Lately I’ve been baffled by the concept of virginity. Perhaps it’s my own newfound sex life or just doing more research on the idea, but I’m no longer completely comfortable with the term “virgin,” particularly in reference to women. The idea that having sex causes me to “lose” something or have a part of me “taken away” does not seem correct. It conjures the image of me handing this neatly wrapped box that is tied up with a bow and labeled virginity to the most special and attractive boy on the most romantic night of my life in a hotel room complete with rose petals and candles. Perhaps I’ve just been watching too many romantic movies, but the idea remains valid. There is such a huge weight put on the first time. Personally, I don’t get what all the hype is about.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story. The concept of virginity started as a way to prove paternity and to make women more valuable as wives in the Middle Ages. A virgin bride was deemed more valuable because she wasn’t already tainted, and the paternity of the couple’s children could be proven. It was a father’s job to keep his daughter a virgin until marriage. The idea that being a virgin was better also stems from the revering of the Virgin Mary in the late Middle Ages. Her chastity was something to protect and she was seen as an honorable woman.
The obsession with virginity has bled into today’s culture. At weddings, it is still extremely common for fathers to give their daughters away and for brides to wear white to symbolize the purity of the marriage. To an even further extent, purity balls — an event where girls make a vow to stay a virgin until marriage and their fathers make a vow to protect their virginity — are becoming more common. In this day and age, I am shocked that people are still obsessed with the idea that being a virgin makes you more of a person; that you are somehow better and more special because you are a virgin.
The idea of virginity is actually quite jumbled. The most common thought about what it means to lose your virginity is a heterosexual idea of penetration. This is where the concept of virginity really starts to lose me. I am confused by the idea that doing anything else besides penetrating a vagina with a penis somehow maintains “purity.” How does having oral sex, which is agreed upon by me and many of my friends as being more intimate than penetrative sex, keep someone a virgin? And on that note, why do so many people agree that a female participating in anal sex, which is penetrative, maintains her status as a virgin? Sexual acts of any kind are intimate and claiming purity based on the avoidance of just one type of act does not make any sense.
The common definition of virginity does not include sexual acts done by couples other than heterosexual couples. This perpetuates the idea of heteronormativity, in which heterosexual couples are seen as normal and every other kind is seen as not. It also perpetuates a very male-centric view on female sexuality. It suggests only a man can really take your virginity away and only a man can please a woman. This gives unwarranted power to an already powerful patriarchy. It gives women the idea that the realization of their sexuality relies exclusively on men, which is entirely incorrect.
I personally have chosen to stop saying that I am a virgin. Although I have not participated in penetrative sex and, therefore, could claim to be a “virgin,” I have done other things. The title “virgin” just doesn’t feel comfortable like it used to. In addition, I don’t need or want the title of “virgin” or “not-virgin” to define me. A woman’s value is not tied to her virginity. Having sex does not make her any less valuable of a woman and a human. She is not giving something away or losing a precious gift. Women have control over what they want to do with their bodies, and it’s their choice if they want to wait until they meet “the one” or sleep with the next guy they see. One choice is not better or “purer” than the other.
Sara Zollner is skipping the mess that is virginity and going straight to being a person, instead.