[originally published September 28, 2009.]
It is difficult to believe in a religion that places such a high premium on chastity and virginity.
I do not believe in Virginity. Radical, eh? Many people are confused by that. Sexual activity that is predicated on intercourse between a man and a woman leaves no room for gay people. Our entire culture and many religious systems internalize this falsehood. I am a disbeliever in mandatory heterosexuality. I also do not think that having sex means you ‘lose’ something. Having sex is a celebration, not a loss. To me, like much else, Virginity is a construct. So even if one is gay and has decided to make the term their own and they believe they are ‘losing’ their Virginity, I don’t think they are. Re-appropriation is great and validating but I don’t appropriate the ‘term’ in any way.
“A Virgin (or maiden) is, originally, a woman who has never had sexual intercourse. Virginity is the state of being a virgin. It is derived from the Latin virgo, which means "sexually inexperienced woman", used typically of adolescents, but also of older women, and even goddesses [“Athena…another of the three virgin goddesses (in addition to Hestia and Artemis).” Women in Greek Myths].” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia)
These days guys use the term ‘Virgin’ but its roots are feminine. I feel the term is based in misogyny – “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.” (Dictionary.com). Some absolutely amazing people use the term, but most people do not think like me.
The emergence of chastity rings speaks to an emphasis on Virginity: “Is it too radical to suppose these kids could have education about STDs and have a healthy sex life? In the popular high school film Twilight (2008) the lead characters are in love but do not get it on because he is a vampire and is scared he might kill her. I am sensing a disturbing trend.” (Shiller, POP goes the TEEN.)
The idea that many young people wait until marriage to have sex gives ‘Virginity’ a currency. I am not encouraging kids to run out and have sex but the premium on abstinence makes me ill because it is so wrapped up in ideology – it is the opposite of free-will. Certainly, if one chooses not to have sex – fine. The reasons behind this decision need to be explored – freely.
Look, for a heck of a long time there has been a Virgin/Whore dichotomy. “The Virgin Birth of Jesus is a religious tenet of Christianity and Islam which holds that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin”. (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) I am certainly not the first or last to address this: “Feminists and other social commentators use the term to describe a deep dichotomy in modern culture used to oppress women via a sexual double standard, establishing rigid categories for female sexual behavior while permitting male sexual behavior to range from abstinence to promiscuity without similarly disparaging social judgment.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) At least it’s acknowledged. It is powerful to make fun of this dichotomy – to be ironic about it, but I also think it merits serious attention because it is so insidious. Believe me; I’d like nothing more than to dismiss it as a phase. There is a catch-phrase one of my friends used: “men want to [have sex] with the whore but marry the virgin.” Often true and VERY boring.
I remember an episode of Sex and the City (1998-2004) where Charlotte had to explain to her new husband that she was a ‘sexual being’ so that he’d have sex with her and not see her as a virginal mother figure. Sad. What is truly interesting is that all of the characters have a framework – Sex – the show is called Sex and the City after all. A dichotomy is set up in this instance. Ideas of the Virgin and the Whore are established.
Because we internalize so many ideas about the Virgin/Whore we owe it to ourselves to examine into which part of our lives these ideas are seeping. Like so many things we take for granted, this may be invisible. Let’s try to make it concrete.
I don’t believe there is a metaphorical line drawn by what we have or have not experienced.
The semantics of the term ‘Virginity’ creates meaning. I personally do not think we can escape its negative impact, so I opt out. I really do not think that my voice or opinions will change things. Someone said; “…voices to quash those stereotypes will fall to the wayside over time if that change does not occur.” I believe that, and while I am glad to tell you how I feel, I know the ideology will remain. I was going to say that it sucks to be me, but it doesn’t really – I’m just realistic.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.
Dictionary.com Accessed August 3, 2009.
Sex and the City. Creator: Darren Star. Darren Star Productions. 1998-2004. Accessed August 6, 2009.
Shiller, Romy. POP goes the TEEN. Shebytches.com
Twilight. Director, Catherine Hardwicke. Goldcrest Pictures. 2008. ultimatedisney.com Accessed May 1, 2009.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia Accessed August 3, 2009.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia August 6, 2009.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia Accessed August 2, 2009.
Women in Greek Myths Accessed August 6, 2009.