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I’m a lesbian, and recently had sex with my girlfriend for the first time. I was excited to lose my virginity, but my best friend told me that I hadn’t really had sex since it was with another girl! Does that mean that since I’m gay, I’ll always be a virgin?

Great question! Virginity is a complicated and emotional subject for a lot of people. You’re definitely not the only person to have questions about it. The important thing to understand is that virginity is not a medical concept, and doesn’t have any clear definition. This means that no one (not even your best friend) can tell you whether you’re a virgin or not. How you define virginity—and whether you want to use that concept at all—is totally up to you.

Most people think of a virgin as someone who has never had sex. But what does “sex” mean? Does it include oral sex (blow jobs, going down on, eating out), manual sex (fingering, hand jobs) or anal sex? What about masturbation? How do toys fit into this? Everyone has different ideas about what “real” sex is, which means they have different ideas about what losing your virginity means.

Even though there are lots of different kinds of sex, many people still tie virginity to penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex.

There may be cultural or religious reasons that someone thinks about PIV sex differently. However, that does NOT mean that PIV sex is “real” sex, and other types don’t “count.” The sex you have with your girlfriend is no less legitimate than sex that involves a penis!

As you’ve already experienced, thinking of PIV sex as “real” sex excludes people in relationships where both partners have vaginas, or both partners have penises.

It also diminishes the power, pleasure and risk of other kinds of sex.

It’s often much easier for people with penises to have an orgasm (or come/cum) from PIV sex than it is for people with vaginas, who often need direct clitoral stimulation (such as from hands, a mouth or a toy). This means that thinking of PIV sex as “real” sex prioritizes guys’ pleasure—which isn’t cool at all.

Plus, you can still get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from other kinds of sex, though the level of risk varies. This means that you still need to protect yourself when you have oral or anal sex. Make sure you and your girlfriend have been tested. You can use dental dams as a barrier method during oral sex, and latex gloves or finger cots during manual sex. Learn more about how to have safer sex when you and your partner both have vaginas.

Despite all this, virginity is still a powerful idea that can create a lot of shame and anxiety.

It sounds like you weren’t just excited to have sex for the first time, but also to lose that “virgin” label. That’s not surprising, considering how much importance many cultures place on virginity. It’s worth asking yourself what “losing your virginity” means to you—and why anyone else should care. It might help to think of “making your sexual debut” or “becoming sexually active,” rather than “losing your virginity.” You can also check out this article, where we talk more about common virginity myths.

If you’re 10-22 years old near NYC, stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential STI testing and treatment, barrier methods and answers to all your other health questions! Call (212) 423-3000 to make an appointment.