What’s virginity?

A virgin is someone who’s never had sex. But people define “sex” and “losing virginity” in many different ways.

What does it mean to be a virgin?

A virgin is someone who’s never had sex — but it’s not quite as simple as it seems. That’s because sex means different things to different people, so virginity can mean different things, too.

A lot of people think that having penis-in-vagina sex for the first time is how you lose your virginity. But this leaves lots of people and other types of sex out of the picture.

Some people haven’t had penis-in-vagina sex, but they’ve had other kinds of sex (like oral sex or anal sex) — and they may or may not see themselves as virgins. And there are lesbian, gay, bisexual or pansexual people who may never have penis-in-vagina sex at all. But they probably don't see themselves as lifelong virgins just because they haven’t had penis-in-vagina sex.

Many people believe rape and sexual assault aren’t sex — it’s only sex if both partners have consent. So if someone was forced or pressured the first time they had vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex, they may not see that as “losing their virginity.”

Bottom line: the definition of virginity is complicated, and it’s really up to you to decide what you believe. Some people don't even care what “virginity” means or think it matters. Stressing about whether you’re a virgin is way less important than how you feel about your sexual experiences. Ask yourself: are you happy with the sexual experiences you've had or decided not to have?

What’s a hymen?

The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue that’s located at the opening of your vagina.

There’s a lot of confusion about hymens out there. Many people think the hymen totally covers the opening of your vagina until it’s stretched open, but that’s not usually the case. Most of the time, hymens naturally have a hole big enough for period blood to come out and for you to use tampons comfortably. Some people are born with so little hymenal tissue that it seems like they don’t have a hymen at all. In rare cases, people have hymens that cover the entire vaginal opening, or the hole in their hymen is very small — they may need to see a doctor for a minor procedure to remove the extra tissue. Just like other parts of our body, hymens are a little different for everyone.

Your hymen can be stretched open the first time you have vaginal sex, which might cause some pain or bleeding. But this doesn’t happen to everyone. And there are other ways that a hymen can be stretched open: riding a bike, doing sports, or putting something in your vagina (like a tampon, finger, or sex toy). Once your hymen is stretched open, it can’t grow back.

Does having a hymen mean you’re a virgin?

Some people believe that you’re not a virgin if your hymen is stretched open. But having a hymen and being a virgin are not the same thing.

Some people are born with hymens that are naturally open. And many other activities besides sex can stretch your hymen. So you can’t tell if someone has had sex by the way their hymen looks or feels.

What’s the average age people lose their virginity?

The average age when people have sex for the first time is 17. Sometimes it may seem like everybody at your school is doin’ it, but that’s usually not true. Only about half of high school students have ever had vaginal sex. And most teens who have had sex don’t do it very often.

Deciding to have sex for the first time is a big decision that’s very personal. People think about lots of different things: religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs; family and personal values; desire; love; and/or relationships. Whatever your reason is, it's important to wait until you're sure you're ready to have sex.

Lots of teens who've had sex say they wish they had waited. If you’ve already started having sex and want to stop, that's totally okay — just because you've had sex before doesn't mean you have to do it again. People can be abstinent (not have sex) at any time, for any reason. And some people choose to never have sex — that’s totally okay, too.

Try not to worry too much about what other people do. When you lose your virginity isn’t as big a deal as making sure you and your partner are ready for sex. If you have sex just to fit in, it probably won’t be a very good experience. It’s better to wait to have sex until you feel totally ready — and are prepared for some of the possible consequences of sex (like pregnancy or STDs).

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