The hymen is a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina. A virgin is a woman in whom the hymen is still intact. In most women, the hymen tears when they have (penetrative) sex for the first time. It may bleed when this happens. The bleeding is sometimes seen as proof of virginity. So by definition, a virgin is a woman with an intact hymen who has never had penetrative sex. However, there are different views on what types of sexual activity lead to the loss of virginity. According to the traditional view, virginity is only lost through vaginal penetration with the penis. Oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation or other forms of non-penetrative sexual intercourse do not, according to this view, lead to the loss of anatomical virginity. A person who engages in other sexual acts without having direct vaginal intercourse is often considered a “technically virgin”. Contrary to the definition, however, a stretched or torn hymen does not necessarily mean that a woman has lost her virginity. Because this can also happen unnoticed, and not necessarily only during sex.

A woman's first consummated sexual intercourse is considered an important turning point in many cultures. This event is sometimes seen as the end of her innocence and should ideally happen on the wedding night. Traditionally, then, there has been and still is a social expectation in many cultures that a woman enters marriage as a virgin. The white wedding dress, for example, is considered a symbol of immaculateness and purity, attributed only to virgins. In Central Europe, the importance of virginity has declined greatly in the last century, but in the Middle Ages and even after, it was enormously important for a long time. Today, women statistically have sex for the first time at the age of 15.5, while boys experience their first time at an average of 16.4. The male equivalent of virgin used to be the word youngling. However, the chastity of men has never been given as much importance as that of young women. In some cultures, such as in strict Islamic countries, the importance of virginity is still very great today. There, it sometimes even goes so far that young women have their hymen restored in an operation if they have already had sex before marriage. The aim of this procedure is to ensure that no one notices that the woman has already had premarital sex. In these cultures, a daughter's lack of virginity can mean shame for the whole family.

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