What’s in a word, anyway?
The term ‘virginity’ has always been somewhat dubious.
For starters, many couples negotiate the definition of the term to suit their own situation, i.e: “Blowjobs don’t count honey, you’d still be a virgin”. And then there are women who actually go to the extreme of buying artificial hymens to create the illusion that they’re still ‘sexually untouched’.
Traditionally, virginity has been defined as the state of never having had penetrative sex, specifically between a man and a woman. And that creates a number of issues.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told as a queer woman that I’m “technically” still a virgin because I’ve never had PIV (penis in vagina) sex. And I know a lot of queer people who have had similar experiences. Essentially it says that queer sex and queer relationships don’t really count.
“I mean technically I guess gay men can lose their virginity,” a man at an LGBT meeting I was attending announced once.
“But I guess lesbians get to be virgins forever. Ha, good for them!” he chuckled.
Wait. Why is that good for them? Why is virginity a prize worthy of winning? Because at its core, prizing virginity is all about saying that sex is immoral and wrong.
I remember girls at my church taking a chastity vow when we were in school. They signed a piece of paper where they swore they’d be married to God until they married a man. That way they’d be pure for him. Unsullied. They had promise rings they wore on their left ring finger, vowing not to remove them until they could be replaced by their husbands’ ring. In some of these ceremonies, they replaced God with their own biological father in a more-than-a-little-bit-creepy ritual in which it’s stated that their father ‘owns’ their bodies until he agrees to hand them off to another man.
You can tell that virginity is still prized in the insult slang we use. How many times a day do you think a woman’s called a slut or a whore? They’re used even when the technical definitions don’t apply – hilariously, they’re also used when the very opposite of what those terms are supposed to imply occur. I’ve been walking down the street, minding my own business, and had some random dude call me a whore for not responding to his catcall. How does that work, exactly?
Thankfully we live in a world that’s becoming more aware of the harm insisting on virginity as a standard for women to live by is causing; we have the sex positivity movement, which is a movement that does exactly what it sounds like. By removing the stigma from sex, we encourage people of all ages, religious and economic backgrounds to ask questions. We give them more venues to access contraceptives and health care.
There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin, just like there’s nothing wrong with being a Christian or a vegetarian. But there is something very wrong with believing that fitting within these labels makes us better than everyone else.
Comment: Where do you stand on the use of the term ‘virgin’? Do you agree it’s damaging?