I love language and words. I love how they evolve and change and I love how powerful they can be. Sometimes a well placed word can make all the difference in the way a sentence can make you feel, or how it is interpreted. And when it comes to sex and sex education, the way we use words and language is vitally important to create healthy, positive adults. So here’s why I have an issue with the term “losing your virginity”.
The Language Of Sex
When it comes to sex and sexual stuff, language is incredibly important. It's how we convert complex human emotions and relationships into communication and conversation.
We can use direct, plain language to describe it, as well as thousands of metaphors and double entendre and other words and phrases. Words can turn us on just as quickly as they can turn us off and knowing your partner's "love language" is a vital part of creating and maintaining strong relationships.
So when it comes to the teaching and education side of sex and sexuality it's vitally important to use the right, positive words to make sure we're creating positive experiences and understanding of the whole sex shebang, and for the most part, I can see we're starting to get there.
The Power of Words
I say "for the most part" because, for one of the most important moments and experiences in a person's sexual journey, we haven't quite got there yet.
I'm talking about "virginity" and the way we use and centre language around it, especially when it comes to the way we teach young women about it.
Let's look at some of the common terms we use when talking to young women about those first times:
- LOSING your virginity
- Getting your cherry POPPED
- GIVING UP your flower (ugh)
And then compare it to the common language used when talking about the same things to young men:
- GETTING some
- TAKING her virginity
To fully examine, and then dismantle this we need to first understand the greatest myth the patriarchy ever invented, and that is the myth of "virginity".
The Myth of Virginity
I mean, what does virginity even mean??
How, in these days of far better understanding of human sexuality - and the very fluid and non binary ways in which it exists, does it even still have a place?
When we KNOW that sex is far more than a penis entering a vagina. When we have a far greater understanding of how vaginas and hymens work. When we have extensive knowledge of gay and lesbian and everything in between sexualities. How is this concept still a thing?
Is a "gold star" lesbian (a lesbian who has never had sex with a penis) a perpetual "virgin" until she dies? Yeah, nah. I think she'd probably have something to say about that.
What about gay men who've never entered a vagina?
What about people who, for whatever physical or mental reason, cannot or do not want to have penetrative sex but enjoy a fantastically fulfilling sex life with their partner?
If virginity is classified by the breaking of the hymen, then most girls are no longer virgins by the time they begin menstruating as it can break and tear from all sorts of activities - from riding a bike, to doing a cartwheel, to having a really big sneeze.
The Reality Of the Hymen
Probably the very first lesson we need to be teaching about sex and "virginity" is that the hymen isn't some sort of "purity seal", in fact it isn't a seal AT ALL.
It is a thin membrane that is absolutely full of holes and spaces, and is mostly thought to be an evolutionary trait left over from when humans spent far more time on the ground to help keep the inside vaginal canal free of dust and dirt. Kind of similar to some of the evolutionary reasons we have pubic hair.
If the hymen isn't full of holes, it is a very rare and serious medical condition called an "imperforate hymen" and it can cause some pretty full on medical issues from your uterus to your kidneys and must absolutely be treated by medical professionals.
Science Says No
The old fashioned idea that a woman is "changed" or "less than" she was after having penetrative sex for the first time is nothing but misogyny, steeped in the entitlement some men have towards women, their bodies and lives.
It is literally about control and nothing else.
The offensive and scientifically inaccurate perpetuation of "loose" vaginas is something that has always made me both cringe and laugh at the same time.
I mean, for all intents and purposes it's almost literally the opposite. The more sex-ercise (for want of a less tacky phrase) the vagina gets, the stronger and "tighter" the actual vagina will be! Pelvic floor exercises, kegel balls, squeezing around a penis/hand/sex toy, orgasms... all those things are scientifically proven to strengthen and maintain those muscles and parts of the body, so in reality the more sex a vagina has, the "better" (again for want of a different word) it will be.
Changing the World Doesn't Have To Be Hard
The thing is, I think as humans, we often see the shitty stuff in the world and get a little overwhelmed. There's just too much! It's all so fucked up! How does little old me make any sort of difference!?
And so we pop it in to too-hard basket and hope someone else will fix it... But it really doesn't have have be so overwhelming.
You're right. The world can be a harsh and cruel place... But your little pocket of it doesn't have to be. Changing the way you frame words and concepts is a small but huge thing we can all do. Teaching young people about their bodies and the good stuff it can do. The pleasure of sex. The fun of sex. The (I'm sorry, I had to) joy of sex.
Changing the phrase "losing your virginity" to something like "starting your sexual journey" or something a little bit flamboyant like "Welcome To Your Sexual Debut"... You know, something fun and positive, can do wonders in reducing shame and taboo around something so fun and normal to do. There really SHOULDN'T be any shame or taboo attached to it.
If you begin to use equal language like "sharing", and fun and positive words like "exploring", or "discovering" it really won't be long before you see just how different the attitudes and behaviours around sex and sexuality will change, just from seemingly small things like flipping words and attitudes around.
It is down to us as individuals to start making these changes and begin creating positive, healthy conversations and understandings around sex.
Sex and every new step we take in our sexual lives should be a positive thing. An open and unashamed thing. An experience in togetherness and equality and mutual respect and orgasmic enjoyment... And that, my friends, is definitely not a loss.