In November 2006, I got in my car and drove 350 miles to do an interview for my book. I knew it was going to be worth it because my interviewee came highly recommended. It wasn’t just that sixty-one year old Diane is a teacher of Tantric sex and unsurprisingly, a woman with an interesting perspective on all things sexual, but also that she said something about virginity loss that stopped me in my tracks. I pressed her several times for her own definition of this unique event. Right at the end of the interview she unexpectedly dropped this gem into my lap:
‘I think that losing your virginity should be a gateway into pleasure, a gateway into something very innocent and beautiful. It should be about moving from ignorance to awareness, to becoming totally sexually self contained, to being a person who makes love or becomes intimate because they choose to, and not because they have to. Of course that could come years after you technically lost virginity. And for some people, maybe never.’
Holy smoke. Rarely have I found an opinion so contrary to the tired old patriarchal definitions that we still trot out, even today. As women, the maintenance of our virginity has frequently been of more interest to others than it has been to us. There are reasons for this that go right back to the beginning of time, many of which are now immaterial - literally.
Previous generation’s worries about virginity were mainly concerned with property. No sooner than man had grasped the concept of owning ‘stuff’ - homes, vehicles, animals, whatever, then he began to worry about his heirs. Where would it all go when he died? How could he guarantee that his hard earned cash would stay in the family? For this reason, a virgin daughter was a far safer bet than a son. If she was a virgin when she married then a man could guarantee that his own blood would inherit his spoils. Simple eh?
Fast forward how ever many years and everything is different. Virginity loss still lurks in some very dark corners, and for very different reasons. But for those of us who lead a secular life, the preservation of a woman’s virginity is not the big deal it once was. Now, perhaps we can come up with some new definitions, re-write the rulebook if you like.
Hilary does that with bells on. And so does my following contributor, nineteen-year-old Jay:
I don't normally do this kind of thing, but I wanted to contribute my story. I'm a sexually active nineteen-year-old woman, and I think of myself as a virgin.
Back before I began having sex, I used to hate the term and its connections to old-fashioned notions of property. I still despise the notion of virginity as some sacred thing to be kept until a perfect heterosexual marriage, and something that is only lost through vaginal intercourse. I think that's shallow, and denies the various and complicated means of human sexual expression.
My first time was with my current boyfriend, and it was funny and scary and sweet and a little bit painful. But it didn't change me fundamentally as a person; I didn't feel different when I woke up next to him that morning.
What's changed me is the fact of the physical relationship itself. Over the four months that I have been having sex, I have changed subtly, grown into myself more. It's been hard - I was raised with somewhat Puritanical parents, and I was born with a heart condition which has resulted in a lot of surgical scarring on my body. Initially, the very idea of being seen naked or having to communicate my desires was terrifying. I count myself as a feminist and an independent, strong-willed woman, so this apparent weakness in myself surprised and appalled me.
With my boyfriend's support and my own bravery, I have become more open and accepting of myself. I've become better at communicating my needs, better at feeling good naked, better at anticipating and listening to my lover's needs and desires. It's been a process, not a watershed moment, and I am still growing and changing and learning to embrace myself and my sexuality.
A few months ago, I came across a single sentence that both rocked my worldview and spoke to something latent inside me. It was this: according to some Greek translations, the word virgin means ‘one unto herself.’ Here was virginity not as an arbitrarily defined sexual status, but a way of being - an ownership and wholeness of self that was incontrovertible.
This was a definition of virginity I could understand and relate to, and a definition that has become more meaningful to me as I explore and grow into my sexuality. My virginity isn't something I've lost, but something I've gained—and no matter what happens, no matter who I have sex with in the future, I'm never giving it up.