The [non]existence of virginity

By NOEL SPRING

Columnist

Published: Monday, October 24, 2011

Updated: Monday, October 24, 2011

NS

Courtesy of: John Batliner

Noel Spring.

With all the talk of sex, and facets of sexual experience that I've discussed so far in this column, it seems only right that I mention the opposite side of sex…virginity. Everyone has experienced virginity, and most have (or will experience) virginity loss. Yet for some reason, virginity is understudied in academia.  The implications and ideologies of virginity are rarely discussed, but instead generalized or assumed.

Think about your own perceptions of virginity for a moment. What was the act that defined your virginity "loss," and how did you feel afterward? If you chose to "save" your virginity, why did you make that choice? How do other people (family, friends, media, or culture in general) affect your view of your virginity?

A couple years ago, I did an independent study in which I researched and wrote about virginity. After that semester, I concluded that virginity should be reinvented, or it shouldn't exist. I'll tell you why.

The idea of virginity is a highly outdated concept, and the act of "deflowering" is historically oppressive. In the past (and now as well), virginity was seen as a priceless commodity. Early European marriages were based on a dowry system in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man who could offer the most wealth. In the Victorian era, girls' hymens were fiercely guarded – a girl's hymen did not belong to her. It belonged to her family and her future husband. But here's the deal about virginity – it's impossible to tell by physical examination whether a girl is virgin or not. Many doctors wouldn't even know a hymen if they saw one anyway, because hymens rarely cause medical problems. And of course, hymens often break long before girls have any type of sex for the first time.

Not only is there no way to physically prove a woman's (or a man's) virginity, the definition of virginity is inherently heterosexist, and therefore, in my mind, inherently flawed.  The most commonly accepted definition of virginity loss involves penis-vagina intercourse. In a culture that is hegemonically heterosexist, this makes sense. PV intercourse is, after all, the only solely heterosexual sex act, and the sex act that impregnates women. But what about lesbian or gay people? If someone does not have PV intercourse before they come out as gay or lesbian, does that mean that they are forever branded with the "virgin" label? I think not.

The ideology of virginity is also overtly sexist. Girls' virginity loss is often seen as "loss of innocence" while boys' virginity loss is seen as a rite of passage. Purity balls are a great example of how the ideology of virginity is specifically skewed toward girls and women. Purity balls are formal ball dance events in which fathers give their daughters purity rings, and the daughters pledge to their fathers (and usually to God) to remain virgins until marriage. There is no comparable event for boys.

Ideologies of virginity and virginity loss are overwhelmingly based on a single physical act. Within this single physical act, there is rarely mention of what role love, pleasure, choice or consent play in defining virginity or virginity loss. By removing these aspects, and focusing solely on a physical act, one's power of self-definition is abolished. Would virginity loss still be seen as devaluation, or would it still be a "nonrenewable resource," if it were based on feelings of love? Would female pleasure be seen as more important within sex if it defined virginity loss?  And how much better would it be for victims of rape or incest if virginity loss were seen as a choice, rather than a physical act?

In an effort to progress toward a society that is not heteronormative, patriarchal or sexist, it makes sense to throw away the ideology of virginity because it is inherently oppressive. Women and men should be trusted to be able to create their own ideas of virginity, outside of heterosexuality and the gender binary. Women's bodies and virginity should not be commodified because women are not objects to be bought. The concept of virginity should be mutable…because virginity does not physically exist.

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