What Virginity Means To Queer Women

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
According to recent estimates, about 20% of Americans don't identify as "completely heterosexual," and it seems that number only gets higher when you look at today's teens. Yet, when people talk about "losing your virginity" as a sexual right of passage, it's almost always discussed in heteronormative terms: A woman gets her cherry "popped" via male penetration, and suddenly, neither of them are virgins anymore. But outside of male-female relationships, what does it mean to "lose your virginity"?

Queer women, in particular, seem to face a murky definition of virginity (in pop culture references, at the very least), since male penetration isn't always part of the equation. Should they set their own parameters for when their virginity is "lost"? Or should they dismiss the concept of virginity completely?

To help bring their voices to the forefront of the virginity conversation, we spoke with lesbian, bisexual, and otherwise queer women about what the term means to them, and how that definition has evolved throughout their lives. As one woman put it: "I don't have to define what I experience or make it a big thing — and I love that."

Ahead, seven women explain how the concept of virginity has (or hasn't) shaped their sexual lives.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Charlotte, 22

What does "losing your virginity" mean to you?

"When I was in high school, I was in my first serious relationship, which was with a girl. We were both virgins going into the relationship, and also had previously identified as straight. Because of the internalized issues within us [as we were] discovering aspects of our sexuality and [feeling] discomfort around that, we definitely still considered ourselves virgins after breaking up. That really bothered me for a while, because I already felt the relationship — which was secret — was getting erased. When she then slept with a guy, he was the guy in the narrative who 'took her virginity,' which made me feel insignificant in her life. Now, in retrospect, I definitely consider my experiences with her to be the 'loss of my virginity,' as opposed to when I later slept with a guy for the first time."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity?
Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?


"My parents talked to me about sex when I was young, but the concept of virginity wasn’t brought up. For them, it was about being safe and healthy. When I came out to them, sex definitely was not a part of the conversation. They’re both very supportive of me, and we have open conversations, but they don't need to be overly involved in my sex life."

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"I’ve seen queer women talk about sex on TV, and I've seen them lose their virginity, but they definitely don't talk about 'virginity.' Also, this is relatively new on television and didn't really exist when I was looking for that information. I certainly felt that I didn’t have anywhere to turn to for that kind of advice. I really was furiously Googling to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to be doing and feeling."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have?


"Now that I am older and more comfortable with sexuality, I give myself the credit of having my virginity be an experience with a person when we were in love with each other and happy. I allow myself to ignore this external, heteronormative definition. I think it’s sort of dumb to decide where the cutoff is arbitrarily — 'this is sex and this isn’t' — especially when virginity is such a heteronormative idea.

"On a larger scale, virginity is patriarchal and seems totally dumb. Now, I just feel like, what even is it? Sex should be consensual and positive, regardless of what you’re doing, who you're doing it with, and how many times you have or haven’t had it before. Those factors might change how you feel, or they won't. Ultimately, if you're in a good situation, who cares?"

Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?


"It definitely did not feel momentous — mostly because I didn’t consider it to be virginity until after the fact. 'Ex post facto' virginity loss sort of took away the momentousness of it. Additionally, we were in a relationship, and we were in love, so it felt very natural, appropriate, and thereby, casual. When I slept with a guy for the first time, I was a bit more nervous, because I felt like I was old to be like, 'Hey, I haven't slept with a guy before,' but I was able to say, 'I’ve only slept with women so far, so let's discuss this,' which helped a lot."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Isabel, 26

What does losing your virginity mean to you?

"At first, I didn't know what to expect. Most stories in film and literature tell us a highly romanticized version, and they always feature a man and a woman. I can't actually think of two women having the same experience. I had no reference. Unlike scenarios with a straight couple, there was no...bleeding, or possible uncomfortable pain with penetration. It was more of about a discovery."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity?

"I've never talked to my parents about sex. The closest we've ever come to that type of talk was when I got my first period and my mother told me, now I had to 'be careful with the boys.'"

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"The only show I followed religiously was The L Word. I don't think anyone lost their virginity on the show, but they definitely talked about their first times. Which, in a way, [provides] a lot more meaningful memories."

Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?

"At that time, it was a BIG moment, but now, I'll remember the best nights of sex, rather than the first one.

"It felt like something I needed to get over with and move on with my life. In retrospect, it was okay."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Breanna, 23

What does losing your virginity mean to you?


"This is actually something I have personally struggled to figure out throughout my 'coming into self' experience, mostly due to the fact that I grew up being taught not to have sex before marriage. Plus, my first sexual experience was with a woman, so it almost felt like I was bypassing that rule, which made it seem less legitimate, which of course now I realize is completely false. Not having intercourse with a penis doesn't mean that sexual intimacy is invalid."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity?
Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?

"I am not out to my parents and I grew up in a conservative Christian home. Sex was not something we ever talked about. I had sex education in my public school and was taught in church that sex before marriage was wrong. This still stands within their values, so the dialogue regarding sex and virginity has stayed the same: nonexistent."

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"I have seen queer female characters in TV and movies discuss never having been with a woman before, but I have never seen the discussion of what virginity actually means to queer women emotionally and mentally beyond, 'I'm new here!' and really intense staring."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have?

"My idea of virginity has definitely shifted. I was taught that sex before marriage is wrong, but I was also taught that I would marry a man. Thus, my institutionalized idea of what sex was and what it means to be a virgin was that having intercourse with a man would be how I lost my virginity. However, as I've felt more validated in my sexuality, my sexual experiences have been validated."

Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?


"It definitely felt momentous at the time and still does because there are so many layers of what it means to have sex for the first time. It was also part of the beginning of my journey of coming into my own sexuality, which is undeniably part of my identity."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Erin, 19

What does losing your virginity mean to you?

"This is kind of a tough question for me, because I don't really like the concept of virginity in general. I feel like it's used to shame people for having sex, and to put undue pressure on the first time you have sex. It makes it seem like the first time you have sex you 'lose' something that you can never get back, which I don't believe. It's also a concept that is constantly used in purity culture to slut-shame people, and I really, really disagree with that. With that said, if you believe in losing your virginity, I think that you should define what that means for yourself. I think that it should be a personal thing."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity? Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?

"My parents talked to me about virginity a lot growing up. My parents are very religious, and the idea of saving sex for marriage is really important to them. They definitely had conversations with me about it, about how important they believed waiting was. My mom especially is very serious about it. They also bought me a purity ring and expected me to wear it when I was in high school. I thought it was BS, but I wore it anyway. My mom was really bummed when she noticed that I had stopped wearing it.

"I also grew up in a really religious community and was surrounded by messages about virginity and sex — I very clearly remember being told that our bodies are like butter, and every time someone touches us, it leaves marks that will be there forever.

"I came out once I was already at university. I think my parents' messages about sex and dating changed after I came out. My dad used to talk to me about dating sometimes; he hasn't mentioned it at all since I came out. My mom used to be really open and want to talk about sex; after I came out, her messages totally changed. Every time she had the chance, she told me that she was so glad that I wasn't dating anyone in college, and that I probably shouldn't date anyone at all for all four years. It kind of sucks, because, essentially, she's just happy I'm not dating girls, but won't say that out loud. We don't really talk about virginity and sex anymore. I think they realize I'm kind of a lost cause."

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"I haven't seen it at all! You rarely see queer women on TV at all — seeing them talking about virginity would honestly be a miracle. It would be so cool to see that, though. I just want more queer women on TV talking about everything."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have?

"Totally. I think before I knew I was queer, I just thought of it as penetrative, heterosexual sex. That was what 'sex' was, according to my religious community and my family, and that was all I knew. Now, I know that sex is a lot more than that. And I also know that virginity is pretty irrelevant. When I was younger, the idea of 'losing my virginity' was pretty important to me, because in my community, it was something huge. But I've realized now that it isn't a big thing, and I honestly believe that seeing it as a big thing is kind of toxic. It's used by 'purity culture' to slut-shame people and to make people ashamed of their sexuality, and I'm over it."

Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?

"Before I realized I was queer, I thought it was a big deal, because I was still drinking the Kool-Aid and thought that it HAD to be a big-deal thing that you saved for marriage. But now, I realize that it really isn't, and that realization takes off so much pressure. I don't have to define what I experience or make it a big thing — and I love that."
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Carolyn, 31

What does losing your virginity mean to you, as a gay woman?

"As a lesbian who has never had sex with a man, I don't really know when I 'lost' my virginity, because I never thought it was something relevant to lesbians. For straight women, it seems more straightforward, but sex for lesbians can mean a lot of things. There was never a time when I was engaged in a sexual act with another woman and thought, This is it! She's swiping my V-card!"

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity?

"I went to Catholic Sunday school, so that is where the idea of virginity being this amazing, powerful thing that you should hold onto was drilled into my head. At the time, I didn't realize that I was gay, but I did know that I had zero interest in having sex with a man.

"Being a virgin seemed like the easiest thing! I remember talking to my mom about it and saying, 'I don't get why they make it sound like it's so hard to save yourself for marriage. That sounds really easy,' and my mom was like 'It's not. And the older you get, the harder it will be to stay a virgin.' I think my parents were more concerned about my sister and I being happy and healthy and not pregnant than whether or not we were virgins."

Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?

"Thankfully, my parents did not ask me questions about my sex life after I came out to them."

Have you seen gay women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"Yes, but definitely not anything mainstream. There's a Canadian show called Bomb Girls that alludes to one of the closeted lesbians losing her virginity (they kiss before, and then there's a cut to them giving each other foot massages after something obviously went down). I think it's rarely overtly discussed, even on shows with prominent gay characters, and that's probably because virginity is a gray area for lesbians."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have? Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?

"Again, I don't even know what I consider losing my virginity. The more momentous thing for me was the first time I kissed a woman, because that was more of the thing that you're 'not supposed to do,' even though you want to and know it'll be awesome. Everything else after that was just different ways to give and receive pleasure, with no one way being THE milestone."
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Ash, 28

What does losing your virginity mean to you?


"Here's the thing about virginity: It's a made-up concept. It's a completely arbitrary set of values imposed on women by a patriarchy in order to place value on their sexual worth. Think about it — what is virginity, really? Is it penetration? By a penis? A toy? A finger? Is it the first time someone touched your genitals with their bare skin? Is it the first time you came? If so, some mothers are virgins. Does it count if you were raped? Does it count if it was oral?

"What I do know is that virginity is a standard of qualitative worth placed on women, which changes based on the whims of the men in a family, community, or culture — a moving target used solely to control the behavior of women. Such concepts have no place in my life or community as a queer woman."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity?

"My parents and religious community imposed upon me that my worth was determined by how little (or how much) sexual activity I had performed before entering a monogamous straight marriage. At eight, I was convinced I was no longer a virgin, because a male classmate had touched my waist a little too low (by accident, in passing). At 12, I was convinced that I had already lost my immortal soul simply by fantasizing about kissing my crushes — sinning in the mind is the same as sinning in the flesh, as they say. At 14, I began having panic attacks because I had dreams of sleeping with my best friend."

Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?


"I believe my parents are unsure as to how, or whether, I am sexually active as a married lesbian. There has been no talk of virginity or otherwise, and attempts at joking are quickly hushed."

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"I have, but I think it's important to remember that the vast majority of television and movies are created not only in a male-dominated field, but often by a cast and crew that is majority male. Especially with lesbian content, because lesbians and queer women are so fetishized by men, the content is made specifically with a male audience in mind. The lens through which queer female stories are told in this context is inherently flawed. As such, the stories very rarely feel authentic."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have?

"Absolutely. As a child and teen, virginity was very much a part of how I identified my self-worth. As I began to realize that virginity is extremely vague, within and especially outside of a straight relationship, I began to question the concept itself. Twelve years after coming out, much of which was spent in absolute torment, I know better than to place that kind of value on my sexual experiences."

Did losing your virginity feel momentous at the time? In retrospect?

"I expected, at some point, to 'lose my virginity,' but you can't lose something that was never yours in the first place. The idea of my virginity was owned by my church and my family, placed upon me unwillingly, and I have since left it behind with them and never looked back."
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Amy, 23

What does losing your virginity mean to you?

"Personally, even as a queer person, I still have a difficult time breaking away from the definitions that were taught to me growing up. My parents were very conservative, and sex that was not between two heterosexual people was not even presented as an option. So I still relate the idea of 'losing your virginity' with penetration of some sort."

How, if at all, did your parents talk to you about virginity? Did the dialogue change once you came out to them?

"Sex was always a difficult subject to broach with my parents, and it was very much a taboo subject in our household. Our conversations about virginity have been few and far between. However, even after the first time I told my mother that I was in love with a girl, there was always an unspoken assumption that I was (and would remain) a virgin."

Have you seen queer women losing or discussing their virginity in TV or movies?

"Sadly, I can't recall any time that I've seen queer women discussing losing their virginity in media overall. I'm still in the process of understanding my sexuality, and I find it extremely important to have role models and representation that I can look to for some guidance. Although I've never really found many role models in traditional media, I've had much better luck with creators like Hannah Hart on YouTube. People like her make the whole experience much more relatable."

Has your idea of virginity shifted as your experiences have?

"I think my idea of virginity has changed slightly. Because of the way I was raised, I still intend to wait until marriage. However, I used to associate the idea of 'losing your virginity' with the inverse — a male taking it from you. I now view sex (for the first time) as less of giving up something from yourself and more of a consensual act between two people."
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