Virginity, female virginity in particular is valued in many cultures. The definition of virginity varies in different cultures. In some societies, a virgin is a woman who has not had penis-in-vagina sex while in others as long as there’s been any penetration via fingers or even a tampon, the woman is not a virgin. Others think you’re no longer a virgin after your first orgasm even if there was no penetration, for example via clitoral stimulation even through a sex toy. So, the definition is not set in stone. It also centres on heteronormative penis-in-vagina views that ignore a plethora of other sexual possibilities. We’ve all heard the one about catholic girls engaging in anal sex in order to preserve their virginity, right? What is set in stone in many cultures though is the conflation of virginity with a woman’s value. In some cultures, it goes so far as judging a family’s value and the girl’s parentage solely on the basis of her virginity or lack thereof. Here are some common lies and myths about virginity.
Myth 1: About the hymen…
The common belief is that the hymen is a membrane that covers or blocks the vagina and that is broken during first intercourse. The hymen has many shapes and forms and is mostly made up of elastic tissue that can move and stretch as the skin around the vagina moves. Think less of a sheet covering the vagina’s opening and more like a hair scrunchy that can stretch out and shrink back. This means it can stretch to accommodate the penis during penis-in-vagina sex and shrink back after the fact. Some women retain the hymen even after giving birth naturally multiple times, this is how elastic it is. The hymen also doesn’t cover the entire vagina’s opening or menstruation would not be possible. In the rare event that it covers the entire opening, surgery is required to allow it to function normally.
There’s a widespread belief that virginity is lost when the hymen is broken during first intercourse. The breaking, it is believed is evidence that the girl was a virgin. This is false. There is no evidence that sexual intercourse changes the hymen. The hymen changes as your body changes because of its elasticity. It can be broken anytime through a variety of activities from wearing a tampon to riding a horse. There’s also no way of telling that you as a man have broken the hymen and no way for a woman to tell it has happened. Anyone who tells you they can tell whether you’re a virgin through sex or some medical examination is a liar. The purpose of the hymen is not to determine virginity, that is a recent myth. Previously it was believed that the hymen’s purpose was to protect the vagina from bacteria.
Myth 2: About the blood…
It’s widely believed that a sign of virginity is bleeding during first intercourse. This is false. The hymen does not always cause vaginal bleeding during first sex. Vaginal bleeding can be because of insufficient lubrication, anxiety, inexperience, and rough sex. Girls are socialized to believe that there will be a lot of bleeding and pain their first time which doesn’t have to be the case if care is taken.
Myth 3: Sex changes your vagina
One of the reasons virginity is highly valued is because it is believed that sex irrevocably changes the body and that the bodies of virgins are somehow untouched and intact. Sex does not alter the woman’s genitals or body. The vagina stretches and contracts. It’s a lot like exercise. When you exercise, your muscles are flexible and used to it but if you don’t exercise for a while then come back to it, it’s a bit difficult. That’s why there’s a sensation of tightness if you haven’t had intercourse for a while and less of that feeling if you’re sexually active. Either way, the body is able to stretch and contract as need be and penetration doesn’t permanently alter anything on that front.
It’s been said that the idea that your state of virginity can somehow impact your genitals is just another sexist construct that tells men to aggressively pursue sex and for women to actively refute it. Plus, there’s the underlying idea of the magical penis, that men have this magical ability to permanently alter women’s bodies. Women who are often classified as passive participants while their virginity is taken, their hymen broken.
Myth 4: Purity
Above all else, virginity is a moral ideal. It is an idea used to pit women against each other and judge them. Virginity constructs a narrative about who are the good pure girls and who are the dirty used girls. It makes women attach their worth to their virginity and see themselves as somehow devalued after sex. This worldview also complicates things even further for women whose first time was not consensual, classifying them among the dirty girls. Women are so much more than their level of sexual engagement or lack thereof. This conflation of value and virginity is why in so many cultures virginity is preserved ruthlessly and violently. It is done through a whole range of activities including female genital mutilation, breast ironing, and forced child marriage. We must ask why it is that sexual intercourse devalues women and makes them impure but has no similar effect on men.
The truth is virginity has little concern for women. Its primary purpose is the preservation of patriarchal values that view women as the property of men, first their fathers and then their husbands. It focuses on controlling women and their sexual activities. That’s sexist. Women should be free to do whatever they want with other consenting adults and that has no bearing on their inherent value or worth.
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