Quick, answer this question: are you a virgin? What about your friend next to you? What about your sibling? Here's a better question: how do you define the term “virgin?” If you ask 20 different people, you'd likely get 20 unique answers.
Allow me to be clear and say that I am not here to argue the value of virginity, but merely the definition of it. In my travels across the internet, I've seen forum posts and questions over and over asking what, exactly, constitutes a virgin. Occasionally the poster is asking if they, themselves, are “technically a virgin.” The answer used to be not necessarily clear, but slightly clearer than it is today. No sexual contact with the opposite sex was expected until marriage, especially when the person in question is a woman. No sex=virgin.
Flash forward a few centuries to the modern era. The question of virginity becomes no less subjective but perhaps more complicated. Rumors have been circulating for some time that modern teens engage in oral and anal sex more often than teens of past generations in order to preserve their virginity. The idea is that though they've engaged in sexual activity, they didn't have “real sex” and so retained their “technical virginity.” However, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2008 and based on a survey taken in 2002 doesn't show these suspicions to be true. The study found that in fact, oral sex and vaginal sex go hand-in-hand with teens, and anal sex is generally reserved for later on in a sexual relationship. Despite the idea not being particularly common, there are still some young people that ascribe to this logic. Let's say, for the sake of argument, a woman has engaged in oral and anal sex, but not vaginal, and therefore has retained her “technical virginity,” would everyone consider her a virgin? Does it matter?
Consider a person that has only had non-consensual sex and wants to reclaim their virginity. I've seen sexual abuse survivors that had their “technical virginity” forcibly taken from them ask if they have the right to call themselves virgins. You could stamp your feet and say, “No, having sex equals no virginity.” But really, are you going to look a survivor in the eye and tell them they don't have the right to call themselves a virgin if they choose to do so?
What about those that identify as part of the LGBT community and have never and may never engage in sexual activity with a member of the opposite sex, but do engage in sexual activity with a member of the same sex? By old standards of virginity, they could be “technical virgins” even if they were married to a person of the same sex. Theoretically, they could be “technical virgins” forever, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you think about it.
The concept of virginity, though even less clear in recent times, was always somewhat subjective. The definition of virginity often laid with the speaker that had some sort of authority over a woman's life, such as a community leader or older relative. Much of a woman's worth and reputation was laid squarely on whether or not she retained virginity before marriage. A woman's worth, or anyone's worth, being tied to their sexual status is quickly becoming an antiquated idea, but so many are still questioning what exactly constitutes a virgin.
The answer is both simple and complicated. Quick, tell me, are you a virgin? What was your answer? Whether or not a person is a virgin depends on whether they identify as one. If they consider themselves a virgin, then no one else has the right to question it. Virginity is not only about a physical past, but is as much about emotional identity.