I put the ‘virgin’ in Virginian: my first time was more than a social construct


Photo: Rachel Choi

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Meg Richards, Opinion Editor

The first thing I said to the man I forever trusted with my “V-Card” was, “I think I just lost my virginity.” And even though he already knew that, I still felt the need to say it out loud. Part of me wanted to reinforce that it was special, monumental. He scoffed and said, “Well actually, you lost your virginity the first time you performed a sexual act. Virginity is a social construct.” 

Initially, I tried to force myself to be impressed. This man, who I ended up dating for 3 months, was so progressive. I told my friends he really gets women; I told my mom he really gets me. I didn’t realize until we broke up that him telling me virginity is a social construct was his way of offsetting responsibility for, what truly was, a monumental event. 

Before I pop this cherry, I want to recognize two truths that exist simultaneously. The first is that, yes, virginity is a social construct that is archaic, heteronormative, and patriarchal. The second is that my experience is not consistent with everyone else’s. For some, it really doesn’t mean anything—and that’s totally okay. Being a virgin, by all means, should be destigmatized. But destigmatizing virginity doesn’t have to mean devaluing your first encounter with sex. 

This story is for those who feel or felt like their virginity is more than a social construct. I see you. I am you.

For the better part of my teenage years, I tried convincing myself that losing my virginity meant nothing to me. It was just something I just wanted to “get over with” so I could get straight to having tons of meaningless, painless, no-strings-or-feelings-attached sex. I knew that the idea of virginity was used to slut-shame women, enforce toxic gender roles, and suppress female sexuality—in fact, I got into my fair share of arguments over this in the classroom, cafeteria, and school bus. 

So when sex finally happened, it felt surreal: like my whole life was leading up to this moment. It was terrifying. For many, losing their virginity can be thrilling, liberating, and empowering, but I had mixed feelings. Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just given my childhood away. My girlhood. To a guy I met two weeks prior on Tinder. A guy who, luckily, turned out to be pretty empathetic, tender, and understanding. But nonetheless, it was my first time. And that became glaringly obvious when I found out it was very much not his. 

I often felt intimidated by his experience and my lack thereof. In the moments after having sex with someone, arguably the most vulnerable two people can be with one another, I searched for validation that what I’d just experienced was a big deal from the man laying next to me. What I received was confirmation that it wasn’t to anyone else but me. I searched for an understanding that I did not receive from the man who I gave something irreplaceable to. 

The moral of my story is: yes, virginity can be a social construct. But it’s not a monolith. It can be nothing while also being the hallmark of adulthood. It can be exciting; it can also be disappointing. Nevertheless, it was a huge moment for me: you’ll never forget the first person you have sex with.

We are moving away from recognizing virginity as a legitimate presence in sex. While this is well-intentioned and great in theory, it’s reductive. Young people—especially girls who have an inherently different relationship with sex because of their gender—should not feel like their emotions are dismissed. 

Worse, it could contribute to a problem that is too often normalized in our culture: people—again, especially women—regret who they lose their virginity to because they feel as though it needs to be more significant than it actually is to them. In my experience, I tried convincing myself for years that I, as a sex-positive, forward-thinking feminist, did not care about to whom, where, when, or why I lost my virginity. I told myself everything that the guy who ended up taking mine said to me directly after. This resulted in me letting it be less of an event than I really wanted it to be, deep down. I ended up regretting how soon I had this experience after meeting said guy. 

Perhaps we should stay conscious of whether or not positioning virginity as this arbitrary, intangible social construct puts unnecessary pressure on people to not follow their true feelings about sex and who they have it with. 

So, regardless of if virginity means anything to you or not, be mindful of others’ relationship with sex. There are many reasons why losing their virginity can be sacred to someone. Sexual trauma, medical conditions that complicate sex, or just a difference in upbringing are a few of several reasons that could lead to this position. 

Having earnest, candid conversations about what sex means to you with a potential partner, whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned expert, is the best way to navigate post-virginity culture and maximize comfort, safety, and enjoyment in the bedroom. Communication is key, and could lead to a future of less-regrettable sexual experiences and a generation of girls who know that they should feel empowered when the time finally comes—no pun intended.