You Cannot Lose Your Virginity, And 4 Other Reasons The Definition Needs A Modern Day Overhaul


We’ve been using the term virgin since about the 12th century. Early definitions of the word paint a very different picture than the one used today. A virgin used to simply mean an unmarried woman but as attitudes about sex and marriage have shifted over the years, so has the term. Modern day definitions are more along the lines of: a person who has never had sex. But what does that really mean? How do we define sex in this context? The truth is, we’re at another crossroads, one where societal constructs of marriage and sexuality are changing again. The word ‘virgin’ hasn’t morphed to reflect those recent shifts. The way we’re using the word today isn’t particularly useful for talking about our bodies or our sexual experiences. Here are a few reasons why the definition of virginity needs a modern day overhaul:

1. Virginity is not biological.

But we often talk about it like it is. There is absolutely no biological marker of virginity. What about the hymen? Hopefully most everyone knows by now that the hymen is not a foolproof way to indicate virginity. In fact, scientists aren’t even sure why hymens still exist. They don’t seem to serve any biological purpose whatsoever and most hymens wear away before or shortly into early adolescence. So if we did consider the hymen to be a quantifiable indication of virginity, most women would not be considered virgins by the time they become young teens despite having never had sexual intercourse. Here’s another way to think about it: When you go to the doctor, you aren’t asked, “Are you a virgin?” during your physical. They ask, “Are you sexually active?” If virginity was a biological concept or even medically relevant, wouldn’t doctors use it during examinations?

2. Okay, so we don’t judge virginity by the hymen, how about saying “It’s the first time you have sex?”

You can say that but no one will ever be on the same page about it. Ever. What does sex actually mean in this scenario? Does it mean penis in vagina? Does it only count if ejaculate is involved? What about oral sex? Anal? Any type of penetration? Does that include dildos? Because that’s technically penetration. Okay, the last one is pushing it. I think everyone can agree that actual people need to be involved for one to ‘lose virginity’ but short of that, there’s not much else everyone can agree on. The concept of virginity has become completely subjective and it’s because we’re preoccupied with mechanics. Instead, we should focus more on intimacy and not what counts and what doesn’t.

3. Virginity is not something you can lose.

Think about how people talked about virginity back when you were in high school. “She lost her virginity to him” or “He took her virginity” or “She gave it up to him.” In these statements, the girl has something to lose, something that can be taken, and something to be given up. It all implies loss. But, the first time you have sex, you’re not in fact losing anything. There is nothing to lose. ‘Losing your virginity’ is not a biological concept. It’s not a thing that can happen. Not to mention, why would anyone want to equate their (consensual) first time with loss? Instead, shouldn’t we think in terms of what was gained – a new experience, intimacy with a partner, pleasure, a better idea of likes and dislikes?

4. The concept of virginity is heteronormative.

Another important reason why the current virginity concept needs an overhaul is because it excludes an entire group of people. The current usage of the term implies that same-sex couples can’t “lose their virginity” via vaginal sex, devaluing their intimate experiences. I think everyone can agree that homosexuals aren’t forever virgins yet our language hasn’t changed to include them. We should update our notion of virginity to value sexual intimacy over sexual penetration. Thus, we give non-heterosexual partners access to the same language to describe their intimate experiences without challenging the validity of those experiences.

5. The current virginity construct further harms rape victims.

When we consider virginity to magically disappear the first time you have sex, what does that mean for rape victims? If 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12, are those victims no longer virgins? How about the 44% who are under the age 18? When we get technical about virginity and treat it like a biological entity, we don’t take into account that there is a group of people whose first sexual experience is a criminal, nonconsensual act that should not be included as part of their sexual history. These victims are dealing with enough without the added problem of trying to figure out if they can still call themselves a virgin or not based on the current definition.

Language changes when society’s attitudes and values shift. We need new ways to define and discuss things. I think the best place to start when it comes to virginity is to adapt a more modern idea – that it’s not biological, that it’s not something that can be lost, that it has more to do with intimacy than with what parts go where. As more and more people accept these as realities, we’ll see the definition of virginity change to better reflect our attitudes. Or perhaps, we’ll find the concept to be entirely obsolete and do away with it altogether.