Teens and Virginity

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 19, 2024
6 min read

If you're a teen or entering puberty, chances are you've heard the word "virginity." But you might be unclear as to what it exactly means. While "virgin" is often used to refer to someone who has not yet had sexual intercourse, there is no single, clear definition of what virginity is. In any case, to most teens, virginity is a personal topic that can be embarrassing to talk about.

This article will shed some light on the confusing nature of the term "virginity" and talk about ways to come to terms with your own thoughts and feelings on the subject.

Defining virginity can be confusing.

For females, virginity used to be defined by an intact “hymen.” The hymen is located about a half-inch inside the vagina. Not all girls are born with hymens, which makes this definition of virginity somewhat misleading.

Another definition of a virgin is a girl whose vagina has not been penetrated sexually. The problem with this definition is that there are different ways of penetration.

You may need to first figure out how you define "sex" before you define "virginity." For instance, one person might think that any penetration of the vagina equals sexual intercourse. Other people restrict the definition of "sex" to penetration by the penis. Some people believe oral sex is "sex"; others disagree. These concepts depend on both emotional and physical factors. You have to determine what virginity means to you.

Two more terms you should be familiar with are "abstinence" and "celibacy."

"Abstinence" (based on the word "abstain") can refer to voluntarily giving up anything, including eating or drinking. In the context of virginity, abstinence refers to not having sex.

"Celibacy" specifically refers to sexual abstinence. "Chastity" means almost the same thing as both "virginity" and "abstinence," but it comes closer to the word ''purity.''

Men and women of various religions follow certain rules about virginity, according to their belief systems. Many Christian denominations encourage women to practice abstinence until they are married, based on certain verses in the New Testament of the Bible. Similarly, Islam requires that females abstain from sex until marriage. Orthodox and Conservative Jewish traditions also place a similar value on virginity.

If you want to know more about how your own religion or belief system deals with virginity, talk to your parents, a religious counselor, an older sibling, or a trusted friend. Because each religion deals with the subject differently, it is important to know that your views on virginity are your own and should not be forced on anyone else. At the same time, it is something that is important to talk about and feel comfortable with, so you will know when you are ready to engage in sexual intercourse.

Some teens use the word "virgin" as an insult, especially teenage guys who are trying to seem cool. They might use slang terms such as "popped her cherry" to describe having sex with a girl for the first time. Girls might similarly tease or shun their virgin girlfriends. The opposite may also be true: Some girls might scoff at non-virgin friends, calling them mean names. Treating people badly based on their choices about sexuality can result in deeply hurt feelings because of the very personal nature of these decisions.

One friend might be considering having sex for the first time and need someone to talk with about the pros and cons of doing so. Because this kind of decision is so personal, an effective way to handle the subject among friends is to talk about your own experiences and why you choose to -- or not to -- have sexual intercourse.

You'll hear and read a lot of advice telling you to ask your parents about sex. Let's be honest: It's not always easy for teens to go up to their mom or dad and ask them about what the first time will be like!

But if you think about it, how did you get here? Right -- your parents had sex, and your mom gave birth to you. And before all of that happened, they were virgins, too. At some point, both of your parents likely had the exact same questions, confusion, and curiosity that you have.

Even if you are nervous approaching the subject with your parents, you might be surprised how easy it is to talk about virginity and sex. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first. But it's a good way to come to terms with your own beliefs and feelings about virginity.

If talking about sex with your parents just isn't going to happen, try to find an adult who can answer your questions and help you find more information. A youth counselor, guidance counselor, or your doctor might be a good place to start.

The decision to lose your virginity requires a lot of careful thought. Two important factors to consider are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and birth control (such as condoms, "the pill," diaphragms, and spermicidal lubricants).

There is a lot of information out there about STDs, and you need to make sure you're aware of the risks, the types of infections, and ways to prevent infections. Pregnancy is another extremely important consideration -- it should not be taken lightly or left up to chance. Do your research about both STDs and pregnancy before making any decisions about having sex.

Peer pressure, morality, religion, and your own values will also play major roles in your decision to have sex. Your decision should be yours alone, rather than your peers'. Make sure you are fully comfortable with your decision on an emotional and spiritual level before you go through with it.

Last, before you decide to have sex for the first time, consider the many possible consequences:

  • Pregnancy or STD. What will you and your partner do if sex results in pregnancy or a disease? If you don't know the answer and aren't certain how to prevent these things from happening, you are not ready to have sex.
  • Values and religion. How will you feel on an emotional level after you do it? Emotions are pretty unpredictable. But you can prepare yourself emotionally if you feel completely confident in your decision beforehand. If you are having any anxiety or nervousness on an emotional, mental, or spiritual level, you are not ready to have sex.
  • Expectations. Often, the first time is not as glamorous or romantic as it seems in the movies. It might hurt or be uncomfortable. Or your partner might not know how to make it feel good. Having sex for the first time in the backseat of a car is a surefire way to not enjoy your first time. If you and your partner aren't sure how to touch each other so that it feels good, and if you don't have a comfortable place to do it, you probably aren't ready to have sex.
  • Relationship. Sometimes people act weird around each other after they have sex for the first time. A change in their emotional connection is understandable -- they have just shared the most intimate experience humans can have. Make sure you and your partner are equally ready to share in this experience. Talk about both of your values and your feelings for one another. Be honest and open. If you feel inhibited talking to your partner, or if you feel your partner might be more eager than you are, wait to have sex until you are totally comfortable with your decision.

Having sex for the first time is a decision that requires a lot of thought and self-searching. Until you and your partner feel 100% comfortable with the issues listed above, you should continue to learn more about sex and virginity by reading or by talking to trusted friends and adults.