Jessica, a 23-year-old who lives in Mississippi, was dating a guy recently when the subject of sexual history came up. “He was explaining to me that he was a virgin, and that he was going to wait until he’s married,” she said.
“And then he was like, are you a virgin, too?” Jessica said she immediately felt nervous. She’d had sex before, but because of her religious beliefs, had since been abstaining from sex. “It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “It was hard, because I was hard on myself, anyway. Sometimes it feels like it’s ok for guys to do whatever, but if a girl says, no I’m not a virgin, we’re looked at with more shame.” That internalized shame is something that a lot of young women unfortunately experience — regardless of religious background. And Jessica’s right that men and women are treated differently when it comes to sexual history.
If it’s not extremely visible in popular culture, countless studies document a sexual double standard. Heterosexual men are generally rewarded for having a higher number of sexual partners, while women are stigmatized for the same thing.
So it makes a lot of sense that women are concerned, like Jessica was, about having to tell a new sexual partner whether or not they’ve had sex before. It’s hard to know exactly how many women feel anxious about this, but the first few autofill results on both Google and Yahoo! Answers indicate that concern about revealing sexual history is common.
And of course it is, because combined with the pervasive double standard that says guys will only like you if you’re a pure, virginal angel who’s never had sex before is the myth that whether or not you bleed after sex will give your sexual history away.
To ease any of those concerns: It’s largely untrue that every woman bleeds after first-time sex. That middle school rumor comes from a misunderstanding of the hymen, or a thin piece of tissue located about centimeters inside the vaginal opening.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “cherry popped” (a phrase that absolutely needs to be murdered and never resurrected, by the way), it’s a slang term for the hymen “breaking” after first-time penetrative sex. But as this website has explained before, the hymen never actually “breaks.” It stretches, and for about half of all women, this happens during some other, non-sexual activity (like jumping on a trampoline or riding a bike), oftentimes in childhood.
Technically, yes, some women experience light to moderate bleeding after having sex for the first time. But bleeding can also occur the 100th time a woman has had sex, caused by things like little tears on the vaginal wall, menstrual spotting, and a few other things like polyps in the vagina.
Regardless of the nuances of your sexual anatomy and the nitty gritty details about your hymen, a sexual partner should never make you feel bad for any part of your sexual history. Whether that means they expect you to be a virgin and you aren’t, or if you’ve never had sex before and they have. It’s smart to discuss history with a new partner if you have a history of STIs, particularly herpes, HPV, or another STI that isn’t totally curable.
Ultimately, Jessica told the guy she was dating about her own history because she didn’t want to lie. And if he’d reacted poorly (he didn’t), she wouldn’t regret being honest. “You have to accept me for who I am, past and all,” she said.