When I say the phrase “losing your virginity”, most people think of a virtuous woman having penetrative sex with a man to get her “cherry popped”. It’s painful and there’s blood on the sheets from her hymen breaking because she has now lost her innocence and is somehow impure. By breaking a thin piece of tissue in her vagina, a woman’s whole life is changed and now she’s a completely different, “dirtier” human being. Per these standards, a sexually active lesbian is a virgin because her hymen is ~untouched~. All of these aforementioned statements are just a few of the examples of ways in which virginity is a social construct imposed upon society to uphold patriarchal values. It also assumes that everyone with a vagina is a woman and that a man has to be involved for sex to be considered legitimate.
The idea of virginity reduces a person’s worth to the integrity of a piece of tissue in their vagina. Often, the hymen is used as a pseudoscientific justification for virginity being a biological concept. If it breaks during sex and every vagina has it, there has to be a biological reason for the tissue to be intact. This “biological” reason disappears after that person is married because they are suddenly all clear to have sex.
Per these standards, a sexually active lesbian is a virgin because her hymen is ~untouched~
In reality, the hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue that covers part of the opening to the vagina. It isn’t a magical cloak that is only broken when a vagina is penetrated for the first time. By the time an individual that is assigned-female-at-birth reaches puberty, their hymen is usually already broken to allow for menstrual blood to come out. Using tampons, playing sports, and riding a bike also cause the hymen to break throughout childhood.
Some people are born without a hymen or with little amounts of hymenal tissue. Other people (like me), are born with abnormally thick hymenal tissue and have to get their hymen surgically removed as I did.
It assumes that everyone with a vagina is a woman and that a man has to be involved for sex to be considered legitimate.
Does not having a hymen mean that I am not a virgin? Absolutely not. My virginity is not defined by the presence of a piece of tissue because virginity is an idea that was created in an era when women were legally defined and treated as property.
The bizarre societal obsession with hymen has led to the legitimization of “virginity tests”, a form of violence, as a medical procedure. Gynecologists are often asked by parents and in-laws to perform the “two-finger” test on their patients to prove their virginity. This form of testing has no scientific or medical merit to it, yet it is still performed.
In fact, the idolization of virginity has led to a market for fake hymens. HymenShop, a company that sells fake hymens, has sold thousands of units of artificial hymens that ooze out fake blood (red medical food dye) when penetrated. The fake blood staining the sheets is then used as proof of virginity being lost.
Virginity is an idea that was created in an era when women were treated as property.
In addition to insertable fake hymens, the idolization of virginity has also led to an increased amount of requests for hymenoplasties i.e. hymen restoration surgeries. This procedure is usually performed for religious or cultural reasons.
It can also be formed as a form of therapy after sexual assault. A surgeon will suture the hymen back together or will graft tissue over the opening of the vagina by taking tissue from another part of the vagina.
Delegitimizing virginity starts by understanding it for what it is, a concept that varies from person to person. Definitions of virginity can vary across people of different genders and sexual orientations. A lesbian may consider engaging in foreplay to be losing their virginity while a straight woman may consider penetrative sex with a man to be losing her virginity.
In any case, it is best not to define what does and doesn’t count towards virginity on a societal level to be more inclusive of differences in background and experience.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter.