Have I lost my virginity? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Jessica Valenti

Every day millions of internet users ask Google some of lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

No, you cannot lose your virginity with a tampon. Horse riding wont do it either. The fact that some of these myths prevail is part of the reason Im betting the second most common sentence that goes through someones head after having sex for the first time straight after, Was that it?! did I really just lose my virginity?

Part of the problem with the eternal question of what counts as losing your virginity is that theres no comprehensive, realistic definition of what sex is. Not really.

Most people understand virginity to mean the first time a person has heterosexual vaginal intercourse, but this is an incredibly narrow vision of human sexuality. Its a bit silly, not to mention offensive, for instance, to suggest that only straight sex is real sex. Or to tell women that losing their virginity is based on whether or not they have a hymen (an invented association). For young people raised on abstinence-only education who think that having oral or anal sex doesnt count, the confusion over virginity isnt just a rhetorical issue but one with health implications. The question can also present a painful conundrum for those who are survivors of rape.

When I wrote my 2009 book The Purity Myth, I found that there is no widely accepted medical definition of virginity. I spoke to historian and author Hanne Blank, who noted that she scoured the best medical libraries in the US and found that there was no diagnostic standard for virginity. Its a concept thats more cultural than medical an outdated idea thats been used more to shame than to mark sexual initiation. But still, people want a way to mark the first time theyve been sexually intimate.

Ive suggested in the past that perhaps a persons first orgasm with a partner should count as losing their virginity. This seems like a pleasure-based standard that puts the power of virginity back in individuals hands, so to speak. But Ive since been taken to task rightly, I believe because this is not a definition that includes or is sensitive to the large number of people who dont orgasm from sexual activity.

So where does that leave us? Heather Corrina, founder of the sex education website Scarleteen, has written that she wishes the concept of virginity would just go away, but she understands that it wont, and so answered a young womans question about whether or not she had really had sex in the best way Ive seen to date.

If you want to count this experience as having something to do with virginity you can, Corrina wrote. If you do not want to count it as something to do with your virginity, you get to do that, too. The same goes with sex: what sex is or isnt for any of us varies because were all so different and so are all of our sexual experiences. We dont all have the same bodies, identities, sexualities, sexual opportunities or the same sexual relationships. So long as the way you define sex feels true to you and your experiences in the moment, then thats your right definition.

Indonesian female police recruits forced to undergo virginity tests

If we want to attach meaning to a first then surely we should be the ones who decide what, exactly, that first time was.

Of course, the problem is that while we can (and should) deride the idea of virginity as outdated and useless or tell young people that they can decide what it means for themselves there is still the problem of how everyone else views virginity.

Across the world, virginity has a stranglehold on the way people think about sex, sexuality and most dangerously womens value and moral worth. There are still virginity tests, purity balls, and the ever-present idea that good women are chaste while women who arent are somehow bad, dirty, or used goods. Its not enough to say that virginity shouldnt mean anything; we have to find a way for that argument to have meaning and impact.

Perhaps its a matter of more doctors coming out of the woodwork to explain that no, hymens dont mean anything, or that virginity is a subjective experience. Maybe young people should refuse to mark their first sexual experience, or lawmakers should stop equating sexuality with deviancy. So long as white wedding dresses, American pie movies and the Republican party exist, I dont have much hope that virginity will lose its grip on the public imagination though in the US anyway.

But heres the good news: for those who do mark the first time they have sex, its getting better (for women, at least). A recent broad study, conducted over 23 years and following nearly 6,000 young people, published this summer in the Journal of Sex Research, found that women are enjoying their first sexual experience more today than in years past. That seems a lot more important than what exactly happened in bed that made the experience a real one.

Read more: www.theguardian.com