Virginity is a loaded word. The common definition declares virginity as the time or state of being before a person engages in intercourse. Sexual intercourse is commonly defined as penetrative sex, specifically with a penis and vagina. Listen. We know sex is expansive beyond penetrative penis-vaginal intercourse. But does society?
A term that I prefer to virginity or “losing your V-card” is making one’s “sexual debut.” This allows for broader interpretation and in general makes the whole process seem more positive and less intimidating. You aren’t “losing” anything when you have sex for the first time, whatever that looks like for you.
My readers will know that I grew up in the Christian church. I was taught that my virginity, as it were, “belonged” to my “future husband.” I didn’t know this faceless cisgender man (my little queer self was told it couldn’t be anyone different than this), or why he would care so much about my sexual expression before I met him, but I was trained to believe that he would find me worthless if anyone else entered my vagina before him.
This definition meant that many of my peers in the Christian private school I went to engaged in anal sex, not believing that this counted. After all, the sacred hole God seemed to care so much about was the vagina – not the asshole.
Across many religions and cultures, virginity is a dogmatic belief that dictates (specifically a woman’s) worth, and it is almost always tied to purity in marriage. The term “loose” has been used in our society to refer to a vagina-owning woman who has had “too much” sex ... yet no one talks about how the penis can get small and elongated from having too much sex prior to marriage! ... I’m just kidding. But this comparison illustrates how ridiculous the sentiment is.
The hymen, a thin piece of flesh inside the vaginal cavity, is used cross-culturally to determine if a vagina-owning woman is a virgin or not on her wedding day. If no blood or pain accompanies penetrative sex on that wedding day, it’s often assumed that the woman is a dismissable harlot who’s been around the block.
Hymen reconstructive surgery has been popularized in many countries. The reality is, many people who own vaginas tear their hymen through exercise, tampon use, natural movement or (god forbid) penetrative sexual activity.
Here it is: virginity as a concept is a myth that has been used to perpetuate patriarchy and sexism. The only person who gets to decide whether or not you’ve made your intentional, consensual sexual debut is you, however this looks to you. And guess what? If you never want to have your sexual debut, or if it doesn’t feel right until you are in your late 20s, 30s or 60s ... that’s your call.
Culturally, I “lost my virginity” when I was 18. But emotionally and physiologically, I believe I made my sexual debut at 16, in a cabin bedroom mid-autumn, faint light streaming in and illuminating the dust in the air. I felt sexual intimacy for the first time – no penile penetration required. I am so thankful for all the sex I’ve had. And if I ever marry, the right person will also appreciate and respect my past.
Your body is yours and no one else’s, something the virginity myth begs us to ignore. You decide. I love you.
Madeline Rae, University of Winnipeg alumni, is a sex educator and writer living in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. She holds a BFA in performative sculpture, a BA in psychology and is studying her masters of clinical social work at Dalhousie University
Published in Volume 77, Number 12 of The Uniter (December 1, 2022)