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College Women Talking Sex
College Women Talking Sex
Adebusola Abujade / Her Campus Media
Culture

Like a Virgin: Shamed For The Very First Time

The concept of virginity is a tale as old as time. Virginity has snuck its way into different aspects of society and dug its claws into the way we talk about sex and gender in a manner that has become very harmful.  Here are some ways that as young people, we can reform the concept of virginity. 

  1. Let’s Start By Retiring the word “Virginity”

What even is virginity? The label of “virgin” is assigned to people who have not had sexual intercourse. In the case of virginity, the implication is that “sexual intercourse” is limited to a cisgender man and a cisgender woman having penetrative vaginal sex (the concept itself wasn’t necessarily designed for queer folks). Virginity as a concept has also shifted outside of sex: non-alcolohic drinks are “virgin” drinks, natural/unbleached hair is “virgin” hair. The term has become synonymous with cleanliness and purity, which is a harmful rhetoric when put back into the context of sex as it labels sexually active people as the opposite: dirty and impure. 

Even more than that, the historical and cultural context of virginity has terrifying implications. Across the world, women and girls’ worth is determined by the status of their virginity. Ostracization, shame, violence and even death are forced upon women who have sex before marriage; after they have sex they’re no longer valuable, and their existence threatens the patriarchal values that society relies on. 

  1. Consider the Euphemisms

One option to consider in the journey of deconstructing the power that virginity holds over our society is to think about the euphemisms that are associated with the term. There are both benefits and deficits to euphemisms in this context.  

A euphemism is “a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing”. They’re used all the time in sexual health, simply because many people find it “unpleasant or embarrassing” to talk about sexual health. For example, instead of saying someone is on their period, some people will say they’re “Riding the Crimson Wave” or that “Aunt Flow is Paying a Visit.” A common example of a euphemism for having sex for the first time is “popping the cherry”. 

On one hand, using euphemisms might make sexual health easier to talk about. The words “I started having sex” might seem really daunting for people who haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to sex or sex education, and these can make it a little less scary to talk about. 

That being said, sex shouldn’t be a scary thing to talk about. Instead of rewording things in order to make them more palatable, we should instead reform the way we approach talking about initial sexual experiences to make them more comfortable and natural. This can be done by not ostracizing people who are sexually active and not shaming them for their endeavors, as well as normalizing the idea that sex isn’t for everyone and that there’s nothing wrong with not having sex.

  1. Think about individual identities

The term “virginity” has long been associated with the notion that sex is something that occus between a cisgender, heterosexual couple. With this association comes a lot of presumptions about what it means to have sex, and who might be having sex.

For folks who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual, or folks who are having sex with people who are not cisgender and/or heterosexial, sex doesn’t always follow the mainstream definition of vaginal penetration. While that may be a part of any sexual experience, it’s not necessary. People can explore different types of sex acts, what they can do with different body parts, and how it feels to do things with different people.

This makes it hard to create a blanket definition for what exactly sex is. And because there is no blanket definition, it makes it seem a little silly to try and create and enforce a label for when something occurs for the first time- when “something” could look completely different for different people. 

  1. Ask Yourself the Question: WTF does the “first time” even mean?

By definition, “virginity” means not having had sex. But what exactly is sex? Are there certain body parts that need to be involved? Certain genders? A certain amount of partners? Is orgasm necessary? What about solo sex

These are just some of the questions that complicate the concrete definition of virginity. Some of them have easier answers than others (no, orgasm is NOT necessary), but some are more difficult. This is the grounds for an argument to reclaim the definition of “first time” and mold it into whatever feels most comfortable and safe for each individual. One person may consider their first sexual experience to be masturbation, others could consider it to be the first time they has partnered sex, others may have different definitions. 

Taking away the power that this definition holds will work to dismantle the pedestal in which we place the “first time”. This can normalize a variety of experiences and empower people to learn more about themselves, their pleasures, their desires, and own their experiences. There is no need for the first time to feel good, or be monumental. It creates the space for people to evolve as sexual beings.

  1. Embark on a Sexual Journey

A “sexual journey” is a concept that can be applied to anyone, at any stage in life and any level of experience with sex. It creates the space to emphasize specific sexual experiences regardless if they were the first time or the fiftieth, whether they are solo or partnered, and pays no mind to gender or biological sex identities. It also creates the space to not emphasize sex at all, to decided that one’s “journey” doesn’t even need to have sex at all. It provides room for people to explore their desires and impulses, or lack thereof, without putting any added pressure, acknowledging that everyone is different.

One person may experience frequent sexual attraction that they act on as much as possible with partners, another person may not experience sexual attraction at all, another person may expereince attraction but never act on it. But they’re all on a journey of learning more about themselves and their interests, their bodies and health, and their happiness. 

This removes the emphasis that virginity places on cleanliness, purity because it doesn’t matter how much sex they have. It also creates a lot more space for the nuance of different identities to play in because there is no ascribed gender stereotype to simply wanting to learn more about your body and sexual wellness. 

Everyone is on their own journey. By dismantling the oppressive systems that uphold the construct of virginity, everyone can learn more about their own bodies, experiences, sexualities and well-being.

Hannah is a senior at American University. She's studying political science with a focus on race and gender in politics. She loves writing and baking, and can typically be found with a large iced coffee and a pair of knitting needles.
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