The Vagenda

How To Spot A Virgin

Like most people, I was once a virgin. And like a lot of teenage girls, when I was 15, I believed wholeheartedly in shedding my hymen as if it were the old snakeskin of childhood. ‘There are things you’ll just understand when you’ve done it,’ girls in the hallway used to say to each other knowingly – and, on more than a dozen occasions, I was urged socially to ‘lose it before it’s legal, or it’s totally lame.’ 
Turns out, I must be totally lame. I’m no longer a virgin, but I had sex when I had a proper boyfriend who I trusted, which was well after the legal age of consent. It’s lucky it fell into place that way, because if I’d had a bit more confidence around boys, I’m 99% sure I would have thrown myself at the nearest teenage penis for a bit of social validation – teenagers can be like that, you see. They buckle under peer pressure. And even when I did have sex, it was after weeks of pestering my admittedly perturbed boyfriend, who I vividly remember asking me: ‘What’s the rush?’ He was a secure, self-assured young man, one of those rare teenagers who breezed through sixth form without tearing themselves apart over what everybody else thinks; more usually, I was riddled with adolescent insecurities, hopelessly impressionable, and deeply, jealously affected by the sight all of my peers getting told off for dry-humping on the field. It wasn’t just that no one was dry-humping me – to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even want them to.
What was wrong with me? I used to wonder, as the thought of a cheeky finger in Pizza Hut failed to give me even the slightest twinge. Well, I just wasn’t ready. And, as a Twitter follower recently pointed out to me, some of us are never ‘ready’ for sex – some people just don’t want or need sex in their lives at all. That’s cool, too. You know what I think of people being asexual? I couldn’t give a tiny rat’s ass. What anyone anywhere does in the privacy of their bedroom – whether it’s back-to-back sessions of hardcore S&M or back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey over spaghetti bolognese – has failed to interest me since I first let that lovely boyfriend of mine into my vagina, and came out the other side feeling completely underwhelmed.
Now, this is no reflection at all on the efforts of the boyfriend of my youth. He tried his hardest (no pun intended) and we had a lot of fun together. Having sex with him failed to move mountains, however – I still preferred sharing chips with him in the pub, and while I did eventually come to absolutely love sex and want to do it most days, it wasn’t until a lot later. I was pretty disappointed that after all I’d been promised by Mandy Morrins outside of maths class, I’d never come to some deep understanding about the human condition at all.
All of this is blatant common sense to most of us above the age of around 18 (and, of course, many below.) However, ‘virgin shaming’ is nowadays as common, if not more so, than the infamous campaigns of ‘slut shaming’ – and everybody knows it. Catch the episode of Girls where Shoshanna admits ashamedly to her own virginity – and is rejected by a potential lover because of it. Witness the relative silence you encounter on Twitter when you ask about the experience of virgins being shamed: a veritable black hole of communication versus the multiverse of anger you encounter when asking about ‘slut shaming.’ People are ready to call out those who ‘slut shame’; when virginity is involved, however, everyone clams up, still afraid to put themselves out there as the one who still has what all the grown-ups already lost.
A number of my friends, in their mid-twenties, are still virgins; some for religious reasons, some because they just haven’t come across the right guy yet. None of them actually want to talk about it out loud, of course, because even though they feel perfectly happy with their own principles and the way they’ve chosen to live their lives, they know how much of a big deal it might be over a pint of cider in the pub. One reported being told to ‘grow up’; another got told ‘you’re boring’; a tweeter even told us that when she told her boyfriend, he instructed her not to tell his friends about her virginity because it might make ‘him look bad.’
In a world where we normalised Rampant Rabbit discussion over civilised dinners a decade ago now thanks to Carrie Bradshaw, where we’ve seriously seen a Vogue sex article called ‘Poo: The Last Taboo’ (no, really), and where Ann Summers actually sells an underwear set that is both crotchless AND lacking in nipple coverage (in other words, the biggest material mark-up in the history of retail), can we still be seriously recoiling when people say that just haven’t had sex yet? Has this sexual opennness really backfired so badly? Because if it has, let’s all take a step back here. Naughty bits are all very well and good, but what you do or don’t with them just shouldn’t affect your kudos.
And really, if you think that rocking out with your cock out gives you social balls, then you’re probably a bit of a cunt.

26 thoughts on “How To Spot A Virgin

  1. And lest we forget, in most other cultures, if you loose your virginity without being married to the man of your father’s choice, you’re… screwed.

  2. I feel virgin shaming gets the same results as slut shaming. I’m mid 20′s and still one because I was never ready for it until now. Also, having no partner deters me as I will wait until I’m in a relationship first but the older you get, the more people look down on you for it and it really pisses me off. Some people who know write me off as boring and missing on something and whenever there is group conversation about sex, mixed company or not, I have to keep justifying myself as to why I won’t give a story. So far with relative strangers, I cite my refusal to say anything because I am a mysterious person :P and keep it that way. But it’s not fair to mock people who decide they will wait until they are mature enough to handle it. I will have a lot of catching up to do but at least I won’t be a slave to peer pressure. The older I get, the harder it is but I refuse to throw myself at the nearest man to validate society opinions. I can’t form a bond with someone if I’m not comfortable within myself. If someone asks, I don’t lie but I’d prefer not to be asked because of the negative reaction I get

  3. Hmmm, not entirely sure about this. My niece is currently at her first year in uni & confided to her mum that one of the girls in her halls is a virgin. Admittedly in hushed tones (virgins were rarer than hens teeth at her Catholic school). But the girl hasn’t been shamed by any means, in fact, they’ve become very protective of her & have formed ‘girl-shields’ if creepy lads try to get too close when they’re out at night. I’ve known women & men who were virgins until their forties & it was their business, not mine. If people ‘virgin shame’, it’s because they’re wankers, not because of any patriarchal oppression, which I assume is the reason you posted this piece here.

  4. This is a great article! Thank you for covering this topic.

    Catherine- ‘girl shields’ sound incredibly patronising. Not all virgins need protection from the big bad world. Some of them are actually normal people that just haven’t had sex yet. They can still navigate the every day life pretty well.

    I once had a friend who, completely deadpan, told me how awful the stigma of virginity must be for me. Because, you know, comments like that really help.

    (Also, kudos for covering asexuality!)

  5. I didn’t have penetrative intercourse until I was 27 because I wanted to be in love and feel safe with who I was with. Funnily enough, people were shocked by this as I came across as quite the party girl in my mid 20′s and definitely had sexual experience from the age of 23 onward. I only remember being a bit worried about my lack of experience once, during a ‘truth game’ in which the question everyone had to answer was whether you enjoyed the taste of your lover’s juices. I still hadn’t given a blow job at that stage but almost considered lying and saying ‘yes’ in order to appear sexually sophisticated. In the end I said I was embarrassed and didn’t want to answer that one, and everyone assumed I was a big semen guzzler from way back. Fortunately for me, people were mostly respectful of my choice and about a year after I was ‘doing it’ I met another girl who was still a virgin at 28 and we were both so relieved to meet someone else who had chosen that. :)

  6. I was 26.

    Had a serious boyfriend in my teens but wasn’t ready (bless him, he was cool with that), and then didn’t have anyone I loved and trusted enough until years later. Spent the years between 18 and 26 having a series of short relationships/dates/whatever that taught me quite a lot, as well as doing stuff like writing novels, traveling, going to university, getting a job, making lifelong friendships, doing am-dram, and, yanno, generally having a life.

    What bothers me is how EARLY in a relationship you’re expected to have sex. I was expected to have sex with these guys before our relationship had got to the point where I was comfortable telling them I was a virgin. That made navigating the initial few weeks of any relationship very difficult and awkward. My opinion is that if you’re not at the point where you can SAY something as intimate as that, you shouldn’t be at the point where you can DO something as intimate as that, but that’s not what the norm is now.

  7. Well I was talking about 18yr olds. The girl in question has had a sheltered life & was a bit at a loss at Fresher’s week. Whereas my niece & her friends are tough townies who’ve been dealing with drunk boys for some time. And this brings me to my point, not necessarily well made originally, that so many of the blogs here are divisive – women who have sex pick on women who don’t, women who have ‘curves’ have it easier than those who don’t, etc, etc, etc, etc. Could we have a discussion that sees the shades of grey too?

  8. I was a virgin until I was 20. No-one even believed me. People will believe it if you say you were 20 when you first had sex, but no-one ever believed me when I was 18, 19 or so that I’d never done the deed. Probably becuase I was so damn hot, I’m guessing…

    Like a lot of older virgins, I just had far too much respect for myself and my body to share it with just anyone. In the words of Cher from Clueless, “you’ve seen how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet”.

  9. I’ll say first of all that shaming anyone for their consensual sex choices in any direction is just a bastardly move.
    But. I do want to see – even if this isn’t the place in this thread – a bit of a talk about the divide this causes. All of the older-virgin ladies above have articulated their choice as “being mature” or “having too much respect for myself”. That is awesome for them – no sarcasm at all, it really is – but what does that say about those of us who didn’t wait? Does that mean that since I was seventeen when I found a boy I loved and felt comfortable with, I didn’t have any “respect for myself” or was being “immature”?
    I hate the implication that those who didn’t wait must not have been too choosy. Some of us were just lucky enough to find a good choice early.

    I think this might be related somehow – the very language that we have to use to explain ourselves is combative and divisive! Fuckin’ patriarchal word-connotations.

  10. Hear hear. ‘Virginity’ is a pretty meaningless concept really in any case, the idea that you undergo some momentous change when a certain configuration of body parts takes place. We’d be better off without it. The idea of virginity as a thing, that is. I can’t think of any other thing that people view you so strangely for having done/not done, except for maybe the vague disapproval/disbelief sometimes directed towards people who reach a certain age without having ever taken a driving lesson…

  11. +1 to Bun.

    I’ve met older virgins and my sister is even one. I have absolutely no problem with that. You could tell me your a virgin and that you mowed your grass last weekend and the response would be about the same.

    “Oh, that’s nice.”

    But like Bun, I get really angry when virgins get condescending by saying they *chose* not to because they are more mature and have too much self respect. While it may only be intended as an empowering statement for yourself, the connotations for women who didn’t make the same choice is very insulting.

    Besides, it sounds like a verbal shield that makes me doubt whether it really is your choice or your insecurity keeping you from doing the deed. If you just don’t say you are mature and have self-respect, I already assume that you possess those qualities and feel so self assured and mature as to know that I can see them without you pointing them out.

    FYI – I’ve done the deed, many times, and it was awesome (for me) from day one. No regrets whatsoever here.

    Stop the condescension ladies … on both sides of the bed sheet.

  12. Yes! Bun has articulated what I was struggling to say. Also the replies from Rachael & Peaches. I lost my virginity early because I knew I enjoyed sex so far. Respect, or lack of, had nothing to do with it, it was a biological urge. If it’s your choice to remain a virgin, well good for you (no sarcasm intended). Shouldn’t the article perhaps have expanded on our sexualised yet dichotomous patriarchal society rather than calling people who have sex ‘cunts’?

  13. I’m not trying to be condescending but I really feel that my peers were incredibly immature. 5 girls in our years ended up pregnant by year 11 and they could barely handle it. The pressure is unbelievable but because there has literally been absolutely no one in the horizon so far for me, I didn’t feel it the way they did. Only now the pressure is on me for not hurrying up and being ‘normal.’ I’m the saddo that has done no more than sit next to a person. Never been on a date, never been kissed and never done anything with anyone, which renders me a freak with my peers. People’s reactions make it more frustrating to me because I’ve never had the chance to meet anyone I might be interested in so far and that is apparently unbelievable. It’s not nice being singled out and patronized like that, it’s easy for people to leave me out entirely. At work with the girls, when I answered the question honestly, I was then left out of a lot of conversation and interaction and you can guess how invalid that makes a person feel. I’m sorry if I was being condescending but I was only stating my opinion and not trying to be offensive

  14. Not at all, I would say yours is a good example of being able to steer around the divisive language. There’s a big difference between saying “a lot of people I knew jumped into sex immaturely and before they were ready” and saying “oh I just had TOO MUCH RESPECT FOR MYSELF to do that” implying that anyone who starts early doesn’t have any respect for themselves.
    There are plenty of people who don’t deal with sex maturely. However, you can’t necessarily ID them by age. That’s all I’m getting at. Well, that, and the fact that this just demonstrates that we’re being divided against ourselves once again when we should be all on the same side!

  15. Just to clarify… the article never called people who have sex cunts. The author of this article lost her virginity, very happily, when she was 16 years old, and wrote the article in response to followers asking for it. We’ve done many other pieces on how ‘slut-shaming’ is negative, so wanted to balance out the books with something like this :)

  16. I think us ‘virgins’ (I loathe the word because of it’s connotations, but yes, I fit the definition) all feel like we are walking some fine line between insecurities about judgement (being thought of as ‘frigid’ and weird) and the fear of being made into a fetish object by men who lurve the thought of hymens.

    I do find it awkward telling people I’ve never had sex. But the only reason I would ever rush into having sex is because I imagine first-time sex as some slightly unpleasant process that has to take place before you can get to the fun part – kind of like ripping off a band-aid!

  17. I had that exact Girls thing happen to me at 24; the ironic thing was, I really wanted to sleep with the guy. I just was feeling a little insecure and blurted it out. And he was done with me; we both worked at this language school, and he stopped showing up! Apparently a virgin who is hot for you is…… bad?

    Lame, lame, lame.

  18. ‘And really, if you think that rocking out with your cock out gives you social balls, then you’re probably a bit of a cunt’
    Well, this concluding sentence was probably ill-thought out then. I stand by my comments here so far. An article on virginity is of interest & relevance for the very reasons you state. But I, and a couple of other commentators, have pointed out how the argument & supporting comments have been divisive. Note how the writer points out how she lost her virginity to someone she loved. I did too at the same age. But doesn’t it undermine feminist ideas that we have to conform to romanticised ideals that we have to be in ‘love’. Bit Barbara Cartland, innit? As Caitlin Moran would say, ask yourself, is this happening to the men?

  19. Well, all I can do is apologise if I upset anybody – I guess the sarcasm didn’t come through. I really did just think I was too damn special for anybody else at that age, I had a massive ego! *Too much* self-respect is exactly what I meant – not the right amount, but way over the top!

    I wasn’t implying anything about anybody else (you said that, not me), I was talking about the rather stuck-up teenager I used to be.

    Maybe I should just bog off. Clearly not articulate enough.

  20. Ha! I totally didn’t get that the first time around. Sorry! In my defense, I have heard way too many people say what you said and mean what I thought you meant rather than what you actually meant (which is pretty well hilarious to me, btw).

    More proof that we’re taught to fight amongst ourselves as women. It’s being built into the very discourse we have about issues we care about. FUCK THAT. Let’s all rock out with our respective genitalia, in whatever state we choose to have it, out, and be done with the bullshit all around. Sound OK to you, Rowena (and can you forgive me for misunderstanding)?

  21. Oh, The Bun, I think I love you!
    Rowena – I’ve had so many email misunderstandings, I’m thinking of designing an ‘irony’ font which then you could italicise to imply heavy sarcasm. Whadya think? Are you with me?

  22. I have to agree with Bun and Catherine. The blatant need to denigrate other people’s sexual status is unbecoming, regardless which side of the coin you are. It also completely buys into the madonna-whore complex. (Although, Moran might only partially apply in this case. Men do tend to get a lot of flack for having their sexual debut deferred.)

    I know at least two people who are approaching their 40s without having had a sexual encounter yet. I also know several people who were outliers in the other direction and who debuted very early. It is such an incredibly non-thing regarding who they are that it is almost shocking how non-shocking it is.

    The passive aggressive slut shaming in notions like “respect for oneself” or “maturity” is no more becoming than the deplorable (and as far as I can see, no one has expressed it here) notion that virginity is retained because one is somehow unfuckable.

    Really. That comes off as ungracious and a bit passive aggressive. Pre-emptively passive aggressive, as I can see no virgin shaming in either the article nor the comments. So why the slut shaming in the comments? Is it a contest? Do you respect yourself more, the longer you wait? Isn’t the whole idea that your self respect should be so intrinsically connected to your sexual status a bit… stale?