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Virginity: An Obsession

September 21, 2010

Virginity.

That’s something I’ve heard discussed a lot in my chosen genre to write in. Mainly in the heterosexual romances, not so much in the M/M section. I think that says a lot, doesn’t it? We’ll get to that eventually, but right now, I want to tell you how this blog entry came to be.

A couple nights back, when neither the husband-thing nor I could sleep, we wound up watching late-night VH1 shows. The first was about how Hollywood uses too much plastic surgery, but the second was on virginity. VH1 News Presents: The New Virginity was an infuriating show to watch, but it took me a couple of days to pinpoint why it bothered me.

My own upbringing did not place a huge price on virginity. My Mum always said that sex would be wonderful with someone I felt strongly for, but never once had I been told that I should save myself for marriage. In fact, when I was in my later teen years and had some friends who were still virgins who were determined to wait until they were married, I was baffled. By that point, I’d been sexually active for a number of years, and I couldn’t imagine having waited until I was married.

Gods, if my first time had happened in the confines of marriage, I would have been incredibly disappointed. My first wasn’t mind-blowing. In fact, it was awkward, embarrassing, and unsatisfying. It took a couple of partners before I figured out what I liked, what they liked, and how to handle myself in sexual situations. I think that experience led to my wedding night with the husband-thing being memorable and spectacular. Coming from those experiences, watching the VH1 special left me scratching my head and highly uncomfortable with several things presented in the show.

Boys vs Girls

We all know double standards exist in life. Some are insidious and subtle while others are shamelessly blatant. I think, where virginity is concerned, the boy-girl double standard is the latter. Male virginity is treated very, very differently than female virginity. And is there any surprise in that statement? No, of course not.

Men who lose their virginity young carry little to no stigma for doing so. They get pats on the back by their friends, and society tells them that their experience is a good thing. It’s almost expected that a man will have some sort of sexual experience by the time he’s an adult.

Women, though, who lose their virginity in their teens are branded sluts. They are shamed. They’re told they’re spoiled now. It’s a serious emotional blow. The boy she slept with is given thumbs up while she’s told she should have kept her legs shut and waited for marriage. I mean, why would anyone want to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free, right?

Wrong.

Having sex does not ruin a woman or make her subsequent sexual experiences somehow less any more than it does a man. Virginity is not something deserving of being protected in one gender and not the other. Either virginity is important or it isn’t, and the rampant acceptance of male promiscuity just makes me ill in many regards.

It’s not just something that’s seen in high school, either. The behavior extends into adulthood, and the harsh level of judgment women use when talking of other more sexually liberal women is just shameful. I cannot tell you the number of discussions and reviews I have read about romance novels where the rakish man is swooned over while the woman (who has had an unrepentantly varied sex life) is called a slut and disliked. How a happy ending for such a woman is unbelievable, since only virgins or women who have had unsatisfactory sex lives are worthy of happy endings. It makes my mind spin, because I don’t understand how people can think this way.

The hero has sex with a slew of women, and he’s to be admired.

The heroine has sex with a handful of men, and she’s a slut.

The double standard is staggering in its blatancy, and the fact that women–women–buy into the lie that a sexually experienced man is preferable over a sexually experienced woman is just… well… disturbing. It’s a subtle form of female misogyny that we’re taught early on, and it screws with our heads long into adulthood – if not for the rest of our lives.

Madonna vs Whore

Now, if women who have sex before marriage are shamed and called sluts, you’d think that women who hold off until marriage would be revered, right? Well, you’d be wrong.

Women who remain virgins until marriage are ridiculed just as much as women who engage in premarital sex. The twist here, though, is that these women are not called sluts and whores and loose. They’re sneered at, called prudes, cockteases, and lesbians. A woman cannot win for losing. If she remains a virgin, she’s a tease, and if she has sex before marriage, she’s a whore.

It’s all a matter of trying to control women by keeping them jumping through social hoops. As long as the dominant forces keep women unsure about how to live their own lives, they’re not a threat to that dominance.

Men are having sex before marriage, and they aren’t having sex with themselves. Those women are not simply casualties of war. The truth is, the image of the girl who waits is all well and good until it’s prom night or an anniversary or ‘but I really love you!’. Then, if the girl doesn’t give it up, she’s branded a tease or frigid. It makes very little sense, doesn’t it? Again, the woman cannot win for losing. If she sticks to her principles and remains a virgin, she’s branded just as badly than if she’d simply gone with the flow and had sex.

This is not to say that a woman should give in to pressure for sex. Being pressured for sex is Not Cool. If she is not ready, she’s not ready, but if she is ready and wants to do it, then the double standard should not force her hand into abstaining any more than it should force her hand to give in for sex. Sex is a terribly personal thing, and it’s different for everyone, but society seems to screw you no matter what side you’re on if you don’t possess a dick.

Cocktease or whore, a woman cannot come out on top socially no matter her sexual choices.

The media is not helping by showing us sexualized virgins. We’re bombarded with images of Miley Cyrus parading around on stage in next to nothing while grinding on a stripper pole and simultaneously being told that she’s a ‘good girl’ for remaining ‘pure’. A few years back, it was Britney Spears going through the same thing. And in a couple more years, there will be yet another girl put on show for us to oggle at but not touch.

Point is, talking about being a virgin is just as much a sexual conversation as talking about actually having sex. Nobody questions Charlotte Church’s virginity. It was never a conversation that was had. I personally believe it’s because she dressed conservatively and sang opera. It wasn’t necessary to have that conversation about her. It also wasn’t a conversation we felt needed to happen with Miley until she was fifteen and began to shift her image from the clean-cut Disney star into the maturing teenage superstar. She risked alienating her Disney Channel gravy train by presenting anything that could be classed as unwholesome (such as the Vanity Fair spread), and so she had to combat that new physical persona with a verbal statement of purity.

She, just like many younger actors and singers, tries to play both sides. ‘I can sing about sex, dress sexy, and create this sexual image, but that not who I really am.’ I think sometimes Miley forgets she isn’t really Hannah Montana. >.>

(And can I just say Jordan Sparks’ classy ‘It’s not bad to wear a promise ring because not every guy or girl wants to be a slut.’ statement at that awards show makes my point 100% about slut shaming? That statement shows that anyone who chooses to have sex—for whatever reason—is a slut, even if they just do it with one partner they care deeply for. If they have sex, they aren’t pure, and if they aren’t pure, well, then they’re just sluts. And the fact that she was cheered on for such an obviously offensive statement is just shameful.)

And again, it’s mainly the female stars that are encouraged to behave this way. You don’t see the Jonas Brothers tramping it up on stage, but you do see Miley’s skirt length get shorter and shorter every year.

The Purity Myth

The prevailing theme throughout those who tout virginity as the end-all, be-all of a woman’s life like to say that virginity is a gift. It is the greatest gift a woman can offer her future husband (as if every woman aspires to be nothing more than a sex toy for her husband). Young women are told that, if they save themselves for True Love™, then the first time will be beautiful and magical and oh so very special. If she waits until marriage, her first time—and her sex-life thereafter—will be fulfilling and happy.

It’s such a load of bollocks.

A person’s first time is usually memorable only because it was the first. You throw two virgins together on a wedding night, it’s just a recipe for disaster. The first boy I slept with came within minutes. He had no idea how to handle me, and so, in the end, he got off and I was left with a great sense of disappointment. I questioned if I had done something wrong.

No, I hadn’t. We were both simply young and inexperienced, and as such, we had a pretty short, disappointing go of it. By the time I met my husband, I’d had a handful of sexual partners of both sexes, and he’d had several girlfriends he’d been sexually active with, and it led to a much more fulfilling sexual relationship between us. We both knew what we liked and what we didn’t, and neither of us was particularly embarrassed to discuss sex with the other.

The previous experience had helped our relationship, and I firmly believe it is experience that did not taint us for each other. I was not spoiled by having sex with other people, and he wasn’t just after me because he’d heard I was a slut. The thing that made the sex—and still makes the sex—amazing between us is the depth of emotion.

My Mum was right. Having sex with someone who loves you, who cares about your pleasure and comfort, is what makes it amazing. Every time one has sex, it should mean something. That’s what’s important. It should matter. Casual sex is all well and good, but it’s just that: casual. There’s not much satisfaction in casual, but when you feel an emotional connection with someone you want a physical relationship with, the sex can be mind-blowing.

The idea that a girl needs to pledge her virginity to her father until he hands it over to a husband is just creepy. It’s incestuously creepy to my mind, and I think it puts a lot of pressure on the girl to meet standards she may not truly be able to meet. It’s especially so since these girls go to their purity balls and sign their purity pledges while still in young adolescence, well before they’re teens and their hormones start going nuts, and so they’re pledging something they do not have full understanding of to fathers who are placing a high price on virginity, purity, and their little girls being their little girls forever.

It creates an unrealistic goal for both father and daughter, and it’s the daughter who winds up suffering the most when she fails. Or worse, when she doesn’t fail but gets married to the first person who comes along because she believes that it’s the only option she has if she wants to take a relationship to a physical level. It’s the wrong reason to get married, but it happens quite a lot anyway. When the perfectly natural urge to have sex is conflated with the ‘sex is only for marriage’ rhetoric, you end up with empty, loveless marriages based solely on awkward, unfulfilling sex and absolutely zero else in common.

Sex Is Not A Dirty Word

Sex has been turned into this taboo. It makes no sense. Sex is a natural thing. Our bodies are programmed to want it, to seek it out, and to have it at any opportunity. From the moment we hit puberty until the day we die, we want sex. For biological, reproductive, and emotional reasons, we have sex, and, hopefully, we enjoy it. It feels good.

Slut shaming, calling a virgin a prude, and patting the back of the guy who just popped his cherry are all symptoms of a much deeper problem. It’s not just adults behaviors towards kids, but also towards each other. The fact that many women prefer romance novels with a virginal heroine or a heroine who has had nothing but unsatisfactory sex in her fictional life says a lot about how women view themselves and each other. Where does it start? Where do we begin hating our own sexual desires? I think it’s when Daddy sits you down, calls you his princess, and says good girls wait until they’re married. I know this is not true of all women, as some didn’t have fathers or their fathers were uninterested, but there’s usually always an authority figure (many times male) that tells her that her whole worth boils down to that first gift of sex.

You have Miley lauded for making a stand, called brave when she says, ‘I’m living my life the way I want to, and that’s pure.’ But if anyone were to make an analogous statement of ‘I’m living my life the way I want to, and that includes having sex with my boyfriend,’ they’d be plastered over the whole damn internet as being a slut. Case in point, when it did come out that Britney was having sex, she was smeared for the fact. She went from being a pop princess to being K-Fed’s Baby Mama, and her career never recovered.

(And you don’t think Miley’s dad… or Selena Gomez’s father… or Jordan Spark’s dad aren’t telling them if they don’t keep their legs shut, they’ll end up the same way?)

On the other hand, you have Christina Aguilera who never made a public proclamation of her virginity or when she lost it, has a solid career in music and movies, and now has a husband and child. It’s arguable that declaring one’s virginity can only lead to bad things because, eventually, you’re going to lose it, and the more importance placed on one’s virginity publicly, the more importance the public is going to place on its loss.

Virginity only has the importance we give it. To some, it’s important, something sacred and special. To others, it’s just another physical milestone along with growing pubic hair, developing breasts, and having their voice crack. One is no better than the other. It’s all a personal choice, a personal decision we make when the time is right for us. The world and its opinion should play no part in that decision.

No one should be shamed because the level of importance they place on it is different than the person doing the shaming. Society is simply too preoccupied with what a woman does with her own body, and that needs to stop. What I do to my body in the privacy of my own life is not for anyone else to judge, and the judging must stop, because it’s wreaking havoc on the minds and self-esteems of women—young and old—everywhere.

Virginity is precious.

Virginity is a burden.

It’s both, it’s neither, and it’s everything and nothing to everyone and no one.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 5:35 pm

    Wow. Just… wow.

    I feel like that could have been an essay written for one of the college courses I took about Sex, Class, and Gender in Society. Your entry is just THAT amazing.

    It makes me uncomfortable in a couple ways, but I expected that from the moment you told me you’d write it all up. It’s a GOOD discomfort, because it makes me look at my own life and see how many of these little myths and double standards have shaped who I am.

    Bravo, Saundra. This is really an amazing blog post, and I think it tells a lot of truth when plenty of people won’t want to hear it but NEED to. ^_^

    ~Kris

  2. September 21, 2010 6:03 pm

    🙂

    I think sex is something so intensely personal there can never be One True Way for everyone. But society likes to pressure women, tell them there is only One True Way, and that’s to wait for sex until you’re married. For some, that may be the right thing, but for many people, it’s just an unrealistic expectation. When they don’t reach that expectation, a sense of failure can be devastating.

    As a woman who wants to have a child in the next few years, I think about what it would be like for my own son or daughter to feel they let me down because they did or didn’t have sex. I never want them to feel like failures for doing what they feel is right, and I don’t want my fellow men and women to feel their self-worth is utterly based upon whether they did or didn’t have sex before marriage.

    Our worth as people is far greater that when we have sex, and I wish the world would just see that and scrape off this myth that virginity is cornerstone of who is good and who is bad.

  3. loucheroo permalink
    September 21, 2010 7:49 pm

    I was certainly not a virgin when I got married. My mother kind of encouraged it by saying that it’s better when you’re in love and that she waited, but she didn’t judge me either, and I didn’t feel as though I had to hide it from her. Well, I’m lying. I hid from her the fact that I lost it in high school. But once I was in college, I told her.

    (ooo and for the record? lost my virginity on a first date. because each step felt so good that I didn’t argue about moving on to the next… and the next… and the next… and… mmmm….)

    I will not tell my kids to remain virginal until marriage. I will instead teach them to respect themselves and make smart choices and not sleep around all wily nily. And to be healthy and smart with taking care of themselves!

    I love your post and your thoughts….

  4. Alex permalink
    September 21, 2010 8:06 pm

    I was curious to read your essay when you posted the link. Very well done. As you point out, we are damned by our society whatever we choose to do.

    I think that the value placed on virginity is simply a holdover from our distant and not so distant pasts, where young women were basically a commodity for their families to use to better themselves socially and economically. That is not to say it’s a simple thing.

    It is basic animal nature for the male of the species to try to insure that his offspring are the ones who survive. I thiknk virginity became tied into this as a way to make sure that the children a woman bears belong to her mate, thus insuring that his genes are passed down. Animals do it by simply killing off all the young of the females when a new male takes over in the case of lions and some apes. Humans try to force the female of the species to mate with one male in a socially sanctiuoned union.

    It might be a totally different world if the matriarchal societies were the ones that dominated the culture today instead of the Judeo-Christian ones.

  5. September 21, 2010 10:12 pm

    loucheroo – I think that’s the key. Teaching our children to respect themselves. And respecting themselves doesn’t necessarily mean remaining a virgin until married. It’s so important to teach children that sex itself is important, a big adult decision, and they should make it when they feel it’s right, not on some arbitrary day set forth by society. Teens and young adults want sex. 🙂 It’s just the way it is. I don’t regret losing my virginity, and I think that’s because my Mum did teach me to respect myself and my own needs, to take into my hands my own sexual identity, and for that I’m forever thankful to her.

    Alex – I fully believe virginity is completely prized because, long ago, it was something men could barter with. Women were nothing but commodities, and I think society hasn’t realized that’s not what we are anymore. It would behoove women to reclaim their personhood, to put their foot down and state that their worth is so much more than their current status of penetration. Society as it stands has painted women into a corner, allowing us no ‘right’ choice in anything we do sexually, and it’s a sad testament to how little ground we’ve gained in our own sexual liberation.

    At the same time, I do recognize that we have achieved some great things for ourselves, and when we stop allowing the world to shame us for our personal choices, I think we’ll have retaken something that has been ours since the dawn of humanity. 🙂

  6. Dede permalink
    September 22, 2010 3:58 am

    Very nicely put, in so many ways.

    I guess that since we were an alternative family, our kids had it easier. We had one come out when she entered high school, one that had panic attacks that manifested as supraventricular tachycardia every time she would sleep with her boyfriend, and one that did everything from climbing out the window to sneaking off to have sex. Oh, and a prude. We covered the whole range of possibilities! How talented are we?

    We never did curtail their self-exploration into their sexuality–just made sure that we stocked up on condoms and dental dams and kept the door open for them to ask questions. Some did, some didn’t. The information was passed along nonetheless and we slept a little easier (and still do) because we gave them the support and inclination to take their life into their own hands.

    This was an excellent piece, S. I’m so glad that you linked me to it.

  7. September 23, 2010 7:14 am

    Dede – Sorry for the late reply. The last two days have been exhausting for me. 🙂

    I was lucky when it came to my Mum. She encouraged my brother and me to find who we were, and that meant sexually as much as any other part of us. Dad was kept in the dark because Dads usually are. I knew if he knew I was having sex, I’d just be more of a disappointment to him, and I was already bogged down by his disappointment in me by that point with regards to the rest of my life. I think it’s important to have at least one parent who is open and liberal enough to realize teens are teens, and they are their own people with needs and desires like any other adult.

    Having protection available, having the parent willing to discuss protection, and having a safe place to go when things don’t pan out quite right is so important. I’m glad you offered that. I think, in the long run, it’s best when children don’t have to be ashamed or hide who and what they are from their parents. That they felt they could open up to you and you’d be there for them is a testament to being a good parent. 🙂

  8. September 26, 2010 10:07 am

    Interesting post. I think virginity is prized more in America. In the UK our attitudes are totally different… in fact, I have never heard of someone waiting until marriage, and girls are only called sluts when they’ve had loads and loads of partners. (I think possibly 15+). They shouldn’t be, but it is an improvement on the US version.

    I waited until I met someone I felt very strongly for. I was sure I was in love before having sex. We’re still together, and I’m happy we lost our virginity to each other. It was speshul!

    And despite not having numerous partners, my wife and I have grown up together (we were very young when we got together) and we have discovered exactly what we like, and its all the same stuff as each other.

    And the best bit is, eleven years on sex is interesting and we still discover new things we enjoy.

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