What ‘being a virgin’ actually means (and doesn’t mean)


What is virginity anyway? Your virginity is a made-up, completely arbitrary idea that is loosely based around whether or not you have had ‘sex’. It used to mean you hadn’t had a penis inside of your vagina and had ‘sex’, but there are so many ways of having ‘sex’ that don’t include penis-in-vagina action, making the idea of your virginity actually kinda silly past a certain point.

You could possibly – if you wanted – have anal sex, oral sex, masturbate and be fingered by a thousand men and women, and still not have technically lost your virginity.

As we understand virginity, it is related to sexual inexperience above all else, but there is no real line that makes you a virgin or not a virgin. That is entirely up to you.

The hymen is no longer the gold standard in virginity testing

The presence of the hymen used to be the measure of virginity – if your hymen was broken or stretched, you supposedly had had sex. Except we now know that hymens are easily broken, and can break from riding your tricycle as a kid, horse-riding, working out, tampons, and accidental injuries, among many other activities.

It has no bearing whatsoever on your ‘virginity’ or whether you have engaged in sexual activity.

Why is virginity so highly prized?

Virginity is an arbitrary concept. This means it is made up. Invented. Constructed. It doesn’t exist except in our own minds, since there are so many ways around it if you are creative or desperate.

Virginity has traditionally been used as a measure of ‘purity’ – to put it simply, in old ways of thinking, your virginity makes you more valuable as a man’s property since he can be sure that you are only having sex with him, and therefore the children you will quickly bear are only going to be his.

He then does not have to worry that he is supporting – in his traditional role as the provider for the family – for someone else’s child.

Note: both men and women are subject to society’s rules, and nobody is at particular fault here: we all more or less do what we are told because that’s what society demands of us. It’s the continuation of these arbitrary rules and regulations beyond their expiry date that needs addressing by all members of society, including the use of the humble hymen as a measure of sexual activity.

You cannot use the hymen to measure ‘virginity’

Making a girl’s virginity her sole source of value to society at large is demeaning and excludes women from being sexual creatures outside of wedlock, which we most definitely are.

Women love sex just as much as men, and being ‘pure’ seems rather absurd since nobody is pure – humans are deeply flawed, and that’s what makes us interesting, sex and all.

This sexual exclusivity (which naturally has only ever applied to girls – nobody cares if a boy is a virgin or not) means that virginity was (and still is in certain cultures) highly prized as a way to keep offspring genetically ‘clean’ and try to prohibit women from sleeping around.

This is where slut-shaming comes into play – women being sexual mortally offends some people, despite it being a fact of life. Women are extremely sexual creatures, with research suggesting even more so than men. Interesting huh?

Virginity is highly prized in women but discouraged in men because it results in chastity on the part of women, and seed-spreading in men. This is behaviour found in all animals – the ‘right’ to mate with the females of the pack goes to the alpha male, with the males fighting between themselves to be the strongest, richest, best endowed, etc. so as to get to mate with the more fertile females and continue their genes… survival of the fittest.

Animal behaviour. But, we are intelligent sentient beings. We have birth control. We have jobs. We have choices. Life will never, ever be the same for us again and it’s about time the world got used to it. Virginity is not a measure of worth any longer. It is a personal choice.

Religiosity and saving oneself

There is nothing wrong with saving your first sexual experiences to have with someone you love, and in fact it is rather a nice thing to do if you are so inclined, and usually makes the experience more meaningful.

People do this for many reasons, with religious beliefs being the main one outside of personal choice, so however you decide to go about making this decision is completely up to you. Everything is ok and there is no wrong answer.

What isn’t important here is whether you have an intact hymen and can prove you are a virgin, except if you belong to certain religious or cultural backgrounds, whereby it can be extraordinarily difficult to wriggle your way around the hymen problem you may face if yours has stretched or disappeared, even if you have never had sex or even been kissed.

Rest assured that nobody can prove that you have or haven’t ever had sex based on the appearance of your hymen (or lack thereof), and if they argue with you, send them here, and to the many journal articles describing the study of the many variants of the human hymen.

The science of the hymen

It has been proven by scientific medical research  that an intact hymen is not an accurate indicator of sexual activity in women and girls, since the hymen varies so much in its elasticity, openness and construction from girl to girl, and changes as we age.

In fact, the hymen is thin as a child, but grows thicker and more stretchy as we get older and oestrogen comes into play. Some studies have found pregnant women with intact hymens, which seems quite incredible considering they have obviously ‘done it’ at least once before.

There are standards in place to try to discover – by looking at the hymens of children – if doctors can find evidence of sexual abuse, however there are a lot of difficulties in proving this one way or another they are now discovering.

Being able to identify as a ‘virgin’

Being able to say you are a virgin means different things to different people, but this is the thing: if you say you are, then you shouldn’t have to prove yourself.

There is absolutely no way on earth  you can tell if someone has had sex before and nor should anyone be trying to discover this information by inspecting your body.

Sexual abuse and rape

Being sexually abused can strip you of your arbitrary title of being a ‘virgin’ in the eyes of the world, but where does that leave you? It leaves you needing to learn how to redefine what being a virgin means to you, if that’s important to you.

You can snatch that back from your abuser, and reclaim your title if you want to in whatever way seems meaningful to you. Because it’s all made-up anyway, you have the freedom to do whatever you like!

Recreating the hymen to give the illusion of virginity

Some women even get hymenectomies (to recreate a hymen-like structure at the entrance of the vagina) as a way to reclaim their ‘virginal’ status, even if they have been bangin’ away for years.

This operation is also used by some women for religious reasons, since some men expect women to bleed upon first sexual penetration. Sadly some women are punished because they don’t bleed, whether they have had sex or not.

Virginity as a currency

Being a virgin or not a virgin doesn’t make you a better or worse person, and you don’t need your virginity to make you valuable – you are already valuable as you are, sex, fingering, masturbating, sucking or licking of yours or anyone else’s private parts included. Nothing bad will happen to you if you are no longer a ‘virgin’.

How do you know if you are still a virgin or not?

Now this is an interesting question with a thousand answers. The short answer is, you are if you say you are because nobody can tell either way (unless you get pregnant or catch an STI).

In real terms today, if you engage in penetrative sexual activities, primarily from a penis, then you are said to have ‘lost’ your virginity, but there are so many exceptions!

What if you are a lesbian and think penises are gross? What if you orgasm by oral sex with a different man and woman every night and never get penetrated by a penis? What if you only do anal sex?

There are a thousand ‘what if’ examples. Virginity is something you feel, not something you lose, so make it up as you go along. Invent your own definitions. It doesn’t matter, because it’s all made-up anyway! 

Clinging on to virginity as a prize

Sexuality is a wonderful way to connect with another person, and there is no reason for you to halt sex based on this arbitrary concept of being a virgin unless you want to.

If you don’t want to have sex, then don’t have sex. If you do want to have sex, go for it. The thing is, once you do it, you never, ever have to worry about being a virgin again, because once ‘it’s’ gone, there ain’t no getting it back. Thank goodness.

Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)