Virginity: The Labeling Game

I have tirelessly contemplated virginity. The concept is complicated, the definition is obscure, the stigma is overrated. It is almost too difficult for me to write about because I can’t make a statement about it without validating a counterargument. It’s a labeling game; if you aren’t a virgin, then what are you? A non-virgin? A person? It makes no sense as to why we set a binary based on sexual experience. In the end, virginity means everything and nothing all at the same time.

The concept of virginity, along with the obsession around it, has existed for as long as the existence of civilization as a whole. Archetypally, virgins were seen as prized possessions. Literally all of Western religion circulates around “the immaculate conception” of Jesus Christ, born to the Virgin Mary. I doubt Jesus would be where he is today if his conception had not been “immaculate” and Mary had not been a virgin. From ancient to modern times, cultures have coveted virginity. Every year, fathers escort their daughters to purity balls, where young girls vow to “save themselves” for marriage. Schools across the country preach abstinence, thus denouncing the rightful purpose of “sex education.”

While my sex education revolved less around abstinence, it circulated entirely around the dangers of teenage pregnancy, which my mother equivilated with becoming a heroin addict or committing a federal crime. This is the same woman who sat me down to watch Juno when I was seven and sent me to a sex-ed class called “Created By God” on my eleventh birthday. I do remember sitting in a circle discussing the value of virginity and thinking “wow, I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing.” I was eleven; now I’m nineteen, and I’m still calling virginity’s bluff. I don’t think virginity doesn’t mean anything. I actually think it means many things, and that is society’s pitfall when attempting to singularly define it.

Jessica Valenti in her book The Purity Myth completely breaks down the so-called “Cult of Virginity,” by claiming that virginity is a facade. She designates it as a patriarchal construct, created by men to define a woman’s worth in the world. She’s right. In cultural and religious contexts, virginity is like a male chokehold over an entire population of women. Sex-centered media pressures young people to lose their virginity by a certain age and austracizes those who choose not to. In the same way, it oversexualizes women who have sex regularly, labeling them as whores or sluts. Media, specifically the TV and movie industry, pushes sexual binaries. TV shows that revolve around sex, such as Sex and the City, were written by a mostly male staff. They perpetuate male-ideologies of women and sex. Realistically, women’s sexual escapades are not that exciting and definitely more awkward. More current shows, like Lena Dunham’s Girls, portray the reality of being a young, sexually active woman in New York City. I can confirm that Dunham’s version is exceedingly more accurate.

Still, what exists in the media is not a blanket statement to define individual women. My personal feelings towards sex and virginity are not the feelings many, let alone an entire population of females. What classifies as virgin to one person, means non-virgin to another. The word virginity possesses no actual medical definition, therefore I can only define it for myself. For instance, a heterosexual woman typically considers penetration (yikes!) as the key factor in losing one’s virginity. However, that is obviously not the case for homosexual women. Also, based on some religious and cultural beliefs, the loss of virginity is based on the breaking of the hymen (yikes pt.2), but that can occur from different types of sexual actions or even riding a bike.

The fact of the matter is that sex is simple; virginity is not. It involves sex as more than an action; it is sex as a whole. Sex. Sex. Sex. How many more times can I say it? Hopefully, enough to desensitize it. Most of me consents to the facade of virginity. It is a societal construct. To validate it is to strengthen the grip men have held over women since the beginning of civilization. However, to completely denounce virginity would be to invalidate the feelings of so many girls, including myself.

To be upfront, I’m nineteen and I’m a virgin. This might come as a surprise to some, but sometimes I feel my virginity to be so glaringly obvious that I should wear a sign on my back that literally says “F**k me!” I’m not really sure how it all happened. If I had to guess I would say it’s either because I chose to not have sex or sex chose to not have me. By that I mean that the opportunities have not exactly been ample. However, when they have presented themselves, the time has just not felt right. I honestly have no clue what the “right” time is. It’s not like I’m expecting rose petals, Frank Sinatra and passionate, unadulterated eye contact. If anything, I’d like to avoid two out of those three (you can guess). From what I hear, your first time is never actually good, so it’s not like I’m looking forward to anything more than getting it over with at this point.

On the flipside, I also never dreamt of losing my virginity to a boy who half-heartedly decided to hook up with me in someone else’s guest bedroom, while people jokingly caught glimpses through the door cracks. This is a lot of people’s story; it was almost mine, and that is okay. It’s all apart of the inescapable beast that is known as hookup culture. Hookup culture, it’s virginity’s worst nightmare due most in part to its perpetuation of the “Whore-Madonna Complex.” This is the idea that if you have premarital sex, or so-called “meaningless” sex, then you are essentially a whore. However, if you choose to not have sex then you are a prude and, therefore, alienated from the glorified hookup club. At its core, hookup culture is just another patriarchal scheme; it’s a new branch to the existing “Cult of Virginity.”

Just to set things straight, this is not an attack on all men. It is, however, a disapproval of men’s overall behavior towards women’s sexuality up until now. To the surprise of many boys who have been on the opposite end of one of my feminist rants, I’m not a man hater-- on the contrary. I actually feel pity towards many boys who feel pressured to take a girls virginity and are conditioned to believe they are entitled to do so. At that point, it is not their fault; it is the fault of the society they exist in. An idea of what masculinity should be was embedded in their upbringing, similar to the way hypersexuality is forced upon girls. No individual is to blame. It’s a flaw in the entire social system.

So where do I stand on virginity? I stand nowhere. There are no sides to take. You are either a virgin, not a virgin, or just a person. Your sexual experience does not define you. Yes, it can feel embarrassing at times to admit to being a virgin. Alternatively, it can be shameful to admit you’re not. It’s not a winning game; it’s a labeling game. While it’s impossible to eliminate those labels, it is possible to take away their power.