What Really Happens When You Lose Your Virginity?
The Debrief: Did you get a thumbs up from your mum shortly after popping your cherry? Didn't think so...
Photographed by Molly Cranna
Losing your virginity is pretty frequently, well, tricky. A quick straw poll of The Debrief office reveals that we've got more than our fair share of hideously embarassing virginity-shedding stories. But who wants to listen to our tails of romantic woe? We asked The Debrief's readers to share their cherry-popping tales and you didn’t disappoint. Here are a few of our favourites…
There was the girl with the really supportive mum
@TheDebrief Came downstairs for water after losing it to my best mate, to find my mum waiting in the livingroom giving the double thumbs up.— Becky Brynolf (@rabbitinahat) January 27, 2015
The girl who got dumped the next day : /
@TheDebrief is it embarrassing that I got dumped publicly at school the next day? Probably. A bit.— Alexandra Haddow (@MissAHaddow) January 27, 2015
at this point our readers asked to remain anonymous, which is completely fair enough...
The girl who got locked in
'The next morning I had to leave as his flat as my mum was going mental that I'd stayed out and we woke up to find his flatmate had took the keys so the door couldn't be opened from the inside for some reason.I had to climb out a window.'
And the creepiest virginity losing story we've ever heard...
'I had been with my ex for a few months, we were in love and had discussed everything before hand. As far as first times go it was everything that your sex ed teacher tells you it should be. Except, during the act, whilst my ex-boyfriend’s penis was navigating previously uncharted territory, he decided to glance towards my bedroom door, point, and say through perhaps the creepiest and menacing grin possible: “Wave good-bye to your virginity.” I forced out a bit of a giggle but managed to smooth it over with all the sex stuff that was happening.'
The girl who will never look at tennis in the same way again
'I lost my virginity in a random person's garden wearing a tennis kit because it was Wimbledon fancy dress and having grass stains all over me. My friend's mum (who’s house I was staying at) asked me 'why do you have grass stains on the back of your t-shirt' and I burst into tears. I still get skeeved out in the summer when everyone starts preparing for Wimbledon.'
The girl who instantly became a school urban legend
'I was at a house party at my teacher's house (she was away and we knew her son). I lost my virginity in the eaves storage in her attic room. Basically I lost my virginity in my teacher's cupboard. I wasn't even a boarder at the time.'
The girl who still spent a whole summer avoiding the guy
I was 16 and we had a summer job together. I went back to his, and we tried to do it, but I freaked out and he couldn't get it in. I ran away and we didn't speak again all summer. He still tries to Facebook chat me now.'
Whether you're one of the unlucky people above, or the girl (me) who lost her virginity in a shed with a guy who came more quickly than the Countdown music: no two virginity stories are ever the same. So, let's tackle some virginity FAQs...
What 'counts' as losing your virginity?
Although the kids at school always took 'losing your virginity' to mean straight sex, a lot of it is down to your perception. If virginity equals 'train in tunnel', then what of gay couples? Or trans people? Or people who simply don't enjoy the in-and-out and prefer a bit of a rub-around?
The penis-in-vagina thing is far from objective, either - it's tied not only to the idea that we're all straight, but to a lot oiage is often considered a virtue. This is particularly true if you're a woman, perhaps because it's considered easier to 'prove' that a woman's a virgin. Like the old slut/stud conundrum: if we do it we're bad, if guys do it they get a high five and a round of tequila shots. So talking about virginity means wading through a slurry of cultural bullshit, which can often be damaging for the people who have to live by it. For instance, a study in the Journal of Sociology published in 2001 found that Christian youngsters taking a virginity 'pledge' were less likely to use contraception when they did lose their virginity.
Now, saying that virginity is 'moral' is about as true as saying that women who sleep with guys on the first date will die as miserable spinsters, but the myths keep on coming and they'll take a while to erode. I'll leave you to ponder on what 'counts' or doesn't, but for now let's adopt the limited definition – that losing your virginity means 'the first time you have penetrative sex.'
What happens when you lose your virginity?
You get points, and points mean prizes! I'm joking, obvs. But if you're expecting rapid and dramatic changes in your body, then I'm sorry to say you'll be disappointed. In fact, the one long-held belief about physical changes during virginity – the hymen myth - has actually been proven wrong.
When I was at school I was told a whole bunch of things about the hymen, including that it'd break painfully on my first shag and bleed a lot. There were also rumours that if I weren't careful I might accidentally break it before my first sexing, by ridinge sex? Actually the hymen (more frequently now called the 'corona', because of the incorrect implications of 'hymen' as a 'virginity marker') isn't a 'seal' that is broken when penetrated, as the kids at school had me believing. It's actually a flexible mucous tissue, located a couple of centimetres inside the opening of the vagina. You can find out more about it from the RFSU – a Swedish organisation which researches sex and relationships, as well as doing outreach to help debunk sex myths.
Long story short? Your 'hymen' doesn't break when you lose your virginity – no actual cherry gets popped.
Do you bleed when you lose your virginity?
This brings us back to the hymen myth. It's a bit creepy in a way, isn't it? This idea that you have to bleed or you're not a true virgin? Well, here's the deal: some people may bleed when they lose their virginity, just as some people might bleed during sex at any point. It's a messy business, after all, and sometimes you might catch something, or get a small tear: it happens.
However, it's important not to expect that all women should bleed when they lose their virginity. It reinforces the myth that there's a hymen which has to 'break' during sex, and encourages attitudes which can seriously impact on women's lives. A paper in the International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, explains that the drive for 'proof' of female virginity (showing blood on the sheets after the wedding night, for instance) increases pressure on women to have hymenoplasty (surgery to restore the hymen) and puts them at risk of violence. If you're wondering whether you'll bleed, Brigitte Essen, in her research on hymenoplasty points out that between 40-80% of women do not bleed when they first have intercourse. So: maybe, maybe not. It's neither guaranteed that you will or weird if you don't.
Does it hurt when you lose your virginity?
It hurt a bit when I lost mine, but the real answer is that it doesn't have to: if you're stimulated, aroused, wet and ready to go, then provided your other half isn't hung like a genuine horse, losing your virginity shouldn't hurt. Take it slow, use lube if you need, take a break if you're tense, all that jazz.
Ace sex ed website Scarletteen (where even I, a grown-ass adult, frequently go for info on things) explains pain during first-time sex like this: 'most commonly, pain or bleeding isn't about the hymen at all. Instead, it is more commonly about about feeling nervous, rushed, unsafe or scared, not aroused enough or having a partner be too hasty. Not communicating that something hurts, and keeping on in silence is another common culprit with pain during intercourse.'
See the problem? We've been told so often that it's normal for losing your virginity to hurt, some people feel they have to 'suck it up' the first time so they can get to a more pleasurable second - like eating their vegetables before they get to dessert.
What's the average age to lose your virginity?
OK, so that's too obvious an answer – seventeen is the average age in the UK, but it varies depending on country, gender, and background. When people ask this question, though, what they're usually after is the answer to the 64-million dollar question: 'am I normal?' In 2013 Sociological Research Online published some qualitative research with young people around sexual attitudes and 'normal' sexual development. Their findings reinforced what I'm sure you heard in the playground – that when it comes to virginity young people generally tell a story that involves a progression: kissing first, then hands, then oral, and finally losing your virginity. Does this mean that you're not 'normal' if you do things differently? No: it just means that if you don't fit the 'average', you're far more likely to worry whether you're normal because everything you see reinforces the idea that you should be doing things the same way other people do.
So with virginity as with everything else, your 'normal' is going to be different to mine, and seventeen or not it's never up to someone else to decide when you're ready to do something. I mean, I'm in my early thirties and I've never eaten olives, baked bread or been to Scotland – if we all had to live to a strict timetable I'd have ticked all these things off the list years ago.
First time sex can be awesome, awful, or most likely somewhere in between, but – as shown by our wildly different first time sex stories – there's no such thing as the 'normal' way to do it.
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Photographed by Molly Cranna
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