I have a lovely new friend that I met on a feminist Facebook group who hails from England – this is the kind of person who is constantly bringing new thought-provoking things to your attention. A few weeks ago, she posted an article that I have been thinking about constantly, regarding virginity. This exact article (or was it just a picture?), which I was sadly unable to track down, presented the idea that virginity is a myth perpetuated to increase control of sex and sexuality.
I’ll admit, this concept was bizarre to me for about two seconds. But then again, what is virginity except that one hasn’t had sex yet? I started doing some research and found an overwhelming amount of material to back me up. I had to start off by proving myself wrong – I already had a lot of preconceived notions about virginity that I needed to double-check. For example, I needed to know more about the hymen and it’s role in virginity – I recall it being a hotly debated topic as far back as sex ed when I was in middle school. A family member told me once that using a tampon and thusly breaking the hymen would mean I was no longer a virgin, and I asked my sex ed teacher if that was correct. She said that technically a virgin is someone who had never engaged in sexual intercourse, but a lot of society places emphasis on the intact hymen as an indicator of virginity, so she really couldn’t answer my question for me.
This makes sense when we look at the past – with limited medical knowledge in olden days, the hymen was really the only way to tell at all if a woman was a virgin or not, as you could not tell with a man. With no way to define genetics and familial ties the only real way to conduct business and move within society, purity and bloodlines carried a great deal of weight. But this is 2013.
Upon reading up Discovery Health, I learned that it is extremely common for the hymen to tear due to other reasons unrelated to sex, such as strenuous physical activity, using tampons, etc. Which reminded me of a memory – at the risk of sharing too much on the internet, I’m fairly certain that I remember the exact moment I tore my own hymen – falling off the jungle gym at school in sixth grade. I ran into the bathroom to discover those telltale droplets. I then used the bathroom for its intended purpose and went back to the playground.
Furthermore, an intact hymen does not always prove to be an indicator that a woman is a virgin. Evidently some women need to have theirs surgically removed before childbirth because theirs was flexible enough to remain intact through intercourse and conception. This means that a woman can become pregnant without her hymen breaking – a concept that greatly challenges traditional ideas of virginity. Then again, there is always the possibility that a woman can be born without a hymen at all.
I tried to find out if anything else about a woman’s body physically changes permanently after her first time having sex. It would appear that beyond unusual hymen tearing and some muscle soreness caused by the physical entry of the penis, nothing actually changes. The only real difference is for the woman mentally, as well as the necessity to consider birth control and needing to visit a gyno in order to make sure she is healthy.
So, it would appear that being a virgin, in spite of what I’ve been told all my life, is not exactly a physical state of being.
Does anyone argue that a man physically changes after his first time? No, not at all. Is this perhaps why female virginity has more moral weight placed upon it than a males? Yeah, probably.
There is a lot more to be said about virginity that the traditional values don’t answer. What, for example, marks losing your homosexual virginity? I asked a friend who is in a same-sex relationship, and she told me that gay folks usually go by their first orgasm. She then told me that her first sexual experience was with another woman, and would argue that she lost her virginity to a woman. Does that mean any intercourse she had with a man later in life was the “true” first time? Does homosexual sex not count, in some way? Of course not.
Let’s take a homosexual man, for example, and let’s assume that this man has never been with a woman intimately, a “gold-star gay,” if you will. He has had sexual relations with, let’s say, four different boyfriends in his twenty-five years of life. Do we consider him a virgin since he has never had vaginal intercourse with a woman? I would say not. However, if a Christian girl only has anal sex before she is married, she would argue that she is a virgin because she has never had vaginal intercourse.
This does not even begin to scratch the surface of the first time having sex for a trans person, etc – there are so many nuances that it is impossible to set one “standard” that applies adequately to everyone.
If you would say that a homosexual person having oral or anal sex as their first sexual encounter counts as them having lost their virginity, then why do so many people who claim to “wait until marriage” often engage in such acts since they evidently “don’t count?”
Don’t get me wrong – I understand that there are obviously people in the world who have never had sex and people in the world who have. If you must classify them, then virgin and non-virgin seems fitting. However, upon reading up on the topic, I believe that the actual difference is akin to someone who has tried sushi versus someone who hasn’t, or someone who has traveled to another country versus someone who hasn’t. It is simply a label placed upon someone’s state of being instead of an actual physical condition. I also would argue that the emotional difference, which I also agree exists, mostly comes from the emphasis that society places upon the idea of virginity – be it the desire to remain a virgin for as long as possible, or the idea that a virgin must “lose it” before they can be considered mature or adult.
With this in mind, I believe that removing this stigma is a major stepping stone towards solving the problems of rape culture and slut-shaming that feeds the misogynist crowds.
I remember thinking as a girl that when I lost my virginity, that I would be stripped of some innocent veil unbeknownst to me and turn into some tainted, “used” person that would not be able to live with myself, that I would lose some sort of tangible value I would be unable to produce when necessary. When it actually happened, I felt absolutely no different. I acted so normal that my friends were shocked that I was so nonchalant about telling them. There was no ceremony of “before” and “after” besides the coitus itself, which was a turning point in the relationship only, not my own body or mind.
“There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale