The first term at university is full of all sorts of new experiences – new friends, new places, new things to try. Whether or not you were straight out of school, the university lifestyle was, in all likelihood, a big change from what you had experienced before. And the word on many people’s lips? Sex. We are, unfortunately, all suckers for college gossip – who’s hooked up with who, who’s done what. And of course the big V-word. You’re a virgin? Oh, ok. You’re not? Well you’re probably up for anything then. But a girl’s virginal status does not indicate her sexual experience – having sex once doesn’t make you a connoisseur. Nor does it make you a ‘slut’. But all of a sudden you’re sexually active and supposed to be at it the whole time.

There’s so much uncertainty about virginity because we don’t actually know what this word is referring to. What defines virginity? Is it a physical or an emotional thing? Intimacy is a very personal matter – some things mean much more to some people than to others. Sex can be a casual act of carnal desire, or it can be a manifestation of emotional attachment to a significant other. The concept of virginity is given a significance that it doesn’t necessarily warrant. The first time is often not the most special, and certainly not the best – so why all the emphasis on it?

Moreover, there are different types of sex – what counts? Virginity is often defined as not having had penis into vagina intercourse, but some would argue that anal and oral count as sex. And does sex have to be heterosexual? People who would identify as LGBTQ wouldn’t necessarily have ‘p in v’ sex, therefore can one only lose their virginity by having heterosexual intercourse? Of course not. The whole concept of virginity is utterly heteronormative.

It has also been used by men as a way of subjugating women – traditionally, men wanted a virgin bride so that they knew no other man had ‘had’ their wife and that she was pure, chaste, and ‘unspoiled’ But the whole notion of a woman being a man’s possession, a sexual object of theirs, is disgustingly antiquated.

The highly publicised exhibition by Clayton Pettet, Art School Stole My Virginity, focused on this conservatism and the gender normative way in which society approaches losing your virginity. In an interview with Dazed and Confused magazine, Pettet commented that the value of a virgin has changed and one’s virginal status can dictate what people think of you. Moreover, the differentiation between a gay and a heterosexual virgin is a product of this concept of virginity. Further to this, for Pettet, “sex is sex and (virginity) is more of a mental state.”

Not only is the definition a source of ambiguity, but the social pressures regarding virginity are even more confusing. Things like social media, TV shows, magazines, are all sending mixed messages; one moment it’s all about losing it, the next it’s about trying to preserve it, even acquire it back with painful and unnecessary hymen replacement surgery.”

The winner of the 2014 Miss Bum Bum competition (yes, there is such a thing, and I can’t even begin to discuss the vulgarity of a competition that rates women’s backsides) stated that she was undergoing surgery to theoretically reclaim her virginity by having an artificial vaginal membrane created. She “wouldn’t feel good” about having nude photographs of herself if she “wasn’t exactly as (she) came into the world”. Miss Carvalho also reckoned being a virgin would give some respect to the Miss Bum Bum title.

Personally I really don’t agree with her reasoning as I think not being a virgin is not something to be ashamed of. You might recall Charlotte in Sex and the City delighting in the idea that if you abstained from sex your virginity could ‘grow’ back. Again, it is difficult to actually define what virginity is – the state of your hymen or of your sex life?

And the obsession with it seems more explicitly designed to bring women down. To be fair this is a general societal problem – boys, have you ever been catcalled in the street? Or been in a club when someone has wrapped themselves around you on the off chance you’ll find it endearing?

Virginity is a concept that is widely misunderstood and misused. It is unduly obsessed over; it has both positive and negative connotations; it is something and it’s not. Like with all these things – coy chasteness versus self-assured hussy, we’re putting this unachievably ‘perfect’ girl up on a pedestal. Can we take her down now?