Cultures across the world are obsessed with beginnings: birthdays, a child’s first day at school, someone’s first time. But obsessions are unhealthy and it’s time we tear down this social construct named virginity.
Virginity is an outdated and damaging concept; it is made out to be a big deal from as early as your teenage years when in reality, it doesn’t really exist. For women, virginity is linked to the presence of the hymen which not everyone has to begin with. Doctors in many countries have been reported to perform tests on whether the hymen is still intact, with some offering surgeries to reconstruct it.
Virginity is typically associated with penis in vagina penetrative sex and often excludes other sexual acts such as anal and oral sex and require someone else to reach sexual satisfaction. When that is not always the case. The word virginity is a limited word, used to describe your first intimate moment with another but for some their first intimate experience isn’t the moment that people recall when thinking of their sexual debut – sometimes they don’t want to remember the trauma associated with their first time, for others they didn’t enjoy their first time and write it off. Rightfully so. If there’s such an unnecessary emphasis on your first time, you might as well associate it with the first time you enjoyed sex.
The perception of virginity is incredibly sexist – where a man valued as less if they haven’t engaged in numerous sexual acts and a woman will be valued higher for ‘being a virgin’. Society has fetishised female virginity for decades, placing their virginity on a pedestal that immediately turns into a trap door when you ‘lose’ it. But many women are taking control of this negative view with more than one woman benefiting from this fetishisation by selling their virginity for millions of pounds through Cinderella Escorts. While Aleexandra Kefren admits that selling her virginity for £2 million was a publicity stunt, there are other women that have claimed to have actually gone ahead with this.
Traditional values frame female sexuality as a treasure or gift to be ‘given’ by women that is ‘taken’ from them whereas male virginity is often depicted as something to get rid of at the first chance. This sexist view can see both men and women approach sex differently, with teenage boys rushing to get rid of their virginity and teenage girls being more hesitant. Women are often judged for their sexual history whereas men are praised for how many notches they have on their bedpost. The idea of purity is used to control and manipulate us into following social norms, especially gender norms. Buying into the idea of purity can lead to an unhealthy sex life either in the present or carried on into the future. The idea of purity is a way to police cis woman’s bodies and determine their worth. In Christian cultures that offer purity rings to young members of their community, a physical gift, something you have on you as a constant reminder. Dr. Breanne Fahs, an associate professor at ASU with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and women’s studies has said. “ purity is never a good thing. Whenever that word shows up we should get nervous.”
Survivors of sexual assault and rape might associate trauma with their ‘first time’, especially since society puts so much emphasis on virginity. Survivors of sexual assault should be supported rather than judged or feeling as if they would be judged if they spoke out. Sexual assault and rape are crimes yet often the victim is made to feel as if they are in the wrong by their peers, the police and society. Even more so for men who have been raped – many still believe that men can’t be and dismiss their assault. There is a stigma around men who have been assaulted when they speak up about their trauma.
There is a lot of discourse around virginity and it centers on straight cis men and woman. What about everyone else? It is an extremely heteronormative concept that excludes sex that isn’t penis in vagina penetrative sex. This means that engaging in sexual activities with toys or body parts other than a penis is often excluded as well as choosing to not engage in sexual activities (asexuality). For many in the LGBTQ+ community, “coming out is a more important rite of passage than virginity.”
There is a social pressure to lose your virginity to the right person, and this pressure can often make you nervous and not enjoy your first time. And there is a social pressure to lose your virginity in the first place, with many young teenagers rushing into having sex during their school years before they have had a safe sex education. The school’s sex ed programs are also to blame for this, with many teaching mostly heteronormative sex and excluding others. Many teenagers lie about losing their virginity to their friends which only leads to others rushing into things they aren’t ready for. The religious influence of saving yourself for marriage limits sexual freedom to explore your sexuality before committing to others. This is seen as a negative in many religious cultures whereas it is far from it. Purity rings make it seem like a jewel to be treasured.
Virginity has been renamed as sexual debut – a term coined by Nicolle Hodges – to describe having sex for the first time but personally more than a name change is needed. A massive rewrite is needed in how society approaches the sexual history of others. There needs to be less emphasis on someone’s sexual history, making it only relevant when discussing the risk of STDs. Personally, I also feel that the sexual education system needs an update to discuss any issues that might be affecting teenagers – I know my sexual education in a school environment was very limited. Getting rid of the concept altogether would take a long time, but it would be worth it in the end.
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