What Is Virginity—and How Might Its Definition Be Changing?

Redefining the Term in Today's Society

Two people sleeping in bed.
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What does it mean to lose your virginity? The dictionary says a virgin is a person who has never had sexual intercourse. But what is sexual intercourse? In the strictest biological terms, it's the penetration of the vagina by the penis. This definition leaves a lot of people out of the loop, however, and societal changes in attitudes have made the true meaning a little more nuanced than that. Maybe it's time to revisit what it means to be a virgin—and to recognize that, with all the possible circumstances and associated emotions, the definition of virginity is a lot more subjective than we've previously considered.

Virginity and Sex

When we think of virgins, we think of "white-wedding innocents" who define sex as a synonym for gender. The standard definition of virginity, however—one that's strictly focused on intercourse—doesn't take into account the wide variety of other sexual activities, behaviors, and preferences. In theory, under the traditional definition of virginity, a gay person can have sex every day and still be a virgin. Someone who engages in oral sex regularly is also, technically, still a virgin.

Redefining Virginity

This narrow definition of virginity is far too narrow to encompass the physical and emotional aspects of sexuality; furthermore, it can be highly subjective. What does "losing your virginity" mean to you? Is it a state of mind or a specific act? Is it something that can be taken from you, or does it only count if you willingly give it away? When does "fooling around" end and "having sex" begin?

When considering a new definition of virginity, we must look at these situations and ask ourselves how they fit into it:

  • Is someone who is raped or molested no longer a virgin?
  • Is actual intercourse the only act that counts when determining virginity?
  • If you willingly engage in other intimate sexual acts but do not have intercourse, is it accurate to still call yourself a virgin?
  • How would you define losing your virginity if you are gay or bisexual?
  • Is being a virgin based on your feelings, your actions, or a combination?
  • If you have sex but don't feel anything is different about you, does it count?
  • Is the current definition of virginity, and the social stigma attached to it, still biased against girls?
  • Does the current definition of virginity exclude homosexuals?
  • Is virginity subjective (based on how individuals view themselves and what they do) or objective (how situations are viewed by others on the outside)?

Emotional and Physical Virginity

One way to look at virginity is as a twofold state: emotional and physical. Perhaps losing your virginity means giving up both the emotional attachment to it and engaging in physical acts of sex.

For some people, any intimate sex act that involves nudity and genital stimulation counts as sex; for them, nudity and stimulation—not penetration—count as the dividing line between virgins and non-virgins. If you share your body with another person or give pleasure to another person, and that action is intended to cause orgasm, you have had sex, regardless of your sexual orientation.

You shouldn't think of virginity as something you lose or that is taken; instead, it's something beautiful and precious—like a rare chocolate or a once-in-a-lifetime sunset—you choose to share with another person.

If you haven't freely and willingly given it, it shouldn't and doesn't count as being gone.

Virginity and Molestation or Rape

By this definition, people who are sexually abused in any way are still virgins in the emotional sense; even though a body has experienced a sexual act, the mind has not. Your body might have been touched and/or penetrated, but if your mind has not, your virginity remains intact. You have not stopped "being a virgin," nor have you experienced the emotions that go along with giving your body to another. If a person has forced a sexual act upon you, it's simply not fair to say you are no longer a virgin, regardless of the degree of physical contact.

If you are victimized in this way, you might still feel as if you have not had sex, and rightly so. You might still view sex with a certain innocence, and you are entitled to that.

Being victimized should not force you to live with a label you neither wanted nor asked for. Virginity is not something we passively lose; rather, non-virginity is a state we deliberately choose to take on.

Bottom line: In the highly personal matter of virginity, the only definition that should matter to you is your own.