I’ll be straight with you: I’m against the word virginity. It’s feels fake to me. It rigidly defines an experience that’s not standardized and shouldn’t be. I wish we would think about it in broader terms when it comes to women in general, because even the most empowered feminist women might see virginity as rite of passage to becoming a full-fledged adult. But, at a place like Her Campus, where we have amazing young readers that search for answers regarding first time sex, it’s clear that virginity and how it goes down does matter to a lot of people.
According to a study published in 2015, about 20 percent of Americans don’t identify as “exclusively heterosexual,” and I can only imagine the way that number has grown in recent years with teens and students becoming more accepting, involved in, and in turn vocal about, queer culture and diverse sexual interactions. Yet it feels like we have, at best, a gross misunderstanding of how women in the LGBTQ+ community view "losing" their virginity.
When it comes to straight sex, pretty much everyone knows what counts as losing it, but for queer sex it’s a lot less transparent. Unless you have an LGBTQ-identifying friend who talks about their sex life or has given you their own #RealTalk spiel about their experiences and dialogues with virginity, you probably have no idea WTF it means for some women around you to define a moment straight folks deem as this huge stepping stone.
In reality, sex and intercourse and virginity are big words for all kinds of activities that make people feel good. A lot of time it has to do with genitals, but not always. To elevate the voices of LGBTQ+ women this Pride Month, I spoke with a handful of lovely queer gals who filled me in on what virginity looks like in their world.
While the mic is passed over to them, keep in mind the most important takeaway here: Losing your virginity is not one-size-fits-all, especially in the queer community.
What did “losing your virginity” mean to you growing up?
“So, I’m bisexual, but my parents were the first people that influenced my concept of virginity growing up because they were heavily religious. For a lot of my teenage years, once I understood that a virgin was someone who hadn’t had sexual intercourse, I also associated it with someone who was innocent or naïve. When I think about the Biblical figures I grew up hearing about… a better descriptor for virginity would be ‘not yet touched.’ Like overall being inexperienced.” – Imani, UCLA
“As someone who realized they were gay as fuck when they were a teenager, my first moments with oral sex and hand stuff had me super confused, because I was like, I just had oral sex with another girl. Does that count? Did I lose it? I just had no baseline for what losing my virginity meant, and the majority of my friends were having sex with guys and it made more sense for them cause they had a framework.”– Claire, Florida State University
“I watched a bunch of Sex and the City and rom-coms growing up with my mom, and pop culture and TV made me think sex had to be a certain way. Nobody talked about virginity on shows (or IRL if I’m thinking about it), and I had sex when I was really young, so I thought my first experience was supposed to look how it did on TV: a couple in love, missionary position, both people orgasm, and the sex is between a man and a woman. That definitely wasn’t true for me because I had sex and an orgasm with a female (and have only done that since), but it didn’t really bother me or make me feel like what I was doing was against the norm” - Nia, Tufts University
How has your concept of virginity changed throughout your sexual experiences?
“For some people, it goes either way: You set up a new parameter for how you define virginity, or you just ignore and alienate the concept of virginity altogether. For me, I definitely went the alienation route and quashed the word. Yeah, in a true sense I may have lost my virginity when I first slept with a guy because my hymen broke and my vagina was penetrated, but I didn’t fully come out as bi until college, and when I finally had sex with a girl, that experience mattered a lot more to me. It made me feel a lot of turmoil trying to decide which experience I wanted to count as ‘losing my virginity’ if I ever needed to talk about it with partners or friends,and so I eventually just started disregarding the idea altogether and stopped letting that define any single one of my experiences.” - Imani
“I’m looser with myself and with other people for what I hold as the criteria for sexual encounters in general, not even with virginity. When I first started having sex, at the time I still felt like a virgin, even though now I acknowledge that I had forms of sex that probably counted for something – if we’re saying that the standard of virginity has to do with penetration or having an orgasm. Virginity has become vaguer for me with age and experience, and I’m super okay with it being roomy.” - Claire
“You don’t need to have a penis inside you. You don’t have to ‘pop the cherry.’ Every experience I’ve had has taught me that whatever people collectively labeled as virginity back in the olden days, that doesn’t stand true anymore. For me, I count it as the first time I had an orgasm with a partner – gender and penetration doesn’t matter.” - Nia
How are you reclaiming the word “virginity” for yourself?
“I’m changing the narrative by making a conscious choice to say that the guy in my story didn’t take my virginity. The word is 100 percent personal to me and whatever I decide, instead of letting people tell me that my first sexual experience was the only thing that counted as ‘real sex.’”- Imani
“I’m reclaiming the word by not feeling a specific need to name one person who I lost my virginity to or define the acts that occurred. I’m also letting my straight friends know that they can think this way too. If they’re losing/have lost their virginity via the standard penis-in-vagina pathway, that’s great, but they can also still challenge their definition of virginity and reshape it like I have.” – Claire
“I guess I just place less importance on the word? The best sex I’ve had came way after I lost my virginity, and that matters a lot more to me than this arbitrary moment that’s really only okay. I’m just choosing to be over it and to not make virginity such a big deal!” - Nia
How’s that for championing women’s sexual autonomy?
But for real, I can’t tell you what counts and what it looks like to lose your virginity – and if you want to align with that concept at all, it’s obv different for everyone. It’s totally up to you. You decide if vagina/vagina sex, or vagina/finger sex, or tongue/clit sex fits your equation. And the more we have dialogues with LGBTQ+ friends and age further into the 21st century and sex becomes less taboo, I think the hollowness of the word “virginity” will only be more exposed.
My hope is that your first partnered sexual experiences are pleasurable and undefinable (if that’s what you want it to be). My hope is that boundaries will be widened when considering dynamics other than male-female sexual relationships. Mainly, fingers crossed that for women living in 2018 and onwards, the whole idea of first-time sex, sexual debuts (or even virginity, if you dig that term) doesn’t have to be hetero as fuck.