Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 5, 2020

What to do about the V word: Virginity

By JULIA DEVARTI | October 9, 2014

When and if I ever walk down the aisle, there’s a good chance I won’t be wearing a white dress. If you’re wondering why, let me explain: the color white has everything to do with ideas of purity, virtue and, of course, the big one, virginity.

I have some serious issues with this crazy idea of virginity. To start, let’s talk about the word itself. Historically, the word “virgin” has been used only on women. In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were holy servants of the gods, and there were really only two rules to being one; first, you had to be a woman, and second, if you had sex, you were killed. Or we can also look at how medieval times dealt with virginity — women were pure and virginal maids, while men could do whatever they pleased. If you were a woman, once you were “soiled,” you were a lot less valuable as an object of sexual desire.

Ugh. I am not interested in any of that double standard nonsense. Admittedly, virginity nowadays is talked about for both men and women. That being said, the double standard from which the word is born still exists. It makes itself very obvious in the way we talk about sex today. Women are turned into sluts and hoes, and men are admired as players. Men are portrayed as sexually aggressive, and women are portrayed as sexually submissive. You can forget all about sexual autonomy if you’re a girl. Again, this is definitely not a culture I want to have anything to do with.

Next, this concept of virginity just makes sex scary. When I was younger, I heard a million rumors about the all-too-scary act of “popping the cherry,” and let me tell you, I was terrified. I was told that the first time I had sex it would be painful, daunting, maybe even bloody, so I’d better make it count. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be painful. But when women are so worried about the impending doom that accompanies the first time they have sex, they’ll be tense enough that it might actually hurt. There, I said it: Sex can be painful the first time. But what makes sex painful is not having enough foreplay, or not being comfortable enough with your partner(s).

Maybe we should start talking a little bit more about how to make sex pleasurable for people who aren’t men, instead of scaring women off of sex with another crazy virginity myth. Another problem with virginity is that “people who know better” can use it to manipulate younger people into not having sex. Women are taught that their virginity, their virtue, is a gift to be given to the highest bidder. Okay, not the highest bidder, but the “one,” that special magical someone. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that bullsh*t for a minute. If someone wants to have sex, they should do it — as long as it’s safe, fun and consensual, that is. Otherwise, we’re all just using virginity to slut-shame women. Did she lose it too soon? To the wrong person? There’s no right way to start being sexually active, and there’s no prescriptive time that’s right.

Again, as long as people are being safe and consensual, sex can be a good and fun thing. We don’t need to apply all these rules that turn people into sluts just for trying to make their own sexual decisions.

Finally, virginity is a completely heterosexual concept. We use it to talk pretty much exclusively about penetrative vaginal sex (i.e. penis and vagina). You can still be a “virgin” then after pretty much any and all other sexual acts, so what are people in non-heterosexual relationships supposed to do? How are trans folk supposed to fit into this? Virginity erases the narratives of tons of people, so if getting rid of virginity makes our society even a little more open to LGBTQ people, let’s do it.

At the end of the day, virginity commodifies sex. It puts sexual interactions into a small and restrictive box that a lot of people don’t fit into. It makes sex scary. It turns sex into a bad thing. It’s sexist. And I think it’s about time we all lose virginity for good.

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