Virginity is an interesting concept. For centuries, societies around the globe have placed important focus on the virginity or “purity” of its citizens. However, in modern day, a medical definition for the word is scarcely found, even among the library of Harvard Medical School.
How is it that something so important to people has no clearly agreed-upon medical definition? Simply put–it is a construct.
What defines virginity to you? Many people would say virginity is the state of being before having PIV (penis-in-vagina) sexual intercourse. However, this excludes a host of sexual activity from the definition. Are gay men and lesbians always virgins if they don’t have heterosexual sex? Even if they have a regular sex life? Does masturbation take away some aspect of virginity? Does penetration?
Most people would tell you virginity is defined by the tearing of the hymen. This not only excludes people who do not have a hymen, but also raises questions for those who self-penetrate with toys or have torn their hymen from childhood accidents. What about people who have had sex without tearing their hymen?
The hymen is not a bone or a solid state in the body. It is a fleshy membrane around the interior of the vaginal opening that expands during sexual intercourse. It does not always tear during sex–in fact, the ideal way to have sex is to not tear this membrane. First-time penetration is not “supposed to hurt,” though it may.
What to Expect
If you or your partner has never had sex, there can be a lot of anxiety about the subject. Both parties would most likely experience a great deal of pressure to perform well for the first time. My number one, most important thing to remember on this subject is that sex for the first time will most definitely not be your best time. Think about anything else you tried for the first time–swimming, knitting, or riding a bike–you very likely did a horrible job the first time you attempted it. Maybe you fell or messed up half-way through–but that’s okay. There’s a learning curve to everything in life and sex is no exception.
So, what will happen? Bluntly, it will probably be awkward. Getting into a position that feels good is going to take a little time if you’ve never had sex with another person. Endorphins will be rushing through your body and it may be difficult to focus due to the high energy. It may feel like you’re intoxicated, and it can worsen anxiety. You may feel overwhelmed. You may fumble or mess up for a while. You may feel discouraged and want to stop, and that’s okay.
That is expected.
If your partner is worth anything, they will understand all of these feelings. Everyone who has had sex likely remembers their first time and all the emotional and physical awkwardness that goes along with it. Your partner, if more experienced than you, should help guide you, both verbally and physically. If you’re both new to sex, you’ll share in the awkward experience for what it is. Don’t get discouraged.
Step 1: Communicate
Number one way to make this as easy as possible is to communicate things well before jumping into bed. Be open about your experience (or lack of) and discuss any feelings of anxiety or hesitation. If you want to wait before having sex, make that clear to your partner.
Get everything out. Talk about physical limitations you may have due to weight, an injury, or disability. Talk about how you’ve never been penetrated before and are nervous. Talk about your confusion about what to expect. Talk about safe sex.
Step 2: Research
In addition to communication, a bit of research can go a long way. If you’ve never had sex with someone with a vulva, look up the anatomy. If you’ve never been anally penetrated, read up on anal sex. If you’ve never worn a condom, try it on during masturbation or ask your partner to show you how to use one properly. Get a feel for what to expect while you’re alone to help make things smoother when you’re with your partner.
Note: Porn does not count as research. Seriously, don’t do that.
Step 3: Relax
The thing about sex, is that it really isn’t an exact science. Not everyone likes the same things and some things you may expect from the experience may not happen. Some things may surprise you. No matter how much you research, there is no guarantee that your experience will match your expectations so it’s best to adapt a mindset of “going with the flow”.
If you have experience with porn, understand that much of it is scripted and acting. Most people with vaginas don’t squirt that much and most pizza delivery men don’t accept oral sex as a tip. Understand that every partner and every situation is going to be new to you and you will have to adapt over and over again as you gain more experience. The bright side to this? The best sex is always spontaneous and unscripted.
Take a deep breath in. Relax. Ask for guidance. Ask, “Does this feel good?” Ask, “Does that hurt?” Make sure you’re practicing safe sex and consensual sex by checking in if you doubt anything. Let go of the idea that it’s going to be perfect and focus on what works and what feels good in the moment. If you get overwhelmed or too tired, ask for a break, talk it out some more, and try again if you’re comfortable enough to do so.
Pro Tip: Have copious amounts of cold water within reach. You’ll be grateful for it and hydration is really important for good sex, especially if you plan on going more than once!
Step 4: Communicate (Again!)
Are you starting to see a pattern? Communication is really, really important and nothing in the world makes for better sex than partners who are open and honest about what’s going on.
After sex (or in between breaks), discuss what happened. Ask if everything felt okay. Reassure your partner if you had fun, or suggest ways to make it better. Be specific about anything you need to discuss. Make sure there is a non-judgmental, open line of communication while one or both of you are learning how it all works. Anyone who makes you feel bad about your first time or gets upset or angry is not worth staying around for. Sex should always be something you can talk about honestly with your partner, especially during the first time. If you find you can’t discuss it, maybe hold off on trying again until you can have a good conversation about your needs and desires.
Usually from here, you try again! (If you want to, of course.) Each time you try, you get better. You start understanding the best positions for you and your partner(s) as you go, and you’ll find you naturally get into them much quicker. You get a better grip on what your partner likes touched, licked, or left alone. You start knowing what that little whimper means and what makes your partner orgasm. You feel better and more confident the more you do it, and after no time at all, you’re a pro.
Just remember, every sexually active person has been there. You should never feel badly about your experience (or lack of) and if you have a partner worthy of having sex with, they will understand exactly how you feel and help you out. Keep things honest and open, and it will be so much easier than you expect.
Also keep in mind that despite everything religion or your parents or your friends may tell you, having sex is a normal, healthy adult behaviour. It doesn’t take away any “purity” you may possess. Photographer Salem captures the myths of sexuality in the photos featured here, but don’t be fooled. Our values are not defined by sex, and sex does not make us dirty…
I mean–unless you’re into that.
 Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth, 2010, 19-20.