Virginity

What is your definition of virginity?

I’ve had this conversation with a number of different people over the years, and it’s certainly not a new idea to suggest that the classical definition is narrow and heterosexist, not to mention often useless.

The definition I keep coming back to is the one Michael and I came up with a few years ago while sitting at Shari’s: The first time you did something that could make you come (or did make you come) with another person.

For me, that would mean I lost my virginity at the same age as I did by the classical definition, but with a different person, a few months earlier. And that feels a lot more honest in terms of when I really became a sexually active person, too.

What do you think?

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~ by realsupergirl on November 27, 2007.

41 Responses to “Virginity”

  1. I am one of those (heteronormative, I admit) people who, at least at the time, made a big distinction between becoming sexually active and “going all the way”/”losing my virginity.” (Though I don’t recall ever thinking of “virginity” as an item or commodity, it was more about “what milestones is it appropriate to cross at what age?”)

    I think I still think of “orgasmic activity” and “intercourse” as two separate milestones (and I’m not sure what I think the equivalent distinctions would be for gay men or lesbians). But I think when you’re talking about adults with sexual history, rather than The First Time, that that distinction matters much less.

  2. Well, I have no strong feelings about the word, but the dictionary says:

    vir·gin /ˈvɜrdʒɪn/
    –noun
    1. a person who has never had sexual intercourse.
    2. an unmarried girl or woman.
    3. Ecclesiastical. an unmarried, religious woman, esp. a saint.
    4. the Virgin, Mary, the mother of Christ.
    5. Informal. any person who is uninitiated, uninformed, or the like: He’s still a virgin as far as hard work is concerned.
    6. a female animal that has never copulated.
    7. an unfertilized insect.

    By definition one, I am not a virgin. By definition two, I still am. I guess it all depends on how you want to define it. I don’t discuss my sexuality with people who would care about the whens in a judgmental way… So, I will go with whatever works for the person, as long as they are being honest (not, like, oh say, some born again Christian who gives out blow jobs like candy on Halloween but claims to be a virgin because dick hasn’t entered the vaginal canal).

  3. I’m not sure I like that definition. Providing that you’re including that women “could” come while she sucks on a penis, which you kind of have to include (yes, Mr. Clinton, it counts as something, at least), your definition would say I lost my virginity at age 4. Obviously not by choice in any sense of the definition, but I gotta say, that terminology would make me feel a hell of a lot worse about myself. Granted there are other children who would meet the classical definition, so I would have to say that it’s got to be up to the individual to decide. Abuse aside, I’d also hate to think I lost it to some random person on the internet when I was 17, too.

    Ultimately in this day and age, the only person to whom it should matter is one’s self, so I think that’s where the definition should lie.

  4. By “random person on the internet” I meant in a chat room, not meeting said person in real life, in case clarification in needed. Hey, I came!

  5. As for the born-again Christian, are you saying that she shouldn’t be able to define as a virgin if she gives out blow jobs, or that she can’t call herself a virgin to a potential sexual partner unless she outlines what sexual activity she has engaged in?

  6. I’m certainly not suggesting people can’t define themselves however they want – but a person who is having oral sex on a regular basis (giving OR receiving) is, in my mind, sexually active. The fact they may be technically a “virgin” based on a patriarchal, antiquated definition of the word seems to me to be pretty intellectually and emotionally dishonest.

  7. But for you to make that judgment and be on equal footing you also have to accept that people who do go by the classical definition believe that it’s dishonest for a gay woman who has never had p-in-v intercourse to say she’s not a virgin. Really, who needs that kind of judgment? Besides that, “regular basis” is problematic. Is a girl (all providing there’s not intercourse going on) that gave a blow job once in high school still a virgin? How about one who gave 5 or 6 before she decided she was never going to like giving them and stopped? Or someone who only does it once every leap year? And if any of these people are “virgins” what makes them better able to meet that definition than someone who gives a blow job every day to a different person (any of these could be male or female, giving or receiving)? It really gets into judgment calls on something that maybe we shouldn’t be judging people on.

    Why is it important to be able to define someone else’s sexuality when it has no bearing on you? I realize that it’s an important clinical concept in helping people better understand and change their behavior, but that aside?

    I think that the whole concept of virginity is antiquated and patriarchal. If that’s the case, why judge anyone on it at all?

  8. But for you to make that judgment and be on equal footing you also have to accept that people who do go by the classical definition believe that it’s dishonest for a gay woman who has never had p-in-v intercourse to say she’s not a virgin.

    I don’t get that at all. Wouldn’t it be exactly the OPPOSITE – people who have only ever had same-sex sex would have different “virginities” but they would still have a first time, with another person, where one or both of them came or could have come.

    I think that the whole concept of virginity is antiquated and patriarchal. If that’s the case, why judge anyone on it at all?

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, but no one’s judging anyone here. I’m merely posing intellectual questions and debate. It’s certainly something that the media in general spends a lot of time talking about.

  9. Maybe I didn’t phrase the first part as well as I should have- of course they would have a first time experience with a same-sex partner, but there are those who hold that unless you’ve had p-in-v intercourse, you’re still a virgin (explained so eloquently in Chasing Amy). 🙂 In that case the assertion would be that such a person is still a virgin in the classical sense, as in “one who has not had sexual intercourse.” Of course, I wouldn’t imagine that too many people would identify that way, and it’s not up to me to judge that for them.

    I think that it’s the whole point that the media spends a lot of time talking to it, when in my opinion, there’s no reason for it. Our fathers aren’t arranging marriages for us so that he can get a cow anymore (hopefully, at least in the American culture), so really the concept of virginity is moot, except to a person’s own self-concept. I’ve certainly heard otherwise intelligent and socially proactive people snickering over hearing that a woman has not had vaginal intercourse but gives blow jobs to men and calls herself a virgin. I believe that people shouldn’t be judging other people about their sexual practices and self-definition if they don’t want to be judged either. Not that it should even have to come to the thought of being judged yourself, because it ideally should be that no one judges anyone else. (Not at all saying that’s what you’re saying, just clarifying my position).

  10. A friend asked everyone on her page their definition of sex, and this was mine:

    “Vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex or other activities directly involving direct physical contact with unclothed sexual organs.”

    “The iffy middle ground, to me, would be something like phone sex or watching each other masturbate. That type of thing would not be sex to me, but would be ‘sexually intimate’ which is the next broad category.”

    So, on a personal level, I would think that any activity that qualified under the first part would count. BUT…

    I think language is very contextual and bows to democracy even when icky. So if most people mean heterosexual vaginal sex, then in many contexts, that (obviously problematic) definition would hold.

  11. I’ve certainly heard otherwise intelligent and socially proactive people snickering over hearing that a woman has not had vaginal intercourse but gives blow jobs to men and calls herself a virgin.

    And I am probably one of those people. See, I grew up religious and there’s following the law to the letter, and then there’s following the law conceptually. So yeah, the “law” says that without p-in-v you are still a virgin, but the whole idea behind that is “no sexual experience without marriage”, keeping yourself for your husband, modesty, religious Jewish menstruating females are impure unless they go to the mikva so men can’t touch them anyway blah blah blah, so you can see why I find giving blow jobs to the football team problematic if you want to stay a virgin, as defined by “religious values”, and a born again Christian who is not having p-in-v in order to stay a virgin is most probably doing that in order to conform to those religious values, so, um, hypocritical much?

  12. And that was my 15 year old self talking. As to nowadays, hey, whatever floats your boat, just use a condom.

  13. And that was my 15 year old self talking. As to nowadays, hey, whatever floats your boat, just use a condom.

  14. I see it more as sexual experience rather than the actual classical definition. For me, my first kiss was an experience akin to losing my virginity, just because in the environment I grew up in, I wasn’t “really” considered a virgin anymore the moment I laid hands on the opposite sex. Yeah, maybe technically I was still a virgin for a few more years, and according to your definition for almost another decade, but still…

  15. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong. I’m asking why you have to have an opinion of how other people who will not be having sex with you define themselves. First of all, a born-again-Christian isn’t looking to conform to Jewish religious laws, so that’s moot, unless those two laws have suddenly become the same (as far as I know, born again-Christian customs aren’t more insightful about virginity beyond p-in-v). I can’t imagine that anyone reading this blog thinks that anyone should judge people who are gay and lesbian based on their sexual practices, so why should anyone else get to judge people based on their sexual practices? Now THAT seems hypocritical to me. And yes, I realize that people DO make those judgments (both ways), but I’m looking for a dialog on why we should continue to perpetuate that.

  16. I totally get this, though. For me, my first kiss was a lot more mindblowing than the first time I had hetero intercourse, which was more like, yeah, well, is that it? And there are about 30 other sexual experiences I would consider more mindblowing than that first time with a man — some of which were with men, some of which were with women.

    I think my whole point in opening up the discussion was not to “judge” anyone based on their decision, but to try and look more deeply at the assumptions we all make and the limitations of our current language for talking about this.

    Mostly what I think is that there should be more than one word for sexual experience/inexperience. Like, maybe there could be Virginity 1 and Virginity 2. As Eddie Izzard points out (albeit, he’s talking about perjury), if we can have “Murder 1” and “Murder 2” surely we can see the gradiations in other things…

  17. My bad. I guess I assumed that Christians have some sort of reasoning behind their laws, much like Jewish halacha.

    Of course if I think that it is hypocritical of someone who was giving blow jobs to call themselves a virgin I also believe that gay sex is forbidden according to the Torah and that being a practicing gay and a practicing Jew is hypocritical as well.
    Since I know some great gay Jews I no longer judge anyone about their sexual proclivities or practices. 😉

  18. Sounds good 🙂

    Catholicism has some reasoning behind their laws in regards to virginity and such (the term escapes me), but it’s been around a whole lot longer than born-again-Christianity. My admittedly limited understanding of the born-again-Christian religion (which is really several different Christian Protestant religions) is that it’s more of a literal interpretation of the bible (and how they really do that I don’t know, seeing as how the bible is contradictory all over the place, but I digress). I believe the idea is that since the bible’s not specific in that sense, there’s room for rationalization. There may be some sects that have more defined laws, but those likely wouldn’t apply to someone who identifies as solely a “born-again-Christian” rather than as a member of an individual sect of Protestant Christianity that practices on the basis of the “born again” concept outlined in John.

    Bear in mind, historically Protestantism came about as a break from the Catholic Church because of the strict marriage laws of Catholicism, which include the whole virginity thing.

  19. Interesting. My comparative religion shelf has maybe 3 books on it, yet I have an entire bookcase of Judaism. So I do have a lot to learn. Especially growing up in Israel, where Christians are rare, and you sort of think they are really all the same, the difference between Catholics and Protestants sort of like the difference between Hasidim and “regular” Jews.

  20. A former acquaintance of mine told me she didn’t think that anything w/o consent counted, and I’m happy to endorse that.

  21. I concur with – no consent, all standard definitions are off .

  22. The orgasmic definition is difficult, and always will be, because it doesn’t match the standard hetero one. And I worry about the fact that it can be done without even taking clothes off. On balance I’d rather say it’s all dubious and we should just not stress about it, this is the modern world and the only effects of the virginity “line” that I can think of are negative. But I’d also agree that there’s something in the “contact between sexual organs” thing; something about being an adult and being exposed to another person.

  23. But if you follow through this logic, then suddenly most American teenagers are going to be virgins until they’re 30, since it’s pretty common to find creative ways having sex without being fully or even mostly naked. And maybe that’s right, maybe being mostly naked SHOULD be a part of what it means to not be a virgin, but that’s a radically different notion of virginity.

  24. Fair. I don’t know. Mostly I think, on balance, it’s a line that is so negatively used most of the time that it’s best not used.

  25. First of all, a born-again-Christian isn’t looking to conform to Jewish religious laws, so that’s moot, unless those two laws have suddenly become the same (as far as I know, born again-Christian customs aren’t more insightful about virginity beyond p-in-v).

    …where do you think Christian religious laws originated?

  26. I suspect you’re looking for Jewish religious laws as the answer, but that entirely depends on which law and of what religion you’re talking about. Other than the idea that “sex before marriage is bad” being related, born-again Christian laws are largely of their own making. In terms of the implementation, the two are entirely different. Catholicism is much more closely related, but Protestant being a already a break from Catholoicism and born-again being a splinter of Protestantism makes everything get a lot more loose, kind of like Kevin Bacon degrees of separation. Sexual politics played a large role in the whole reason the Protestant church was established.

  27. So all the born-again Christians who run around basing hate speeches on Leviticus aren’t somehow using Jewish law? (I realize not all born-agains do this and that it’s a loud-spoken minority, but Leviticus is one of the “clobber passages” when it comes to homosexuality.)

  28. I suppose I’m just having a hard time conceptualizing a Christianity that’s totally separated from its own history…not saying it hasn’t happened, but since Christ and all his apostles were Jews and were coming from a Jewish belief system, I’m suspecting most of what was written was, in fact, based on Judaism.

  29. Only applicable if hate speech from Leviticus is born-again Christian “law,” which I’m fairly certain it isn’t.

  30. …and only if they are specifically about definitions of virginity, which is what the conversation is about.

  31. Did I say that? Because I don’t think I did.

  32. The first 5 books of the bible are indeed from Judiasm. The new testament, which is more than half of the Bible, is not. More than that, we were discussing a religion that was established in the 20th century and is based on the Gospel of John. Definitely mentions the Jewish religion, but not in a particularly favorable light.

    If you’re upset with me over something that I said as not part of this blog, I’m happy to address that with you in another channel, but not here.

  33. You said “born-again Christian laws are largely of their own making.”

    That, to me, implies that said laws are based on some other source than the Bible. Considering how much the particularly loud born-again fundamentalists enjoy quoting both the Jewish and the Christian Bibles, I’m pretty sure that’s where they’re getting their belief system and religious laws.

  34. You said “born-again Christian laws are largely of their own making.”

    That, to me, implies that said laws are based on some other source than the Bible. Considering how much the particularly loud born-again fundamentalists enjoy quoting both the Jewish and the Christian Bibles, I’m pretty sure that’s where they’re getting their belief system and religious laws.

  35. FYI, the phrases “old testament” and “new testament” are considered offensive by many Jews; “Hebrew bible” and “Christian bible” are preferable. Just “bible” without the specification is also often considered offensive. Also, you do realize that the Hebrew bible consists of more than the first five books, right?

    Even better, call the Torah the Torah, the whole Hebrew bible the Tanakh, and the Christian bible the Christian bible.

    The Gospel of John, if written by John the Evangelist (and there appears to be some debate about this), was written by a Jew about a Jew. Jesus’ brand of Judaism eventually became Christianity, but Jesus and his apostles were Jewish. A sect of a religion based on the Gospel of John still has Jewish origins.

    (Discussing something instead of assuming things that were unsaid? Concept, that.)

  36. Born-again Christian laws are based on a source that comes from the New Testament of the bible (the Gospel of John) in combination with writings that are not from the bible. The combination is known as “The Book of John” which is NOT part of the bible.

    This is not feeling like healthy debate any more, is no longer on topic and I really dislike the idea of using someone else’s personal blog to continue the conversation.

  37. Born-again Christian laws are based on a source that comes from the New Testament of the bible (the Gospel of John) in combination with writings that are not from the bible. The combination is known as “The Book of John” which is NOT part of the bible.

    This is not feeling like healthy debate any more, is no longer on topic and I really dislike the idea of using someone else’s personal blog to continue the conversation.

  38. Well, see above about the definition of “law”. It may not be law, but it’s certainly a strongly-held belief, and scriptural proscriptions against homosexuality appear mostly in Leviticus and some of the writings of Paul. The particular fundamentalists who spend a lot of time bleating about the wrongness of any kind of sex other than for procreation base their bleats on scripture, whether Hebrew or Christian.

    The Torah doesn’t specifically ban premarital sex, but it strongly suggests it’s not a great idea. Most of what I’m finding on evangelical sites from the Christian bible concerning premarital sex and virginity is from Paul, and a lot of commentators wonder about him.

    (In fact, I just found a Christian polyamory site that says there’s nothing in either bible forbidding premarital sex, and that it’s all a mistranslation. It’s very interesting.)

  39. Hm…I did not know that about born-again Christians, and I’m having a hard time finding anything easily on line (Google-fu, don’t fail me now!)…do you have any more information?

    I was continuing the discussion here because I know people with far more Jewish scholarship under their belts than I read it. I like to learn from others. I see, however, that you’ve e-mailed me, so I will leave Eve’s blog alone. Thank you, Eve, for involuntarily hosting. 🙂

  40. Hm…I did not know that about born-again Christians, and I’m having a hard time finding anything easily on line (Google-fu, don’t fail me now!)…do you have any more information?

    I was continuing the discussion here because I know people with far more Jewish scholarship under their belts than I read it. I like to learn from others. I see, however, that you’ve e-mailed me, so I will leave Eve’s blog alone. Thank you, Eve, for involuntarily hosting. 🙂

  41. Whoa, I just found the Catholic definition of virginity. It’s actually pretty awesome: “Virginity is irreparably lost by sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced.” Now I know I lost it when I was 13 and first read The Vally of Horses. I can live with that. And I can think of a few women with multiple children (that they gave birth to) who probably never lost it…

    Source: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15458a.htm

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