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Hymenology

Talking Virginity with Adjoa Sankofia Tetteh: "If their kids have lost their virginity, it affects the way these parents see their children"

From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in June 2012.

We caught up with Sexuality Educator Adjoa Sankofia Tetteh at MomentumCon in DC and asked her about how her clients dealt with virginity issues. She told us that parents really do drag their daughters to clinics and ask doctors to check if they are still virgins. The video is here.

Follow Adjoa on twitter @adjoasankofia

Watch our other MomentumCon interviews with Carol Queen, Charlie Glickman and Jaclyn Friedman.

Lies My Bloody Sheets Told Me

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From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in November 2011.

So, this appeared on stfu, believers tumblr yesterday. Assuming it's not a tasteless hoax, this is a photo some guy took after having intercourse with his wife on their wedding night. According to the person who re-posted it, it was intended to prove that "while he isn’t ‘pure’, she is."

Even if it is a hoax, it is also what we call a 'teaching moment.' So, let us analyze this train wreck:

1. The status of someone's hymen and the presence or lack of blood has nothing to do with whether a woman has had intercourse or not. So proud hubby, all this high-fiving over making your wife bleed displays a totally misguided* and dangerous* mis-understanding* of how female bodies* work.

2. Also, dude, additional high-fiving over the fact that your wife was 'pure' on her wedding night is sort of sad especially since you want us all to know you weren't. Double standard, much? If she did, in fact, abstain from intercourse until marriage, I truly hope it did not stem from some fear that no man would marry her unless she was 'pure.'

3. Some folks were doubting that this was hymenal-breakage blood because there was so much of it, saying it looked more like the aftermath of period sex. Well, it does. But who knows? Even though many women don't bleed at all, some bleed a lot. And some continue to bleed occasionally throughout their sexual lives. It's sensitive down there! Our bodies are all different and there's no 'right' way to react to something in your vagina, whether it's the first time or the 56th.

4. Did I mention that whether the blood came from her monthlies, her vaginal tissue or a stray chicken liver, it says nothing meaningful about her sexual history?

5. Now readers, I need to talk to you. There's been a lot of ew-ing over the blood. Get over it - it's blood. Wanna know what's really gross? A guy who violates his brand new wife's privacy by displaying a sheet covered with her brand new wife's blood on Facebook and then crows about it.

* The hymen wasn't even 'discovered' until 1544 when an anatomist went looking for the reason some women bled when they first had intercourse. He identified a small bit of tissue at the opening of the vagina, and because men were so desperate to medicalize virginity, they made the hymen their signpost. By the way, there were lots of other tests for virginity, equally useless. Just one of the many ridiculous examples: If a woman smells lettuce and then pees, she's clearly not a virgin because of the 'open channel' between her mouth and vagina. Seriously.

Headline with apologies to Mordechai Richler

More on virginity testing here and hymenology here. And vampire hymens here.

A Hymen by any other name – in Swedish, English and Arabic – is definitely sweet.

From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in December 2009.

The RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) is my new favorite sexual health organization! They distribute a booklet for the express purpose of dispelling myths surrounding the hymen and virginity. And they've coined a new name to better understand this somewhat notorious part of the female anatomy: Vaginal Corona (slidkrans* in Swedish):

In Swedish, the hymen used to be called mödomshinna, which translates literally as “virginity membrane.” In fact, there is no brittle membrane, but rather multiple folds of mucous membrane.

The vaginal corona is a permanent part of a woman’s body throughout her life. It doesn’t disappear after she first has sexual intercourse, and most women don’t bleed the first time,” said Åsa Regnér, RFSU secretary general.

Here's their unapologetic take on the meaning of virginity:

Virginity is a vague concept based on perceptions and myths, chiefly concerning female sexuality, that RFSU would not wish to endorse. For one thing, virginity is often associated with a heteronormative view of sex restricted to penetrative intercourse between man and woman...

For another, in many languages and cultures, virgin is synonymous with innocence, the opposite of which is guilt. There is no guilt involved in having sex, and no need to feel guilty about it.

The book gives examples of different vaginal coronas as well as a diagram of the vulva, and hopes to dispel the myth that all women bleed the first time they have intercourse. Here's what they have to say about hymen reconstruction (a procedure even non-sexually active women have to ensure they bleed):

Surgery on the vaginal corona rarely solves any problems, firstly because outcomes vary, and secondly because it helps to maintain patriarchal structures and a prejudiced view of women and their sexuality...it is not possible to sew a membrane in place, to recreate something that never existed. Doctors say it’s like “stitching butter” because the tissue is soft and elastic.

The book addresses vaginal intercourse and pleasure:

For a woman to enjoy vaginal intercourse – regardless of how many times she has done it and what is being inserted in her vagina – she needs to be aroused and lubricated (wet). If she is tense and has difficulties to relax, it may hurt more. It doesn’t matter whether it’s her first, second or tenth time.

And sexual assault:

Although you can’t tell from looking at a vaginal corona whether it has been penetrated, if you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault it’s possible to find traces of your attacker. It’s therefore critical to seek medical care as soon as possible after the incident, and not to wash yourself. The injuries that doctors record and the samples they take can be used as evidence in court. Equally important is the need to talk to someone and get counselling and support to help you deal with what has happened.

The booklet, which you can download here, is written in a very friendly and accessible tone – an impressive translation job from Swedish. The best news is that not only have they translated the booklet into English, by popular demand it's also available in Arabic and Sorani (a Kurdish language spoken in Iran and Iraq). All of our hymenology posts are here.

*Anyone know the literal definition of that? Their new term for the hymen in Arabic is تاج{اكليل}المهبل، and in Sorani, the term is ئهڵقهی زێ

Awesome period video Camp Gyno refreshingly anti-shaming, unlike its website (plus bonus tampons≠virginity loss rant)

Have you seen this video Camp Gyno making the rounds of social media today much to the delight of anyone who is sick of the shaming and secrecy and perceived ickyness of talking about our periods? It's a totally exuberant and delightful story of tween/teen girls and periods and camp and tampons that includes the phrase 'red badge of courage' (which will now replace 'crimson tide' as my favorite menstruation euphemism)

People are clearly loving it, with headlines like "An Amazing Breakthrough In Tampon Advertising" and comments like:

"Maybe now men can start to accept that periods are normal and not freak out if a girl does something as scandalous as carry a tampon IN HER HAND... and not her purse"

"It's nice to see people are finally breaking down the walls and making menstruation a normal thing and not something to be ashamed of."

I. LOVE. IT.

Surprisingly (not surprisingly) there are also a significant handful of commenters who are wondering why tweens are using tampons because, you know, VIRGINITY! Um, because some people find them more comfortable, you can swim in them,  you don't feel like you're wearing a wet diaper, and tampon use has nothing to do with virginity because hymens have nothing to do with virginity. Virginity is my business, BUT I DIGRESS from what's really confusing me...

The video is for a new company called Hello Flo which creates "a customized solution" to "deliver the right products at the right time" for your period." Unfortunately, they sell the service with lines that read to me like the same old shaming we've been hearing since ladies got sent to huts at the edge of the village:

"I didn't want to trek through my office with a practically see-through plastic bag with tampons"

"We do it with care and appreciation for the sensitivity of this purchase."

"All your tampons and feminine supplies delivered right to your door in a discreet box."

You know, like back when your druggist wrapped your sanitary pad purchases in brown paper so you wouldn't be embarrassed taking it home from the  store. Also, how does a tampon delivery service help that office worker with the practically see-through plastic bag? What she clearly needs is a Vinnie's Tampon Case!

So what's this disconnect between the exuberant little girl and all that embarrassment over taking-tampons-to-the-ladies-room stuff? It reminds me of companies using feminist language to draw consumers into non-feminist products. Like back when the "Dove Real Beauty" campaign first rolled out those billboards about loving your body... to sell anti-cellulite creme, which Jenn Pozner wrote about for Bitch Magazine.

So, what's up, Hello Flo? Your video rocks! Its message is a hit! Why go and muddle the issue with that contrary copy? Here's my proposal: Your follow up video should be a woman in an office taking her tampons out of that plastic bag and tossing them exuberantly at her menstruating workmates. No more plastic bags. We're carrying them in our teeth! Office Gyno!

Update: The Hairpin just did an interview with the creators of the video. Commenter ChevyVan, with whom I've been talking, put it well:  "They want as many customers as possible. The ones that think the video is awesome, and the ones who want discreet packaging, and they're betting on most people not paying attention to the contradictory messages those 2 approaches are sending. And again, it's the sales pitch out both sides of the mouth that's the icky part to people like you and me."

Just The Tip: Virginity in the News featuring Sarah Jacobson's films, Tami Taylor and #SB5, a telenovela about a virgin, video from our Kinsey show, and more...

Filmmaker Sarah Jacobson was a groundbreaking filmmaker who celebrated the 1990s Riot Grrrl DIY esthetic with films such as the fantastic feature 'Mary Jane's Not A Virgin Anymore.' I was lucky enough to see this and others in a rare screening last night, and I was blown away by the film's treatment of female and male virginity, masturbation and feminism. Sex, from a teenage girl's point of view!! Seriously, this stuff would be too hot and topical for America today, but it played at Sundance back in 1997. Tragically, Jacobson died in 2004 at 33 and what a loss. If you have a chance to see her films, do it.

Read more about Sarah Jacobson, her film 'I Was A Teenage Serial Killer' and notes from her archives in this post we wrote last year. Get more info, and support the grant in her name for DIY filmmakers of today. And yes, although the similarity in our film titles is totally coincidental, we love it.

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Photo of protesters outside Texas Capitol in Austin by The Texas Tribune

wwttd-tshirt-400x470Not specifically about virginity, but anything affecting the regulation of female sexuality and bodily autonomy makes it onto our radar:

The kick-ass women of Texas inspired a lot of odes to Friday Night Lights' Tami Taylor, and begged for Connie Britton to star in the Senator Wendy Davis story, hopefully coming to Lifetime. Connie went halfway there teaming up with Planned Parenthood to launch a brilliant limited edition of "WWTTD (What Would Tami Taylor Do)" t-shirts for sale here.

By the way, when that FNL storyline was playing out, NARAL issued a Tami Taylor inspired line of their own.

To update: Texas still has not resolved SB5, a onerous anti-abortion bill that will effectively reduce clinics providing abortions to 5 in the entire state, and make any abortion illegal after 20 weeks. Last week , we were riveted by the live feed from the Texas State Senate as Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for over 11 13 hours. Then Sen. Leticia Van de Putte uttered the immortal “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” which prompted beautiful hell to break loose in the galleries until past the midnight deadline for the vote.

Gov. Rick Perry is still trying to get the bill passed, and many thousands of opponents of the bill have showed up outside the legislature to protest. We stand with Texas Women and the men who support their reproductive rights, so we'll once again watch the live feed at this link, and get background at RH Reality Check.

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The Kinsey Institute made a cool video about their Juried Art Show, with interviews and footage from opening night including me (!) talking about How to Lose Your Virginity, The V-Card Diaries and our lovely V-Cards. Check it out, although some of the images won't be suitable for work. Unless you work here, of course.

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The CW is developing a show called "Jane the Virgin," based on a Venezuelan telenovela "Juana la Virgen." Vulture describes the original as: "about a 17-year-old girl, Juana, an aspiring photographer, who becomes pregnant when she's accidentally artificially inseminated owing to hospital error." WHAT?! This kind of icky, and sort of like statutory rape, isn't it? Maybe this could be more palatable with a way-over-the-top Ugly Betty treatment.

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Abiola Abrams, who is awesome in our film, is doing 'intimacy interventions at Essence. Today she advises a 35-year-old woman who wonders if after many years of sex with men, she can consider herself a virgin again as she contemplates getting intimate with a woman. How does she 'jump her bones without making a fool' of herself? Read Abiola's answer here.

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Garfunkel and Oates celebrates the 'anal-sex-to-stay-a-virgin' tradition in their new music video "The Loophole." We'd highly recommend a viewing of Broad Comedy's "Saving My Hymen for Jesus" which celebrated similar sentiments back in 2008.

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Thanks to our virginspotters @marymaxfield & @marinmedialab, and @thefrisky. Got a story for our blog? Tweet us or send an email!

V-Card Diaries: Jess "Finally, on our fifth try, I reached my first toe-curling orgasm."

Today we're highlighting Jess in Kentucky, who didn't really feel "sexually active" until after a few tries. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I am a 23-year-old woman in Kentucky.

How do you define virginity?

A sexual experience that marks the beginning of our sexual journey. It's different for everyone and may or may not be sex itself.

Tell us your story

I lost my virginity recently. Honestly, it didn't quite go down the way I thought it would. There was pain! So much more pain and blood than I expected. I freaked out even though we used protection because I was a week late. I wish I had known that was actually normal due to first time trauma with vaginal intercourse.

It maybe wasn't until after the third try that I didn't spot blood and get sore afterward. We took it slow and we were being careful, but it still just happened. I felt so embarrassed, but luckily he was right there afterwards to tell me everything was alright. It's fine.

Finally, on our fifth try I reached my first toe-curling orgasm. I am so glad I waited until I knew I was ready for vaginal sex, because I think if I'd tried to do it any younger I would have shattered from the physical and emotional toll.

I don't think of losing my virginity as one specific moment but instead that entire process that I went through with my partner to become a sexually confident person. I don't think just one experience defined me as "virgin" to "sexually active." Instead, for me, it took several tries before I felt I was "active."

Belgian woman auctions off the right of some guy to be the first to put his penis into her vagina for €50,000

Some dude is paying a Belgian woman €50,000 to be the first to put his penis into her vagina:

"In return for his €50,000, the winner will have the student’s company for 24 hours but must take her shopping and treat her to dinner as part of the deal. The escort company went to the trouble of sending Noelle to a top gynaecologist in The Hague to ascertain that she is a virgin.

The virgin enthusiast will be given a doctor’s certificate proving Noelle is a virgin, and she is insisting sex will only be performed with a condom. On her website profile, Noelle describes herself as ‘a very sweet and innocent girl, but with a bit of a naughty mind’."*

Do I need to get into the fact that a gynaecologist/gynecologist can't tell anything about a woman's sexual history by looking at her? That the hymen means as much as the tip of a guy's penis? That it's really sad that the world continues to be titillated by these kinds of stories, essentially sex work with a gimmick?

Do I need to point out that we're all complicit in perpetuating the idea that this fantasy called virginity is a THING that has VALUE? And once a woman has  intercourse, her VALUE is reduced to ZERO?

I guess I do. It's his money, and her body, but we're all stuck living in this virginity culture.

*This comes from a website whose tag line is "It's Man Stuff"

Ask Trixie : We're ready to have sex but I'm really worried about it hurting.

I've been dating my boyfriend for a while and were ready to have sex but I'm really worried about it hurting. I am very sensitive to pain and I am wondering does it really hurt that badly? What should I expect? – Anonymous

Hi Anonymous - Thanks for writing!

Because we’re all built differently it’s hard to know whether vaginal penetration is going to hurt or not. It didn’t hurt at all for me, and I didn’t bleed either. But some of my girlfriends had a pretty rough time of it.

The good news is that foreplay is your best friend! As you get more aroused, you’ll probably get more lubricated and relaxed, which will help. And be super generous with the lube! You or your boyfriend could also try to gently insert one finger and see how that feels. Slowly work your way to two fingers. Some women I know have had a lot of success with a set of graduated vaginal dilators (here's an example of what I'm talking about) but they do cost some money.

If it hurts, stop and do something else that feels good. Intercourse isn’t the be all and end all, and if it takes a while to make it comfortable, don’t worry. By the way, penetration with a penis or dildo can be sometimes be painful the first time or the 50th time, depending on the size of what's going in there. But if you're relaxed, aroused and well-lubricated and it's still very painful, please talk to your gynecologist to see if there's anything else going on physically like vaginismus. Here's a good post from Scarleteen you should also read.

Good luck!

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here

V-Card Diaries: Taylor "I always thought I'd lose my virginity on Prom Night, because it seemed the most cliché thing"

Today we're highlighting Taylor in California, who thinks she should lose her virginity on prom night, but doesn't really feel ready. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here Tell us about yourself:

I am an 18-year-old female living in California and I'm going off to college in the fall. I always thought that I would lose my virginity on Prom night, because it seemed like the most "normal" and "cliché" thing to do. But Prom is next Saturday, and even though I have a boyfriend, and I like him a lot, I'm not ready to have sex. I wish there was some sort of dial built into your body that tells you if you're "ready" or not. I'm a very logical person and I don't like not having clear-cut answers. Unfortunately, no one can actually tell me if I'm ready or not.

How do you define virginity?

I define virginity as penetrative sex. But only because it "breaks" the hymen and there is physical proof that you are no longer a virgin. I realize that this sounds incredibly ignorant, but that's just what I've been taught by the Christian church.

Tell us your story

My parents always taught my brother and I that we wait until marriage to have sex. When I was young and my parents taught me how babies were made, they explained it as if it was a scientific procedure that can only be done in a sterile environment. I had no idea that sex was supposed to be "fun" until high school.

Yet I still did not understand that pleasure can be brought from your Yoni until I stole my Mom's back massager and went to town. Which she later discovered and shamed me for.

I think that my parents unknowingly placed a lot of guilt and shame around anything sexual, and then as I approached 18, my Mom realized that I was afraid of anything sexual and rephrased it to "No sweetie, sex is great! You just have to wait until marriage to enjoy it." I am still in therapy today, and I'm working on not thinking about my parents whenever I'm making out with my boyfriend.

Note from the editors: We don't usually chime in on V-Card Diaries, but sometimes we want to point you to further reading. If you were taught that the hymen is physical proof that you're no longer a virgin, take a spin through our Hymenology stories, which will give you lots of good info to the contrary.

V-Card Diaries: Sarah "Does lesbian sex mean you're a virgin forever, because there isn't neccessarily any penetration?"

Today we're highlighting Sarah in New Jersey, who started thinking differently about hymens, penis-in-vagina sex and virginity after reading "The Purity Myth." If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I'm an 18-year-old woman (I still feel strange calling myself a woman–I am a girl, really) and I live in New Jersey. Next year I will live in Boston at Emerson College.

How do you define virginity?

Virginity is an entirely social construct–so I don't.

Tell us your story

I think the first time I started thinking of virginity this way was after I read Jessica Valenti's "The Purity Myth." That was when I stopped thinking of virginity in terms of the state of a person before penis-in-vagina sex–that excludes members of the LGBTQIA community, and just isn't really a fair definition. Does lesbian sex mean you are a virgin forever, because there isn't necessarily any penetration? On top of that, this was around the time when I learned what the hymen really is. It's nothing that actually BREAKS, at least not in most cases. So even the physical evidence of virginity isn't there. I actually wrote a piece about this for a grrrl zine one time.

Ask Trixie: My cherry popped. Am I still a virgin?

I'm a 16-year-old virgin and I was fingered by my boyfriend today. This wasn't our first time but this time my cherry popped. Am I still considered a virgin? Because his dick didn't penetrate me. Does this mean I'm partially a virgin? I'm kinda confused about this :s– Anonymous

Hi Anonymous - Thanks for writing!

It’s not surprising that you’re confused since there is no one definition of virginity. So we should first talk about what you think you did to maybe no longer be a virgin.

The first question is what do you mean by ‘my cherry popped.’ Does that mean you bled? If so, you should know that bleeding has no direct connection to whether or not you're a virgin. The bleeding can happen the first time something is inside your vagina, or the 50th. See what I mean about definitions being vague?

The real question is, why is it so important to know one way or another? Do you feel like someone will judge you for your virginity status? That's kind of bullshit on their part, so it really comes down to how you feel. Do you want to be a virgin? Then be one. Do you want to not be a virgin? Then don’t. The important thing is that you’re doing what you want with your body, you enjoy it, you're doing it safely, and you’re able to communicate with your boyfriend about it.

Sorry I don’t have a yes or no answer, but really, there isn’t one. So don’t worry about being confused. Make up your own rules and have fun.

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here

V-Card Diaries: Kerri "It helped me accept my sexuality and break away from the abstinence-only viewpoint"

Today we're highlighting Kerri in the Southern Appalachiams, who is 22 and even though her relationship ended she doesn't regret the experience. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I'm 22. I attend a small private liberal arts college in the Southern Appalachians where I study biology and psychology. I've been reading this blog for probably 4 years and it really helped me come to accept my sexuality and to break away from the abstinence-only viewpoint that I was raised in.

How do you define virginity?

Before having Penis-in-Vagina intercourse, I would have defined it as that but afterward I came to realize that it was more about trusting another person and letting them get intimate with me then about the "sex." All of the other experiences were a much bigger deal at least to me.

Tell us your story

My lab partner asked me to watch Rocky Horror Picture Show with him. That night we stayed up until 4 a.m. and got to second base. Over the next month we hung out in his room and went further and further a little at a time. He made me feel safe and comfortable and was never pushy. He was understanding, which is good because I'm allergic to latex, polyurethane, and nitrile. I stayed over in his room, spent weekends together and finally got to the point. One Saturday, he asked and I said yes. The first time was, well, not great. It wasn't necessarily bad but it was just sort of uncomfortable and weird. Nothing really prepared me for what that was going to feel like. I didn't bleed, at least not the first time, and wasn't really that sore afterward. It got better though, a lot better, over time. We didn't last and the break up was far for mutual but I can't really regret the experience.

Just the Tip: Virginity in the News

Our favorite virgin godmother (and "How to Lose Your Virginity" onscreen expert) Hanne Blank did a talk called "Hymen Wars." Need we say more?

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The New York Times has a profile of author Lauren Myracle, who they call 'this generation's Judy Blume.' in part for the healthy candor of her books about teen life, and also because of the calls to have her books banned. We think her take on being honest with young people is great:

Her aim, she said, is to write about sex without a “soft fade” — as in cutting from “he leaned in for a kiss” to “they lay in bed, naked, smiling.” She wants to fill in the blanks, because kids are curious about the mechanics, and deciding when first to have sex has inherent drama.

A commenter added this thought:

I have read ttyl, ttfn, and l8r g8r - these books came out when I was a teenager and I think it's safe to say I haven't turned into a sex-crazed, technology-obsessed drug addict[...] To ban them is to prevent another avenue for young women, like the one I was, to learn how to respect themselves.

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While Caterina Migliorini's yet-unconsumated virginity auction saga continues, she will be featured in Brazilian Playboy (NSFW). Virginity Auctions are a real-life marketplace extension of the virginity porn fetish, so no surprise that A leads to B.

Inspired by Migliorini, another Brazilian woman Rebecca Bernardo, 18, is auctioning her virginity to raise money to care for her bedridden mother (top bid currently $35,000). Press coverage is as gross and voyeuristic as expected.

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Why not try OK Cupid's "Dating Persona Test"? It is likely a load of bullshit, but OKC does some interesting data analysis and who can resist unscientific pronouncements on your personality? I'm curious what the results are for folks who aren't sexually active, since so much of it has to do with having the sex. You don't have to register to get your results. Let us know in the comments below.

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Jezebel ran yet another virgin-themed post the other day, a sort of First-Person-like essay called "How to Be a Virgin." We like her suggestion of printing out business cards explaining why she hasn't had sex so she doesn't have to actually discuss it any more. And we kind of feel like stealing the headline for the new title of our film.

Virginity testing and India's rape culture

Photo via Brown Girl Magazine

By now we've all heard about the 23-year-old Indian woman who died last week as a result of injuries suffered in a brutal gang rape. A woman in Pujab recently killed herself  after police refused to register her rape accusations, and police themselves have been implicated in rapes across the country. Now comes a report on a two-finger test which is still admissible as evidence in rape cases.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released Sunday in India, points to the so-called “two-finger test” as evidence of how India had failed to take rape seriously, often blaming women’s behavior for the offense. In the test, which appears in Indian jurisprudence textbooks and is admissible in court, a doctor inserts two fingers into a women’s vagina to determine its laxity and whether the hymen is broken, signaling previous sexual activity. The test perpetuates stereotypes of rape survivors as loose women and often is used by defense counsels to achieve acquittals, human-rights groups say.

So it's the usual combination of bad science, the medicalization of virginity testing, and good old slut-shaming. As reprehensible as India's attitudes are, keep in mind similar attitudes still hold sway in U.S. rape cases where, despite Rape Sheild laws, a sexual history can undermine a woman's credibility.

Update: Thanks to @kalifilms for a link to a story that expands on how poorly the US deals with its own rape culture

V-Card Diaries: A. "Because I have vaginismus, I often say I'm in Virgin Limbo"

Tell us about yourself:  

I'm a 24-year-old heterosexual female living in the US.

How do you define virginity?

I’m currently rethinking how I define virginity. I used to think the loss of virginity was a clear milestone for heterosexual females like myself-- the first time one willingly engages in penetrative vaginal sex-- but now it doesn’t seem so simple. As someone who made the deliberate decision to have vaginal sex but was physically unable to do so, I don’t know whether or not to call myself a virgin or not. Which matters more, the intention or the act itself?

It also seems a little ridiculous to claim the label “virgin" when I have an active sex life of oral and outercourse and orgasm more frequently than some of my friends who lost their vaginal virginity years ago, but the cultural significance of vaginal virginity is pervasive and hard to just throw away or ignore, especially when it's the standard by which so many other people define it.

I often say I'm in "Virgin Limbo"; I don’t feel right identifying as a virgin OR not a virgin. I think the definition of virginity needs tweaking to account for situations like this.

Tell us your story

Until I was 22 I was a virgin because I was waiting for the right person. My first kiss was at 18 and my first boyfriend at 19, but in college I never dated anyone long enough to feel the comfort and trust I considered a prerequisite. However, just shy of my 22nd birthday, I met him. We had been dating a few months when I decided that our relationship-- and, most importantly, I personally!-- was ready.

The night leading up to it was perfect. There was a rooftop sunset, spontaneous fireworks display in the distance, and making out in the rain; if it had been in a movie, you'd have rolled your eyes at how “unrealistic” it was. We went back to his room with some condoms and went for it.

Except . . . "it" didn't happen. I was more than ready when he tried to enter me, but it felt like he was like he was trying to thrust against a wall-- a wall that felt sharp stabs of pain every time it was hit! I normally have a very high tolerance for pain, so I couldn't believe this was supposedly what every girl feels her first time, especially since he hadn’t even entered me more than a half-inch. I tried loosening things up more with more lube and orgasming first but it didn’t make a difference. I was so frustrated I was ready to force through the pain, but my partner had been with a virgin before and knew it wasn't supposed to be so difficult or painful, so we stopped.

In the following months we sought advice from trusted friends and the Internet alike and were given suggestions from extra lube to getting drunk. But the only thing that actually helped was a name we discovered: vaginismus, a condition in which the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles at the opening of the vagina involuntarily close and painfully resist the entry of foreign objects, from tampons to penises. It explained everything: why I'd always hated using tampons, why I'd cried in pain during my one and only pelvic exam, and why I couldn't have sex. I wasn’t “unusually tight” as I’d once believed; penetration objectively hurt me in ways it doesn’t hurt most people, thanks to muscle spasms I can't control. It’s still a mystery why I have vaginismus, but knowing what it is has lead to information on how to fix it.

Fast forward two years later. I'm still with the same partner and thanks to open minds and a few compatible kinks our sex life is plenty satisfying, but vaginal sex is still a distant dream. I've seen a doctor and gotten advice on relaxation techniques, Kegel exercises, vaginal dilation, and insight on what muscles to move and how, but while things seem to be progressing, it’s slow-going. It’s frustrating that what is so natural and pleasurable for most people is painful and a chore for me, something I have to “work on” in an unsexy clinical way. There’s enough promise in what we have achieved that we haven’t given up and eagerly await the day we can have vaginal sex, but for now, I’m still stuck in "Virgin Limbo."

You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

V-Card Diaries: Aileen "Want an unbreakable, impenetrable hymen? Take mine"

Today we're highlighting Aileen from the US, a woman who had to medically remove her hymen in order to have pleasurable sex. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I'm a female, in my late 20's, and from the United States.

How do you define virginity?

I don't think there's any one act that causes virginity to be 'lost.' When sexual experiences are no longer something to simply dream about or giggle over, you're probably not a virgin anymore.

Tell us your story:

It always upsets me to hear about women who undergo surgery to "replace" their hymen, and for more reasons than those already stated here. Want an unbreakable, impenetrable hymen? Take mine, please!

When I was younger, I never used tampons because I had trouble inserting them, but I was assured this was normal and nothing to worry about. I never had the desire to try inserting anything else because it was always so uncomfortable, sometimes painful. Then, in college, I had a serious boyfriend. We did lots of fun things physically, but when we tried to have intercourse, it was like he was hitting a wall. Because he was.

Three gynecologists later, I found out I had a rigid hymen and having it surgically removed was the best option as even the slightest attempt to stretch it caused immense pain. Surgery wasn't the magical solution to pain-free sex I'd hoped it would be (to be fair, the surgeon did tell me it wasn't going to be an instant fix), but it certainly made things a lot easier. Good riddance, hymen!

Yes, this is a Bollywood/Salsa music video for female-empowerment vagina-tightener

Our friend Aggie Ebrahimi always sends us the most distressing items for this blog, and this is no exception. We've profiled other vag-tightening creams here and here before, but none come with an ad campaign like this one. Behold an Indian commercial for the launch of '18 Again' which is described as

"a vaginal rejuvenation tightening gel is redefining the term women empowerment [their italics]. It is a powerful and natural answer to intimate feminine concerns. A remarkable product to empower the new age women."

Apparently, the cream was heartily endorsed by a group of Indian actresses at its launch, much to the dismay of Paromita Vohra, a Mumbai-based filmmaker, who writes:

I would also humbly request the beautiful, feisty ladies of a certain age present at the launch, who have rousingly performed "The Vagina Monologues," a play which aims to rescue the vagina from a place of shame and darkness, with the use of powerful words, not tightening and whitening creams — please do not confuse this issue and rob your good work of its power. And other ladies and gents, it’s really time you rejected this claptrap. It’s dumb, it’s uncool and also, it costs Rs 2,430 a pop. Get on with the real revolution now, it’s much nicer than being 18 again.

Be-dazzled and Be-hymened by MTV's "Awkward."

Guest post by Libby Feltch

Ever seen the show "Awkward." which was just renewed for a third season on MTV? It’s a teen dramedy with characters who—although cartoonish at times—for the most part seem more tangible than those in the network’s “reality” TV programs.

I’m a little late to the game, but I finally gave in to peer pressure and started watching it and I’m really REALLY glad I did. If I hadn’t, I would have never experienced "The Way We Weren't," a beautiful episode in which a girl who has taken a purity pledge decides to offer up her “be-hymen” to her boyfriend (around 15:06 min) after a friend suggests taking full advantage of where “God has a blind spot” (around 12:50 min).

Awkward establishes itself early on in its pilot as an alternative to the more romanticized and/or traumatizing visions of sex in most other teen dramas. **Spoiler Alert**  Two minutes in, the main character, Jenna, loses her penis-in-vagina virginity very unceremoniously in a broom closet. With tears welling up from pain, Jenna explains to her crush that the waterworks are due to an allergy attack. The scene is very simple, funny and comforting.

AfterElton did a nice piece on how the show handles sex right around the time the “be-hymen” episode first aired in 2011. I think this quote from the article by series creator/exec-producer, Lauren Iungerich, neatly sums up the show’s intent:

"When I first started having sex… I had sex with somebody because I felt like I had to get it over with," she said. "And afterwards [it] was sort of this like, 'Oh my god, I gave this thing [up]. I'm really vulnerable… I've shared something truly intimate with somebody I don’t even really know.' Not until you're older do you realize what intimacy really is, and it has nothing to do with sex. And that's [Jenna's] journey."

Libby is a recent graduate of Vassar College and a talented intern here at Trixie Films. If you work in television, you should hire her. Give her a shout!

A Romance Novelists' Guide to Hymen Breaking

Over at Feministe, Caperton pens some much-needed words of advice for the folks writing about Lusty Pirates deflowering Innocent Maidens:

In the world of heteromance novels, though, the hymen’s usually the thing, and there’s pretty consistent boilerplate for the scene in which our innocent, sheltered protagonist loses hers: She feels an awful tearing deep inside or a pinching that wasn’t as bad as she expected, or he encounters an obstruction halfway in about which he’ll interrogate her after they’re done with the tender lovemaking. Or he gets to a certain point insider her and then has to stop and ask her if she’s okay and strokes her hair off her forehead until she assures him she really does want to do this, and then he busts through her maidenhead like the Kool-Aid Man, and she’s ouchy for a bit and then ends up coming rainbows by the time he’s finished.

You can read the whole post here, including its shout-out to Scarleteen and Hanne Blank.  While I'm sure that the smartie readers of this blog already know the hymen is right at the entrance to–and not midway down–the vagina, the whole gynastics/horseback riding/bicycle bar breakage thing is not all that accurate, either. If you want a refresher, check out my guest post at Adios Barbie, "Regenerating Hymens and Bloody Sheets: What’s Really Going On Down There?," for more fascinating hymenology.

V-Card Diaries: Cloud Dancing "That first moment you free yourself from the negative messages about sex"

Today we're highlighting Cloud Dancing from Olympia, whose definition of virginity pivots pleasure. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I am 37 and from Olympia, WA. I am an "over" graduate student working on a new career at Evergreen State College. I am a cultural feminist; a belief in all things goddessy, kind, and generative about Feminism. And I am pro-radical honesty when it comes to issues of sex. I've dealt with being hypersexual all my life from my bipolar disorder. The subject has always interested me and enthralled me, so I know a good deal. Surprisingly it wasn't until I was 32 I was able to master having an orgasm with another person.

How do you define virginity?

I was born w/o a hymen so I really don't think it has much to do with a cherry getting popped or what-not. It is simply your first intercourse. But I believe it should be your first orgasm, that first moment where you were able to free yourself from all the negative messages about sex and just come together. I didn't have that till I was 25 and I wasn't really comfortable to let go with a partner in the room till 32.

Tell us your story

I always attributed my loss of virginity to my lover's best friend who got me high when I was 19 and completed intercourse with me as I lay there prone and rigid in a cold blue light, like I was watching it from outside my body. I suppose it was I had so much religious shame about sex, so much taught shame that I could not say the words to describe what I needed to enjoy pleasure. I did it because of the religious mythos imparted to the act that there was some mystical bond and it would be ultimate bliss like the movies or a romance novel.

But it was none of that. Just a cold blue light and the feeling of be penetrated lightly and it was over. Realizing sex was not some magical act that would turn me into some magical princess or bond me to a man forever was a hard lesson. And I found that in my foreplay/heavy petting sessions with my first lover were much more passionate and orgasmic compared to that cold little moment. And so it took me another ten years before I could say "penis" and "vagina" without blushing and where I could take control of my pleasure with my ex-husband.