Key Facts
  • The term “virginity” means different things to different people
  • Many people use the word “virgin” to mean that a person “has not had sexual intercourse,” but the term “sexual intercourse” can also have many interpretations
  • Using tampons does not change your hymen or your “virginity.”
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What does it mean to be a virgin?

The answer to this question is actually tricky because depending on someone’s culture, religion, and life experience, a teen or adult may have different ideas about what virginity means. Many people would say “you are a virgin until you have had sexual intercourse,” but the term “sexual intercourse” can have many interpretations. When most people talk about sexual intercourse, they mean when penis in vagina (PIV) sex, but it could also refer to oral or anal sex, being “fingered,” or any other kind of sexual activity with a partner.

How do I know if I’m a virgin?

The answer to this question depends on how you define “virginity.”  There’s no medical definition of “virginity.” You may decide you’re a “virgin” until you’ve had penis-in-vagina sex, until you’ve had oral sex, or until you’ve been sexually intimate in any way with your partner. Different cultures and religions may have different definitions and so you have to decide what “losing your virginity” means to your family, culture, and what it means to you. What’s more important than knowing whether or not you are a “virgin” is making sure you feel safe with your partner and you don’t ever feel pressured into having sex. Becoming sexually active is not only a big decision, it should always be YOUR choice and no one else’s.

Some people believe that you are a virgin until your hymen “breaks.” This is a myth. The hymen is a crescent-shaped thin membrane that covers part of the vaginal opening (see diagram below). It does not “break” or “pop,” but usually stretches a little when something is inserted into the vagina (fingers, penis, etc.), Sometimes the stretching can cause small tears, which may lead to small amounts of blood. This occurs especially if the opening in the hymen is small or there is pain with insertion. Some teensmay have a few spots of blood the first time they have vaginal sex, others do not.

How can you tell if someone has had sex before?

There is no sure way of knowing if someone has ever had sexual intercourse. In the old days, people believed that a woman was a virgin only if she bled the first time she had vaginal intercourse (with a male partner). While some people still believe this myth, many people realize that sex can be with someone of the same or different gender and many women do not bleed from their hymen the first time they have vaginal sex. If a woman does bleed, it is usually just a few drops of blood. There’s also no real way to tell if a guy has had sex before (other than asking).  No matter the history, it’s important to use barriers such as condoms or dental dams every time you have sex to lessen the chance of getting sexually transmitted diseases.

If you are sexually active in any way, it’s important to let your health care provider know so you can find out how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases.

Will I lose my virginity if I need to have a speculum exam?

No. There are special narrow specula that are used for examining women who have not had vaginal intercourse. The speculum does not change your hymen or your “virginity.”

Will I lose my virginity if I use tampons?

No. Most people agree that a virgin is someone who has never had sex with a partner. Sex means different things to different people, but using a tampon does not change your hymen or your “virginity.” Some cultures, however, don’t approve of the use of tampons in women until they are married.

Diagram.  Figure 1 shows a normal hymen with a crescent shape and the opening into the vagina.  Figure 2 shows an imperforate hymen which girls are born with.  This girl will need surgery before she can have menstrual periods. A small number of girls are born with a very small opening in the hymen (called a “microperforate hymen”) (Figure 3) or a septate hymen (Figure 4) which has a band across the opening.

hymen types


Remember the definition of “virginity” may vary depending on your cultural and religious beliefs  as well as your understanding of sexual intercourse. You are the only person who can decide when and if you are ready for sex If you decide to have sex (whether it is oral, vaginal, or anal) it’s important to ALWAYS protect yourself from getting an STI. Talk with your health care provider about ways to protect yourself against STIs and pregnancy.