the ages of 13 and 15 the major topic of conversation among my friends
and I was how/when/where we were going to lose our virginity.
soon as someone did it texts would go round, and on Monday morning the
story would be told in great detail. (Whereupon all of your friends
would assess the quality of your deflowering behind your back – after
all, this was girls’ school, where gossip was warfare).
But in all
the thousands of hours that we spend discussing virginity, planning
losing it, thinking about it, talking about how the person who lost it
in a tent at a festival and caught chlamydia was a said to be a bad
girl, we must each have said the word ‘lost’ about a thousand times, yet
we never stopped to question what it actually meant.
Girls memo about not calling each other sluts and whores hadn’t really
sunk in at this point. When you lose something you are rid of it. It’s
gone. You can’t get it back. It usually refers to a possession,
something physical that you can have, and then not have.
is not a possession. Virginity is not something you can ‘have’. If you
accept that not having had sex is a state of being, then the most you
can argue is that you were a virgin and that, having had sex, you were
not. Nothing has been ‘lost’ because virginity wasn’t something you
‘had’ in the first place.
why do these semantics matter? Well, it’s the message that the culture
of ‘virginity loss’ sends to young people, especially to young women.
Boys and girls are treated differently with respect to their virginity.
are told that being a virgin is shameful and embarrassing and are
pressured to lose it as soon as humanly possible in order to begin to
demonstrate their virility and masculinity.
Women are taught that
it’s a precious gift. Euphemisms like ‘flower’ are wheeled out. We are
supposed to guard it, protect it, and bestow it upon someone who is
This stems from historical tradition. Back in the
days before pregnancy tests, scans and DNA testing, you could go months
without knowing you were pregnant, and when you did find out there was
no way of knowing whose it was if you’d had more than one partner in the
last few months.
The only way to know who was definitely the
father of your baby was to only have sex with one person. So, in order
to avoid property and lands being passed down to the wrong heir,
virginity was a stipulation for marriage.
A woman wasn’t able to
make a good marriage unless she was a virgin. It was the best card in
her arsenal, and as such if she had sex she had ‘lost’ some trading
At least, if anyone found out – which is how you ended up
with women deliberately staining their sheets with blood after their new
husband fell asleep.
In fact, the airing of the bloodied sheets
the next day was a tradition for noble families, which must have been
lovely and not embarrassing at all.
Bleeding the first time you
have sex is normal, but not requisite and it doesn’t happen to everyone –
which means it’s also perfectly normal not to bleed. And, if you’re
properly relaxed and you’ve enjoyed a goodly amount of foreplay it
likely won’t hurt at all either.
‘Losing’ your virginity is a
technically outdated term, at least partially based around the idea that
you can ‘check’ if a woman is a virgin.
The hymen is not like the
paper bit on a tube of Pringles. You can’t ‘tell’ if a woman is a
virgin or not. When a woman has sex the hymen stretches, not breaks – so
if you’ve been imagining sticking your finger through some clingfilm,
you’ve been very wrong.
These days teenage girls aren’t generally
swapped for lands, and they tend to stay in school rather than waiting
around for their betrothals to come off. It’s a bit of a poisonous term.
word ‘loss’ is negative, it has connotations of bereavement, failing
and being deprived of something you want. None of those things should
describe the experience of having sex for the first time.
saying ‘lost’ rather than ‘had sex for the first time’ we are implying
that something about a person is changed when they become sexually
active, that it demonstrates the end of their childhood, that their
purity is gone and that they have become someone new.
None of that
is true. Having sex for the first time is as big or as small of a deal
as you personally regard it to be. For some, it’s nothing. A fun,
interesting experience. For others, it’s momentous and moving and
There’s no wrong way to feel about having sex for
the first time, as long as you were comfortable with it. But there is
something wrong when the language we use to talk about sex continuously
low-level tells people that it is a bad thing. We’re not puritans.
know that consensual sex is a wonderful, important, brilliant thing
which should be celebrated not shamed. So when you talk about virginity,
whether it’s remembering when you had sex for the first time, or
talking to your children about taking those first steps, try and
moderate the language that you use.
It might not actively hurt
anyone – it’s not ‘offensive’, but it does send a message that having
sex for the first time means giving up a part of yourself, and that’s
just not true. When you have sex for the first time you gain an
experience. You lose absolutely nothing.