Sex on Tuesday: Virginity: A Fluid Issue

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Trust me, I'm a virgin." That's a loaded statement if I've ever heard one, and you can broadcast it across your chest for about 24 bucks a pop on a t-shirt from Urban Outfitters-along with, "Trust me, I'm a lawyer," and "Everyone loves an Asian girl." Being a virgin is not like being Asian or having a law degree. As far as I know, those things don't depend on the condition of your hymen. What constitutes sex and what kind of sex causes you to lose your virginity are not static concepts.

In my sorry excuse for informal polling, not one person agreed on the definitions of sex and virginity. I couldn't even find dictionaries that agreed. In fact, most people hadn't really thought about it until I asked them. Their answers would start out with conviction: "Sex is intercourse-when a penis enters a vagina-and when you have intercourse, you lose your virginity." But this rigid and sadly uncreative view of intercourse leaves all kinds of exposed loopholes. Can you have anal sex and still be a virgin? If you're a woman who has only had "sex" with other women, does it take a dick to deflower? And I'm not even going to get into issues of blackout sex and rape victims.

My friend Shannon told me she was surprised when her boyfriend, who says he lost his virginity to her, brought up a sex session on the beach that she couldn't quite recall. Finally, she realized that he considered all the other "fun stuff" besides your standard bird in the bush to be sex.

Descriptions of sex and virginity usually fall into two different categories: technical and spiritual. The technical answers are by far the most fun. One film major stated that in order to lose one's virginity, "penetration is required. If it's female/female, it's based on consensual interaction where orgasm, whether or not achieved, is the goal. For male/male it's penetration. 'Fingering' does not count, except for female/female. But if you've only had anal then that's losing your virginity, but just oral is not. A girl going down on a guy and vice versa does not count as losing virginity, but for girl-girl it is." I think he was reading from a manual, and I know he was on cocaine. So don't feel bad if you didn't get it either-defining universal concepts is hard enough as it is without trying to do it on crack.

In an effort to capture "sex" and "virginity," engineering major Scott said, "If you've ever performed one sexual act instead of another because you were trying to protect your virginity, you're not a virgin." So, according to this guy, you are fucked if you do, fucked if you don't.

To further confuse the issue, some folks had less physical and more spiritual definitions. According to this lot of love hippies, virginity is a state of mind, a plateau of pleasure. This school of thought lets you pick and choose your cherry-popping experience. So if you weren't really feelin' it that time you were doubly penetrated in an orgy, you might decide you lost your virginity a week later in the dressing room at Ross.

I spoke to a second-year female who considers herself a virgin. "Oral sex is sex," she said, "and you lose your virginity when you reach that level of intimacy." However, a recent survey (a real one, unlike mine) suggests that most young people are not counting oral sex as the kind of sex that would threaten one's purity.

Last week, oral sex was the buzz phrase in an article in the New York Times, which summarized the most comprehensive nationwide sex survey in years. The survey produced statistics claiming that over half of teens ages 15 to 19 were muff-diving, popsicle-eating pros. Half of those who had dined down south had not had penis-to-vagina intercourse. The authors of the survey, Drs. Mosher and Manlove (seriously, those were their names) thought that perhaps "teens who have not had sexual intercourse are engaging in oral sex because they view it as a way to maintain their technical virginity or even because they regard it as an easy method of birth control."

So Americans are steadily loosening their chastity belts when it comes to defining sex and virginity. Differing and specific definitions for sex have made the word "virgin," according to my friend Aaron, "about as useless as the terms 'hooking up' or 'communist'."


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