clinical sexologist

Virginity, or, Much ado About F*cking

Virginity comes from the Latin “virgo” which means sexually inexperienced woman.  You can see already there’s a problem.  Notice how this did not mean sexually inexperienced person.  Today it generally means the same thing, although we try to have it mean someone who has never had “sex”.  You see the next problem, yes?  How the hell do you define sex?


Someone once said that sex was invented in 1963, which always cracks me up.  Another adage is sex is hereditary, and if your parents never had it, chances are you won’t either.  The thing is, the deed we call “doing IT”, or “the deed”, getting down, gettin’ freaky, or what the old folks used to call “doing the marital act” is damned difficult to define.  Truth is, it all depends on who you ask.  There are folks who will tell you that sex is when the penis goes into the vagina, which should never be attempted until you are married and in love.  So teens (and adults who want to cheat on their partners) figure out all sorts of things to do that don’t involve a penis entering a vagina which keeps them from actually having “sex”.  This makes it difficult to even understand statistics like one study I found stating that around  half of teens between 15 and 19 have had “sex” at least once.

Personally I define sex as intention, and the intention is to do something with someone that you wouldn’t want your parents to see, then you’re probably having sex.  Gettin a beej?  Yup.  Rubbin one out?  Uh huh. Humpin someone with your clothes on?  Maybe.  Making out with someone?  Okay, not quite.

So why is this such a sticky situation?  (Pun intended).  There are all sorts of cultural and historical factors that go into the answer.  Suffice it to say, a woman knows the potential baby is hers.  A man does not.  If you lay down all sorts of rules to try and make sure a woman stays “pure” until she’s married to a man, and then make it a punishable by a fate worse than death if she has sex with anyone outside of her marriage, then men ridiculously think that they are safe from raising someone else’s kid.

How do they ensure this?  Let’s say “Hi” to the hymen.  The hymen is a little piece of membrane that covers part or all of the opening of the canal in a woman called the vagina.  (The vagina is not ALL of the stuff, it’s just the canal).  This little piece of skin has caused women much grief throughout history.  Though rarely completely covering the vaginal opening, an intact hymen was considered, and is still considered in some cultures, to be THE deciding factor in deciding if a woman was a virgin (ie pure) or was a dirty slut (ie she had sex).  You should note- there’s no equivalent skin for men.  You should also note that the hymen can become perforated naturally, or by tampons, or by bike riding, or by horseback riding, etc.

The hymen is also what we talk about when we think sex for the first time may be painful or cause bleeding.  Big note here- I found a Swedish study recently that showed that fewer than 30% of women who have gone through puberty and have consensual intercourse bleed the first time they have sex.  This is an outdated and ridiculous measure of perceived purity, and people have argued that it has no place in modern views on sexuality. And again, there’s no equivalent measure for men except their word- I’m looking at you Bill, and John and Elliott and Tiger, etc, etc.

Something that may shed some light on the subject is what’s called the sexual response cycle.  This is the series of events your body goes through from start to finish (and sometimes to start again).  Analogies are fun- let’s use a bathtub.  You feel like taking a bath.  That’s called desire.  You let the tub run until it gets to the point where it feels good and you want to get into it.  This is called excitement.  You’re in there feeling good until the bathtub runs over.  We’ll call that orgasm.  You could get out and dry off, or let a little water out of the tub and stay in- we’ll call that resolution or rest.

Now take you out of the picture and let’s take apart this analogy.  We have a tub, a faucet and a drain.  When you feel like taking the bath, you run the water, and if your head is in the game, you make sure the stoppers not letting all the water leak out.  This is what we can call total body stimulation.  The water is coming in until you get to the point where it feels so good that the water overflows.  If your body and mind are working together, that’s what is going to happen.  Somewhere between feeling horny and having an orgasm, you become sexually excited.  If all goes well, a guy will get an erect penis (boner) and a girl will become lubricated (wet) and may have some swelling of her clitoris and vulva (the outside genitals- remember, vagina is a canal, not the stuff on the outside).  So what happens if you’re all hot and bothered, and your mom bangs on your door to tell you to come down for supper?  Wah wahhhhh.  Out the drain, and you’re below what it takes for your body and mind to be sexually excited.  If all continues to go as planned, and you’ve still got everything turned on, you’ll reach the next level which is orgasm, and your bathtub overfloweth (and hopefully you have a towel to clean up).  This cycle is the same whether we’re talking about rubbing one out, having oral sex, anal sex, using a vibrator on your clitoris or humping someone with your clothes on. The cycle is the same if you’re having sex with a guy or a girl.  If you reach one level, you’ll become aroused.  If you reach the next level, you’ll have an orgasm.

How long should this whole scary and painful process take?  Well, the good news is that with the right information, it won’t be scary or painful.  This info’s probably not going to come from your locker room or your priest.  Some of it comes from researching and some of it comes from learning enough about your body on your own to know what gets you going and what doesn’t.  Statistics show that the average length of “sex”, whatever that is, is around 10 minutes.  So all those stories of going at it for hours and hours are probably not so accurate.  People can go through the sexual response cycle several times, but we’re talking pretty much a ten minute “bath” on average here, not an all-nighter.  Once you can explore and experiment on your own, you can figure out what keeps you sexually excited (ie hard/wet) and you can take some of the pressure off of having to perform for hours on end.

Anxiety is probably the main reason why the first time, for some people, is not exactly the best sexual memory.  Anxiety causes adrenaline to flow, and the point of adrenaline is to fight off danger or run away from it- not to have sex with it.  So all the blood is going to your extremities and not to the bits involved in having great sex.  A little nerves is natural, but feeling anxious is going to lead to having difficulty becoming sexually excited.  For men it can lead to having trouble getting or keeping an erection or to having an orgasm too quickly, called premature ejaculation.  For women it can lead to not being wet enough, called vaginal dryness, which can be painful. How can you keep away the anxiety?  Be a pro on your own.  Feel around.  Explore your body.  Explore what feels good.  Practice using condoms during masturbation- putting them on and taking them off.  Practice using condom safe silicon or water-based lube if you notice your vagina not being very wet.  The problem is often that sometimes we are playing one way when we’re alone and then we play entirely differently when we’re not, expecting all the players to know the rules of our own bodies when we barely know them ourselves. The biggest part to realize is the anxiety just comes from wrong information.  For example, men think that things going into the vagina is sexually exciting for a woman.  I’m sure any woman that uses a tampon would disagree.  The sexual stimulation comes from the clitoris, which isn’t in the vagina- it’s part of the vulva on the outside.

The best place to lose one’s virginity?  Wherever you’re not going to feel anxious.  Sex is meant to be enjoyable and safe, not this anxiety and guilt-causing shamefest.  Bring a sheet.  Bring some condoms and lube.  Don’t plan on having the best experience in a car.  Don’t expect to have your best experience with your parents in the next room.  Don’t expect to have your best experience by someone who wants to stick something in a hole without figuring out if that feels good for any party involved.

Safe is another one that is defined differently depending on who you ask.  Safer sex is not about babies.  It’s not about disease. It’s all of that and more. It’s about having information to know the possible consequences of going through the sexual response cycle with someone other than yourself.  Birth control comes in pill, shot, vaginal ring, implant and condom form.  There are many types of condoms, some of them for men, and some of them for women.  Birth control protects you from becoming pregnant – ie the control of having to go through birthing a baby.  Male and female condoms go over your genitals to protect you from many forms of disease as well as becoming pregnant, and when used correctly are between 94 and 97 % effective.  If women use a female condom correctly, only 5 out of 100 will become pregnant each year.  If used incorrectly, 21 out of 100 will become pregnant each year.  And remember, it’s not just about getting pregnant, but protecting yourself from exposure to STI’s (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV, which currently has no cure.

It’s all pretty overwhelming to take in all of this information at once, especially when your body is jacked up on hormones.  But you don’t have to figure it all out right this second.  You’re not going to explode.  Once you’re in a comfortable situation, with all the information, it somehow seems to work out.  If someone is pressuring you to have sex if you really love them, or to not have sex if you really love them, or you feel unsure of yourself or your partner.  Just take some time.  Studies show that one out of three boys feel pressure to have sex- and let me tell you, it’s usually pressure to have sex with a girl.  Because if you don’t prove your heterosexual manhood, be prepared for the shitstorm that’s gonna come from that.  About 23% of girls in the same study reported feeling pressured to have sex.  Regardless of statistics, if you’re feeling pressure to do it or not to do it, then whoever you’re getting pressured by probably has an agenda, and that agenda isn’t necessarily in your best interest.  You are the keeper of your body.  It’s yours.  Know it.  Love it.  As far as I know, it’s the only one you’re going to get.

Dr. Michael DeMarco is a licensed psychotherapist, ABS Board Certified Clinical Sexologist, and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist in New York.