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At 23, Nancy's surprisingly eloquent about the matter, showing me yet another way we make assumptions about virgins (in my case, that they're, well, "virginal"). She first received cunnilingus at 17, and "loved it." Even though she's often "horny and wants to fuck," Nancy's passed up opportunities to get laid for the fun of it. "My desire to be loved completely supercedes my desire to have sex. I recently went on 10 dates with a cute guy I liked a lot. I thought we would sleep together soon, but he suddenly stopped calling or making plans. That definitely reinforced my desire not to have casual sex," she explains.
Hanne Blank (hanneblank.com), author of the forthcoming Virgin: The Untouched History, says that with greater economic freedom and reliable birth control, women have largely been freed from the automatic expectation of virginity, Now, in fact, "the attitude is often that women should be having sex. Women who choose not to find their decision comes under a lot of fire. Virginity cannot be 'just another choice' that people make with regard to their sexuality. It's much too contested," she claims. Indeed, no matter which side of the V line women fall on, someone is there to tell them they're either a slut or a prude.
Our personal definitions of virginity can be highly creative. Consider actor-writer Iris Bahr, whose forthcoming book Dork Whore explores her travels as a "pseudo-virgin," meaning since a man's penis was only inside her for "several seconds," it didn't really count. For "heteroflexible" Nancy, "blowjobs, lesbian sex, and spanking are not compartmentalized in my mind as 'real sex,' so they entail lighter emotional weight than penis-in-vagina sex. I can have sex with women and it's no big deal, partially because there's mutual respect and no one feels taken advantage of afterwards."
The classic definition of a virgin uses the breaking of the hymen as the line of demarcation, though you hardly need another person for that. Today, a woman can even get surgery to restore her broken hymen. According to Blank, the word virgin has historically applied only to women. "'Virgo is the feminine form of 'vir,' Latin for 'man,' so 'virgo' was specifically used to refer to females. [That's] how humans adapted their biology to the dynamics of patriarchal culture," she explains, noting that men wanted to know who was fathering their children, thus keeping women's virginity, and overall sexuality, in check.
For "Gabe," 31, a reluctant virgin, the word and concept rattle him much more than not having had intercourse. He's not keen on its "historical associations," and "it's not clear how it applies to people who aren't heterosexual." As he's gotten older, sex has become less important than it was as a horny teenager, filled with mental and physical frustration. "I had a lot of sexual desire of my own that wasn't being fulfilled, but that doesn't really bother me much anymore," Gabe tells me. "I feel like I've put those concerns behind me," he says, and even if he never winds up having sex, he'll be OK with that.
Claiming someone's virginity is still a prize to someBlank points to "virginity porn" of the Barely Legal varietybut notes that many people past their mid-twenties "aren't particularly interested in virgin partners because of the (false) perception that being someone's first is a responsibility. Sex is not a huge source of chaos for them anymore, and they don't want to go back there." I'll cop to being a member of this club; I value my lovers' sexual experience and what they bring to our couplings.
I respect people's decisions to engage in or refrain from sex, but wonder if an emphasis on deflowering is useful. Aren't our sexual choices still important post-virginhood? Gael Greene writes in her memoir Insatiable that being date raped changed her instantly from "good girl" into loose woman. "Well, that's that, I thought. I'm not going to be a virgin when I get married. I'll just have fun from now on. And I never looked back," she recalls. Even chastity advocate Dawn Eden (dawneden.com) feels that "virginity in and of itself is, in a sense, overrated. Stressing virginity until marriage makes it seem as though as long as you keep your legs together, you're pure. If all you're concentrating on are the physical aspects of chastity, then you're more vulnerable to other temptations that can come from viewing other people as sex objects."
Eden owns up to her sexually free past, but she says that since becoming chaste, she believes that sex within marriage will make her feel "like a virgin" again. "The next time I have sex, with my husband, it's going to feel like the first time because it's going to have a certain emotional quality that none of the sex I've had before has had," she says, speaking passionately. "It's going to be very intense and extremely exciting, and I can't wait." Then she pauses. "I can wait, I have to, but I'm looking forward to it."