“You have to tell me everything!” I said. “Dude, holy crap, it hurt so bad,” said Ashley*. “Like how bad?” I asked. “Give me your arm,” she said. I held out my arm and Ashley gave me the kind of snake burn that’s the stuff of playground nightmares. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, rubbing my tormented forearm. “No,” she said, “I’m seriously not kidding. I had to ask him to stop halfway through.” Ashley had just had sex for the first time, or, to be more precise, Ashley had just had heterosexual, penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex. For her, it was a painful ordeal to be forged through with gritted teeth. I’m sure there was romance, I’m sure there was foreplay. She loved her boyfriend very much, but when I asked her to describe her initiation into intercourse, the first thing she talked about was the pain. So, Ok, let’s be serious; the first time is clumsy at best and a messy, painful disaster at worst. It’s Ok and it gets better.
Many of us look back on our early sexual encounters and laugh. Those way too rough breast gropes and backseat-of-Mom’s-car hand jobs were just the maladroit buddings of what would one day become satisfying sex. (Fun disclosure: my dad walked in on my very first blow job, but that’s a story for another day.) But somewhere past the feeling up and the faked moans of pretend ecstasy, there is that pesky little demarcation known as virginity. Are you a virgin? Are you not a virgin? Did you lose your virginity yet? I see more than a few problems with this kind of outmoded terminology; a holdover from a time when “purity” was traded as social currency in a way we’ve long since jettisoned.
The first problem arises when one endeavors to define what a virgin actually is. In my group of high school friends, a virgin was someone who had not had heterosexual, penis-in-vagina sex. That’s one definition and I suppose it’s valid, so I was surprised when I got to college and learned that some of my peers considered someone who had had oral sex to be a non-virgin. That seemed weird to me, but it seemed weird to them that many boys (and a few girls) had seen me naked long before I let a guy put his genitals inside of my genitals. Who was right? What about the concept of “technical virginity” that permits oral and anal sex while still allowing participants in those activities to hold onto that all-important V-card? My point is this: virginity is a stupid concept with no clear and consensually arrived at application. Virginity is not a useful term in a grown up and modernized dialogue about sex. Let’s ditch it already.
Secondly, what if you’re queer? What if you slept with someone of the opposite sex before you came out? Do you lose your virginity again when you have your first sexual encounter with someone of the same sex? I’m bisexual. Have I lost my virginity twice? Drawing a line in the sand designating virgins and non-virgins within the queer community is damaging to our understanding of how different types of relationships work. Asking (never ask this), “But how do lesbians have sex?” is not only ignorant but also brazenly intrusive. People’s sex lives are what they make of them. You can never tell a person—gay, straight or any other orientation or identity—how to have sex. And if you can’t decide what makes sex sex for any two (or more) people, you can’t designate anyone a virgin. That would be stupid.
Thirdly, I didn’t lose anything and neither did you. Ok, so let’s pare this down for a second and assume that one might say that I “lost my virginity” the first time I had penetrative sex with a guy. What exactly did I lose and where exactly did it go? I didn’t walk away from the experience feeling bereft. If anything, I gained a new experience. I learned things about myself. I learned how it felt to be touched in a certain way. I won’t kid you, it was fun as hell! There is, though, the inescapable argument in favor of the shoddily defined notion of purity**. I happen to think that purity is a bogus concept because it implies that sex is dirty. Sex is no more inherently dirty than eating. It’s a bodily function, and a pretty great one at that. It’s worth noting that purity in this case reduces a person to what’s going on with the junk between his or her legs. You are not your genitals. You’re a person.
First sexual experiences can be rites of passage for many people and that’s OK, but couching that experience in language that somehow construes an individual as a lesser person is nonsense. As long as sex is safe and consensual, you’re neither a better now a worse person for engaging in it. You’re just human. Humans have sex***. In all kinds of ways. Screw the line in the sand. Forget about virginity. Go have some fun.
**I’m framing this argument within a secular context and have no interest in disparaging anyone’s faith-based sexual morality.
***This is said recognizing asexually oriented persons and individuals who choose not to engage in sexual activity for whatever reason.