Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: Virginity is a Social Construct

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog will talk about sex, virginity, and struggling to form opinion and self-identity around the concept of virginity as a sexual abuse survivor. Sexist slurs are also mentioned in this article, uncensored. Survivors of rape, sexual assault, and/or sexual abuse may be triggered by the contents of this piece.


 

The notion of “virginity” is one we are typically all familiarized with from an early age in life. Virginity is discussed in our religions, in the media, in our homes, and in our schools. In my experience, virginity became a regular conversation topic when I entered the sixth grade as I hung out with peers with older siblings, a number of which were also sexually active themselves. I began to hear “virginity” in the context of someone having lost it or someone having taken it from another person, rather than the standard statement of “I am,” or “he/she is a virgin.” Stories of partnerships began to circulate the school; intimate secrets and rumors were spread surrounding the sexual activity of my classmates — predominantly of girls, with boys only being mentioned as the person who the girl “gave it up” or “lost it” to.

 

     Even the language that revolves around virginity is problematic. We’re taught to say “I/he/she/they took their/my virginity” or “I/he/she/they popped their/my cherry” in a way that is boastful and insensitive. Why do we talk about it this way when sex is something that is mutually entered into? Why are we not taught instead to simply state that we “had sex with” that person? Why do we want to talk about it so much at all? (Answer: our society is hella hyper-sexualized; there’s tons of research to prove this, especially on how it affects girls.) The language surrounding the term “virginity” could fill a whole other blog post, so I’ll digress.

 

     So, what even is virginity? In my personal experience, the most common understanding of so-called loss of virginity seems to be engaging in cisgender-heteronormative penetrative sex; re: penis-vagina intercourse between a cis man and cis woman.  This definition is problematic for lots of reasons.

 

    This definition is clearly exclusive of trans, Queer, and non-binary individuals who do not necessarily engage in the standard cis-heterosexual penetrative sex. People have sex in lots of different ways, including penis-vagina penetration, and all of these different ways are valid and respectable so long as consensual.

 

    This definition is also dismissive of the feelings of the individuals involved in the sex. Sex should be defined in a way that feels comfortable and right for you and your partner, not by some societal standard. As long as what you are engaging in is consensual, and it feels like sex to you— then it should count.

 

     Virginity is also frequently centered around sex that reaches climax, which is unhealthy and exclusionary of individuals who may be physically unable or may struggle with reaching climax; it’s ableist. This focus is unhealthy because sex should be focused on communicating with your partner and making each other feel good — not just through orgasm but through the process of potentially reaching orgasm.

 

     This definition is also detrimental to survivors of rape, sexual assault, and/or sexual abuse. As a survivor myself, I found the question “Are you a virgin?” extremely complicated to answer; because technically, by society’s definition provided by my own experiential understanding, I was; by my own standards, which I possessed because of what I’d been told by society, yes. But my body had been invaded to provide someone else sexual pleasure, and wasn’t that what sex was in essence anyways? My experiences hadn’t been consensual, so did they count? Being questioned about my virginity only further confused me about the concept of virginity as a whole, and made entering a relationship intimidating. How much would I need to disclose? Was I a liar if I said I was or wasn’t a virgin? Did non-consensual sex acts count as loss of virginity, even if I hadn’t willingly “given it up?”

 

     I ultimately decided that I could not allow non-consensual, abusive experiences to determine my value or worth. Virginity is a social construct that is frequently used as a tool to control women, and to determine both men and women’s worth. A man is not seen as “man enough” if he is a virgin past a certain age, wants his “first time” to be “special,” or wants to wait until “marriage.” Conversely, women who engage in premarital sex are deemed as “sluts,” “whores,” “hoes,” and every synonym in between once it is learned that they “gave up” or “lost” their virginity. Alternatively, if women do not have sex, they’re seen as “prudes,” “bitches,” “boring,” and a “tease.” You literally cannot win.

 

     As I came into my Queer identity and entered a consensual sexual lesbian relationship, I was flabbergasted to hear from a then-friend that they still saw me as a virgin because I had not slept with someone of the opposite sex. Again, you can’t win.

 

So, what’s a person to do?

 

     Challenge the ways of thinking that society has programmed into you when it comes to virginity and sex. Question the language that you use, and be especially critical around this topic. Question why you are interested in talking about this topic if it does not relate to your personal business. Our society has an obsession with paying an excessive amount of attention to other people’s lives, business, and sexuality. Reflect on why. Challenge why. Define things for yourself and do not allow others’ opinions to change your definition.

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