Misconceptions around virginity, birth control, and sex never seem to fade away. The subjects specifically picked up traction in the sixties with the rise of second-wave feminism born from both the sexual revolution as well as a push for women’s liberation. In-fact, my ability to bust myths about sex and virginity as a young woman is completely owed to the decades of work, research, and the blood, sweat, and tears shed by revolutionaries before me. If you’re looking for information about the construct of virginity and the women who fought for the rest of us, please don’t stop your research here. This article itself is a great first step, including core concepts of virginity as it pertains to women, and how are they actively harmful and misogynistic.
“Girls Have a Vagina and Boys Have a Penis”: Sex Ed and its Fallacies
It’s truly no secret that sex education tends to flop. Sex ed in high-schools can at times, be the only education that a young person receives before they discover their own sexuality or even a sexual relationship. Throughout schools, it is typical to know to be inherently heteronormative, abstinence-based, and in many cases, solely biological. When sexual health and education is taught strictly in terms of restraining from sex until one is in a heterosexual marriage, it actively harms the children. It specifically excludes the LGBTQ+ community, doesn’t prepare kids for safe sex, and fails to teach young men about consent and its importance; furthering the risk of LGBTQ+ kids feeling isolated from their peers, transmission of UTIs, teen pregnancies, as well as sexual assault cases.
Sexual Education and its Many Faces
To reform dynamics of sex education and bring everyone on the same page is a tricky game given it can vary from province-to-province, city-to-city, school district-to-school-district or even by school-to-school! Besides, schools can change their sex education curriculum from year to year, depending on who is in power. I took grade-nine sex education in 2011 and found it suitably informative; however, in 2019 the Ford government set to repeal and replace sex education as Ontario knew it—meaning that even kids who went to the same high-school just years after I graduated could be taught completely different concepts than what I was taught. This can prove problematic for grown adults with matured sexualities and sexual relationships with vastly varying, and at times contradicting concepts of sex and consent.
Sex Ed & the Case of the Mysterious Hymen
What do the hymen, the tooth fairy, and the farm your family sent your beloved elderly dog to live on when you were a kid have in common? Many things actually: they’re not real (at least how you know them to be), the reality is super boring compared to the fantasy, and they’re all lies told to you as a kid by the grown-ups in your life. Hymens are—in many ways—spoken about with an air of mysticism and easily debunk-able lies. It’s almost comical how much value we’ve given to a piece of skin around the vagina until you realize how harmful the importance of a hymen is towards women.
Busting Myths about Sex and Virginity
Here are the lies we’ve been told about the hymen that are still active in our communities now:
The hymen is a piece of skin over the top of the vagina—a “seal.” In reality, the hymen is not to a vagina what a lid is to a can of Pringles. There is nothing inside the vagina that needs to be kept fresh. A hymen is a little piece of tissue located at the opening of the vagina. Many women’s hymens allow them to comfortably use a tampon without trouble, and according to planned parenthood “Some people are born with so little hymenal tissue that it seems like they don’t have a hymen at all”. Yes, some women are born with hymens that cover all or most of the vaginal opening, and some women need a minor medical procedure to open the area—notice I said: “medical procedure” and not “a penis” to open the area.
The hymen is torn during your first sexual encounter, so if a woman doesn’t have a hymen, she’s not a virgin. As stated above, depending on how much hymenal tissue someone has, a hymen could rip, or it might not rip at all. It’s very common for a woman or young girl to rip her hymen while doing physical exercise such as gymnastics, riding a bike, horseback riding, or even just something strenuous. Many women break their hymens when they first start using a tampon or even when they first start masturbating. It’s normal for virgin women to have a torn hymen, and in some cases depending on the amount of hymenal tissue, some women have had sex multiple times who still have their hymen perfectly intact.
Sex for women is supposed to hurt their first time because of the hymen is another myth about sex and virginity.
This concept is perpetuated so frequently and so flippantly that many women are afraid to have sex for the first time. It is true, that because it’s an unfamiliar sensation and it’s using your vagina in a way you haven’t before that you might feel discomfort your first time, again, depending on your hymenal tissue and how much is there. The truth is, sex can be comfortable, and it can be uncomfortable for the first time. Every woman (and every hymen) is different. The trick is to take it easy your first time, use lubricant, and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.
Virginity Tests: How Virginity and the Hymen are linked to a Woman’s Worth.
Myths about virginity that equate the hymen to a woman’s worth are funny in regards to how silly and archaic they are, but overall they’re quite harmful towards women and even men. To determine a woman’s worth from how “intact” a woman’s body—especially her vagina—is treating a woman as a commodity with status and a value that depreciates over time or even over “use” in this context. In some religious and conservative communities, we often see women who have had sex as “damaged goods”, literally referring to women as a product for men to consume. This notion can prove especially damaging for victims of rape and sexual assault, as their “worth” has now been stolen from them in the eyes of their communities.
In a more heinous aspect of the culture, virginity testing where a young woman is subjected to a medical exam (in many cases against her will as a minor), to make sure her hymen is still intact and thus she is still a virgin. Of course, we know from earlier in the article that virginity testing is not a viable way to check virginity as hymens are broken all the time without sexual intercourse. Still, virginity tests are apparently a great way for fathers to commodify, humiliate, and manage their daughters through intimidation. In 2019, washed-up rapper TI said in a podcast that he regularly takes his now-adult daughter to get virginity tests, to which he said “[W]e have yearly trips to the gynaecologist to check her hymen. Yes, I go with her … I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.” I could write a book about how vile this conduct is, but I am thankful for one thing, that TI is dumb enough to be so outward of the assault and hegemony perpetrated against his daughter. Many men wouldn’t proudly declare this to the world, but TI did, which allows us to start a dialogue about how Virginity testing is not a thing of the past. We must address and stand against the assault of young women in the gynaecologist’s office.
A Woman’s Worth
If you’re someone who got through busting myths about sex and virginity with me, agree with what I expressed, and read the facts I’ve linked off, then my conclusion is pretty redundant because I’m truly preaching to the choir. But I will still say it loud and clear that a woman’s worth is unquantifiable. A person’s worth is unquantifiable! Women are more than their bodies, a collection of cells and skin; we are more than our genitals and the skin that surrounds them. We are more than our ability to have sex. We are more than our sexual experiences. A woman’s worth is from her character, her kindness, her devotion to herself, her dedication to who and what she loves, her heart, her brain, and her spirit. What’s important in regards to the fight for equality and the construct of virginity is the notion that a person’s value is far deeper and profound than something as simple as sex, the hymen, and what we choose to do with our own bodies.