If you pick up any teen magazine, you’re almost guaranteed to see content such as “10 things to know before losing your virginity!” or “Five women tell us how old they were when they lost it!” But the real question is when did having your first sexual experience means you lost something? And where do you lose it? Does your virginity just run away from you like my dog does whenever we forget to close the door?
The concept of “losing your virginity,” as if you’re giving up a valuable part of your integral being, is still prevalent in contemporary societies. But what are its historical origins? Any quick search on the web can tell you that its influence reaches far back into our history. It might surprise you, but virginity was actually conceptualised up to 10,000 years ago. Yes, this topic is anything but new.
For example, in the age of gallantry, chivalry as a concept evolved to train men in the protection of maidens, or virgins. From the age of knights in shining armour we can fast forward to Queen Elizabeth I of England, otherwise remembered as the Virgin Queen. Her nickname stems from the fact that she chose to remain unmarried throughout her reign. Because the Virgin Queen refused to accept a husband, therefore successfully avoiding the transfer of her power to a man, rumours of her sexual promiscuity abounded (sex outside marriage being outrageously scandalous). Her critics choosing the state of her virginity as a method of attack just goes to show how much power the concept held. Simply put, sex without offspring was unacceptable and she failed to give the patriarchy an heir.
Now that we have a brief understanding of its history, let’s break down why virginity is gendered. The answer in itself is interesting because it revolves around paternity. Before the invention of tests that could prove fatherhood, a virgin bride was really the only way a husband could be sure that any offspring would be his own. It’s through this process of monitoring fertility and establishing man ownership that women’s bodies could be controlled and treated as a product for consumption and genetic continuity. The link between virginity and paternal ownership is perhaps most evident in Purity Balls. Amid sparkling tiaras and white dresses that meet the formal dress code, fathers provide their daughters with a ring and publicly pledge to protect their purity until they’re married and placed under the protection (or shall we say ownership?) of their husband.
The fact remains: virginity is a detrimental concept used to suppress women. Sometimes, it can even be brutal. Husbands wanted virgin brides, but how could they be sure that the woman wasn’t lying about her purity? The answer lies in virginity testing. These humiliating and intrusive tests, still used in some cultures today, come close to sexual violence. The common technique consists of inserting two fingers into the woman’s vagina to assert that her hymen is still intact. Not only does this ignore that a hymen can tear due to many factors besides penetrative sex, such as physical sport or injury, but it also is a clear violation of the woman’s bodily autonomy. The ridiculous use of virginity as a way to measure a woman’s worth isn’t limited to only one culture. For example, some countries, such as Indonesia, used virginity testing as a requirement for joining the police force. Sadly, this outdated idolisation of the “pure woman” still affects modern societies.
In 2005, the televised performance of the “test of the handkerchief” to a flamenco artist’s bride-to-be caused a significant outcry in Spain. The “test of the handkerchief” consists in inserting a handkerchief into the woman’s vagina, purposely breaking the hymen, and expecting to collect blood to prove her virginity, her “purity.” This practice is not only physiologically inaccurate and undermines the woman’s bodily integrity but also causes great anxiety and stress for the woman involved. A 2017 study published in the Journal Of Reproductive Health concluded that virginity testing could cause physical, psychological, and social harm to the examinee, including suicide. In the mentioned case, the soiled handkerchief was broadcasted on television for the whole nation to see. This practice continues to be customary in the Spanish Romani communities, with hundreds of women being violated in this way routinely. Needless to say, the men’s virginity status is not checked nor questioned.
This obsession with virginity is not unique to the Romani community or Indonesia; in fact, if most nations and societies have one thing in common, is this all-consuming and almost neurotic treatment of sex and virginity. Virginity is regarded as a women’s special gift to give to a special romantic partner. Non-virgin women are considered spoiled or ruined, slut shamed, and can even be in life-threatening danger for “losing it” to the wrong person, in the wrong way. Men who are virgins can be seen as sexually inadequate and deficient; their manhood being questioned. Additionally, the fanatic treatment of virginity leads to poor sex education. Abstinence-only sex education can discourage the use of condoms, purposely misinform and prevent healthy sexual development, potentially leading to sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and abusive sexual relationships.
Finally, as we tackle this topic, one thing becomes jarringly clear. This whole time we have understood sex and the “loss of virginity” as penis-in-vagina sex. Babe, go check yourself, your heteronormativity is showing! This understanding of virginity and sex leads to the erasure of queer expression and queer sex. By assuming that sex only occurs between a man with a penis and a woman with a vulva, it ignores sex taking place between people of varying gender identities and ignores sexual preferences and desires. Oral sex, anal sex, kissing, cuddling, massages, masturbation, hand-play, or using sex toys, amongst others, are all valid examples of sexual affection and gratification, and can all be very fun! So, if you understand sex solely as the ramming of a penis inside a vagina, you might be missing out…
In conclusion, there is nothing to lose, nothing to pop, nothing to deflower, and a lot to gain! Sex can be extremely gratifying and fun when safe and consensual. So, go explore and enjoy!