agree with the fact that they are virgins or anybody for that matter. You do make some good points especially people not telling what being a virgin really is. I really enjoy some of the articles on here so keep writing 🙂

    1. That definition works for me (and I am surely not a virgin in any sense of the word). It really all does come down to education. People should not be getting pregnant wondering what they did to make that happen. They should know!

      The problem is, people largely disagree on what a virgin is, making teaching and definition of the word difficult.

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