Thoughts on Virginity #1

5 Jul

I’ll be writing several thoughts on virginity: why we have it, why we have kept it sacred, why it’s such a big deal, how we felt when we “lost” it, how it’s defined, tips on how to lose it if you haven’t yet, and oh, so very much more.

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you are sexually defined from the very first, you are given that tell-tale label of “virgin”. There has always been the idea of equating the word “pure” with the word “virgin”. There is the ever-pervading idea that a person’s virginity, or loss of it, can profoundly affect that person’s life. Laura Carpenter, author of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences, said, “I think the emphasis put on virginity, particularly for women, causes a lot more harm than good.”

So, how do you define “virginity?” Let’s take a look at Webster’s definition:

vir⋅gin  [vur-jin]  Show IPA

–noun

1. a person who has never had sexual intercourse.
2. an unmarried girl or woman.
3. Ecclesiastical. an unmarried, religious woman, esp. a saint.
4. the Virgin, Mary, the mother of Christ.
6. A female animal that has never copulated.

One interesting observation, first and foremost, is that “virgin” is almost always synonymous with “woman”. Outside of the occasional reference to the male virgin in the form of a goofy movie, the word “virgin” is all about women. The stories of “virgin sacrifices” are never about men. Even the dictionary definition of “virgin” cites an “unmarried girl or woman” or “a religious woman, esp. a saint.” No such definitions exist for men or boys. Are women, somehow more tainted after they lose their virginity than men? I have known several men who have “messed up” before marriage and were forgiven by the women they married–however, when it has been the woman who has lost her virginity before marriage, it’s often ended the relationship, or she’s received more guilt and shame because of her actions.

I think women are still being judged, sometimes harshly (and in other countries, sometimes to the death) on something that doesn’t really exist–the label of virginity.

Did you know there isn’t really a working definitino for what it means to be a virgin? At least not one that everyone agrees with.  The number one question in online forums for teens regarding sex and sexuality is, “I did such and such, am I still a virgin?” It appears that many young women don’t know themselves when they have crossed the line from virgin to non-virgin. In figuring out the definition, it comes down to a pretty subjective conclusion. Looking in dictionaries, encyclopedias, anatomy books, the working definition seems to be the first time someone has sex. But if it’s as simple as that, then what is sex? How do we define that? If it’s just heterosexual intercourse, then we’d have to come to the fairly ridiculous conclusion that all lesbians and gay men are virgins. In asking several people what sex is, some say penetration, some say oral sex, and some said that it isn’t sex unless you’ve had an orgasm (I like that definition, thought I don’t think it’s quite accurate). Isn’t it interesting that the whole concept of virginity has so many varied definitions? Does it make you wonder about the amount of levity placed on the label? And does that label hold more importance if you are a woman than it does if you are a man? Why?

Have the lessons that women in the church get taught today been simplified to tell them that all they have to do to be “good” is not have sex? How do you define virginity, and what does that word/label actually mean?


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18 Responses to “Thoughts on Virginity #1”

  1. Fanny A July 6, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    It’s interesting how amorphous this term actually is, when we use it so specifically in our culture. I’m surprised (though I supposed I shouldn’t be) that definitionally it applies so unilaterally to women and not men.

    I’m curious to see what others have to say. Thanks for an interesting post, Sylvia.

  2. AllieKay July 6, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I’ve become so jaded with the idea of virginity since I became sexually active. Having always been told that there was something special and mystical about virginity, the “first time,” and all that, it’s more than a little bit of a letdown to realize that I’m exactly the same person as before, there’s no fairy dust, and that the act of sex is often quite mundane.

    Losing my virginity on my wedding night, to be honest, was one of the major factors that led me to lose my faith. I had been promised something special and miraculous as a reward for waiting, but was left thinking, “That’s it?” I don’t think the quality of the sex had anything to do with it. It was just an empty shock of feeling like I’d been lied to. I don’t think young people should become sexually active on a whim, but I no longer believe that virginity means anything aside from the value that men place on women as property, being able to possess a woman who has never belonged to another man. It’s a shinier prize.

  3. Mouse July 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Honestly I wish the entire concept could be done away with. It has been used to shame and injure women for far too long, especially at church.
    Too much focus on “better to die than to be violated” and not enough on actual virtue as pertaining to *anything* other than sexuality.

    So, in my opinion, you are a virgin until you choose not to be. It is not something that can be taken from you, it is only something you can give.

  4. Eliza R July 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Brava Sylvia, Brava!

    seriously, virginity isn’t even real.

    If I lost my virginity when I first had an orgasm than I lost my virginity to myself. (Hey, I don’t mind that thought at all.)

  5. KaralynZ July 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    First of all, I’m kind of annoyed that this post hasn’t gotten the traffic the cheating one did, because I find that one less interesting. Second, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I broke my own hymen masturbating when I was 16 or so and I never considered that to make me not a virgin. (My husband and gynecologist agreed with me, if that make any difference to anyone.)

    I do wonder how the world of human history would be different if such things as hymens did not exist.

    I was, for some reason, the ones all my friends came to in high school asking, “Do you think I’m still a virgin if…” – no idea why. Perhaps the consensus was “the straight-laced Mormon chick who is definitely a virgin is an authority on the subject,” or perhaps I was just good at keeping my mouth shut about who told me what.

    I will say that I had this discussion on a different internet community board several years ago and I threw out that I preferred that loss of virginity was first *consensual* sexual intercourse, and if the people involved are of the same sex, intercourse defined as chosen by the persons involved.

  6. Amelia July 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Such a great, and important, topic of conversation, Sylvia. I am always shocked when I hear Mormons (often men, but sometimes women) express the idea that “hey, I waited–I deserve a virgin!” as if a virgin has inherently more worth than a non-virgin. As if one’s own ability to abstain from sex (and given the nebulous definition of virginity, who knows what that abstinence actually meant) is so meritorious as to justify condescending judgment. And–most disturbing to me–as if the atonement can’t actually work in the case of pre-marital sex so that even if someone has had pre-marital sex and repented, they’re still not worthy of being married to someone who never indulged. I find the whole attitude disgusting.

    I think placing so much emphasis on virginity leads not only to the kinds of misguided attitudes I describe above (and I think a lot of people subscribe to those attitudes, even if they’re too ashamed to claim them publicly), but also because it can contribute to sexual dysfunction inside of relationships. In Mormon parlance, being a virgin is not really good enough–not if we define the loss of virginity happening with the first consensual sexual intercourse (and I like that definition, KaralynZ). The best good little Mormon girls also do not french kiss, do not pet, do not dry hump, do not have oral sex, do not touch genitals or even that area of the body–some would say they don’t even touch butts, do not allow their own genitalia to be touched. For some, good little Mormon girls don’t even go out on solo dates, at least not until they’re college age and think they’re dating someone they might want to marry. In other words, there is no allowance for sexual gradualism of any kind. And the punishment for indulging in sexual gradualism, even within the bounds a relationship with your intended spouse, is so severe as to enforce that policy pretty well for a lot of Mormons (if your’e going to run the risk of not being able to get married in the temple, with all of the spiritual, cultural, and familial consequences that go with not being able to–well I consider that a pretty serious consequence). So our emphasis on virginity, to such an extent that we very, very much hold to the policy of driving as close to the mountain and as far from the cliff’s edge as possible (you know that tired old story about the best driver being the one who stays as far away from the cliff as possible, even by driving off the road so as to get further away) is, in my opinion, contributing to a higher than necessary rate of sexual dysfunction inside of marriage relationships. Not to mention to dashed expectations when wedding night encounters are not as magical as we all think they will be due to the heightened rhetoric surrounding virtuous abstinence and the waiting reward.

    Anyway. I’m probably rambling at this point. I’m a big proponent of sexual gradualism and teaching people not strict abstinence as the only method of being chaste, but instead helping people understand and navigate how best to explore their sexuality and engage in sexual relationships.

  7. KaralynZ July 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    I had never heard the term sexual gradualism before, but I like it. I’ll admit… the husband and I indulged in quite a bit of that while we were dating/engaged. But as far as healthiness of exploring sexuality and being ready for sex when it happens I am 100% on board with you and in favor of it. (as long as I’m not talking to my Bishop I guess.)

  8. Fanny A July 6, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Amelia, I really, REALLY like what you had to say on this. Very well thought out and gives me a lot to think about.

  9. Sylvia L July 7, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    All of these thoughts are so important. I remember coming to the conclusion that I didn’t believe in this label of “virginity” before I had sex for the first time. I wasn’t losing anything sacred or pure. I wasn’t giving it away. No one was taking it. It just didn’t exist for me.

    And yet, the day after I had sex I had to really have the support of my boyfriend because I just had all these emotions that I didn’t know what to do with. The emotions echoed AllieKay in a way. It didn’t feel that different then all the fooling around that my boyfriend and I had been doing for months before hand. And yet, all of a sudden, I had this distinct feeling that if I went back to church and married a good Mormon boy who asked me if I were a virgin and I said no that I would be judged in a way I just couldn’t fathom. I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t have been that way–but I did have to adjust for a few days afterwards.

    Then I was just glad it was behind me.

  10. AllieKay July 7, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Sylvia, YES! In the end, it seems like the word “virgin,” rather than telling you anything about the actual person, is just used as a value judgement–how many cows this girl is worth. And considering how much energy goes into trying to scare girls into staying virgins, the disparity between the perceived worth of virgins and non-virgins is astronomical. There is no reason to consider the Atonement with regards to virginity because it deals solely with how other people see you. It has nothing to do with who you are as a person or what God thinks of you.

    Sexual gradualism. I like that!

  11. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    One of the problems I have with the word “virgin” (is that Is that the term “virgin” is meant to categorize people based on one single event that has or has not occurred.

    Whether or not someone is or is not in the “virgin” pile does not take anything about the person’s current mindset, habits, knowledge, or behaviors into consideration. Other terms meant to categorize people take these other things about a person into consideration, i.e. a “liar” is someone who continually intends to deceive, not someone who has ever even once told a lie.

    And the same sort of problem exists for me with the term “virginity” because it is an attribute assigned to a person, they either have this attribute or don’t based on a single event but the rest of the person’s intents, feelings, sensibilities are completely dismissed when this attribute is assigned or not.

    And when you look at the history of the word, the terms virginity was a made up attribute that could be assigned to a girl to help convince a potential husband/buyer of her worth. We might as well call people “used” or “unused” people, since that is the closest synonym for what the word actually means.

  12. KaralynZ July 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    I wish we could “like” or promote comments on this format, I really *really* like what Zaissa said there.

  13. Anna July 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    i also like zaissa’s comment! and the idea of sexual gradualism. another important point, for me anyway, about sexual gradualism has to do with women’s sexual anatomy and biology. i think it would be much, much harder to go from zilch to intercourse in one night for a woman than a man. especially if the man is also a ‘virgin’ and doesn’t know what he’s doing. it can be positively painful for a woman if there is no warm-up whatsoever, and if she has never even french kissed a boy?

    i’m sure it isn’t impossible to get that stuff figured out in one night, but i think the possibility of having a good time on your wedding night, especially for a woman, is highly, HIGHLY improved by doing some sexual experimentation (not necessarily intercourse) beforehand.

  14. Tracy M July 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    As someone who experienced Sexual Gradualism, I would think 0-to-everything in one night would be near frightening, likely painful and kind of emotionally shocking. It might take a while to recover from that- especially to a woman with Good Girl Syndrome.

  15. Amelia July 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Tracy M, I’m a huge proponent of sexual gradualism. I think the whole idea of doing nothing but kissing (and maybe not even French kissing, depending how seriously people take that) and basic touch like handholding and then suddenly going all the way because of a ten minute marriage ceremony is sort of asking for trouble. I have quite a few friends who intentionally took this approach on their honeymoons. I think most of them ultimately had sex while on their honeymoons, so they didn’t take that long to get there, but they did intentionally take it slow and not hurry to have actual intercourse on the first night. Seems smart to me.

  16. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Another pro to sexual gradulalism: it’s more fun that way.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Firsts. « Missionary Position - July 9, 2011

    […] our physical relationship.  And it was very good.  The other day, Amelia used the term “sexual gradualism” and that’s a perfect description for what I had with that boyfriend.  Our physical […]

  2. Losing my Virginity « My Bye World - September 2, 2011

    […] Thoughts on Virginity #1 (mormonmissionaryposition.wordpress.com) […]

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