Once again, what started out as a simple question has evolved into a full blown discussion. I was working with a young sex addict; a young adult teenage woman. You do the math (that means she had to be between 18 – 19 years old). Yes, just as much as there is no shortage of male sex and pornography addicts, there’s also no shortage of female sex and pornography addicts either. And that shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone considering the proliferation of content in inappropriate television programming, dialog and discussion amongst that particular age group, and also to no one’s surprise, the internet.
The significance and emphasis on virginity is largely dictated by social, moral, ethical, religious, spiritual, cultural, and philosophical differences. Virginity is an absence, or abstinence, of sexual activity. It is largely based on an individual’s perspective. There are eighteen definitions of virginity in the Oxford English Dictionary, however similar, have subtle differences in meaning. The meaning differs much more widely depending on culture, religion, & sex just to name a few.
While she asked this question of me, “Am I still a virgin?”, I had to ponder it given the nature of the details surrounding our discussion. I requested permission from her to bounce this question off of my mentor. While his name shall remain a mystery in order to protect his identity, I don’t mind calling him my mentor. After all, if I do get it wrong, at the very least, I have someone else who can act as the fall guy and take the blame for it should I find myself in a situation where I was wrong. All kidding aside, it didn’t help when I asked my colleague the same question. She was somewhat hesitant at first, but “It is PIV (Penis in Vagina) penetration” she said. Her question, however, reflects what many teenagers ask of trusted mentors: “How far is too far?”
This too should be of no surprise. Recently when I was compiling large amounts of data on a battery of survey questions of young teenagers as a subset of all teenage groups almost reminiscent of “The Family Feud”, it was like:
“A hundred people surveyed, the top 5 answers on the board, what activity caused you to lose virginity:”
- PIV (Penis in Vagina)
Those answers too were quite diversified, and depending on your own perspective made up of many different factors, it could be any combination of criteria. Since the internet is such a wealth of information, or (mis)information depending on how you look at it, I decided to search for “virginity”. I wasn’t disappointed; also depending on how you look at it. With that in mind, I may as well add my own two cents worth, my own opinion, since that seems to be the order of the day where “virginity” is concerned.
Even different surveys yielded different results depending largely on when the survey was conducted, the manner in which the survey questions were asked, and the target audience. Thus, there are inconclusive conflicting results. Additionally, age, nationality, and whether or not an orgasm was achieved were mitigating factors. There seems to be a distinction between “had sex” and “virginity” as other forms of sexual gratification become included in the definition of it.
One of the conversations that resonated with me surrounded “physical virginity”. The most traditional view, by and large, is that PIV coitus, intercourse, is what constitutes a loss of virginity, sometimes referred to as a “technical virgin”. A more “normalized” definition, understanding that normalization is a product and function of exposure, engagement, and acceptance, is that any physical contact between one’s genitals and another’s body should/could/would be considered a loss of virginity. This is where it gets complicated. Should it also be construed to include orifice to orifice contact not involving one’s genitals at all? Should it also include both consensual and non-consensual sex acts? What about sex between homosexuals where there is no PIV? This is the subject of much debate as sexual orientation plays a pivotal role in the perception of virginity.
“Many young teenage girls, convinced in their own right, use oral sex, and often times anal sex, to preserve and maintain their vaginal virginity, avoid pregnancy, and meet the perceived needs, with much emphasis on the term “needs”, of their boyfriends.”
Some believe that the real test is whether the hymen is intact. This is particularly true in certain cultures and religions, so much so, women in those cultures fear a punishment worse than death if they cannot prove their virginity. But there are no real physical tests that could conclusively prove or disprove virginity. That’s quite tragic considering there are many different anatomical abnormalities and just as many reasons beyond PIV penetration that the hymen could have been compromised. Besides, any number of other items could have penetrated the vagina, notwithstanding a speculum in the gynecologist’s office.
Emphasis on sexual integrity is so crucial, physical virginity is verified by physical examination to prove that the hymen is intact or blood on the marital bed sheets after consummation of the marriage. It is of such great importance that women who have lost their virginity have sought out and attained elective surgery, a hymenoplasty, to repair or replace the hymen, for the sole purpose to produce bleeding on the next vaginal penetration to prove it. Failure to prove virginity could result in embarrassment, guilt, and shame, loss of family honor, and in some cases, death. The prevalence of ignorance, (mis)information, and outright evil malicious intent often results in young virgin girls being victimized, assaulted, and raped. In such cultures and religions, tremendous value is placed on virginity.
But the absence of an intact hymen is not a reliable indicator of physical virginity. The hymen, a thin film membrane inside the vulva acts as an obstruction into the vagina. The hymen is so thin, fragile, and vulnerable to destruction, any number of activities could be responsible for bleeding, tearing, and stretching it. Athletic activities such as bicycling, gymnastics, horseback riding, and even their own birth could cause the hymen to have been compromised. Hymenoplasty to repair and replace it is an unnecessary surgical procedure, and seems illogical considering in order to prove virginity, it is perpetuating a fraud.
Virginity was an important consideration for the late Princess Diana. In 1981, the question of her virginity became quite the public spectacle as it became widespread discussion all over the world. It was, at the time, an extremely important prerequisite for one to become heir to the British throne. Nonetheless, I can only imagine how mortified the beloved young Princess must have been to have her vagina to be the object of much worldwide speculation.
“Studies concluded that, for heterosexuals, those who made “virginity pledges” contracted just as many STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) as those who didn’t.”
Studies also concluded that there were significant correlations between the age of virginity loss and socioeconomic, education, religious, and demographic factors just to name a few. In the pre-industrial/agricultural era, marriage occurred at much younger ages than today; typically around 14 – 15 years of age. Now, due to many factors, adolescence has been extended from ages 11 – 29. According to Toccoa Falls College Professor, Richard (Rich) W. Griffith:
“While adolescence begins in biological markers such as menarche and first ejaculation, adolescence ends in social markers of reaching ‘independent adulthood’ such as marriage, moving out on one’s own, etc. If adolescence in post-modernity were expected to not engage in sexual activity according to the definition of adolescence, sexual activity might not occur until age 29! In other words, cultural relaxation of ‘sexual norm standards’ [normalization] has been forced to change due to the extension of adolescence. Is it realistic to insist young people remain abstinent for a much longer period of time than their agrarian peers in modernity? Add to the formula the hypersexualiztion of a society (and sometimes children), puberty can set on as early as age 9!”
Parent/child relationships played a significant role too. Additionally, exposure to sexual abuse was key to determining the trajectory of one’s future sexual action(s) and behavior(s) leading to risky and dangerous sex acts, including but not limited to, seeking and utilizing adult oriented sexual products and services, sexual aggression, and use of a condom, or lack thereof, “bareback”, as the case may be. All of this led to consequences in marriage, education, employment, financial security, and health. Make no mistake. Virginity is much more than just a physical discussion. That’s just biology.
Physical only defines where a physical penetration occurs. Now we can argue over whether that is a penis penetrating a vagina, an oral cavity, an anal cavity, or any other cavity would constitute a loss of virginity. The point is, it is a physical penetration of the body. One woman remarked in so many words “if the penis penetrates any part of your body, you’re getting screwed [not the term she used, but let’s keep it clean]”. So while the general consensus is that it is PIV that is a loss of physical virginity, not everyone is on board; particularly those in non-heterosexual relationships. So once again, the question arises: “Does the definition of virginity then change according to whether or not it is a heterosexual or homosexual activity?” In other words, is there a different definition? If so, is that acceptable? Why or why not?
This same type of heated argument and debate ensued in recent years over the definition of “marriage” as the US Supreme Court held, on June 26, 2015, in a 5 – 4 decision, that the Fourteenth Amendment grants same sex marriage the same rights and priviledges as heterosexual marriage. This represents a huge shift as it inherently changes the long standing and original definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and in the religious context, “as one”. We all have an opinion on it. Mine is that:
“You don’t get to change the definition of marriage just because the definition of it no longer suits you, your purpose, or your agenda anymore.”
“The institution of marriage was created long before there were ever any laws governing it.”
I’m sure some will perceive this as a homophobic rant, but it’s not. Honestly, where marriage is concerned, it’s just none of the government’s business at all to dictate one way or the other which is why I abhor the idea and requirement to obtain a “marriage license” at all. There’s no compelling necessity, let alone reason, for it. Just think about how many of these disputes would just go away with a constitutional amendment that would prohibit any government impact, influence, or interference in marriage at all.
MENTAL, EMOTIONAL, & PSYCHOLOGICAL VIRGINITY
The reason this comes into play is that there are those who believe that as a litmus test for a loss of virginity to occur, both parties must be an active willing participant in it. This becomes monumentally important because, psychologically, it becomes a huge issue for victims of rape and sexual assault. Accordingly, people who are sexually molested, or abused, are still virgins from a mental & emotional standpoint. To be clear, rape and sexual assault is not about sex. It’s about power, control, and domination over another human being. It is a physical, mental, emotional, and psychological violation of another human being. And it also crosses spiritual and religious boundaries too.
This is an important distinction for someone who has been subject to abuse. They have already been emotionally compromised in an act of traumatic betrayal. Layering a loss of virginity on top of that could quite possibly be more than they could bear. It is quite possible, they may believe themselves to be unworthy of a partner, a marriage, or life itself. It’s the difference between making a conscious choice to forfeit one’s virginity, and having it taken from them. Thus, they remain a virgin.
As for consensual sex, a question of abuse arises even if the acts were consensual. When people are used for sexual purposes, whether present or not (i.e. the internet), could it be considered abuse? Consent may be given, but consent may also be coerced, manipulated, and tricked in a process called “grooming” as peer pressure from the perpetrator psychologically beats the victim into submission. I spoke about this in Sexting: What? Not My Child! Without going into an in depth brain anatomy discussion, when an adolescent brain is constantly bombarded with sensual and emotional material, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t have the developmental capacity to keep up, let alone process it. It results in a “societal child molestation”, a controversial phrase coined by Dr. Griffith, that best defines this process that occurs on a global scale. Our children are exposed to it, participate in it, and respond and react to it before any semblance of rationale and logic has an opportunity to handle it. It is no wonder that our children, our youth, are so confused about the conflicting messages society has bestowed upon them; religious or not. As Dr. Griffith explains, “you’re opening up a whole can of worms”. I agree.
RELIGIOUS & SPIRITUAL VIRGINITY
This is quite a tricky area and morality seems to be a major sticking point surrounding virginity. For example, in Buddhism, the Pali Canon calls for “…abstains from sensual misconduct…”. In Judaism, the Torah makes reference to virginity in Genesis 19:8 and again in Genesis 24:16. In the Quran, it is widely understood that there will be 72 virgins awaiting those who believe. In Christianity, it’s far more complicated. Depending on the denomination, it takes a subject already infused with confusion and adds more to it. Nonetheless, throughout Christianity, it is understood that the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the son of the living God.
Christianity revolves around the Holy Bible. There are 15 books in the Old Testament and 4 in the New Testament that makes some form of reference to “virgin”. It starts in Genesis 24:16 “The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.” which is highly symbolic of the importance of virginity. It is further solidified in Exodus 22:16 and Leviticus 22:12 & 22:14. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 22:15, 22:17, 22:19, 22:23, & 22:28 required proof of virginity; consistent with other religions. Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” it references the coming of Christ and again marks emphasis on the necessity for virginity and is repeated again in Matthew 1:23. There are numerous references in Luke 1 and 1 Corinthians 7 as well. So suffice it to say, virginity is very important for those of Christian faith.
What is abundantly clear in all religion is that sex is sanctified and blessed by God between married couples, that sex outside of marriage is sinful in both fornication and adultery, and sex in and of itself, isn’t sin, but the manner in which is morally unacceptable is. What isn’t so clear is the subjectivity of “sexual immorality”. The phrase means different things to different people. Since throughout the ages, the definition of what constitutes “sex” has evolved over time in much the same way “marriage” has in recent years. We can also thank former US President, Bill Clinton, surrounding his purjured testimony with the infamous “…that depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is…” response to whether or not he had sex with Monika Lewinsky in what would become the sex scandal of the century in the midst of his presidency.
So is it crossing the proverbial virginity line when one engages in oral sexual activity where Christianity is concerned? An argument could easily be made that it is because if it isn’t pure in your heart, mind, and soul, then it isn’t pure in the flesh. Matthew 5:28 more solidifies this argument. If either participant is married, it is adultery. If neither participant is married, it is fornication. Some references are made to “idolatry”. The Apostle Paul used the term “porneia” which is a Greek word meant to include all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage between a husband and wife. As biblical translations have evolved and literal interpretations of scriptures have evolved, embellishments so too have evolved which in large part contributes and adds to all of the confusion.
There are numerous scriptures throughout the Holy Bible; all of them leading with holiness, purity, and righteousness. It makes clear that Jesus Christ was born to the virgin Mary, that sex is sacred between husband and wife, and that our sins are forgiven us. Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are compelled to engage in activities that go against their religious convictions because the presumption is that if all I have to do is believe and ask for forgiveness, then I can engage in it anyway. That’s quite hypocritical don’t you think? Ironic considering we, as human beings, aren’t so forgivable to one another. This is problematic for Christians because, as is written in John 8:11, as the woman caught in adultery was “guilty” per se, Jesus extended her forgiveness, but also told her to “leave her life of sin.” It’s problematic because it is forgiveness without repentance in much the same way an addict seeks forgiveness, yet has absolutely no intention of repenting (quitting, stopping, or however you wish to define and represent it). The paradox becomes “how can anyone truly expect to receive forgiveness for something they neither consider a sin nor feel the need to repent of it?” Ironically, people who have been raped or molested often feel more “dirty” and “violated” than those who are promiscuous. That’s a lot to contemplate.
This also leads to another compelling question. For those who believe in Christianity, and consider themselves to be “born again” Christians, if they were sexually permissive before “being saved”, “being baptized”, can their virginity be restored? Spiritually and religiously, perhaps the possibility exists, but the memories of all of their previous promiscuous sexual encounters are permanently etched into their brain. So still, the psychological, mental, and emotional state coexists even if it is restored on a spiritual and religious level. So, yes, Christianity complicates things.
“In cases of incest, rape, and sexual assault, spiritually and religiously, it is important to understand that even if the body has been exploited, penetrated, and violated, and you were neither an active or willing participant in it, the heart, mind, and soul has not. As such, the victim is still pure and remains a virgin.”
Many references are made in different religious scriptures, and each of them are consistent in their heart, mind, and soul inferences whether they spelled it out exactly or paraphrased it in so many words. All religions can have tremendous influence on morality, ethics, and views on sexuality. As such, it creates quite a dilemma for those who practice their religion while engaging in activities that are contrary to it. This contradiction is nothing new and demonstrates the shortcomings of human beings as a whole. Most of us have the desire and intention to always do the right thing. We just lack the willpower and capacity to do so. Consequently, many of us fall under the scrutiny of those who themselves often engage in the very same actions and behaviors for which we are being judged, condemned, and crucified.
Regardless of religion, each is contingent upon its believer having faith in it. And then there’s the lingering argument that for a loss of virginity to occur, all one needs to do is to have an orgasm resulting from any sexual activities engaged in that promoted an orgasm or even a state of sexual arousal.
SO, AM I STILL A VIRGIN?
Studies have revealed that most people fall into these three major categories around the world:
- Young pubescent girls in arranged marriages with older experienced men
- Young adult women delayed marriages with more experienced younger men
- More closely matched age groups with reciprocal values on virginity
A disproportionate emphasis on male versus female virginity consists, persists, and coexists, and is inherently sexist. In the film industry alone, virgin males are ostracized, humiliated, and ridiculed while virgin females are honored, revered, and coveted. Conversely, promiscuous males are powerful, strong, and masculine while their female counterparts are immoral, loose, and easy. Men are studs. Women are whores. It’s a flagrant display of hypocrisy.
What prompted the original question evolved around a question surrounding oral sex.
“If I performed oral sex on him, and him on me, am I still a virgin?”
Virginity is purely subjective. It’s that simple. The only objectivity stems from answering the direct questions as to physical, psychological, mental & emotional, and religious & spiritual considerations. There is no question on these individual components. The only question comes into what value and emphasis you place on each, all, or none of them.
From my viewpoint, physically? YES! Her vagina has never been penetrated by a penis. If my view was that any penetration of a body orifice would cross that threshold, then perhaps I’d have a very different viewpoint and my answer would be NO!.
Emotionally & mentally? NO! She made a conscious decision to engage in oral sex with her Partner. But then again, did her Partner groom her such that she felt enormous pressure to submit to his advances? If that is the case, then I would say “YES”!
Religiously & Spiritually? You have to follow your own religious and spiritual beliefs and convictions. As I previously laid out, all religions have different meanings and interpretations. But they all do have some things in common. They all revere virginity as something pure, something innocent, and something to be of great value and importance. I can’t speak for secular individuals as I have absolutely no idea what they believe or why. So take your own faith in what you believe, and utilize it for your own moral judgment and determination of what is righteous for you. To answer her question, YES! While she crossed that proverbial line, she has asked for forgiveness, is repentant, and therefore cleansed of her sin according to her own Christian faith. In the wake of black and white, there is a whole lot of gray/grey mixed in.
The late Oxford University English professor, intellectual, and the beloved author of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”, C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963), a former atheist, once said “They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up”. But Lewis writes “But for the last twenty years (fifty years if you adjust that timeframe for today) it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round.” Lewis was right then, and it is totally applicable today.
What few people consider is, not just the physical ramifications, but the psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, and religious toll that sexual activity takes. It’s way beyond the physical realm. There is a degree of intimacy and vulnerability in ALL sexual activity regardless of the depth of exposure. It reveals the very most inner personal parts of ourselves, our genitals, and our hearts, minds, and souls, of our vulnerability. Whether the acts are consensual or not, if one were to go publicly brag about their exploits with another, they would be greatly humiliated, and consumed with embarrassment, guilt, and shame.
These questions, and their respective answers, will never go away. When we question “why the question?”, it is imperative that we consider less about what society has to say about it, and follow that “still small voice” that resides in each of us. Because at the end of the day, our embarrassment, guilt, and shame are all byproducts of having done something wrong, or perceived as such, of our actions, as well as actions of others. Breaking that cycle is critical to a clear conscious and overcoming addiction. The question is answered by self, society, family, religion, and philosophical approaches.
Nobody else gets to decide any of this for you. Only you. Don’t ever let someone else decide for you what your own interpretation of virginity is or should be. Evaluate your own situation and circumstances, weigh all of the evidence, and decide for yourself “Am I Still A Virgin?”