Virginity: the state of never having sexual intercourse
Virgin: a person who has never had sexual intercourse
Hymen: a small, thin piece of tissue at the opening of the vagina. It’s formed by fragments of tissue left over from fetal development. The size, shape, and thickness of the hymen are unique and can change over time.
The above definitions are incontrovertible. However, when it comes to defining the word “sex,” opinions vary. Planned Parenthood has this to say:
A virgin is someone who’s never had sex. But people define “sex” and “losing virginity” in many different ways.
A virgin is someone who’s never had sex — but it’s not quite as simple as it seems. That’s because sex means different things to different people, so virginity can mean different things, too.
A lot of people think that having penis-in-vagina sex for the first time is how you lose your virginity. But this leaves lots of people and other types of sex out of the picture.
Some people haven’t had penis-in-vagina sex, but they’ve had other kinds of sex (like oral sex or anal sex) — and they may or may not see themselves as virgins. And there are lesbian, gay, bisexual or pansexual people who may never have penis-in-vagina sex at all. But they probably don’t see themselves as lifelong virgins just because they haven’t had penis-in-vagina sex.
Many people believe rape and sexual assault aren’t sex — it’s only sex if both partners have consent. So if someone was forced or pressured the first time they had vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex, they may not see that as “losing their virginity.”
Bottom line: the definition of virginity is complicated, and it’s really up to you to decide what you believe. Some people don’t even care what “virginity” means or think it matters. Stressing about whether you’re a virgin is way less important than how you feel about your sexual experiences. Ask yourself: are you happy with the sexual experiences you’ve had or decided not to have?
As you can see, “sex” is complicated. Does sex only happen when a penis is inserted in a vagina? Does sex require ejaculation? Is it “sex” if it is oral or anal? Is masturbation sex? Is using a dildo or a vibrator sex?
According to Evangelicals, virginity is sacrosanct. Well, female virginity is sacrosanct, anyway. Most of the preaching I heard as a teenager focused on girls keeping their legs closed and their hymens intact. There was no greater sin than for a girl to have sex before marriage. I can’t remember a sermon that focused on boys maintaining their virginity. Of course, if masturbation is considered “sex,” I doubt any Baptist boy was a virgin on their wedding day. 🙂
Evangelicals tend to be hymen worshippers, revering a thin piece of tissue in front of the vagina. The hymen can be broken (euphemistically called popping a woman’s cherry) when a woman has sex for the first time. The problem, of course, is that a woman’s hymen can be broken in other ways too:
There’s a lot of confusion about hymens out there. Many people think the hymen totally covers the opening of your vagina until it’s stretched open, but that’s not usually the case. Most of the time, hymens naturally have a hole big enough for period blood to come out and for you to use tampons comfortably. Some people are born with so little hymenal tissue that it seems like they don’t have a hymen at all. In rare cases, people have hymens that cover the entire vaginal opening, or the hole in their hymen is very small — they may need to see a doctor for a minor procedure to remove the extra tissue. Just like other parts of our body, hymens are a little different for everyone.
Your hymen can be stretched open the first time you have vaginal sex, which might cause some pain or bleeding. But this doesn’t happen to everyone. And there are other ways that a hymen can be stretched open: riding a bike, doing sports, or putting something in your vagina (like a tampon, finger, or sex toy). Once your hymen is stretched open, it can’t grow back.
The Evangelical obsession with virginity causes untold harm, putting unwarranted pressure on teenagers. and women. Like it or not, more than thirty percent of high school students will have sex by the time they graduate. Most people have sex before marriage — including Evangelical Christians. Despite all the fearmongering by preachers over premarital sex and virginity, church teenagers and adults have sex. No amount of preaching can overcome raging hormones and desire. While I was a virgin on my wedding day, it was fear of God’s judgment that kept me on the straight and narrow. My partner would say the same thing. We wanted to have sex before marriage and even came precariously close a week before our wedding to rounding third and sliding into home, but we feared God was going to get us if we did.
If people want to remain virgins until their wedding day, fine. However, they shouldn’t be guilted into doing so. Instead of telling younger people to “just say no,” they are better served if they receive comprehensive, guilt-free sex education. Since most teenagers will have sex before marriage, it is vitally important that they are taught the ins and outs of sex, including the proper use of birth control.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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