Whether you’re looking forward to it or dreading it, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and no matter your views on this celebration of love, there’s no denying that many college students will be getting busy in their bedrooms this weekend.
Sex has become embedded in American culture as a rite of passage for young adults. Teenagers often feel the pressure to become sexually active during their years in secondary schooling and college.
This pressure can easily be spotted in entertainment media, celebrity gossip and dating apps, and can lead young adults to the conclusion that the ultimate goal of that stage of their lives is to lose their virginity.
A virgin is typically a person characterized by the fact they have not had penile-vaginal penetration, according to Planned Parenthood (and every kid I knew growing up).
This definition excludes many different types of sex and is different for everyone.
According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2007, 83.5 percent of teens ages 14 through 19 believed they were still a virgin if they participated in genital touching, 70.6 percent believed the same for participating in oral sex, 16.1 percent for engaging in anal sex and 5.8 percent responded that not even vaginal intercourse stripped a person of their status as a virgin.
Across gender, ethnicity and level of sexual experience, these statistics were consistent.
The reality is sex is not as limited as your 12-year-old cousin described to you with naked Barbies. Admit it: We’ve all been there at one point or another.
Rather, “sex” is an umbrella term for all sorts of activities that make us feel fantastic.
Sex activities can include traditional penile-vaginal penetration, mouth-genital contact, penile-anal contact, genital-humping, hand-genitial contact and the art of masturbation, according to Planned Parenthood.
Sex is a huge concept, but at its core consists of acts that would typically result in orgasm.
Sex is defined in this broad terminology simply because feeling good is what sex is really all about.
The concept of virginity has skewed this perception for hundreds of years. Religious and cultural teachings promoting the notion that sex only occurs when one man and one woman have intercourse in the missionary position.
After all these years, young adults still hold vaginal penetration on a pedestal and practice abstinence in order to avoid losing their virginity.
Let’s talk about the hymen.
Don’t know what that is? Think it can be used as a test of woman’s virginity? If so, you aren’t alone.
According to an Atlantic interview with Hanne Blank, historian and author of “Virgin: The Untouched History,” most doctors know very little about the hymen unless they’ve specifically researched the subject.
I believed a few of these misconceptions until a former boyfriend taught me otherwise. Even today, there are plenty of questions I don’t have answers to.
As it turns out, the hymen isn’t a reliable indicator of virginity—the traditional understanding of virginity, that is—nor is it nearly as important as our society makes it out to be.
A woman’s first experience with vaginal intercourse can vary widely: Some may bleed, others may not.
The dangers of this misinformation surrounding the hymen come when men expect a woman’s first sexual encounter to result in bleeding, though that is not always the case for women who have never been sexually active.
Unfortunately, our culture maintains the idea of “deflowering a virgin” when, in reality, such a concept does not exist.
Nearly everyone has had at least one form of sexual experience before they’ve entered college and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sex, in its many shapes and forms, is a healthy and normal experience that’s enjoyed differently from one person to another.
Virginity is not a big deal and we shouldn’t turn it into one. Sex as a whole, however, is a big deal.
We need to emphasize the importance of safe, consensual sex. With Valentine’s Day being this weekend, let’s all learn a thing or two about sex before the big day comes around.
Follow Ashleigh Horowitz on Twitter.