The meaning of virginity varies from place to place; overall, the concept of being a virgin revolves around not having had any penetrative sex, but this concept is very fragile since it leaves out other forms of sexuality and ways of intimacy. One thing is for sure, the desire to be "pure" and the stigma around female sexuality are all about social, cultural, and religious traditions and norms, which in many cases are explicitly targeted towards women.
"losing your virginity," "taking someone's virginity," or "deflowering someone" are all terms that add up to the stigma. They connotate a sense of losing something that will never be retrieved or someone taking something away from you as if it were not our own choice and decision to engage in sexual intercourse.
Popping the cherry is not a thing!
When we talk about losing your virginity, we correlate it with tearing up the hymen. The hymen is a thin membrane that partially or fully covers the vagina's entrance in some people. We say some because there can be individuals who are born without it. So hymens come in all shapes and forms: It can cover a lot of your vaginal entrance or cover very few, some are thicker, some are thinner, and some are not even there!
To recap, "Popping the cherry" is a myth because:
Some people are born without a hymen.
Some hymens don't get teared up or "broken" during their first sexual encounter. They can get stretched and not cause any pain or bleeding at all.
Other hymens can get teared up while you do physical activities like cycling, swimming, or horse riding.
The hymen is an evolutionary mystery, but we do know that some animals have it as well. Fun fact: Elephant hymens tear up only when the female is giving birth!. I'm pretty sure no one has ever encouraged a female elephant to "wait until marriage."
Hymen reconstructive surgery:
There's a myth that your hymen can grow back after seven years without having sex. But it's not true; when the hymen it's gone, it's gone for good.
The stigma around virginity is so strong that women feel pressure to gain back their hymen. Hymenrrhaphy is a plastic surgery targeted towards reconstructing the hymen, a way of "restoring your virginity," which involves stitching back together with the remaining tissue of the hymen. If there is not enough skin, the surgeon will create one from scratch from vaginal skin or synthetic tissue.
The culture of virginity:
In Christianity and Judaism, the concept of virginity and female transgression has its roots in Eva's original sin when eating the forbidden fruit. This purity concept is also highlighted in the bible with The Virgin Mary, an icon of grace, and motherhood, born without Eva's original sin.
In the middle ages, it was thought that the only way to capture a unicorn was by using a virgin as a lure.
In Muslim culture, not being a virgin before marriage is considered a sin and almost equal to being dirt; this is why hymen reconstructive surgery is popular amongst Muslim women.
As you can see, religion plays an essential role in the way we see virginity, and it can get translated into a culture of shame, even if you are not a religious person.
Virginity Testing around the world:
A virginity test is performed by inspecting the hymen for tears and even inserting two fingers into the vagina. There is no evidence that these tests are useful since all bodies are different and behave differently.
According to the World Health Organization, "These examinations are not only a violation of women's and girls' human rights, but in cases of rape can cause additional pain and mimic the original act of sexual violence, leading to re-experience, re-traumatization and re-victimization", which is why the WHO stated that these tests must end globally.
Is it time to "lose your virginity"?:
Choosing to have sex for the first time is a big decision to make and one you must feel in control over. The peer pressure of "having" to lose it might make you not enjoy it, and yes, you can enjoy having sex for the first time; it doesn't have to be painful.
So remember, if you're going to have sex for the first time, make sure to feel comfortable, trust your partner and create a safe space.