"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, June 27, 2013

speak now #8: sexuality and society part I - the virginity myth

Now Playing: Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri (who do you think you are, running around leaving scars?)

So let me ask you a question.


If you ask most people they'll give the standard penis-in-vagina answer, also known as 'having sex'.

Boy, I don't even know where to begin telling you how problematic that is.

Virginity, or 'loss of virginity', is normally defined as the first time someone has sex. But, um...what's sex?

The current generic discourse of 'sex' - i.e. vaginal intercourse, is pretty problematic. For starters, vaginal intercourse is not normally someone's first experience with expressing sexuality; I'm sure I don't need to warn my predominantly university and high schooler readership what young people get up to. Many couples don't even have the bits necessary for the standard penis in vagina thing - this definition of 'sex' is very heteronormative, because obviously vaginal intercourse is not really going to feature in homosexual or some types of relationships involving transgender or intersex individuals. To accomodate for the vast scope of how humans express sexuality, the sex positive movement defines sex as 'any activity with the intent of giving and/or receiving sexual pleasure with another person or persons'.

I know, I know, that's not the most sexy definition for sex. But it is the most accurate. Because our current definition of virginity is so problematic you have people engaging in what can be some pretty intense and risky sexual behaviours with NO KNOWLEDGE WHATSOEVER ABOUT PROTECTION OR CONSENT because, apparently, oral sex/anal sex/mutual masturbation is apparently not sex. Which is total bullshit.

So that's my main issue with our definition of sex; it encourages a culture of stigma and ignorance regarding human sexuality. And given that your odds of getting very sick or very pregnant are quite high when you are sexually active and not doing it right - and my definition of sexually active, not society's - that is bad. Bad bad bad.

So, I suppose you think I think that 'losing your virginity' is when you first get frisky with someone. Well...no, not exactly.

First things first WHAT THE FUCK IS THERE TO LOSE? Your hymen? Yeah well, for starters only female-bodied individuals have those, so that's sexist. The hymen doesn't even break - just stretches slightly or maybe tears a little if you're not doing it right. If you think you lose some kind of moral highground or some illusion of purity then I hate to break it to you, but YOUR GRANDMOTHER IS NOT A VIRGIN AND IS THEREFORE A MASS MURDERER BY THAT LOGIC. Sexuality and becoming sexually active and having sexual partners isn't about losing innocence, but gaining experience - and it's a journey that we all start whether we like it or not, whether we have a partner or not, and whether we have sex or not. It's not one momentous occasion of BAM you are no longer a virgin.

Incidentally, the English language has no word for people who are not virgins. Some other languages do.

The real problems with virginity.

1. Virginity is a social construct.

So we've established that there is no clear definitive activity or event that constitutes 'sex', and therefore 'losing your virginity', as well as no real way to physically determine whether one is a virgin or not. So we can pretty much safely say that virginity is a social construct, designed to make this false distinction between the value/character/attractiveness/etc. of people who are or aren't sexually active. This virginity myth is then used for both slut shaming and virgin shaming, which I will get to later in the series.

2. Virginity perpetuates sexism and reinforces patriarchal gender roles. 

When I was younger I didn't even know that male virginity was a thing; it just never occurred to me that men could be virgins. The cult of purity is pretty much exclusively focused on women, which reinforces this idea that women are sexual objects but not sexual beings, that promiscuous women are 'dirty' or 'slutty', and that you can judge a woman not by who she is or what she does, but by her sexual history. Conversely, it puts this pressure on men to be promiscuous and sexually aggressive and shames men who might not be as sexually experienced as societal standards demand.

My experiences with virginity:

For a long time virginity was a very strong part of how I identified as a sexual being, which confused people; I am young and pretty inexperienced, sure, but I don't act how virgins are supposed to behave, which bugs people. When I wanted to start this series I was a bit intimidated, because I still had this crown of thorns of 'virgin' hanging around, but I don't really believe in the virginity myth anymore, or that one can 'lose' something you never had in the first place. That's not to say that sex isn't intimidating and the first experiences aren't important; I'm just saying that they say less about people than society likes to think. I don't consider people in terms of virginity anymore, even in the context of relationships; and I don't consider myself a virgin. I'm a person. My worth is determined by more than what I may or may not have done behind closed doors.


This is Part I of a three-part series about sexuality and society. Stay tuned for Part II and Part III (coming soon). Click here for a discussion of sexuality and abstinence based education that I wrote a couple months ago (and yes, I will be discussing abstinence based education sooooon). Stay tuned and stay beautiful!


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