Let’s get real: for all it’s discussed, gossiped about, and portrayed in the media, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about virginity. How often have you heard books, movies, TV shows, or even your own friends tell you when you should lose it, how you should lose it, who you should lose it to, and what it should feel like?
The real answers to these questions? Losing your virginity is different for everyone, and we’re here to debunk all of those pesky myths you may have heard.
Myth #1: It will hurt, it will bleed, and there’s no way it will feel good.
Busted: One of the most commonly accepted “facts” about losing your virginity is that it will hurt—and that it’s supposed to. But, good news: while there’s definitely no guarantee that there won’t be some discomfort, losing your virginity shouldn’t be synonymous with crippling pain.
Pain during a girl’s first time having penetrative sex can usually be boiled down to two culprits: nerves and inadequate preparation. According to Amber Madison, sexpert and author of Hooking Up: A Girl’s All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality, when girls are nervous, their vaginas tense and tighten, making penetration more difficult and painful, and it can sometimes cause bleeding. Therefore, a girl can minimize the chance of pain and bleeding the first time and prepare her body for penetration by making sure she is comfortable and relaxed.
Being aroused is also very important, says Rachel Maulding, former Director of Education for romance company Cloud 9 Parties who has a master’s degree in human sexuality. “Men are taught that as soon as they’re hard, it’s time for penetration,” Maulding says. “Women don’t work that way, but because we’re so new to it when losing our virginities, we don’t know what our bodies should feel like and how to make it feel good.”
Inexperienced girls shouldn’t be shy about extending foreplay until they feel totally ready, both mentally and physically. Make sure you’re properly lubricated (being naturally lubricated is a good sign of arousal, but don’t be afraid to whip out some lube, either) and don’t move forward until you’re dying to feel what comes next.
Maulding’s other advice for maximizing pleasure your first time? “Masturbate. Learn how to orgasm by yourself first and don’t expect it to always be present during sex,” she says.
Myth #2: It will be a monumental event that changes everything.
Busted: What do movies like American Pie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and The First Time have in common? They’re all one of many films about the quest to lose your virginity. And why is swiping your V-card such popular story fodder? Because we’re constantly made to believe that losing our virginities is a rite of passage, after which we will be changed women or suddenly feel all grown up.
But guess what? You might wake up the morning after doing the deed and feel a big, whopping… nothing at all. And that’s okay.
That’s not to say that losing your virginity won’t be a big event in your life. If your definition of special involves candlelight and romantic music, by all means, whip out the candles and the Marvin Gaye. What’s important is to be aware of your expectations and evaluate why you have them. Building up your loss of virginity as a BFD (no pun intended) can only lead to getting let down.
“If you’re looking for losing your virginity to change you or your life in a big way, you should go back to the drawing board,” says Maulding. “That’s not what sex is about.”
Myth #3: It has to be with someone you love.
Busted: Debunking this myth is easy. Any sentence that starts with, “Your first time should be with someone that…” is likely an instruction you don’t need to listen to.
Sure, there are tons of ways to end that sentence that could be correct, but only you can fill in the blank. Many people desire to be in love with the person they lose their virginity to—and many people don’t. Spoiler alert: it’s okay both ways, as long as you’re comfortable. According to Madison, love shouldn’t necessarily be what’s important when choosing to have sex for the first time.
“Maybe it will be with someone you love, or maybe it will be with a guy [you don’t love who] you’ve been hooking up with for awhile and you decide you’re comfortable enough to lose your virginity to,” she says. “What matters is that you’re comfortable.”
Myth #4: There is a set definition of virginity, and you can only “lose it” once.
Busted: The phrase “losing your virginity” is often tossed around without much thought. When a girl loses her virginity, that means she has penetrative sex for the first time and she breaks her hymen, right?
Not necessarily. Allow us to do some rapid-fire myth-busting: defining virginity as having an intact hymen is limiting, excluding those who were born without a hymen or who tore it before ever having sex, whether by falling off a bike, masturbating, or inserting a tampon.
Taking the hymen out of the equation, the next definition might be to say a virgin is someone who has never had sex with another person. But that might not be so clean-cut, either. Miri, a Freethought blogger and sexual health and assault peer educator, challenges us to question our definitions of sex. We may consider being penetrated with a penis the only qualification, but what about hands and dildos? What about lesbians? What about someone who feels oral sex is more meaningful and intimate than penetrative sex?
That’s the cool thing: it’s possible to think about having a variety of virginities that you can lose. Yes, for heterosexual females, there will be only one “first time” of dictionary-defined penetrative sex that we typically think of when we talk about losing virginities, what fun is it to think like that?
“Personally, I lost my ‘virginity’ as we commonly define it when I was 18, with my best friend who I’d been hooking up with,” says Miri. “It definitely felt like a big step, but I’ve had many as-big or bigger steps since then: the first time I went down on someone, the first time I hooked up with someone ‘casually,’ the first time I hooked up with a woman… and so on. Why is it that only one of these ‘steps’ qualified as ‘losing my virginity’? Rather, I sort of lost many different virginities, and I have many yet to lose.”
Disregarding the myth that you only have one V-card to lose is positive on multiple levels. First, it allows us to appreciate and decide the significance of various sexual activities for ourselves—and, like Miri describes, it makes virginity feel far less finite because there are always new things to look forward to.
More than that, though, it can help girls experience their emotions as valid, no matter what the sexual activity.
“We place too much emphasis on virginity,” says Madison. “What girls feel emotionally after having sex can be very intense, but the way they feel after just hooking up is supposed to feel less intense. So if she’s hurt if a guy doesn’t call after sex, it’s okay, but if she tells her friends she’s hurt after he doesn’t call after a hook-up, they brush it off.”
You might brush it off as semantics, but Miri says that changing the way we generally think about virginity, hooking up, and sex can also allow you to reframe your sexual experiences (or lack thereof) in healthier ways.
She says: “Your sex life stops being about whether you have or have not lost your virginity, and more about what different types of stuff you’ve tried, still want to try, [or] would rather save for someone special.”
Myth #5: You have to lose your virginity before you start college.
Busted: Whether you’ve been on the receiving end of disbelieving looks and questions when admitting you’re a college virgin or knew girls who were racing to the finish line before freshman orientation, you’re likely familiar with the attitude that virginity is something you’re supposed to shed before freshman year. This probably comes from the other popular notion that college is the epicenter for rampant sexual activity, hook-ups, and sexual discovery. And while this might be true for some people, it isn’t for all—but that certainly doesn’t put an end to the pressure. Bridgette, a student at the University of Mary Washington, received plenty of it before she lost her virginity to her boyfriend at the end of freshman year.
“They made it sound like one of those emails [like], ‘If you don’t pass this on to 12 of your friends then you will die,’ except it was, ‘If you don’t lose your virginity before college then you’re going to be alone forever,’” she says.
While the pressure might not be so intense everywhere, there’s no denying that at some point or another, young women will come across messages trying to tell her when it’s appropriate to lose her virginity. And just with the other myths, no one can tell you when is right except for you. So long as you make the decision yourself, losing your virginity before, during, or after college can all be the right answer.
Still worried about being a virgin in college? Most likely, the pressure is much ado about nothing.
“No one cares,” Bridgette says. “Seriously, no one cares if you have lost your virginity or not. No guy cares. No girl cares. Your roommates won’t care. Your teachers won’t care… I didn’t lose my virginity before college and I wasn’t alone. I’m happy I saved my virginity to the right time, and I know I won’t regret it.”
Myth #6: You will fall head-over-heels in love with the person who you have sex with for the first time.
Busted: Anyone remember that episode of Girls when Shoshanna tried to lose her virginity to her old camp beau, only to be stopped short when he found out she hadn’t done the deed before?
“No offense, okay?” he says after explaining that virgins aren’t his thing. “I’ll totally have sex with you once you’ve already had sex. I just, you know, it’s like, virgins get attached. Or they bleed. You get attached when you bleed.”
Once you stop laughing, though, you have to remember that this attitude is common—the belief that all girls are hardwired to fall madly in love with the person they sleep with the first time. They’ll demand a relationship, call endlessly, become attached, clingy, desperate… yikes.
Good thing that’s not always true.
“Sex can bring people together, but it also can drive them apart,” says Miri. “Or it can—yes, it really can—change absolutely nothing.”
However, it is important to remember that despite the ridiculousness of the notion that losing your virginity will turn you into a clingy, obsessed mess, there is some scientific backing to the idea thanks to oxytocin, a hormone released by men and women during orgasm.
“Clingy is psychological,” says Maulding. “But it’s not just girls; it’s guys, too.”
Supposedly, this hormone deepens the feelings of attachment and makes couples feel close, so make sure to think critically about the feelings you experience after sex. There’s a chance that any closeness that you may feel might just be great sex, not love.
Myth #7: These are hard and fast rules.
Busted: Last but not least, despite all myth-busting and debunking, it’s important to know that people have varied experiences and that any of the above myths can still be truths for you personally. You can decide that it has to be with someone you love, that it’s going to be a monumental event, and that you only have one virginity to lose. You can even decide that it’s not going to feel good, though we don’t advise it. The important thing is—cheesy as it may sound—that it’s up to you. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s your virginity.