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A virgin is most commonly seen as a person who has not engaged in sexual intercourse. In a stricter sense it is somebody who has not yet engaged in sexual activities (the wider this term is taken, the stricter the definition of virgin). The status of "virginity" (remaining a virgin) is something that is respected and valued in some societies, especially in regards to religious views of retaining one's virginity before marriage. The term maiden is also sometimes used to mean a female virgin, although that can also refer to an unmarried (rather than virginal) woman.

Among human females, the hymen is a membrane, part of the vulva, which partially occludes the entrance to the vagina and which is often physically torn when the woman first engages in vaginal intercourse. The presence of an intact membrane is therefore often seen as physical evidence of virginity in the broader technical sense. The absence of one, however, is not necessarily an indication of participation in sexual congress, since in some women the hymen is either absent from birth, or sufficiently vestigial not to be affected by sexual penetration. Conversely, in rare cases a hymen is imperforate, and as menstrual discharge cannot escape surgical intervention is required to protect the health of the woman. In modern times the hymen is often ruptured via non-sexual activities, for example the insertion of a tampon.

Traditionally, women were not regarded as virgins after a sexual assault. Some feminists disavow this notion. There are even women who take this "spiritual" conception of virginity to its maximum, considering "born again" Christians to be virgins, regardless of their past sexual conduct.

There is no obvious physical indicator of virginity in human males, though there may be social indicators, including possible sexual anxiety and a lack of sexual experience or prowess. The word "chastity" (or "celibacy," when referring to the lifestyle choice) is sometimes used for men in place of virginity, although these terms can also be applied to women.

Likewise, there is no single definition of loss of virginity for those who do not engage in penile-vaginal intercourse, particularly gay men and lesbians. Some people choose to think of their first emotionally significant sex act as being the loss of their virginity, or their first penetrative sex act, or the first act functioning as a potential disease vector, or some other definition varying from person to person.

Virginity has been often considered to be a virtue denoting purity and physical self-restraint and is an important characteristic of some religious figures such as the Virgin Mary (often called simply the Virgin) and the Greek goddesses Athena, Artemis, and Hestia. The Maiden or Virgin is one of the three persons of the Triple Goddess in many Neopagan traditions. The constellation Virgo represents a wide selection of sacred virgins. The bride's wearing of a white dress during her wedding is supposed to serve as a symbol of her pre-marital virginity, although this tradition is often symbolic given that women may not actually be virgins at their weddings.

References to virginity are often used in a disparaging manner among younger members of society (especially those from their late teens to early twenties). The common belief among youth that virginity is something to be ridiculed has been a matter of considerable debate, especially related to controversies involving sexuality among young people.

Some historians and anthropologists note that many societies, such as the United States before the sexual revolution that place a high value on virginity before marriage, actually have a large amount of premarital sexual activity that does not involve penetration, e.g., oral sex and mutual masturbation. This has been termed technical virginity or hot virginity.


Female Virgin

Very often female virgins experience pain during their first experience with sexual intercourse.

Male Virgin

An old tradition for males to lose their virginity was for their Father to bring them to a brothel or pay money to a hooker to provide them a first-time experience in sexual intercourse.

Derived meanings

The term virgin is also used in a similar manner to describe:

  • someone or something that has not yet achieved a significant goal of some sort (e.g., someone who has never participated in the audience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show)
  • something unused or unspoiled (e.g., virgin forest, a forest that has never been logged; Virgin Lands Campaign in the Soviet Union)
  • something "first" whether or not better (virgin olive oil, so named by being from the first pressing of olives; it is only better if the chef wants his or her food to taste more like olive and less like oil).

Likewise, a cocktail made without alcohol may be called virgin (e.g., Virgin Mary, Virgin Pina Colada).

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04