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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Bringing Sexy Mac! Defining virginity: no popping of cherries in this ‘virgin’ cocktail

With the start of classes and the arrival of the student body back to campus (minus our study away peers), the ding of the memorial bell in front of Weyerhaeuser is guaranteed to welcome us all back. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, you strike the bell with your partner(s) when you lose your “Mac virginity,” having just had sex on campus for the first time, whether or not you have had sex beforehand. It’s a celebratory occasion marked with applause from passersby and laughter from what I hope is rooted in a sense of camaraderie from everyone involved. It is loud, public and fun for those who choose to take part in the tradition.

Since I lived in Kirk last year, I happened to think a lot about the bell, if only because it was a truly permanent fixture of my living experience. What struck me was that no one but the participants doing the ringing could tell whether any given bell strike represents that the people are noting their first time [having sex] at Mac or their first time ever. For me, this ambiguity resonates really well with the extremely ambiguous nature of virginity itself.
The general consensus around virginity has changed somewhat since it was first etymologically conceived as a way to refer to sexually inexperienced maidens. It’s definitely not just that. Still, exactly what actually counts as “losing” one’s virginity is largely up for grabs.

As it stands, virginity can easily fall into being nothing more than a jumble of half-formed, outdated conceptions of sexuality that raises more questions than it answers.

For example, we can start by considering the following: in order to lose one’s virginity, does there need to be intercourse? There are certainly people who define a virgin as solely someone who has not engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse. That construction is kind of ridiculous, in my objective opinion, because it in fact requires two very separate acts to conceive the loss of virginity: penetrating and being penetrated. In the attempt to get a singular answer, this construction ends up with two as the lowest common denominator. This view has also led to unprotected and risky sex between those who believe that it “doesn’t count” if it is not penile-vaginal sex.

To respond to this, others will say that anal and/or oral penetration count as well, in an effort to: broaden the definition; be inclusive of combinations that don’t involve a penis or vagina; and represent the variation you can find in penetrative sex. But what about non-penetrative sex, like intercrural sex (stimulation of the penis between two thighs), frottage (non-penetrative sexual stimulation) and mutual masturbation? Is sexting a kind of non-penetrative sex, and if so, does it count as losing your virginity if you send a “dirty” email? Maybe in order to count it as your first time, someone has to orgasm—but then do you ignore the fact that many people might not orgasm the first time they engage in sexual contact?

What is considered a progressive answer to the question of virginity is a broader definition: one where someone from any gender can be a virgin and you lose your virginity when you have the sex you want with someone else, regardless of that person’s gender. This definition does not consider the role of someone who masturbates, especially those who use toys to penetrate themselves, but at least it’s broad enough to say something. Some may say that this ambiguity is good, but what can be easily lost with—or rather, hidden within—this imagining of virginity is the complicated history of oppression that has constructed a need to define the state of inexperience. More specifically, virginity has been used as a way to control feminine and/or female sexualities, penalizing this expression while celebrating masculine and/or male experiences.

Nowhere can you see the damning practices of virginity more than in the mythology of the hymen. Contrary to popular belief, the hymen is not a seal, so there can be no “popping the cherry,” which in my opinion has got to be one of the most disgusting colloquialisms in the English language for its cutesy-ification of a pretty gruesome injury. The hymen is a piece of tissue that partially blocks the entrance to the vagina, but with proper, extended foreplay, the tissue can be stretched and relaxed for a more enjoyable first time for assigned-female-at-birth folk. By this I mean: your partner’s hymen tearing is not a win or success for you; it shows: [1] you are rushing and need to slow down; [2] your partner is not aroused; [3] they might need more foreplay to become more aroused; and/or [4] you need more practice with foreplay.

Myths like popping the hymen are perpetuated because people want to save face. Losing one’s virginity (and being sexually experienced in general) has long been set up as a rite of passage with real cultural currency behind it; the first time you have sex with someone else literally changes you from a virgin to a not-virgin and somehow a sexually experienced individual. And if college is this time and space where we as men, women and folk become fully realized individuals, shouldn’t that mean that we should all be sexually active to reflect this transition to being “real” adults?

No. The answer is no. Having sex does not define any part of who you are, and neither does not having sex. Many of us have had sex coming into our first year, many of us have had sex for the first time over the course of four years, and many of us will not have had sex by the time we graduate. There are going to be people who have had sex at least once who might have less ability sexually than someone who masturbates a ton and understands their body.

So what does this mean about virginity? While I might have broken down the problems relating to virginity, there is no denying that the concept still has weight, and that the process of one’s first time having sex with someone can be a really special event. If you are involved in this process (as the person who has yet to have sex and/or as the person who is with someone who hasn’t), it might be useful to start off with “virginity,” but do not let the conversation stop there. If you are comfortable, detail with one another just how experienced and just how much you know about your body. Sex—especially if you and/or your partner(s) are unused to it—is an awkward business, and checking in with your partner(s) can make your first time a joyous experience that doesn’t only happen if you strike the Weyerhaeuser bell.

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