What is virginity?
There is no single way to define virginity. In its most simple explanation, virginity can be described as the state of not having had sex. But this gives rise to the question – what is sex. In many cultures, the peno-vaginal intercourse is considered as the definitive sexual act. Accordingly, a person, who has had sex that involves the penetration of a vagina by a penis, is not a considered a virgin.
However, sexual intercourse can comprise of a variety of acts in which one’s sexual organs are involved. This widens the ambit of what can be considered as sex or a sexual experience. Accordingly, a penile erection, wetting of a vagina, masturbation and oral sex are all sexual acts. Also, any acts that lead to sexual pleasure, such as foreplay touching or a passionate kiss, too are sexual acts. From this perspective, anyone, who has had any kind of a sexual experience, is by definition ‘not a virgin’.
Does it apply to men and women?
Yes. Anyone – female, male, transgenders, heterosexuals or homosexuals – who has not had any kind of a sexual experience is a virgin.
Having said that, conversations on virginity mostly center on women. Virginity in men isn't very important in most societies. On the other hand, virginity is considered as a sign of a woman being 'unspoiled' and is directly linked to her family's honour in the society. Also, in the past, because birth control methods were either unavailable or worked badly, staying a virgin meant avoiding getting pregnant outside of marriage, which was/and is still not socially sanctioned in many societies.
The myth of the hymen
Virginity in women is also commonly associated with the myth that the first act of a penetrative peno-vaginal sex leads to the first-ever tearing of a fragile piece of skin at the entrance of the vagina. This piece of the skin is known as the hymen. And that this tearing takes place with a certain amount of bleeding, making it possible to definitely establish whether a sexual intercourse is a woman’s first. This is a misconception.
Hymen is not a seal that breaks open only with penetrative sex. It is a skinny part of the vulva, outside the vagina, not deep within. It comes in various shapes and sizes and is of varying thickness. In some women, it can tear without sex, for example during a fall, while playing sports or by stretching, while in others vaginal sex or even giving birth won't make it tear. Also, it may come as a surprise, but some women don’t even have a hymen!
So can one find out?
No, if there isn't any blood when a woman has sex for the first time, it doesn't mean that she isn't a virgin. There are NO other means either to find if a woman is a virgin. Even very experienced doctors aren't able to tell for certain whether or not a woman is a virgin, so no virginity tests are reliable. Even in men, common myths about a tighter penis or a delayed orgasms are no signs of virginity.
Should it matter?
No, it should not. Mutual pleasure, mutual consent and safety are the only issues that should really matter in a sexual relationship. A person's virginity does not add to or take anything away from a happy and healthy sex life. Yet, if virginity is important to you it is best to discuss this with your partner at the start of a relationship to avoid complications later.
And the only way to know the virginity status of your partner: just ask them and then believe them. And if you can’t, no amount of proofs (medical or otherwise) can compensate for the lack of trust.
Can virginity be restored?
Frankly, there is nothing to be restored. If a person has had a sexual experience they have had a sexual experience. And since no symptoms can be associated to a person having had sex before – such as a torn hymen – there is nothing to be undone.
Similarly, a hymenorrhaphy, the surgery aimed at ‘restructuring the hymen’ or other procedures aimed at ‘tightening of a vagina or a penis’ can only bring about physical changes in person’s body. Describing them as a process that restores virginity is wrong.
Virginity – a risk to women?
Many people who believe in virginity to be a virtue say that virginity protects women and girls. But unfortunately, putting such a high value on virginity puts girls and women at risk of violence, abuse and assault by those who think a woman’s worth is connected to her sexual behavior. In many conservative parts of the world, for example, raping a girl to lower her dowry or to punish her family is rather common.
Also, in order to 'protect' women and girls from having sex, methods like female genital cutting are used, putting them at high risk of life-long health issues and even death.
Check out this cool video from Love Matters debunking virginity myths!