by SUZANNAH WEISS
Originally published on Everyday Feminism and re-published here with their permission.
“Expect it to hurt.”
“Just get it over with.”
“Don’t give it to just anyone.”
The advice I heard about sex as a kid gave me a pretty screwed up idea about first-time penis-in-vagina sex. And at the center of these ideas was one concept: virginity.
Growing up, I heard so much about “losing your virginity,” I thought the notion reflected some objective fact. I’ve since learned that it doesn’t.
First of all, there’s nothing about that act that makes it more important than any other type of sex.
And biologically, it doesn’t have a basis. I was taught that my vagina would change when I “lost my virginity,” but in reality, you can’t tell how much sex someone has had by how “tight” or “loose” their vagina is, and the hymen isn’t a real thing.
When I realized this, I wondered why we make a bigger deal out of first-time intercourse than, say, the first time two people take a shower together or go on vacation together. Then, I thought, maybe we should put these things on the same level.
After all, I didn’t really want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The first time I had penis-in-vagina intercourse was special. It was a new sensation, it required my partner and I to have an adult conversation about pregnancy and birth control, and for a while, he was the only one I’d done that thing with, so it did feel like we shared something unique.
However, I also didn’t want to make this act out to be more important than other relationship milestones. That would feed into the ideas that a) sex between people with penises and people with vaginas is the most valid kind of sex and b) you are somehow changed after you “lose your virginity.”
So, I came up with this system: We have infinite virginities. It can be the first time you sleep over with someone or move in with them. It can even be the first time you go to an EDM festival or solve an antiderivative or do something else totally unrelated to sex.
This doesn’t mean that doing anything for the first time changes who you are. It’s just a way of appreciating all the little new experiences you get to have in life.
Here are some reasons why I advocate for appreciating all of our “virginities” – and why we should do away with our current cultural concept of “virginity” altogether.
1. It’s Not Misogynistic
The concept of virginity has been disproportionately applied to cisgender women. Multiple religions have rituals to check whether a woman is a virgin or not on her wedding night, and in some cultures, a woman is deemed not marriage material if she has had sex because her virginity dictates her value.
In old English, the word “maiden” was even used to describe a woman who was a virgin. Her sexual experience dictated how people referred to her.
Even when it’s not that extreme, a woman is seen as “slutty” or “dirty” if she “loses her virginity” at a young age.
Making virginity into a concept that can apply to anything exposes the ridiculousness of this attitude. Would we judge a woman because she cooked a meal with her significant other before her friends did? Because she recently flew on a plane by herself for the first time?
No. Because what experiences you have had and when you’ve had them don’t reflect how lovable or worthy you are. Neither should your sexual activity.
2. It Allows for a Broader Definition of Sex
When we distinguish penis-in-vagina (or, for equality’s sake, let’s also say vagina-around-penis) sex as the act that determines how we describe someone, we elevate that form of sex above all others.
This is heteronormative, since it excludes couples or groups that aren’t straight and cisgender, and it also limits people who are to only one type of sexual expression.
Some people don’t feel a desire to have penis-in-vagina intercourse ever, and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they haven’t experienced all that life has to offer.
Some do feel that desire, but could also get a lot of enjoyment out of other activities, and elevating one form of sex discourages them from exploring them.
The concept of virginity also feeds into the idea that there’s a natural progression from kissing to feeling up to manual sex to oral sex to intercourse – it’s a “home run,” after all – rather than just letting people do their thing at the pace they want.
When we reject prescriptions like this, we give ourselves the opportunity to ask ourselves what we really want, and we may find that this is not what society has prescribed for us.
Making the first time you kiss, have oral sex, or do anything else sexual equally important events validates whatever acts you choose to engage in rather than putting one above the others.
3. It’s Not Scary
Hearing about virginity as a girl can be very scary. You’re warned that you’ll be in pain, that you’ll get attached, that you’ll ruin your reputation, and that the guy will dump you afterward because he only wanted to “pop your cherry.”
This isn’t the way we talk about most first-time experiences.
Your first birthday, your first day of school, your first time driving, and other milestones are considered causes for celebration. And we’re given some choice as to whether or not we even acknowledge them. Why can’t first-time sex be this way, too?
I think it can.
Making intercourse just another thing you can start doing whenever you want makes it less scary. That way, it doesn’t define who you are, and it doesn’t have so much pressure attached to it. It doesn’t have to be the most romantic event in your relationship, and it also doesn’t have to be dreaded.
Using the word “virginity” about things outside of sex also reminds us that it’s merely a concept, not a biological reality.
If you can ascribe so much meaning to anything from running a marathon to seeing a classic movie, you can also easily take that meaning away – because how much meaning we want to ascribe to something is totally within our power.
4. It Gives You Infinite Things to Celebrate
One moment I always remember in my relationships is the first time we say “I love you.”
After exchanging “I love you”s, it feels like we exit the first stage of our relationship – lose a virginity, in a sense – and enter into a more serious one.
And that’s worth acknowledging just as much as sex – in some cases, more. Even when it’s not the first time you’ve said it ever, it’s still a milestone for that relationship.
That’s another advantage to plural virginities: They don’t have to constitute the first time you do something ever. They can also be the first time you do something with someone.
Now, imagine that times a thousand, or whatever number you want. Nothing has to be considered a virginity, but anything can be.
Life is full of exciting little moments: the first time someone catches your eye, the first time you get each other gifts, your first text, your first phone call, your first fight, the first time you forgive each other, your first night together as a married couple.
And if you only consider one moment a big event, you just might lose sight of the rest.
* * *
When I talk about having multiple virginities, I don’t mean it literally. I’m not saying we should give the same cultural significance to other acts or view engaging in them as a loss of innocence.
For me, this language is just a fun way to acknowledge how first times can be exciting without putting one above others.
If the word virginity is too fraught for you, I understand. It’s a concept that does not need to exist, and it’s done a lot of harm.
But if you, like me, detest the cultural connotations associated with virginity, but still want to celebrate the first time you connect with a partner in a new way, you can.
The hymen may be a myth, but the excitement of sharing something new with your partner isn’t.
Suzannah Weiss is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Seventeen, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and more. She holds degrees in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Modern Culture and Media, and Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University. You can follow her on Twitter @suzannahweiss.