Virgins and Cults and Morals, Oh My!

How does one lose virginity?

By Kyle Welsh

Virginity, or the lack thereof, plays a big role in how we treat women.

From religious practices to traditional lifestyles, high value is placed on women who have never had sex.

In The Cult of Virginity Jessica Valenti talks about the “virginity mystery” – that is, the realization that there is no medical or social definition for what a virgin actually is. 

Well, a virgin has never had sex, right?

Then how do you define sex?

As Valenti points out,

If it’s just heterosexual intercourse, then we’d have to come to the fairly ridiculous conclusion that all lesbians and gay men are virgins.

What counts as losing virginity?

There are countless sexual acts that don’t involve penetration or even pleasure for both (or all; no judgement here) parties involved.

How do you define something with such a broad range of options?

I’ve always considered it to be a personal choice; each person decides for themselves whether or not what they’ve done counts as sex.

You’ve given oral sex but don’t think it counts? Congratulations, you’re a virgin.

You’ve rubbed up against someone and had an orgasm and think it counts? Congratulations, you’ve lost your virginity.

It ain’t sex unless you orgasm

But I can get behind Valenti’s definition: “It isn’t sex unless you’ve had an orgasm.”

This definition is inclusive to non-heterosexuals, all genders, and places some responsibility on men to please their partners. Anyone who knows me knows that the one thing I hate more than anything is bad sex in which one person doesn’t get to achieve orgasm.

Can you blame me? It’s not just disrespectful and hurtful, it’s just plain rude.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 12, 2018, in sex and sexuality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. In my opinion, I believe that virginity is very subjective. To be a virgin can mean many things, it could mean to act upon sexual pleasure or to sexual interaction. In our modern society, to be a virgin isn’t something that is too big as it used to be especially back in the years where Christianity had a very strong grip on Europe. Although the Pope didn’t own any other nations besides the Vatican City, he held religious power which then turned to political power in other nations. One thing he advocated for was to remain a virgin until marriage because it is holy and this was an idea that had a grip on many of those who believed in religion of Christianity. Now in the modern day, many don’t heavily believe as strongly in the religion,and so virginity and not to have virginity isn’t something special in modern day.

  2. Being a virgin or not should not define how you treat a women. Men and women should be able to express there sexuality freely without judgement and when ever they are ready. Why society is so fascinated on virgins I will never know for example why people think the longer you stay pure means you are a better person. As stated in the article there is no scientific term for what a virgin is and when does a virgin actually ”lose it” we will never know. I do like Valenti’s definition of loosing there virginity is when you orgasm. It is inclusive to everyone not just straight men and females.

  3. Culture Learner

    This article was interesting to read. I already knew the concept of virginity but I’ve never thought about the non-existing medical or social definition for what a virgin actually is. Like this article says, it plays a big role in the way how we treat women. As a Korean who spent my whole life is Korea, I want to share something, hoping it doesn’t make you guys feel uncomfortable. But, this is just my personal opinion, not representing the whole Korean men.

    I guess it’s pretty much same in America. When men have sex with a girl, many of them would look forward to the girl’s virginity. The younger they are, the more the man would wish the girl to be a virgin. It will be rude and hurt the relationship if the man asks, “Are you a virgin?”. So, what men usually do is checking if the girl bled after sex. I’m 27 years old and when I was a high school student, the average age of having first sex (personally thinking) was 16. So, most of my friends expected their girlfriends to be a virgin. But, when some of them didn’t bleed after having first sex, many of my friends started to blame their girlfriends by judging and treating differently. I also saw many of my friends show off their proud sex experience with virgins, “I did it!”. Also, I saw some of Korean TV shows or dramas, dealing with sexual relationships. Men tend to wish to have sex as much as possible with different partners and when it’s time for those men to get married, they try to find a virgin, which doesn’t make sense in fact.

    Here is the point that I want to share. Around 10 years ago in Korea (or even till today), there were many women who pretended to be a virgin to find a good man to marry, without being judged, by having a surgery so that they can bleed again after having sex. This phenomenon suggests me to think not only about “what counts as losing virginity” but also about “What the definition of virginity should be”. Furthermore, men need to think “why we are so obsessed by virginity”. Since I’m taking a class, “introduction to women’s study”, nowadays I think more often about gender discrimination. By getting educated from this class, I got to think that it doesn’t make sense any more in 21st century to discriminate women and I feel expecting virginity is a type of gender discrimination as well, unless men stop wishing to have sex with many different partners to be just sexually satisfied.

  4. A big reason why women’s virginity are stressed are because it is observable when a person lost their virginity. In Kyrgyzstan, after a women gets married, the bed sheets with a blood stain on it from the night of the wedding is hung so that everyone in the village can see. Virginity that society has known is the virginity in which a person can see or notice at closer inspection while with men, it is impossible to know whether or not that person has had sex biologically speaking. Different kinds of sex acts other than penis-vagina sex has been looked down upon in many religions so people assumed that nobody performed any other sex act so the main focus was the bone that is broken and the blood that is released when performing intercourse. Today in many Western countries, sex at an early age before marriage is expected yet ironically people still believe in traditional ideas about a woman’s virginity. The definition and expectation of virginity is based off of traditional beliefs that generally do not fit within current society.

    • And yet there are other reasons why women may not bleed on their wedding night other than losing virginity. Some women have stronger Hyman’s than others so for some women it can break just by running.

      Plus, how do gays and lesbians lose their virginity?

  5. In every culture and religion, Virginity is always thought as holy or pure and that in a world of sin, that is something rare and looked highly upon. And so the definition of being a virgin comes down to whether you have engaged in sexual acts, and while there are some sexual pleasures that don’t involve penetration, I don’t find it to be subjective. Virginity is something pure, and so by doing other sexual pleasures ( with another or alone) defies that pureness, and that in my definition I wouldn’t see that person still calling themselves a virgin. The reasoning for my definition is that engaging in sexual acts has always looked at being a sin, and it has been looked upon as a sin because it acknowledges that fact that person has reached adulthood, and many literary books such as “To Kill A Mocking Bird”, adulthood means the loss of innocence. Innocence is another word for pure, so by engaging in the act of sexual pleasure, means the loss of innocence and thus their virginity. In our society, we acknowledge purity as very high because we all understand that any form of sexual pleasure loses us our purity and thus it is a rare. Although many who would call themselves a virgin, but really aren’t may feel agitated by this, I say that these people shouldn’t be. there isn’t any shame in not being a virgin and has become a social norm to not be a virgin. Now, I’m not saying that we need to go out and lose our virginity just for the sake in doing so, but we have to acknowledge our purity and I believe that when one loses their virginity, they should make it a special occasion and not just waste it, it should be cherish able and memorable.

    • Well, people can have their own ideas about what it means to be a virgin. But there doesn’t seem to be a clear cultural definition with many Christians having oral and anal sex to maintain their virginity, which would mean that gays and lesbians can never lose their virginity.

  6. I definitely felt the part about how people will treat you differently, depending on if you’re a virgin or not. I do not like the name calling of people who are not virgins, because at the end of the day, having sex is a person’s choice. I feel like if there was not so much judgement in the world, people would be more open to talking about their experiences to educate others. I have known several people who are not a virgin but lie to everyone saying they are. The fact that not being a virgin is so shunned that people must lie to be accepted is ridiculous. However, if you look at guys who are virgins vs. those that are not, the ones who are virgins get more harassing. The world has gotten so involved in other peoples’ sex lives, that people are no longer comfortable expressing their sexuality. If you are not a virgin as a girl, you will be called a slut or whore. If you are not a virgin as a guy, you will be praised. There are so many people in the world who in general are not allowed to feel comfortable with their choice.

  7. When a man or woman decides to lose their virginity, it should be up to them. There should be no judgment or any type of negativity for when and if they do. Doing such a thing is actually a very emotional thing to do. When one decides when they lose it or how it is, should be defined by their own definition. Gay, straight or lesbian is dependent on the person and their is no way to truly prove is there is a thing such as virginity. With whatever deed or act that you do, by your definition that is how you decided what it is, then good for you, its your choice. One should not be forced to do it either if they aren’t ready. In regards to the idea that if you don’t orgasm then it isn’t sex, I have to laugh and agree with. You should be able to enjoy it and you should also be able to have everything that you want in bed that your partner of course is comfortable with.

  8. As someone who is part of the LGBTQ community and is attracted to both male and female I have always felt like the person decides whether or not they are a virgin based on what sexual acts they have and have not done. The word sex is a very broad term, to some it may mean penetration while to others it means just having an orgasm. Either way the whole idea of glorifying someone who is a virgin is actually quite disturbing. Many factors come in when taking about sex, such as religion and personal choices. While I also believe that teasing someone who is a virgin is also extremely uncalled for. The whole conversation around virginity shouldn’t be as important as it’s made, everyone has their own body and should be able to chose when they are ready to lose their virginity, no matter what they consider that to be. 

  9. Speaking as someone who dates both men and women, I have always struggled with what I consider as someone “losing their virginity”. Most of my friends are gay, bi, or somehow part of the LGBT community, and they also struggle with the construct of virginity. For me personally, I think that virginity is an outdated social construct created by men to shame women for being sexually active. If someone thinks that virginity is important to them and they want it to be special to them, I think that’s okay as long as it’s not due to societal pressures. I recognize that everyone has their own beliefs and ideas, and the only truly bad ideas are the ones that you force on others, or are harmful to yourself or others. I like the idea that sex can be interpreted in different ways by different people, and the only thing that’s required to have sex is consent and orgasms.

  10. I will henceforth define losing ones virginity as having achieved orgasm without physical contact in space. I think it’ll make for a much funnier version of 40 year old virgin.

    I actually have a fantastic story about trying to donate blood only to have the nurse ask if I had sex with a man before. Who didn’t know gay men could donate blood? Gay men! That’s who! Any way, while not having had penetrative sex with a man, I had had a threesome with another male and my girlfriend at the time. The other male and myself hadn’t pleased each other in any way, but we DID have sex while each of us are present…I guess I got lost in the semantics on what is meant when some says sex WITH someone…The nurse kindly defined sex, as used in the medical world, as vaginal/anal penetration and oral sex. So, after all of that I was indeed able to donate blood…I’m still sad gay men can’t though…

    All of this to say, I think the medical definition is the most efficient way to define sex. It includes everyone including with LGBTQ+ community. While I do share the opinion that partners should care about each others pleasure, I do think that defining sex and thus loss of virginity, as having had an orgasm puts more pressure and stress for people to have orgasms..which isn’t easy for everyone. Also, I have definitely had some rockstar sex in which I didn’t orgasm. I don’t want you to take that away from me. :p

  11. James N Hindery

    I think that in high school people seemed to care whether or not you were a virgin or not regardless of gender. This led people to either form a good or bad opinion of them; usually, if you were a boy it was bad and if you were a girl it was either irrelevant or good. But, after leaving high school I haven’t seen that much attention being paid to who is or isn’t a virgin and whether that means something. If it does come up with someone I’m friends with or meeting or whatever I usually just listen to as much as they want to tell me and acknowledge that everybody has their own paths and reasons for their behavior that’s completely valid. So I guess I agree with the author in that who really cares how you define your virginity and when you choose to say you’ve lost it. On the issue of making sure all parties involved are orgasming, that should be a given, otherwise what’s the point?

  12. It’s always good to treat each other nicely!

  13. Have never thought in deep of how other people might think being virgin is.. Have always thought only after penetration one loses their virginity..

  14. the same reason penetration is seen as sex or losing virginity, probably the hierarchal views out culture has of men but also the male ego and centered around that. And as a result the phallus or dick seen as the dominant or important aspect to sex or that governs it. Like you’ll see guys share this belief and have seen it. For example, I’ve seen dudes say how women can’t ‘fu**) a guy. Only men Fu**, Yet I’ve looked into the history of that. I thought the origins of that word was fornicate under consent of the king or something like that. But every definition I’ve every looked as, says nothing about to fu**, literally means to penetrate as far as sex or the penetrator as the one who fu***. . Yet as a result of the term being seen as a strong sex action or aggressive, it’s just automatically assumed men can only do so because they have dicks. If that meant or had anything to do meaning to penetrate, then that would be a valid argument, but I’ve never seen the definition of to fu** means penetrating during sex. I’ve only ever seen it to mean as sex act or as in the one thrusting and so forth or action. But nothing that literally has anything to do with penetration.

    Women can thrust and all that, they just don’t obviously penetrate. I’ve seen that view that women can only fu** a man is be using a phallic object on a man and penetrating him. I’ve seen the explanation was that even when a woman is on top, the man is controlling the action for some reason just because, she’s penetrated? Can’t envelopment be just as much of an action back? And I brought up oral sex for example. A man can be dominant with a woman giving a man a bj. But it doesn’t mean so. Some dudes just apparently think because their dick is in some type of hole or penetrating that they are dominant. I argued that it’s actually the mighty penetrating dick that’s the vulnerable part there, as it’s in between a body part with teeth and can bite….just saying. So this notion about such stuff is interesting and crazy how patriarchy seeps into some dudes egos, with male dominance or feeling their male body is the end all, be all of importance and dominance in it’s interaction with women, no matter the context and situation. Even though the reality of submission and dominance has a lot do with what’s done, the body parts involved, who it’s from and how it’s done. Nothing automatic there,but plenty of dudes think their dicks are almighty apparently, but that;s our culture again.

    • When I was in high school I had an English teacher who informed us that F U CK Had originally been shorthand for “for unlawful carnal knowledge” because sex outside of marriage was illegal at the time. Van Halen must’ve heard the same thing because they named one of their albums “for unlawful carnal knowledge”

      We do live in a patriarchy that eroticizes male dominance so I’m not surprise that goes you know see things the way they do. I guess you know that I prefer partnership culture over dominance culture.

      • Well you had a blogpost before with terms that are used or associated with sex or the difference with what men use in reference to sex and how women’s parts are coined. Like “boning”, ‘tear it up”, ” beat the pussy up” “screw”, etc. It’s ingrained and when you have terms like that it shows how many guys internalize that and see their male anatomy as dominant and sex acts in a one dimensional way. No wonder some dudes can only see women as “being fucked’ and not guys by women in PIV, heterosexual sex. If all that is being done and women are passive or women’s sex organs are seen as passive or just nurturing simply or just receptors and not active. It’s no wonder guys can carry a chauvinist notion that they can only dominate as a result even if a woman is on top because if this overestimating of the phallus and their male members in particular as a result and thus causes men to underestimate and underrate women’s sexual prowess and such.

        Very ironic too and also shows this is the word usage in relation to “balls” and men’s testicles and shows the lack of logic to it. Betty White, she’s amazing, despite her age she’s still kicking and still witty and funny. I saw a quote about her with some raunchy humor. How pussy is often used in reference as weak or sissy, whereas vaginas can take a pounding and well the fact of handling babies come out of them. They are the exact opposite of weak and quite tough. Yet balls are used as brave, tough and strong. But one good hit to them and not only is a strong man in great pain, he can be permanently infertile. That doesn’t sound like a very strong, tough body part to me ha. If anything the terms should be reversed if we look at it in the literal sense….

      • “ironic too how pussy is often used in reference as weak or sissy, whereas vaginas can take a pounding and well the fact of handling babies come out of them. Yet balls are used as brave, tough and strong. But one good hit puts a man in great pain”

        Paraphrasing you there, that’s such an astute point. Is that from Betty White?

        Culture has so much to do with how we see things. The point above and also the point about who is dominant based on whether one is inserting or, you might say, engulfing (vagina engulfing penis). Because being engulfed is not to be in a position of power.

        Having your door opened for you also depends on culture/context as to whether it is a symbol of power or disempowerment. If a man opens a door for a woman someone could see it as “she’s weak” or as “she’s powerful.” After all, kings and presidents don’t open their own doors.

    • This and some of your later posts touch on an argument I was having with a former partner of mine. It was my argument that dominance and submission, at least in terms of sex, are almost entirely mental, while she maintained that their were some inherently submissive sex acts. She considered penetrative sex as being submissive if you’re being penetrated, just as preforming oral on a man is submissive. What I find interesting about this argument is that a man performing oral on a woman could go either way. I think there is some internalized misogyny at play here. I remember watching Spartacus at one point, and there’s a scene where Spartacus is forced to have sex with his master’s wife. She was getting penetrated, but if he didn’t do exactly what she said she could have had him killed. I don’t think it matters what position they were in, she is definitely in control there. To me, it seems that most people default with men being dominant and marginalize the situations in which women can possibly be in control.

  15. A gentleman would never be rude 🙂

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