The word is generally understood to refer to someone who’s never had sex, but that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Does oral sex count? If a woman only has sex with other women, is she a virgin? A woman who has only experienced forcible intercourse or rape is considered in some cultures to have “lost her virginity,” as if she were somehow at fault—which is completely unfair, sexist, and wrong! It may be useful to remember that there can be a first time for many sexual activities, from first kiss to first genital touches to first orgasm, rather than to focus on virginity status.
Here are some of the myths we’ve heard most about virginity.
Myth (1) You will bleed and the sex will be painful during the first time.
That’s absolutely untrue. The definition of sex changes from person to person and couple to couple. You might bleed, you might not. Whatever it is, be assured that it does not determine anything. Everybody is different and while some women bleed a lot during their first time, some women don’t at all. As far as pain is concerned, it all depends on your partner.
Myth (2) Using tampons affects virginity.
If virginity has to do with first sexual experiences, using tampons definitely doesn’t count. What can occasionally affect use of tampons are some natural but relatively rare variations of the anatomy of the hymen. One variation is a thin band across the opening called a septate hymen. Another is a very small opening called a micro perforate hymen. For about 1 in 2,000 girls, the hymen has no opening, which is called an imperforate hymen. This results in significant monthly pain occurring after the time of the expected first menstrual period (around age 12 to 12 ½ on average) and no menstrual bleeding. What if we empowered girls to take a look with a mirror? It’s an especially good idea to look with a mirror if or when deciding to try tampons—and if questions come up, a health care provider can answer them!
Myth (3) A sexual partner can tell if a woman is a virgin.
If even a gynecologist can’t tell if a woman has had intercourse, then how can a partner? On the other hand, being open with your partner(s) about your sexual history can build trust and keep you both healthy and happy.
A virgin is someone who’s never had sex. But people define “sex” and “losing virginity” in many different ways.
Myth (4) A gynecological exam affects virginity.
Like tampons, gynecological exams are all about health, not sex. Inspection of the external genitals (just looking) is recommended as a routine part of health care for kids and teens. The Pap test, an exam to detect precancerous cells from the cervix, typically involves the use of an instrument called a speculum to spread the walls of the stretchy hymen and vagina and is generally recommended starting at age 21. A speculum exam may be needed before the age of 21 if there are specific symptoms or problems.
Myth (5) A broken hymen means you are not a virgin
There is no one physical trait that indicates virginity or past sexual activity- not even the presence of a hymen.
In reality, the hymen is a fringe of tissue around the vaginal opening. It does not fully cover the vagina, otherwise women would not be able to get their periods. Some girls are born without hymens, or only a very small amount of tissue. Other girls are born with more tissue that partially cover the vaginal opening.
Hymens can also be torn before a woman has sex, for example if she rides a bicycle, has climbed trees, uses tampons, etc. Therefore broken hymens cannot adequately be evidence of whether a woman is a virgin or not.
Virginity is not about whether a hymen is broken or not. Sex and virginity mean something different to each person, which cannot be represented by one body part.