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I want to lose my virginity before I have sex.

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sodapope asks:

I am a virgin, and I really want to lose it myself before I actually have sex because it is embarassing that I still have my virginity and i'm 18. But everytime that I masterbate or try to "pop my cherry" about like 3 inches into my vagina there is like a "sheet" of skin that is hard to push through, I am not sure if it is something you are supposed to push through, or it's my "cherry", I just don't want to hurt myself breaking something I am not supposed to.

Heather Corinna replies:

There's no "cherry" that needs popping in your vagina. Seriously. And virginity is a cultural idea or concept: it's not a physical state of anything. In other words, the bodies of "virgins" and the bodies of "non-virgins" are often impossible to tell the difference between.

Sometimes that term "popping the cherry" is just a euphamism for someone having sex -- or doing anything new -- for the first time. Sometimes, people are making reference to the hymen, but when that's the case, it's usually pretty misinformed.

For starters, the hymen isn't several inches into the vagina. When it is present, fully or partially, it is, instead, RIGHT at the vaginal opening, its edges attached just inside that opening. As I recently explained to another user, the hymen is to the vagina as a front door is to the screen door that is just in front of it, if you follow. If you still have a partial hymen (since you're sticking your fingers inches into your vagina, we can be very sure that, at best, it's partial for you -- a fully intact hymen would prevent the entry of your fingers at all), you can sit with a hand mirror and even see it right for yourself. It's a very thin membrane, right around your vaginal opening. Even once it's worn all the way away, there's usually a little bit of that tissue that will always remain just inside the vaginal opening.

Too, the hymen isn't something that needs to be popped or broken before or during vaginal sex. It doesn't "pop" or "break" at all, generally, unless you're talking about someone pretty forcibly entering the vagina of someone pretty young: younger than a newly-adult woman like yourself, by a serious long shot. We start out with fully intact hymens at birth, and they stay that way, for the most part, until around puberty, when they start gradually wearing away, due to a host of things: estrogens, vaginal fluids and discharges (including your period), general physical activity, tampon use and also -- but nothing close to only -- vaginal sexual activity, whether that's masturbation or partnered sex. That's nothing that happens any one time from any one thing (again, sparing forcible rape or other genital injury), but is a slow, gradual process that occurs over time.

Defining virginity as "having a hymen," is pretty flawed, as you can see.

In fact, decades back, when tampons were new on the scene, tampon manufacturers had to do a lot of public education to young women who were terrified that using tampons would mean they weren't virgins anymore for exactly this reason.

Back in the day when people didn't understand women's bodies -- and in some places and groups still, because some folks are still ignorant to what the realities of women's bodies are -- virginity was defined as being all about the hymen when there were (and in some places, again, there still are, however misguided) cultural imperatives to try and "prove" a woman's virginity. But over time, the more clear physiological realities became, more and more people started figuring out that that was an error. Plenty of women who have not had sex do not have intact -- even partially intact -- hymens. And because the process of the hymen wearing away is gradual, and hymenal tissue is pretty thin and stretchy, plenty of women who HAVE had sex will sometimes still have partial hymens for a while. My friend Hanne Blank, in researching her book on virginity, even found a case of a woman who gave birth with a partial hymen intact, and it remained intact through her childbirth, believe it or not! (And we can all agree, I think, that a woman who is in labor is not a virgin.)

If you choose to subscibe to the idea of virginity -- and that's totally optional, just like believing in the Easter Bunny, in democracy or in reincarnation is optional -- the smarter way to define it that isn't so flawed is having it simply be about having some form of sex with another person or not. In other words, it's a bit of an oxymoron to suggest you can lose your virginity before you have sex with someone else, because the way virginity is most often defined is AS having sex with someone else.

If you're a few inches into your vagina with your fingers and feeling some resistance or an "end" you're likely either just pushing against one of your vaginal walls or you ARE at the end of your vagina: it ends with the cervix. On average, when a woman isn't highly sexually aroused, the vagina is only a few inches deep. When a woman gets sexually aroused or excited, the vagina "tents," -- balloons to become deeper and wider, and the cervix pulls back. So, if and when you are having vaginal sex with someone else, it will make more room for what is being put inside of it. Regardless, if you're putting (clean!) fingers into your vagina and pushing against something and it isn't painful and feels just fine, there's no reason to worry about injuring yourself.

Ultimately, know that if and when you choose a sexual partner, sex makes everyone feel pretty vulnerable: it's highly intimate stuff. So, it's important to choose to be with someone where our bodies being as our bodies are feels emotionally okay and safe, and where it's fine that you're new to sex.

Here are a few extra links that should help you out with all of this:

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