Virginity: An Obsession
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?
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.