The idea of virginity has been following me around a lot lately, tugging on my coat when I least expect it and whispering, “don’t forget about me, the social construct that will define your worth for the rest of your life!” This summer I paraded through wedding season, watching the centuries old tradition of fathers giving away their brides. I’ve also thought about how, if I didn’t “count” every man who I’ve had “bad sex” with my “number” dwindles to the point of near-virginity. “How cool is that, I’m practically a virgin,” I convinced myself. And most recently, I listened to T.I. talk about the sanctity of his 18 year old daughter’s hymen on the podcast Ladies Like Us with Nazanin and Nadia. All this being said, I think it’s overdue for us to sit down and reflect on the ways virginity has spiraled into a toxic, sexist construct for women.
So let’s dig into it— what is virginity, aside from an insult I willingly sling at people who sell me fake concert tickets? (“I hope you die a virgin!) Virginity is the stamp we give to someone with a blank sexual resume. For women, that means that the hymen—the thin tissue that covers the vaginal opening—remains fully in tact. Technically speaking, this is the first flaw in the virginity argument. I like to think of the hymen as me when I haven’t had therapy in a while. I can be riding my bike, having a great little day, and boom! Something breaks me allllll the way down. Other times, I can take an absolute pounding and I come out the other side strong and composed and think “is this all my time and money paying off?” The hymen, it’s just like us! It can break doing something as little as riding a bike, or it can remain whole despite the fact that you’ve had heterosexual, “P in V” sex. There’s really no telling what the hymen is capable of. And for this reason alone, defining a woman’s virginity on this single biological volatility is completely baseless. Not to mention it eliminates all sorts of other really great kinds of sex! When we consider sex to be something so medical and heterosexual it places our sexuality in a tightly defined box that neglects other genders and sexual preferences.
So, yes, technically speaking virginity is a whole lot of stupid. But it’s also a toxic social construct that has long placed a woman’s worth on her sexual history. For example, the tradition of a father giving away his chaste daughter to her husband, dressed in virgin white, is a ritual that reduces her personhood a piece of property—her sexual purity the bargaining chip being handed over at the altar. Nowadays this custom typically holds no significance to the historical pretext, but its toxic history still remains glaringly present. Because the value of a woman’s virginity continues to subtly present itself in these ways, the way that sex becomes a part of our lives can hold onto these outdated, toxic ideals. For example, if a man is a virgin he’s “inexperienced” and “weird,” but when a woman is a virgin she’s “not a slut.” T.I., the rapper who once sang “all I fuck bad bitches, I don’t want know mediocre hoe,” went on a podcast on November 5th to confirm this fact. The now exposed pervert father bragged about taking his daughter to the gynecologist once a year to confirm that her hymen is still in tact. Regardless of the evidence that the hymen can’t accurately determine if a woman has had sex, this also proves what we already know to be true about the misogynic undertones of sex—it’s something men get and women give up.
When we continue to frame a woman’s worth around sex—her sexual history determining the value of her property— we simultaneously breed men who think they are entitled to a woman’s body. Elliot Rodger, the 22 year old who murdered 10 people in Isla Vista, posted a video blaming women for his virginity. In his 141-page letter, he blamed the women who “denied him sex and love” for his hatred for and rampage against women. The incel (involuntary celibate) community is only growing stronger and more violent. The online subculture define themselves as “unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.” The community, which is commonly associated with racism, misogyny and narcissism, unites in their resentment that women are becoming liberated in their sexuality. At least four mass murders have been committed in North America alone by men who have identified as incels or mentioned the community in their private social lives. Incel or not, the the tug of war between entitled, toxic men and sexually liberated women is damaging to everyone when it comes to sex and relationships.
Associating women’s worth with their sexual history not only continues to reduce them to property for a man’s taking, but also neglects to appreciate sex for what it should be—a shared activity that can be enjoyed by consenting parties. If the weight of sexual history can be taken off the shoulders of women, sex will be one step closer to being universally celebrated and enjoyed as a way to experience human connection, emotion, and exploration.