One of the most common subjects I receive questions concerning is virginity. Young men and women often want to know what to do and what to expect when they engage in sexual intercourse (i.e. vaginal-penile) for the first time. Given the social significance of this event in a person's life, it is surprising how little factual information is available on the subject. What information is available is often incorrect and harmful to young adults.
A survey on this website provides insight into what the experience of first intercourse is like for women. The results of this survey help provide some idea of what a woman may experience the first time she engages in sexual intercourse. It may also help a couple decide if they are ready to engage in this sexual activity together. You can see the survey results by clicking here.
Who is a Virgin?
A girl or woman who has not permitted a male partner to insert his penis into her vagina is commonly accepted to be a virgin. Others define a virgin as a girl or woman who has not engaged in all forms of sexual contact with another person, and who has not explored the physical pleasures of her own body. Strict religious doctrines require virgins to forgo not only physical sex but also sexual thought, maintaining a pure mind and body. Many say a virgin is a girl or woman who has an intact hymen, even though many girls are born without them, or they simply disappear during childhood. Your definition of a virgin may depend on your point of view, your peer group, and/or local community.
There are always exceptions to every definition of what constitutes a virgin. The above definitions do not take into account homosexuals and intersexed individuals. At what point does a lesbian become a non-virgin? If an intersexed individual without a vagina accepts a female identity will she always be a virgin? If a girl is born without a hymen was she never a virgin? What about sexually abused girls and raped teens? If you did not consent is that the same as consenting? If a bisexual teen is a "technical virgin," a person who has engaged in sexual touching and/or oral sex but not vaginal intercourse, has had twenty sexual partners are they still a virgin? Virginity is a spiritual attribute not a physical one, a virgin and virginity are what you believe them to be.
Since virginity is a spiritual attribute a woman can be a virgin more than once in her lifetime, as odd as that may sound. The best example of this would be the young teen who tries intercourse once and realizes she was not truly ready, it was not as enjoyable as she had hoped, or that it was simply a mistake, and she does not engage in intercourse again for several years. As time goes by her reluctance to engage in intercourse may increase, or becomes even greater than it was originally, because she comes to expect more of her next experience. From an emotional point of view she is a virgin, with the same desires and apprehensions as a woman who has never engaged in intercourse. As a result of this prior experience she may value her "virginity" more than those who have never experienced intercourse.
Taking Reproduction Out of Sex
Western society has a preoccupation with intercourse that no longer benefits our society, specifically female sexuality. Intercourse is great for reproduction, having babies, but it does not necessarily benefit a woman seeking sexual pleasure and sexual fulfillment. This is partly because all other forms of sexuality and sexual expression have been defined as something other than "sex," not "the real thing." If everything other than intercourse is not "real" it cannot and does not exist. By this definition of sex, female sexual pleasure is almost precluded from existence. The role the clitoris frequently plays in female sexual pleasure is not taken into account, which is equivalent to ignoring the role of the penis in male sexual pleasure. Sex is and must be more than penile-vaginal intercourse if it is to benefit women, and as a result her sexual partners.
Another problem with this preoccupation with intercourse is the resulting unwanted pregnancies and the children that result from them. We as a society do not view reproduction as favorably as we once did, yet we still place an emphasis on an activity whose primary and evolutionary purpose is conception. We ignore the facts that no form of birth control is one hundred percent effective, many forms of birth control have adverse side effects, that abortion, when it is an option, is not free, and that we make social outcasts of teens who have babies. In addition, a "modern woman" is defined as a businesswoman, not as a mother, appropriately or not. We place an extreme value on an activity for which we do not want to accept the outcome.
While many have tried to separate female sexuality from reproduction, they have done so by trying to take the reproduction out of women versus taking reproduction out of sex. If we want to give women the option of not having babies we need to allow them not to engage in a reproductive act. If a woman does not want to have a baby her first option should be not to have intercourse, not rely on unreliable birth control that may be too expensive for her to buy, unavailable to her, or adversely affects her well being. A woman should not have to forgo sexual pleasure or put her health at risk because she does not want to reproduce. We seldom expect these sacrifices of men.
A lesbian made a comment to me that sums things up concerning women and intercourse. One of the reasons she benefited by being a lesbian was that she could choose whether or not to engage in vaginal penetration because it was not required of her, if anything, the opposite was true. If she were heterosexual she would not be given that choice. The idea that if you are a woman with a male partner that you must absolutely without a doubt take his penis into your vagina is ridiculous. It certainly does not benefit women, which in the end does not benefit men.
The current female sexuality paradigm suggests that all a young woman needs to do to prepare to become sexually active is to spread her legs. While this is a very crude statement, it effectively describes our concept of female sexuality and partnered sex. We expect women to receive all their sexual pleasure from their partner's penis. As a result, there is no need for women to do anything to prepare themselves for partnered sex, specifically intercourse. Society would prefer they did not. All other sexual activities are seen as an unnecessary and voluntary means of delaying the first experience of the vaginal intercourse, or merely as foreplay, a precursor or warm-up to intercourse. If intercourse doesn't occur many believe "sex" hasn't actually occurred. In reality sex is a life long learning process that involves more than a couple minutes of intercourse.
If a woman is to be a healthy sexual adult she must first be a healthy sexual child. Within hours of birth male and female infants show signs of sexual arousal, as clearly demonstrated by infant boys with erections, and while less obvious, infant girls exhibiting signs of vaginal lubrication. The first potentially sexual activity a girl engages in is self-exploration. By exploring her body she discovers her vulva and other body parts are sensitive to touch. Not only her own touch, but also that of her parents and care givers, when they bathe her, change her diaper, and during other forms of equally "nonsexual" physical contact. Because it feels good to touch these sensitive and pleasure producing areas she may do so frequently. This can and does result in orgasm. Girls have been observed masturbating to orgasm while still in the womb. Outside the womb, parents have observed daughters as young as three months old masturbating to orgasm. It is common to see young girls rubbing their vulvar area against objects, because it feels good, and often helps them fall asleep.
As she grows and physically matures she gains the ability to move about and explore the world around her. As a result of this exploration she discovers other children. When she explores them she likely explores their genitals and they explore hers, because of nonsexual curiosity. Since she knows it feels good to touch her own genitals she may actively encourage others to do the same, or she shares this knowledge with them. Many discover outercourse, having no idea of its resemblance to intercourse. Out of simple curiosity it seems possible mutual oral genital stimulation would occur, as parents are well aware, young children seem to stick everything in their mouths, no matter how inappropriate it may seem, because they are simply curious and eager to explore all their senses. What a girl does not discover for herself she soon learns from her peers, and by observing older children and adults. This exploration and resulting experiences, and potential habits, result from nonsexual curiosity, and without the presence of an adolescent or adult sex drive and sexual desire.
All this sexual development and discovery takes place within the first few years of a girl's life. By the time puberty starts to occur she has been "sexually active," at least from an adult perspective, for several years. Until puberty occurs, her male partner's penis has been too small to permit deep vaginal penetration, protecting her undeveloped "reproductive organs" from injury, if her sexual partners are boys. (In many societies, including our own, they are more often girls than boys.) This is a possible reason why girls experience puberty prior to boys. In addition, since her preadolescent body is not ready to reproduce one would hope and prefer that older boys and men would not see her as a potential reproductive partner, because she simply can't be.
While we may not agree on the age at which this sexual development should or does occur, it is essential that is does, and that it occurs in about the order described above. Just as the process of learning to run first involves learning to crawl and walk, sex is also a learning process made up of essential steps. Recreational sex is not an instinctive or natural skill we are born with, even if reproduction is. Engaging in intercourse having had no past sexual experiences is equivalent to trying to drive a car on a major highway during rush hour when you have never driven a car before. Lets just say there would be a numerous painful accidents.
Essential Sexual Skills
Before any young woman considers engaging in vaginal intercourse she should have already developed the following sexual skills and knowledge.
Self Awareness: A girl or woman should first learn about her own body before all else. This means not only knowing where your clitoris is, but also what is looks like and how it responds to different types of stimulation. This applies to your entire body, not just your clitoris. It is being aware of when you are sexually aroused, and what arouses you. Do men, women, or both arouse you? It means acknowledging that you are a sexual being with sexual feelings and thoughts. The greater your awareness of your mind and body, and acceptance of how they work, the better they work.
Masturbation: You need to learn to make love to yourself before you can make love to a partner. As a result of exploring your body you should discover some areas are very sensitive to touch. Because it feels good to touch these sensitive areas you do it repeatedly and discover the pleasures of orgasm. If you are able to give yourself an orgasm it is usually easier for a partner to stimulate you to orgasm when the time comes. This is because your mind and body are already conditioned to the process of sexual arousal and orgasm. Plus, if your future partner has not developed the ability to stimulate you to orgasm you still have the means of achieving orgasm. You do not need to rely on a partner to fulfill your needs, and this saves you from becoming sexually frustrated.
Mutual Masturbation: This simply means you learn to give and receive pleasure using your hands. You explore your partner's body as they explore your own. In the process you both learn to give each other an orgasm using your hands, and added lubrication. Watching your partner masturbate to orgasm is a great teaching/learning tool you have at your disposal. Vaginal and anal stimulation may be explored and this prepares the body for intercourse later on if that is desired.
Oral Sex: Our lips are very sensitive, as are our genitals, should we be surprised the act of using one to stimulate the other is very pleasurable? Just as with any skill, oral sex requires practice if you are to become good at it, it is not a skill you are born with. The aversion people sometimes have to oral-genital contact is the result of social conditioning. There is no reason why two healthy people should not have the option of engaging in this activity. This skill should also be practiced until both partners are able to experience orgasm.
Outercourse: As a precursor to or instead of intercourse you can explore outercourse.
When Should a Young Woman Start Exploring Partnered Sex?
At what age should a girl or woman be before starting to explore sex? The social mores of each girl's family, community, and society will likely determine when she is permitted to be sexual and become sexually active. Western society usually does not permit girls to be sexual and sexually active right out of the womb. Two factors, puberty and peer pressure, usually determine the age at which girls become sexually active. The younger a girl is when she enters puberty the younger she likely is when she becomes sexually active. This is because her secondary sexual characteristics, namely breasts, attract the attention of older boys, and perhaps because she is not able to ignore her developing sex drive indefinitely. Perhaps, unfortunately for her, she is often less reluctant to have sex than are older girls, not knowing or being perceptive of the potential risks and negative consequences. Whether a girl's female friends are sexually active or not appears to play a larger role than puberty.
In general, it is beneficial for young woman to wait as long as possible before exploring partnered sex. The reason being, our society does not prepare them properly for it, not because it is natural for them to wait. We interrupt or preempt the normal sexual development of our girls at birth and then try to postpone it until later in life, when they are at least eighteen and married. When we do return their sexuality we usually hurry it along. Perhaps expecting them to become fully sexual the night of their wedding. When a teenage girl expresses an interest in partnered sex the pressure is on for her to engage in intercourse. Even if she engages in other sexual activities in an attempt to postpone this event, it usually occurs too early in her sexual development. During normal sexual development there would be ten to fifteen years between the times she started exploring sex and her first experience with intercourse. In our society that time span is anywhere from a few minutes to at most a few years. In a survey conducted on this website, 39 percent of the female participants believe they did not have enough experience prior to experiencing vaginal intercourse for the first time, 44 percent believe they did, almost a tie. 28 percent, nearly 1 out of 3, believe they didn't have enough sexual knowledge.
Women who did become sexually active at a young age sometimes (18 percent) wish they had waited longer to do so, even if they have positive feelings about those early experiences. Most of these women look back and realize they just were not ready to become sexually active when they did. The reason they were not ready is they did not know enough about sex, and as a result, it was not as enjoyable as it could have been. They usually did not fully develop their basic sexual skills until five, ten, or even twenty years after they started engaging in intercourse. While the majority of today's young women engage in masturbation, perhaps 90 percent by the age of eighteen, they may have only dabbled in mutual masturbation and oral sex. They did not fully develop these skills since they were not supposed to be necessary for partnered sex, or were less valued than intercourse. While they may have enjoyed sex on an emotional level, orgasm was often absent; 26 percent say they experienced orgasm during their first experience of intercourse, 1 out of 4. This often left them wondering, "Is that all there is?" The expected fireworks were absent. On a scale of 1 to 10, the overall experience was given an average rating of 5.6, meaning it wasn't a terribly good or bad experience, kind of middle of the road.
I wish I could tell young women who read this exactly when they should consider exploring their sexuality with a partner but I cannot. It depends on each young woman's individual situation. If your parents permitted you to be sexual as a child you may be sexually active long before you are even able to read this. On the other hand, if you live in a family or community that does not permit young women to be sexual, the social ramifications of your becoming sexual, no matter how much you may desire to, could cause you more harm than good. Sometimes, even if sex is not wrong, it is not right either.
Each woman must determine for herself the right time, without being selfish. If you are not sure if you are ready then you are not ready and need to wait. It certainly does not harm a young woman to wait until she is in her twenties to start exploring her sexuality with a partner. If anything, given our current society and the risks involved, namely pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDs, it's likely better for women to wait. I'm not saying teenage girls should not have sex with a partner, just that is perhaps a wiser choice if they decide not to. If you should explore sexual activities with a partner that don't involve the transfer of body fluids, including sperm, saliva, precum, and vaginal fluids, then the risk of pregnancy and STD's are removed from the equation; this is called "safe sex." Each girl needs to make this decision for herself.
Reasons Why a Young Woman Should Not Explore Partnered Sex
There are definitely situations when young women should not become sexually active. There is no reason for a young woman to feel she "has to" engage in sex. If she does feel this way there is something terribly wrong with the situation. If someone is telling you, you "should" or that you "have to," you "should not." There is absolutely no reason you have to have sex, period. You should only have sex because you want to, because you want to explore it, and because you want to give AND receive sexual pleasure. You do not do it because of love, because everyone else is doing it, or because it is "adult." If you do not feel you can walk away from a situation without having sex then you should be running away from it.
If a young woman's partner and friends really "care for," "respect her," and "love her," they would never make her feel she should be sexually active. Love is the last reason to have sex. If your partner truly loves you they will not ask you to become sexually active before you are ready. If you do not feel totally comfortable with the situation it is not right and you need to remove yourself from it. Girls facing this situation need someone to be available to them for emotional support. In the absence of this person she will more than likely start having sex even if she knows she should not. Parents and primary care givers are essential in a young woman's life.
When is a Young Woman Ready for Intercourse?
If a young woman decides she wants to explore vaginal intercourse when is it the right time or age to start this exploration? If one goes by the sequence of development I outlined above she would likely start engaging in vaginal intercourse during puberty, as her secondary sexual characteristics and pheromones would attract the attention of older males. Since she would already have been sexually active for several years she would likely be physically and mentally prepared to do so. Besides being illegal (statutory rape) in our society this would result in a lot of young teenage girls becoming pregnant, which would likely increase the number of maternal and infant deaths that occur. While many girls may start menstruating at the age of ten, their body, and certainly their mind, is not ready to reproduce at that age. Engaging in intercourse when the biological urge to do so develops is not a good idea.
One should acknowledge the reality that teenage girls may experience potentially strong sex drives that could be difficult to ignore indefinitely. Based on a survey conducted on this website, the female participants report 22 percent had experienced sexual desire by the age of 11, and 71 percent had by age 15. We often joke about how teenage boys are walking hormone factories forgetting that teenage girls are frequently in the same situation, though at a potentially younger age. While the means and desire to engage in partnered sex and intercourse may be present in teenage girls at a relatively young age, I doubt they are prepared to handle the potential consequences, even if they believe otherwise.
Are You Ready to be a Parent?
Any person who desires to engage in intercourse should first ask himself or herself if they want to have a child with their partner. This applies to all women and men of reproductive age. Becoming pregnant is NOT a "miracle" for the vast majority of teens and women, as demonstrated by the over 6,600,000,000 people on this planet. Most teenaged girls and adult women are VERY fertile and become pregnant easily. If a young woman has started having menstrual periods she can become pregnant, and is likely to do so if she allows sperm to come in contact with her vulva or vagina, and she is not using birth control. Yes, there are women and teens that become pregnant the very first time they engage in intercourse, and on rare occasions even girls who have never had intercourse become pregnant. Even when birth control is used correctly, which the inexperienced person is less likely to do, there is still a chance of pregnancy. No form of birth control is one hundred percent effective. If you know you do not want to have a baby and that having a baby would have an adverse affect on your life you may want to choose not to engage in intercourse with your partner. In general, women in school, up through college, should view pregnancy as very undesirable. If you do not want to have a child you are perhaps better off not engaging in vaginal intercourse, but that does not rule out all forms of partnered sexual activity.