Losing our virginity :: PART ONE

What is virginity & where did it come from?

 
Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere
— Helen Gurley Brown
 

Virginity :: A definition

I’m sure we all know the dictionary definition of virginity but the term means different things to the many varying cultures, ages and sexual orientations throughout the world.

For heterosexual couples, virginity implies that you're yet to experience penis-in-vagina sex. However it's unlikely people with other sexual orientations will be confined to this definition, instead they may consider "loss of virginity" as oral, anal or mutual masturbation.

Studies have shown some university students in the US, Australia and UK believe that having anal or oral sex means you’re no longer a virgin. Others believe that oral sex doesn’t count – one study found it was common among teenage girls to enjoy only oral sex to maintain their virgin status.

Another study by the Kinsey Institute sampled 484 people, ranging in ages 18–96 and found that a small portion of people (11%)  believed that one only had sex if the man achieved orgasm. A large clump (80%) believed you could no longer claim virginity if you’d had penile-anal intercourse and 70% believed the same about oral sex.

Then there's the issue of consent. Many people believe rape and sexual assault can't be considered sex due to the lack of consent. So if someone was forced to have vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex, they may not see that as “losing their virginity.”

In cultures where virginity is still highly prized, it’s believe virgins are only those who still have their hymen intact. The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue that’s located at the opening of your vagina. This pressure and fear of possible disownment and at times death in these cultures forces many unmarried women who are no longer virgins to undergo operations in a bid to appear "pure".

 

Virginity :: A history

The word “virgin” comes from the Latin Virgo meaning “a sexually intact young woman”, of course as time has gone on, the concept of virginity has come to include men and women of all ages and sexual orientations.

Virginity as a symbol of purity and worth is steeped in history. The virgin is seen as pure, as innocent, untouched and clean and a woman’s first time having sex often marks the end of her purity. The bible is littered with passages on the importance of it, commandments pertaining to the eternal gift of the virgin.

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body”
— Corinthians 6:18-20

and this frightening passage:

“But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house.”
— Deuteronomy 22:20-22

In medieval times passed the concept of virginity and the virtues it's traditionally been associated with were used to control women and the way they use their bodies. Men expected women to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage as a way of testing paternity. Virgins were also more highly prized and more highly "paid for".

In an era long before paternity tests, husbands needed some sort of assurance that the children borne by their wives were indeed of their blood, and taking a virgin wife was one way that a husband could increase those odds in his favor . . . Virginity’s monetary importance created a desire for ways to assure that a woman was indeed a virgin. Virgin brides generally came with higher dowries, making them more attractive to prospective grooms, and these prospective grooms, in return, were more likely to feel generous when it came to giving a return gift to the bride’s family. In order to help grooms ensure that the bride’s family was truthful about her ‘condition,’ many medical texts included descriptions of methods and processes that could be used to prove or disprove a woman’s chastity.”
— N.M. Heckel, Sex, Society, and Medieval Women 

As much as it would wonderful to say that these conditions were confined to medieval times, unfortunately testing a woman's virginity is still common practice in some cultures, although it's largely considered a violation of women's rights and a form of sexual assault.

Interestingly though, it isn’t just in shame societies where an idealistic view of virginity is upheld. Jessica Valenti in her book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women says the following of virgins in Amercia

The desirable virgin is sexy but not sexual. She’s young, white and skinny. She’s a cheerleader, a babysitter; she’s accessible and eager to please (remember those ethics of passivity!). She’s never a woman of color. She’s never a low-income girl or a fat girl. She’s never disabled. “Virgin” is a designation for those who meet a certain standard of what women, especially young women, are supposed to look like. As for how these young women are supposed to act? A blank slate is best.
— Jessica Valenti

 

Virginity :: At what age are we DOING it?

Even though the virgin is still prized in many cultures and countries around the world, some more so than others, it seems most are not waiting until marriage to experience their first time.

In 2012 Durex (yes, the condom peeps) commissioned polling firm Harris interactive to capture a snapshot of The Face of Global Sex.  They surveyed heterosexual sex-havers from 37 countries. 

Below is a chart showing at what age women and men are having their first sexual encounters. I couldn't confirm it but given they surveyed only heterosexuals, i'm assuming they considered penis-in-vagina sex as their definition of "first time".

Remember, these are mean stats so some people will fall outside these statistics but these ages represent the most common age at which people have sex for the first time. Brazil, although a predominately catholic country, tops the charts at 17 years with Indonesia and Malaysia coming in at the bottom with first timers being around 23 years of age. My home country of Australia sits at 18 years.

sex-at-what-age.jpg

This has been a very brief overview and introduction to the meaning and history of virginity and what it means.

Part Two of our series will introduce you to the Virgin Files where we'll share stories of women's first time to show the wide and varied experiences and give a voice to a whisper. I'm collecting these submissions through the Virgin Files page. I would love for you to contribute. All you have to do is head over to the page and fill out a few questions about your experience. The girls who have filled it out so far have just used their first names. We are reluctant to make it anonymous because we don't want to add to the silence, we want to create a community and world of acceptance. 

Part Three will look at different cultures around the world and what first time sex means to women immersed in the world's three largest religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism. around the world. 

Part Four, the last in the series, will look at "virginity testing" - condemned by most but still practiced in parts of the world, virginity testing is seen as sexual assault and a gross violation of human rights.

Part Three Love ya x