My boyfriend and I haven’t really had sex, but when we were hooking up just the tip went in. Now I’m really worried—am I still a virgin?
You’re definitely not the first person to be worried about your virginity or what it means when “just the tip” goes in. As we’ve said before, virginity is a complicated and emotional subject for many people—you’re not alone.
The first thing you should know is that virginity is a social construct.
This means that there is no medical definition of virginity. Instead, culture determines what virginity is. This is why health care providers will never ask if you’re a virgin. Instead, they’ll ask if you’re sexually active.
As you’ve discovered for yourself, the definition of virginity is not simple. This is (partly) because the definition of sex isn’t simple. Some people think someone loses their virginity when they have penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. However, there are lots of types of sex such as oral, manual (aka “fingering,” or “giving a hand job”), and anal. Many people also use toys like vibrators, or masturbate (meaning they touch themselves for sexual pleasure).
Do you think these activities “count” as “losing your virginity”? Why or why not? It’s great to ask yourself these questions because part of being sexually healthy is understanding your own feelings, boundaries and values when it comes to sex (of ALL kinds).
“Losing your virginity” can feel like a shameful or “dirty” thing. This is especially true if your family, religion or culture emphasizes virginity until marriage. Of course, waiting to have sex until you get married is a completely valid decision, and it very well might be the right decision for you. However, if you decide not to wait, that’s a valid decision too. Sex is a normal, healthy part of life so long as you do it safely and with enthusiastic consent.
The term “losing your virginity” can sound pretty negative! What are you actually “losing” when you have sex? Instead, when someone has sex for the first time we like to say that they’re making their sexual debut, or becoming sexually active.
As you figure out your feelings and values surrounding sex, it’s important that you stay sexually healthy.
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Even though it sounds like your boyfriend didn’t ejaculate (or come/cum) inside of you, you’re still at risk for STIs. Make sure you use condoms or dental dams when there’s any sexual contact (including oral sex) to protect yourself and your partner from STIs. Condoms are also an effective way to prevent pregnancy, but it’s still a good idea to use another, more reliable method of birth control like the IUD or implant (though there are lots of other great options). If you decide you DO want to have PIV sex, start birth control beforehand.
In addition, make sure that you and your partner understand the importance of consent, and how to practice it. Does he respect that you don’t want to be having PIV sex right now, or is he pressuring you? Does your boyfriend respect you in other ways? If not, think about whether your relationship is healthy. Relationships should be based on mutual respect and kindness—not coercion.
If you live in NYC, you can come to Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for completely free, confidential health services including STI testing and treatment, and birth control. We also provide free mental health services if you want tools to establish boundaries in your relationships, or to work through your feelings about sexuality.
A version of this article was originally published in July, 2017.