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Virginity is a subject fraught with issues of “morality,” tradition, and gender and sexual politics. Because of how complicated conversations about the subject are, often we opt out of them altogether.So why are we so infatuated with virgins and virginity? To start unpacking these questions, we rounded up 11 things we learned about virgin myths, virginity culture and female sexuality from “How To Lose Your Virginity.”
1. There is no one definition of “virginity.”
The word “virgin” is loaded with all types of myths and cultural baggage, making it rather difficult to define. It may seem obvious that someone who’s never had sex is a virgin — but how do we define sex? If sex only includes heterosexual, vaginal penetrative intercourse, we’re leaving a lot of people out.
2. There isn’t a timeline for when and how to lose your virginity.
Whether you’re 17 or 25 or 33, there is no “right” time to have sex. Period. You should probably lose your virginity whenever you want to and are emotionally ready to take on the responsibility of the experience. And of course, for every woman, the “right” time is different.
3. Even the history of the word “virgin” is gendered.
The root of the word virgin is the Latin word virgo, which means young woman. While both men and women can be virgins — and the experience of losing one’s virginity can be confusing regardless of gender — the etymology of the word points to the idea that issues of virginity are always about women.
4. Virginity culture is inextricably linked to controlling women’s bodies.
Historically, a woman’s sexuality belonged to the men in her life — her father, her future husband — and to her God. While some women in the West no longer live in a society that explicitly tells women that their sexuality is not their own, the idea is still relayed implicitly through movies, music and even our sexual education.
5. Integrity balls are the male-focused counterpart of purity balls.
Most people have heard of purity balls — formal events where young women pledge their abstinence to their fathers until they marry — but we had no idea that the tradition had an equivalent for young men. The difference is that Integrity balls do not involve a young boy pledging his virginity to his mother because he wants to stay virtuous.
6. The state of your hymen is completely unrelated to whether or not you’re a virgin.
The connection between hymens and virginity is about as real as vampires. Contrary to popular myth, a hymen is simply a membrane that is left over after the vagina is fully formed. Hymens come in all shapes and sizes and while some women’s hymens break during puberty, others’ don’t break until the woman gives birth to her first child.
7. You can buy an artificial hymen or “virginity kit” on the Internet.
Sadly, many people still believe that a woman’s virginity can be verified by her intact hymen. Because of this false assumption, some women go to great lengths to ensure that their partners — and sometimes partners’ families — believe their hymens haven’t been torn. Often these great lengths include purchasing a fake hymen, which can be found online for only $30.
8. For most people, the “first time” isn’t that great. (Surprise, surprise.)
Whether it happens on your wedding night, on the floor of a dorm room or in the parking lot at prom, many people’s first experiences with sex aren’t wildly pleasurable. In fact, they can be awkward and downright painful. Like with any activity, practice makes perfect, and you probably don’t quite know what to do at first. Unfortunately, our “first times” are so hyped up by pop culture, religious institutions and even porn culture that we often fail to recognize this reality.
9. Messages about female sexuality are constructed by two paradoxical narratives that make it impossible for any woman to fulfill the “ideal.”
There is a certain infatuation with a woman who is able to have sex, but chooses not to. The “be sexy but don’t have sex” message sets up a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for women. As Ally Sheedy’s character explains in “The Breakfast Club,” when it comes to sex: “if you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut! It’s a trap. You want to but you can’t, and when you do you wish you didn’t.”
10. The definition of “slut” is just as loaded and confusing as the definition of “virgin.”
The word “slut” is more about shaming a woman and taking away her agency than actual sex. A woman doesn’t need to be having sex to be called a slut. If her sexuality or perceived sexuality deviates from the norm in any way, a woman can easily be labelled as one.
11. Knowledge, open dialogue and a little practice go a long way.
As Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen.com explains, the best way to debunk myths about virginity is to talk about them.