Virginity is a Social Construct (Rated R)
I am a virgin.
What do you think of when you read that? Did you wonder how old I am? Whether I consciously chose to be one or I just couldn’t find anyone who wanted to have sex with me? Whether I liked or was ashamed of being one? Did you wonder what virginity even means? (Is it the presence of an intact hymen? Whether you’ve had penetrative sex?) These questions are natural because much of the concept of virginity is structured by our social and cultural perspectives of our first-time sexual experiences. In a sense, virginity is a social construct.
In today’s world of the hookup culture where having sex allows you to climb the social ladder, being a virgin can lead to self-deprecating thoughts of shame, a scarlet letter that proclaims to the world that you are sexually inexperienced and thus, undesired. Some girls are desperate to lose their virginity not to experience an intimate moment with someone they love, but rather to feel wanted and accepted within their social circles. When asked how their first time was, so many of them say that it wasn’t great or that it was painful (which is enough to break my heart for them 💔), and that they only did it so that they can get rid of the unwanted title of “virgin” that makes them feel so uncomfortable and unpopular.
Yet, on the other hand, not being a virgin can also lead to shame and guilt, especially in women. When men and women were surveyed in a study published by Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research (source), women reported to have more guilt associated with “losing their virginity” than men did.
An example of how this feeling of guilt manifests itself is this video showing a bride and groom exchanging shoes during their wedding, but the groom is shocked to find that his bride’s shoes are “worn” and “used”.
Other common terms I’ve heard that have been used to describe the loss of virginity include “chewed up gum” and “tape that lost its stickiness” (source). It’s infuriating to see women be compared to used objects because of how they chose to live their sexual experiences. It also reinforces the idea that you’re “losing” an important part of yourself by engaging in sex, even though sex, when done responsibly (aka you’re over 18 and use appropriate contraception), can be a way to gain an intimate experience with someone.
With our current views on virginity, a woman’s sexual experience can feel like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
If a woman is a virgin, she’s seen as a prude, but if she loses her virginity too soon, she’s a slut, whore, etc. Men can also receive social pressure on their virginity, where being a virgin can threaten their masculinity.
Not only does virginity cause shame, it also completely ignores the sexual experiences of many people. Oftentimes, a person is considered a virgin as long as they’ve never had penetrative sex, but this is problematic because it rejects the intimate, sexual experience of millions of people, who may not prefer or experience penetrative sex due to their sexual preferences.
My sister jokingly calls me a “unicorn” for being a 20-year-old virgin and I know that she’s only harmlessly pointing out how rare that is, but I wish people didn’t put so much emphasis on it. I am neither proud nor ashamed of my virginity; it’s neither a badge of honor nor a scarlet letter printed on my chest. I’m just a 20-year-old college girl trying to get my life together like everyone else.
To those of you who don’t want to be “virgins” anymore, ask yourself whether you want to engage in sex because of one or a combination of these three reasons only:
- You want a kid
- You want to connect with someone else
- You derive pleasure from doing it
One of my female friends, who is also a 20-year-old “unicorn” like me, firmly believes in reason #2. She says her virginity is a good way to weed out men who view sex differently from her. She seeks comfort in knowing that any man dating her is with her for her, not just for sex. She is confident that she’s in a relationship because of her mental and emotional attraction to her partner, and not just physical attraction. She is proud of the choices she’s made, and I want everyone to be as comfortable in their own choices as she is.
The other reasons on the list are just as valid. But, nowhere in this list does it include “wanting to lose your virginity” or “other people are telling me to” because those reasons force you to give up some part of your body.
Your body is yours. Love it, protect it, know what it deserves.
Let’s eliminate the term “losing your virginity” and stop judging people based on their sexual preferences and choices. If you’re comfortable with your sexual experiences and it’s what YOU want, then that’s all that matters.