For an idea that is so often portrayed as a truth, there are many obvious contradictions and problematic exclusions / Illustration by Caleigh Prince
As a teenager—even after trying out a number of sexual acts with my first boyfriend—I still felt entirely “virgin-y,” a label I desperately wanted to shed.
I placed a lot of importance on my first time having sex. I naively drew on media depictions (i.e. Judy Blume) to reference what the experience might feel like.
I was excited to dive into the world of “real” sex, not realizing that eventually I’d come to enjoy all the other ways of hooking up. What I had first labeled as less important than “real” sex, I enjoyed equally, if not more so, than actual penetration.
The predominant heteronormative narrative reinforced my teenage perspective; the word on the street was that you’re a virgin until you meet a person of the opposite sex and you are penetrated by or penetrate that person.
For an idea that is so often portrayed as a truth, there are many obvious contradictions and problematic exclusions.
Lux Alptraum, writer and sex educator, aptly stated in an essay on Jezebel that “sexuality and sexual experience are too personal, and too nuanced, to benefit from any broad, generalized categorization.”
the newspaper asked, “where do queer narratives fit into this heteronormative equation?”
Louise*, a 20 year old student at the University of Toronto, said, “My most intimate and even scary sexual experiences were the ones which didn’t involve penetrative sex. The first time I ever went down on another girl—that was scary and new to me. I was really in the moment, I was really a part of the experience.”
“I mean, I technically lost my virginity when I was 18 (halfway through my first year of university to a computer programmer, and also the best-dressed student on my residence). But I don’t think of those ten minutes when I first had penetrative sex with a man as anything special—I don’t even consider that experience ‘losing my virginity’. I won’t ever ‘lose’ my virginity, because I don’t think I had anything to be hoisted away from me to begin with.”
And what about people who are sexually active and may engage in oral sex, fingering, and/or other sexual activities but have never had penetrative sex? Does “hooking up” without actual penetration belong to a different sphere of sexual experience? And if so, why are these different sexual acts often delegitimized in contrast to “real” sex?
Lucy*, a 20 year old student at the University of Toronto, defines herself as a virgin, but said, “To be clear, I am not waiting for the love of my life, or for marriage.”
“I’m not expecting fireworks, or for it not to hurt like a bitch, or for me not to bleed, or for me to feel completely satisfied, but I think with the right person I won't be afraid at the least. I’m only bothered by still being a virgin when it feels like I’m left out from something everyone is doing.”
If you “lose” it too early you’re slut-shamed, but if you wait too long you’re taught to feel like there’s something wrong with you. Or, if you don’t fit into the neat category of straight sex—according to dominant narratives—you haven’t technically lost your virginity at all.
Isaac, a 21 year old U of T student said, “It wasn’t until university that I had a sexual experience with another gay man, and a whole year later that I had anal sex for my first time. I’ve been with my boyfriend now for over a year, and we never have anal sex … Does that mean I’m in a sexless relationship? Not at all. There are many things two people can do with each other to provide sexual pleasure other than penetration.”
“So when did I lose my virginity, if ever? Was it to the boy I fooled around with in high school? The first gay boy I ever kissed and had fun with? The one who first fucked my ass? My inanimate dildo? Or my boyfriend? People that I know like to point to the buttsex and say, ‘Aha! That’s when you lost your v-card!’ It just seems too simple to me though—too arbitrary.”
Reconceiving the myth of losing one’s virginity calls for changing how we view sex and sexual experiences to make it a more inclusive and individualistic concept.
It also means placing more importance on our first memories of sexual experiences, whether or not those experiences involved genital contact. For some, this could be the time you and your next-door-neighbour took off your clothes and bounced on your bed at the age of 5; your first encounters with masturbation; your first kiss at a middle school dance; or the first time you made someone else come.
In order to debunk the traditional definition of virginity, it is important to view your first time having sex (whatever that means to you) as a part of a longer line of sexual experiences rather than a single momentous experience.
When I look at it this way, I’m able to fully appreciate the times when I was 15 and nervously fooled around with my first boyfriend. We didn’t have sexual intercourse, but the experiences we had were meaningful in the building of my sexual identity.
*names have been changed