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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Shouldn't we stop using the word ‘lost’ when we talk about virginity?


Between 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. 
 As 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.
The Mean 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.

Virginity 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.

So 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.
Boys 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 truly worthy.
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 power.
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.
The 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.
By 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 life-changing.
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.
We 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.

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