THE BLOG
05/04/2014 10:12 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Losing Virginity on a Technicality

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I think for two people to be naked together and to have an intimate sexual experience, that's losing your virginity. But I also think a major part of it is being pleasured right to the end. The guy and the girl both coming. If a girl is just pinned up against a wall and a guy has sex with her. I don't think she's had the full experience.

As a person who lost her virginity first to a woman and later to a man, 34-year-old Sophie speaks from experience. She identifies as lesbian today, but she brings to light a question that was raised continually as I interviewed a cross section of people about a unique experience: the loss of virginity. How do we define "The Moment"? And that's the point really. It was a surprise to find that for lots of people, it wasn't a moment. Virginity loss frequently turned out to be a continuum, a whole handful of firsts, in fact.

It's a big ask, getting people to pour such a personal story into one's tape recorder. After all, our first sexual experiences don't happen in isolation. They are embedded within a complex net of parental relationships, expectations, joy, disappointment and occasionally tragedy. Never was this truer than when I interviewed Andy, a gay man in his 40s. His story took in lonely teenage years, softened by the interest of an older gay gentlemen and the discovery of what happened down at the local woods, alongside the tragic death of two family members. In amongst this heartache, and spread out over a period of years were first kisses, first hand jobs -- "It wasn't just about quick anonymous blow jobs in the bushes, either. You need the intimacy and the snogging, and it doesn't have to be anything else. That can really lift you up and carry you through anything" -- and much later, once he was happy with the idea, penetrative sex with a "Big bear of a man who literally picked me up and took me back to his place. I just knew that he was 'the one' because I had the courage to actually go back with him, which was pretty rare for me." All of these moments were significant. None less important than the other.

Historically, how we define virginity loss has mattered. The loss of virginity for the female population can have serious ramifications and all because of a piece of skin that many women aren't even born with. Let's not forget that this is as true today for much of female society as it ever was. But for those of us lucky enough to exercise control over our own bodies, we are also free to label our so-called "loss," despite the archaic definitions you will still find in dictionaries.

Dan Savage makes the point:

I'm not arguing that we should do away with all regulations or controls, or that sex shouldn't be sanctified or elevated. But there are regulations and controls that are idiotic, products of a time when we didn't understand human hair growth -- or physics or gravity or the movement of the planets -- much less human sexuality; and they should be reassessed.

Indeed the world has changed. My gay interviewees, some of whom have had to live their lives behind closed doors until relatively recently (and some who still do) have emerged less encumbered by neat two-line definitions. I've interviewed gay men who have never had penetrative sex in their lives but don't consider themselves virgins. It's time to define our lives, if we must define them at all, in a more nuanced manner. I've always loved Diane, the Tantric sex teacher's take on virginity loss. As an ex-sex worker and now a woman in her 60's, she is well qualified to make this observation:

I think that losing your virginity should be that gateway into pleasure. It should be about moving from ignorance to awareness...to being a person who makes love or becomes intimate because they choose to, and not because they have to. Of course that could come years after you technically lost virginity and for some maybe never.

I come back to the same thing in the end. If you could see the faces of some of my interviewees when I threw the following question into the ring: Do you remember the first time you had sex and enjoyed it? Well...I could have written another book on those responses alone. Eighteen-year-old Cheryl, who wrote to me at my blog summed it up:

I was seventeen when I had my first sexually active relationship. I had never orgasmed before other than on my own. After a few months of sleeping with my boyfriend, I started to feel the twinges of a possible orgasm. And then he made me come. That's when I really started to lose my virginity.

If it matters to you, if it's an experience that you valued, that you learnt from, that maybe even changed your perception and experience of the world for the better then let that become a defining moment. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Losing It: How we popped our cherry over the last 80 years is available on amazon.com

Visit www.virginityproject.typepad.com for more from Kate Monro.