This is what my Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary says on the noun:

1 a : an unmarried woman devoted to religion b capitalized : VIRGO

2 a : an absolutely chaste young woman b : an unmarried girl or woman

3 capitalized : VIRGIN MARY

4 a : a person who has not had sexual intercourse b : a person who is inexperienced in a usually specified sphere of activity a virgin in politics

5 : a female animal that has never copulated

This is what my Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary says on the adjective:

1 : free of impurity or stain : UNSULLIED


3 : characteristic of or befitting a virgin : MODEST

4 : FRESH, UNSPOILED; specifically : not altered by human activity a virgin forest

5 : a (1) : being used or worked for the first time (2) of a metal : produced directly from ore by primary smelting b : INITIAL, FIRST

6 : of a vegetable oil : obtained from the first light pressing and without heating

7 : containing no alcohol a virgin daiquiri

I also looked up my Oxford English Dictionary. The definitions and examples of the word as an adjective and noun are abundant and quite similar to the ones from Merriam-Webster.

Although a virgin is pure, I am not sure exactly what a virgin is pure of. Is the underlying assumption that sexual intercourse is dirty or that sexual misconduct is dirty? Also, when applied to something like a virgin forest, as one of the examples suggests, why would human activity (perhaps walking in the forest) would make the forest fresh or unspoiled by mankind? What if the human being wants to protect the forest because he or she has a green thumb and a passion for nature? Or is that usage referring to the corruption of nature by mankind for self-serving interests (wood, coal, charcoal, luxuries) at the expense of the animals and plants that live there?

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    You can't imagine? Really? – Robusto Jul 8 '15 at 16:48
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    @DoubleU Maybe best to think about it this way: a virgin forest is one untouched by man. Its borders have never been penetrated. It is in its original state. No one has ever been inside it. See? Nothing about sin or filth or value judgements. – Dan Bron Jul 8 '15 at 16:55
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    @DoubleU Errr ... that's not what I meant by "being inside" a woman (or forest). – Dan Bron Jul 8 '15 at 18:12
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    I don't think the Holy Spirit is considered to be corporeal. It doesn't have a physical body; it is incapable of "touching" in the sense you're suggesting. Mary's pregnancy was (for Christians) a miracle, not a process. – Dan Bron Jul 8 '15 at 18:21
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    @DoubleU: she did not have "sexual intercourse" with either the Holy Spirit or with Jesus. That's the sense of a virgin Dan Bron was referring to with "being inside," in case you really didn't understand what he meant. So Mary = virgin by definition 4 (the most common use of the word today). – sumelic Jul 8 '15 at 18:23

Latin virgo just means a young female person that has had no sexual contact with a man. Later views about virginity are views of the church that held the view that sexual activity is sinful except when performed for the sole purpose of procreation. A virgin is free of this sexual sin. This has nothing to do with etymology, it is indoctrination of the medieval church and condemning of human sexuality. As literature shows the official representatives of the church had quite a different opinion.

  • This answer sounds plausible, but too simplistic. However, can you provide references for your answer? Quotes would be wonderful. – Double U Jul 8 '15 at 22:00
  • I'm no specialist for theological literature from St Augustine to Thomas of Aquin. Theological moral doctrine is no specialty of mine. But with such books you can fill libraries. – rogermue Jul 8 '15 at 22:10
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    Well, I meant supporting the assumptions. (1) That virgo means young female without sexual contact with a man. (2) That the connection between virginity and purity is due to the medieval church alone (which seems unfair to the Byzantine empire east of Europe, which may suggest that the connection may happen before Christianity was even born or before western Christianity developed). (3) That purity means without sin. (4) That the medieval church "condemned" human sexuality. – Double U Jul 8 '15 at 22:51
  • @DoubleU I too would like references for points 1-3, but as for (4), read the first few paragraphs of Book II of Augustine's Confessions: gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm Augustine considered sex (and music, and entertainment in general) to be (to put it simplistically) a distraction from God. Augustine was not equivalent to the medieval church, but he certainly did influence it. – Caleb Jul 9 '15 at 4:50

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