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Virginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions which place special value and significance on this state, especially in the case of unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth.
Like chastity, the concept of virginity has traditionally involved sexual abstinence before marriage, and then to engage in sexual acts only with the marriage partner. The concept of virginity usually involves moral or religious issues and can have consequences in terms of social status and in interpersonal relationships. Although virginity has social implications and had significant legal implications in some societies in the past, it has no legal consequences in most societies today.
The term virgin originally only referred to sexually inexperienced women, but has evolved to encompass a range of definitions, as found in traditional, modern, and ethical concepts. Heterosexual individuals may or may not consider loss of virginity to occur only through penile-vaginal penetration, while people of other sexual orientations often include oral sex, anal sex or mutual masturbation in their definitions of losing one's virginity.
The word virgin comes via Old French virgine from the root form of Latin virgo, genitive virgin-is, meaning literally "maiden" or "virgin"—a sexually intact young woman or "sexually inexperienced woman". As in Latin, the English word is also often used with wider reference, by relaxing the age, gender or sexual criteria. Hence, more mature women can be virgins (The Virgin Queen), men can be virgins, and potential initiates into many fields can be colloquially termed virgins; for example, a skydiving "virgin". In the latter usage, virgin means uninitiated.
The Latin word likely arose by analogy with a suit of lexemes based on vireo, meaning "to be green, fresh or flourishing", mostly with botanic reference—in particular, virga meaning "strip of wood".
In this, and many later contexts, the reference is specifically Christian, alluding to members of the Ordo Virginum (Order of Virgins), which applies to the consecrated virgins known to have existed since the early church from the writings of the Church Fathers.
Further expansion of the word to include virtuous (or naïve) young women, irrespective of religious connection, occurred over about another century, until by about 1400 we find:
These are three of the eighteen definitions of virgin from the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, pages 230-232). Most of the OED1 definitions, however, are similar.
The German word for "virgin" is Jungfrau. Jungfrau literally means "young woman", but is not used in this sense. Instead "junge Frau" can be used. The rather dated German word for a young (unmarried) woman, without implications regarding sexuality, is Fräulein. Fräulein was used in German as a title of respect, equivalent to current usage of Miss in English. Jungfrau is the word reserved specifically for sexual inexperience. As Frau means "woman", it suggests a female referent. Unlike English, German also has a specific word for a male virgin Jüngling ("Youngling"). It is, however, dated too and rarely used. Jungfrau, with some masculine modifier, is more typical, as evidenced by the film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, about a 40 year-old male virgin, titled in German, "Jungfrau (40), männlich, sucht…". Note that the term used for the starsign virgo also is Jungfrau, which makes the above movie title ambiguous. German also distinguishes between young women and girls, who are denoted by the word Mädchen. The English cognate "maid" was often used to imply virginity, especially in poetry.
German is not the only language to have a specific name for male virginity; in French, male virgins are called "puceau". The Greek word for "virgin" is parthenos (παρθένος, see Parthenon). Although typically applied to women, like English, it is also applied to men, in both cases specifically denoting absence of sexual experience. When used of men, it does not carry a strong association of "never-married" status. However, in reference to women, historically, it was sometimes used to refer to an engaged woman—parthenos autou (παρθένος αὐτού, his virgin) = his fiancée as opposed to gunē autou (γυνή αὐτού, his woman) = his wife. This distinction is necessary due to there being no specific word for wife (or husband) in Greek.
By extension from its primary sense, the idea that a virgin has a sexual "blank slate", unchanged by any past intimate connection or experience, can imply that the person is of unadulterated purity.
The concept of virginity has significance only in a particular social, cultural and moral context. According to Hanne Blank, "virginity reflects no known biological imperative and grants no demonstrable evolutionary advantage."
There are varying understandings as to which types of sexual activities result in loss of virginity. The traditional view is that virginity is only lost through vaginal penetration by the penis, consensual or non-consensual, and that acts of oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation or other forms of non-penetrative sex do not result in loss of virginity. A person who engages in such acts with no history of having engaged in vaginal intercourse is often regarded among heterosexuals and researchers as "technically a virgin". By contrast, gay or lesbian individuals often describe such acts as resulting in loss of virginity. Some gay males regard penile-anal penetration as resulting in loss of virginity, but not oral sex or non-penetrative sex, and lesbians may regard oral sex or fingering as loss of virginity. Some lesbians who debate the traditional definition consider whether or not non-penile forms of vaginal penetration constitute virginity loss, while other gay men and lesbians assert that the term virginity is meaningless to them because of the prevalence of the traditional definition. Whether a person can lose his or her virginity through rape is also subject to debate, with the belief that virginity can only be lost through consensual sex being prevalent in some studies.
Researcher and author Laura M. Carpenter states that despite perceptions of what determines virginity loss being as varied among gay men and lesbians as they are among heterosexuals, and in some cases more varied among the former, that the matter has been described to her as people viewing sexual acts relating to virginity loss as "acts that correspond to your sexual orientation," which suggests the following: "So if you're a gay male, you're supposed to have anal sex because that's what gay men do. And if you're a gay woman, then you're supposed to have oral sex, because that's what gay women do. And so those become, like markers, for when virginity is lost."
The concept of "technical virginity" or sexual abstinence through oral sex is popular among teenagers. For example, oral sex is common among adolescent girls who not only fellate their boyfriends to preserve their virginities, but also to create and maintain intimacy or to avoid pregnancy. In a 1999 study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), the definition of sex was examined based on a 1991 random sample of 599 college students from 29 US states; it found that 60% said oral-genital contact (like fellatio, cunnilingus) did not constitute having sex. Stephanie Sanders of the Kinsey Institute, co-author of the study, stated, "That's the 'technical virginity' thing that's going on." She and other researchers titled their findings "Would You Say You 'Had Sex' If ...?" By contrast, in a study released in 2008 by the Guttmacher Institute, author of the findings Laura Lindberg stated that there "is a widespread belief that teens engage in nonvaginal forms of sex, especially oral sex, as a way to be sexually active while still claiming that technically, they are virgins", but that her study drew the conclusion that "research shows that this supposed substitution of oral sex for vaginal sex is largely a myth".
A 2003 study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality focusing on definitions of having sex and noting studies concerning university students from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia reported that "[w]hile the vast majority of respondents (more than 97%) in these three studies included penile-vaginal intercourse in their definition of sex, fewer (between 70% and 90%) respondents considered penile-anal intercourse to constitute having sex" and that "oral-genital behaviours were defined as sex by between 32% and 58% of respondents". A different study by the Kinsey Institute sampled 484 people, ranging in ages 18–96. "Nearly 95 percent of people in the study agreed that penile-vaginal intercourse meant 'had sex.' But the numbers changed as the questions got more specific." 11 percent of respondents based "had sex" on whether the man had achieved an orgasm, concluding that absence of an orgasm does not constitute "having had" sex. "About 80 percent of respondents said penile-anal intercourse meant 'had sex.' About 70 percent of people believed oral sex was sex."
Virginity pledges (or abstinence pledges) made by heterosexual teenagers and young adults may also include the practice of "technical virginity". In a peer-reviewed study by sociologists Peter Bearman and Hannah Brueckner, which looked at virginity pledgers five years after their pledge, they found that the pledgers have similar proportions of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and at least as high proportions of anal and oral sex as those who have not made a virginity pledge, and deduced that there was substitution of oral and anal sex for vaginal sex among the pledgers. However, the data for anal sex without vaginal sex reported by males did not reflect this directly.
The first act of sexual intercourse by a female is commonly considered within many cultures to be an important personal milestone. Its significance is reflected in expressions such as "saving oneself", "losing one's virginity," "taking someone's virginity" and sometimes as "deflowering." The occasion is at times seen as the end of innocence, integrity, or purity, and the sexualization of the individual.
Traditionally, there was a cultural expectation that a female would not engage in premarital sex and would come to her wedding a virgin, which would be indicated by the bride wearing a white gown, and that she would "give up" her virginity to her new husband in the act of consummation of the marriage.
In some cultures, it is so important that an unmarried female be a virgin that such a female will refrain from inserting any object into her vagina, such as a tampon, menstrual cup or dildo, or undergoing some medical examinations, so as not to damage the hymen. Some females who have been previously sexually active (or their hymen has been otherwise damaged) may undergo a surgical procedure, called hymenorrhaphy or hymenoplasty, to repair or replace her hymen, and cause vaginal bleeding on the next intercourse as proof of virginity (see below). In some cultures, an unmarried female who is found not to be a virgin, whether by choice or as a result of a rape, can be subject to shame, ostracism or even an honor killing. In those cultures, female virginity is closely interwoven with personal or even family honor, especially those known as shame societies, in which the loss of virginity before marriage is a matter of deep shame. In other cultures, for example in many modern-day Western cultures, sexual abstinence before marriage is not taken as seriously as it is in those discussed above. In some parts of Africa, the myth that sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS continues to prevail, and, as such, many young girls are raped.
Virginity is regarded as a valuable commodity in some cultures, and the right to have sexual intercourse with a virgin can be bought. For example, in Japan, geishas would sell the right of first access in a ritual called mizuage. There is also a legendary droit du seigneur ("the lord's right", often conflated with the Latin phrase "ius primae noctis") which allegedly entitled the lord of an estate to take the virginity of the estate's virgins on the night of their marriage, a right which the lord can trade for money. In the film Pretty Baby (1978) there is an auction for the virginity of 12-year-old Violet. Modern virginity auctions, like that of Natalie Dylan, are discussed in the 2013 documentary How to Lose Your Virginity.
It was the law and custom in some societies that required a man who seduced or raped a virgin to marry the girl or pay compensation to her father. In some countries, until the late 20th century, a woman could sue a man who had taken her virginity but did not marry her. In some languages, the compensation for these damages are called "wreath money".
Some cultures require proof of a bride's virginity before her marriage. This has traditionally been tested by the presence of an intact hymen, which was verified by either a physical examination (usually by a physician, who provided a certificate of virginity) or by a "proof of blood," which refers to vaginal bleeding that results from the tearing of the hymen after the first sanctioned sexual contact. In some cultures, the nuptial blood-spotted bed sheet would be displayed as proof of both consummation of marriage and that the bride had been a virgin.
Coerced medical virginity tests are practiced in many regions of the world, but are today condemned as a form of abuse of women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO): "Sexual violence encompasses a wide range of acts including (...) violent acts against the sexual integrity of women, including female genital mutilation and obligatory inspections for virginity".
Researchers stress that the presence or absence of a hymen is not a reliable indicator of whether or not a female has been vaginally penetrated. The hymen is a thin film of membrane situated just inside the vulva which can partially occlude the entrance to the vaginal canal. It is flexible and can be stretched or torn during first engagement in vaginal intercourse. However, a hymen may also be broken during physical activity. Many women possess such thin, fragile hymens, easily stretched and already perforated at birth, that the hymen can be broken in childhood without the girl even being aware of it, often through athletic activities. For example, a slip while riding a bicycle may, on occasion, result in the bicycle's saddle-horn entering the introitus just far enough to break the hymen. Further, there is the case of women with damaged hymens undergoing hymenorrhaphy (or hymenoplasty) to repair or replace their hymens, and cause vaginal bleeding on the next intercourse as proof of virginity. Others consider the practice to be virginity fraud or unnecessary. Some call themselves born-again virgins.
There is a common belief that some women are born without a hymen, but some doubt has been cast on this by a recent study. It is likely that almost all women are born with a hymen, but not necessarily ones that will experience a measurable change during first experience of vaginal intercourse.
Some medical procedures, such as hymenotomy, may require a woman's hymen to be opened.
Historically, and in modern times, female virginity has been regarded as more significant than male virginity. The perception that sexual prowess is fundamental to masculinity has lowered the expectation of male virginity without lowering the social status. For example, in some Islamic cultures, though premarital sex is forbidden in the Quran with regard to both men and women, unmarried women who have been sexually active or raped may be subject to name-calling, shunning, or family shame, while unmarried men who have lost their virginities are not. Among various countries or cultures, males are expected or encouraged to want to engage in sexual activity, and to be more sexually-experienced. Not following these standards often leads to teasing and other such ridicule from their male peers. A 2003 study by the Guttmacher Institute showed that, in most countries, most men have experienced sexual intercourse by their 20th birthdays.
There exist negative feelings among some women about the topic of male virginity. Reflective of the Guttmacher study, some women perceive men being virgins past their early twenties to be an undesirable trait and would decline marriage due to the man's sexual inexperience; in these cases, male virginity is considered to threaten the fantasy some women have about men knowing how to sexually please them.
Within American culture in particular, male virginity has been made an object of embarrassment and ridicule in films such as Summer of '42, American Pie and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with the male virgin typically being presented as socially inept.
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The prevalence of virginity varies from culture to culture. In cultures which place importance on a female's virginity at marriage, the age at which virginity is lost is in effect determined by the age at which marriages would normally take place in those cultures, as well as the minimum marriage age set by the laws of the country where the marriage takes place.
In a cross-cultural study, At what age do women and men have their first sexual intercourse? (2003), Michael Bozon of the French Institut national d'études démographiques found that contemporary cultures fall into three broad categories. In the first group, the data indicated families arranging marriage for daughters as close to puberty as possible with significantly older men. Age of men at sexual initiation in these societies is at later ages than that of women, but is often extra-marital. This group included sub-Saharan Africa (the study listed Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia). The study considered the Indian subcontinent to also fall into this group, although data was only available from Nepal.
In the second group, the data indicated families encouraged daughters to delay marriage, and to abstain from sexual activity before that time. However, sons are encouraged to gain experience with older women or prostitutes before marriage. Age of men at sexual initiation in these societies is at lower ages than that of women. This group includes Latin cultures, both from southern Europe (Portugal, Greece and Romania are noted) and from Latin America (Brazil, Chile, and the Dominican Republic). The study considered many Asian societies to also fall into this group, although matching data was only available from Thailand.
In the third group, age of men and women at sexual initiation was more closely matched. There were two sub-groups, however. In non-Latin, Catholic countries (Poland and Lithuania are mentioned), age at sexual initiation was higher, suggesting later marriage and reciprocal valuing of male and female virginity. The same pattern of late marriage and reciprocal valuing of virginity was reflected in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The study considered China and Vietnam to also fall into this group, although data were not available.
Finally, in northern and eastern European countries, age at sexual initiation was lower, with both men and women involved in sexual activity before any union formation. The study listed Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic as members of this group.
According to a 2001 UNICEF survey, in 10 out of 12 developed nations with available data, more than two thirds of young people have had sexual intercourse while still in their teens. In Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, the proportion is over 80%. In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, approximately 25% of 15-year-olds and 50% of 17-year-olds have had sex. A 2002 international survey sought to study the sexual behavior of teenagers. 33,943 students aged 15, from 24 countries, completed a self-administered, anonymous, classroom survey, consisting of a standard questionnaire, developed by the HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) international research network. The survey revealed that the majority of the students were still virgins (they had no experience of sexual intercourse), and, among those who were sexually active, the majority (82%) used contraception. In a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation study of US teenagers, 29% of teens reported feeling pressure to have sex, 33% of sexually active teens reported "being in a relationship where they felt things were moving too fast sexually", and 24% had "done something sexual they didn’t really want to do". Several polls have indicated peer pressure as a factor in encouraging both girls and boys to have sex.
Some studies suggest that people commence sexual activity at an earlier age than previous generations. However, the 2005 Durex Global sex survey found that people worldwide are having sex for the first time at an average age of 17.3, ranging from 15.6 in Iceland to 19.8 in India (though evidence has shown that the average age is not a good indicator of sexual initiation, and that percentages of sexually initiated youth at each age are preferred). A 2008 survey of UK teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 (conducted by YouGov for Channel 4), showed that only 6% of these teenagers intended to wait until marriage before having sex.
The rates of teenage pregnancy vary and range from 143 per 1000 girls in some sub-Saharan African countries to 2.9 per 1000 in South Korea. The rate for the United States is 52.1 per 1000, the highest in the developed world – and about four times the European Union average. The teenage pregnancy rates between countries must take into account the level of general sex education available and access to contraceptive options. Many Western countries have instituted sex education programs, the main objective of which is to reduce such pregnancies and STDs. In 1996, the United States federal government shifted the objective of sex education towards "abstinence-only sex education" programs, promoting sexual abstinence before marriage (i.e., virginity) and prohibiting information on birth control and contraception. In 2004, President George W. Bush announced a Five-Year Global HIV/AIDS Strategy, also known as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which committed the U.S. to provide $15 billion over five years toward AIDS relief in 15 countries in Africa and the Caribbean, and in Vietnam. A part of the funding was earmarked specifically for "abstinence-only-until-marriage" programs.
In a peer-reviewed study about virginity pledges (commitments made by teenagers and young adults to refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage), sociologists Peter Bearman of Columbia and Hannah Brueckner of Yale estimated that male pledgers were 4.1 times more likely to remain virgins by age 25 than those who did not pledge (25% vs 6%), and estimated that female pledgers were 3.5 times more likely to remain virgins by age 25 than those who did not pledge (21% vs 6%).
Some cultural anthropologists argue that romantic love and sexual jealousy are universal features of human relationships. Social values related to virginity reflect both sexual jealousy and ideals of romantic love, and appear to be deeply embedded in human nature.
Psychology explores the connection between thought and behavior. Seeking understanding of social (or anti-social) behaviors includes sexual behavior. Joan Kahn and Kathryn London studied U.S. women married between 1965 and 1985 to see if virginity at marriage influenced risk of divorce.
This article examines the relationship between premarital sexual activity and the long-term risk of divorce among U.S. women married between 1965 and 1985. Simple cross-tabulations from the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth indicate that women who were sexually active before marriage faced a considerably higher risk of marital disruption than women who were virgin brides. A bivariate probit model is employed to examine three possible explanations for this positive relationship: (a) a direct causal effect, (b) an indirect effect through intervening "high risk" behaviors (such as having a premarital birth or marrying at a young age), and (c) a selectivity effect representing prior differences between virgins and non-virgins (such as family background or attitudes and values). After a variety of observable characteristics are controlled, non-virgins still face a much higher risk of divorce than virgins. However, when the analysis controls for unobserved characteristics affecting both the likelihood of having premarital sex and the likelihood of divorce, the differential is no longer significant. These results suggest that the positive relationship between premarital sex and the risk of divorce can be attributed to prior unobserved differences (e.g., the willingness to break traditional norms) rather than to a direct causal effect.
Human sexual activity, like many other kinds of activity engaged in by humans, is generally influenced by social rules that are culturally specific and vary widely. These social rules are referred to as sexual morality (what can and can not be done by society's rules) and sexual norms (what is and is not expected). There are a number of groups within societies promoting their views of sexual morality in a variety of ways, including through sex education, religious teachings, seeking commitments or virginity pledges, and other means.
Most countries have laws which set a minimum marriage age, with the most common age being 18 years, reduced to 16 in "special circumstances", typically when the female partner is pregnant, but the actual age at first marriage can be considerably higher. Laws also prescribe the minimum age at which a person is permitted to engage in sex, commonly called the age of consent. Social (and legal) attitudes toward the appropriate age of consent have drifted upwards in modern times. For example, while ages from 10 to 13 were typically acceptable in Western countries during the mid-19th century, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were marked by changing attitudes resulting in raising the ages of consent to ages generally ranging from 16 to 18. Today, the age of consent varies from 12 years (or onset of puberty) to 21, but 16 to 18 is the most common range of ages of consent, but some jurisdictions also have a "close-in-age" exception, allowing two adolescents (as young as 12 years of age) to have sex with each other provided their ages are not more than 2 years apart. Some countries outlaw any sex outside marriage entirely.
Historically, and still in many countries and jurisdictions today, a female's sexual experience may be a relevant factor in the prosecution of a perpetrator of rape. Also, historically, a man who "took" a female's virginity could be forced to marry her. In addition, children born as a result of premarital sex were subject to various legal and social disabilities such as being considered illegitimate and thus barred from inheriting from the putative father's estate, from bearing the father's surname or title, and support from the putative father. Many of these legal disabilities on children born from extramarital relationships have been abolished by law in most Western countries, though social ostracism may still apply.
All major religions have moral codes covering issues of sexuality, morality, and ethics. Though these moral codes do not address issues of sexuality directly, they seek to regulate the situations which can give rise to sexual interest and to influence people's sexual activities and practices. However, the impact of religious teaching has at times been limited. For example, though most religions disapprove of premarital sexual relations, it has always been widely practiced. Nevertheless, these religious codes have always had a strong influence on peoples' attitudes to sexual issues.
The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics for lay followers are the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sensual misconduct". Sensual misconduct is defined in the Pali Canon as follows:
"Abandoning sensual misconduct, [a man] abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man."
Virginity, specifically, is not mentioned in the Canon. On the other hand, Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity and the Buddha is said to have admonished his followers to avoid unchastity "as if it were a pit of burning cinders."
In Hinduism, premarital virginity on the part of the bride is considered ideal. The prevailing Hindu marriage ceremony, or the Vedic wedding, centers around the Kanyadan ritual, which literally means gift of a virgin, by father of the maiden through which the Hindus believe they gain greatest spiritual merit, and marriages of the daughters are considered a spiritual obligation.
Sex had never been a taboo in ancient India and intactness of the hymen had nothing to do with virginity.
The worship of virgins, i.e. Kumarika pujan, is still observed by many Hindus.
In Sikhism, sexual activity occurs only between married individuals. Sikhism advises against premarital sex, as it has a high potential of being an indulgence of lust (kaam, or extreme sexual desire). Virginity is an important aspect of spirituality and it has to be preserved before marriage, or when one is ready to move into another sacred state of being with their significant other.
Premarital sex is strongly disapproved of in Judaism, but there is no requirement for a female to be a virgin at her marriage, and a child born to an unmarried female is not regarded as illegitimate (mamzer) or subject to any social or religious disabilities.
Jewish law contains rules related to protecting female virgins and dealing with consensual and non-consensual pre-marital sex. Jewish law's guidance on sex is that it should be valued as a wholesome part of life between two married partners.
There are references in the Torah to virginity. In the first reference, in Genesis 19:8, Lot offers his virgin daughters to the people of Sodom for undetermined sexual purposes in an attempt to protect his guests, with the implication that the people of Sodom would be more likely to accept the offer in view of the girls' virginity than they would otherwise. The next reference is at Genesis 24:16, where Eliezer is seeking a wife for his master, Abraham's son. He meets Rebecca, and the narrative tells us, "the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her" (in biblical terms, "to know" is a euphemism for sexual relations). It is noteworthy that Eliezer was not instructed to find a virgin bride, nor is anything further said about the prospective bride's virgin status. Exodus 22:15-16 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 deal with the requirement for a man who seduces or rapes a virgin to marry her and pay a bride price at the virgin rate, which presumably is higher than that for a non-virgin.
Virginity was often considered a virtue denoting purity and physical self-restraint and is an important characteristic in Greek mythology.
In Roman times, the Vestal Virgins were the highly respected, strictly celibate (although not necessarily virginal) priestesses of Vesta, and keepers of the sacred fire of Vesta. The Vestals were committed to the priesthood before puberty (when 6–10 years old) and sworn to celibacy for a period of 30 years. The chastity of the Vestals was considered to have a direct bearing on the health of the Roman state. Allowing the sacred fire of Vesta to die out, suggesting that the goddess had withdrawn her protection from the city, was a serious offence and was punishable by scourging. Because a Vestal's chastity was thought to be directly correlated to the sacred burning of the fire, if the fire were extinguished it might be assumed that a Vestal had been unchaste. The penalty for a Vestal Virgin found to have had sexual relations while in office was being buried alive.
Paul the Apostle expressed the view that a person's body belongs to God and is God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:13, 3:16), and that premarital sex is immoral (1 Corinthians 6:18) on an equal level as adultery. (1 Corinthians 6:9) Paul also expressed the view in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 that sexual abstinence is the preferred state for both men and women. However, he stated that sexual relations are expected between a married couple.
According to classicist Evelyn Stagg and New Testament scholar Frank Stagg, the New Testament holds that sex is reserved for marriage. They maintain that the New Testament teaches that sex outside of marriage is a sin of adultery if either of the participants is married, otherwise the sin of fornication if neither of the participants are married. An imperative given in 1 Corinthians says, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies."[1 Cor 6:18] Those who are sexually immoral or adulterers are listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9 in a list of "wrongdoers who ... will not inherit the kingdom of God." Galatians 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 7:2 also address fornication. The Apostolic Decree of the Council of Jerusalem also includes a prohibition on fornication.
Aquinas went further, emphasizing that acts other than copulation destroy virginity, and clarifying that involuntary sexual pleasure does not destroy virginity. From his Summa Theologica, "Pleasure resulting from resolution of semen may arise in two ways. If this be the result of the mind's purpose, it destroys virginity, whether copulation takes place or not. Augustine, however, mentions copulation, because such like resolution is the ordinary and natural result thereof. On another way this may happen beside the purpose of the mind, either during sleep, or through violence and without the mind's consent, although the flesh derives pleasure from it, or again through weakness of nature, as in the case of those who are subject to a flow of semen. On such cases virginity is not forfeit, because such like pollution is not the result of impurity which excludes virginity."
Some have theorized that the New Testament was not against sex before marriage. The discussion turns on two Greek words — moicheia (μοιχεία, adultery) and porneia (πορνεία, fornication, see also pornography). The first word is restricted to contexts involving sexual betrayal of a spouse; however, the second word is used as a generic term for illegitimate sexual activity. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, incest, homosexual intercourse (according to some interpretations) and prostitution are all explicitly forbidden by name (however, the Septuagint uses "porneia" to refer to male temple prostitution). Paul is preaching about activities based on sexual prohibitions in Leviticus, in the context of achieving holiness. The theory suggests it is these, and only these behaviors that are intended by Paul's prohibition in chapter seven. The strongest argument against this theory is that the modern interpretation of the New Testament, outside Corinthians, speaks against premarital sex;
Christian orthodoxy accepts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin at the time Jesus was conceived, based on the accounts in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches additionally hold to the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. However, most Protestants reject the dogma, citing sources such as Mark 6:3: "Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren't His sisters here with us?". The Catholic Church holds that in Semitic usage the terms "brother," "sister" are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters. Catholics, Orthodox Christians and other groups may refer to Mary as the Virgin Mary or the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "There are two elements in virginity: the material element, that is to say, the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure" and that "Virginity is irreparably lost by sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced." However, for the purposes of consecrated virgins it is canonically enough that they have never been married or lived in open violation of chastity.
Islam considers extramarital sex to be sinful and forbidden. Though Islamic law prescribes punishments for both Muslim and non-Muslim men and women for the act of zinā, in practice it is an extremely difficult offense to prove, requiring four respectable witnesses to the actual act of penetration. Though in Western cultures premarital sex and loss of virginity may be considered shameful to the individual, in some Muslim societies an act of premarital sex, even if not falling within the legal standards of proof, may result in personal shame and loss of family honor, leading some societies to practice female circumcision and honor killings.
Most people agree that we maintain virginity as long as we refrain from sexual (vaginal) intercourse. ...But occasionally we hear people speak of 'technical virginity' ... Other research, especially research looking into virginity loss, reports that 35% of virgins, defined as people who have never engaged in vaginal intercourse, have nonetheless engaged in one or more other forms of heterosexual activity (e.g. oral sex, anal sex, or mutual masturbation). ... Data indicate that 'a very significant proportion of teens ha[ve] had experience with oral sex, even if they haven't had sexual intercourse, and may think of themselves as virgins'.
The social construction of 'sex' as vaginal intercourse affects how other forms of sexual activity are evaluated as sexually satisfying or arousing; in some cases whether an activity is seen as a sexual act at all. For example, unless a woman has been penetrated by a man's penis she is still technically a virgin even if she has had lots of sexual experience.
Recently, researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia have investigated university students' definitions of having sex. These studies found that students differ in their opinions of what sexual behaviours constitute having sex (Pitts & Rahman, 2001; Richters & Song, 1999; Sanders & Reinisch, 1999). While the vast majority of respondents (more than 97%) in these three studies included penile-vaginal intercourse in their definition of sex, fewer (between 70% and 90%) respondents considered penile-anal intercourse to constitute having sex. Oral-genital behaviours were defined as sex by between 32% and 58% of respondents.
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