The concept of virginity has been a topic of conversation lately in the groups I have been talking with, in podcasts I have been listening to, and articles I have read. From the stories I have heard, it has made me think differently about virginity. In this new learning and understanding, I find myself getting more and more irritated. This might throw some of you off when I say this, especially since I am a Christian woman, but the more I think about how virginity is talked about and taught, the less I like it. In fact I am going to say that the entire topic needs a makeover.
Growing up Christian what I thought about virginity was that it was the mode of conduct. Virginity was the rule I needed to follow to be a “good” girl. As a girl I was taught that being a virgin was the “ideal” for me; to retain a sense of purity before marriage. I was to save myself for that one person. So, whenever I had sexual urges or desires, I felt shame. I thought, “Oh this isn’t right. I need to not think this way. God will be mad at me.” As a grown woman and mother this makes me so very very angry. I want so badly to go back to that girl and tell her that her thoughts are normal and okay. That God loves her and she is not bad. Emphasizing virginity like this, is based out of fear, guilt, and shame and let’s be honest, it’s sexist. My brothers did not receive the same message as I did. The quest to remain a virgin is primarily focused on girls and not boys.
The sexism around virginity is my first problem with the approach society and/or church takes on the subject. In the Bible there was a high priority for a woman to be a virgin to get married. We have turned that notion of virginity into, “because it is for love and saving yourself for that one person.” In reality, that virginity clause was so that the father could receive a bigger dowry from the groom’s parents. In biblical times there was no birth control, so if the woman had sex with a man there was a higher chance for pregnancy. Whoever the father was, the descendants of the father received the land rights. If the woman had had sex before the marriage ceremony and became pregnant shortly after, then who is the father and who does the land go to? If the bride was a virgin then there was no confusion. There was one owner; it was about property: a business arrangement.
What is interesting about this scenario is that there is no talk of the same expectation for the man or groom to remain a virgin. Since that was the case, then, with whom could this man have relations with? The man still wants sex; they want the play, and the satisfaction of pleasure. However, they also want the woman to be their “pure” shiny new wife. See the double standard?
This expectation on girls to uphold their virginity is a lot of pressure. Some communities have purity balls for girls, but again, I rarely hear of any for boys. What is this saying? It implies like how I felt, that if a girl experiences sexual thoughts or desires, then she is ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean.’ Her wiles are to blame for tempting and seducing the young boy or man. So as a culture we have this notion of the girl to remain a virgin but in complete conflict with that, are quick to over sexualize girls in the media. "Be pure young women, but in the same breath it is important for you to show a lot of skin so we can sell a hamburger." Fascinating, isn’t it?
The other issues I have with the discussion around virginity are the phrases: “I lost my virginity.” “I gave myself to him.” What was lost? What was given away? The way I view sexual intimate relationships is how I believe God intended them to be and so with that, nothing is lost or given away, but something is shared and gained. Having sex with another person should be a time of great vulnerability by both parties. It is a place of great sharing where we care for the other with great intention. It is my hope that what is experienced in the sexual act is laughter, passion, intimacy, and a sense of safety where we can share and experience a sense of communion. Sex should be a place of taking in the other where we are gaining great intimacy, pleasure and spiritual connection. This is achieved when sex is consensual, the partners know and appreciate the other, and there is a level of safety and reverence. When we talk about “virginity being lost” then we are talking about sex with opposition. Indirectly we are indicating that someone has less power or say then the other. With that however, I will say when sex is non-consensual, then yes, I do believe something is lost. Nothing is gained when another is violated sexually.
When we talk about virginity it’s also important to define what we mean when we say “virgin.” Primarily the conversation has focused around intercourse between a man and woman. So the question begs: “Are you a virgin if you have oral sex?” “What if you have anal sex?” “What if we just rub our genitals together?” This leads into being able to define the term “sex” altogether. We have too many different categories that we fit different sexual experiences into, without being very clear about how they really are defined or interpreted. This can cause great confusion.
If virginity is important to you, then I encourage you to have it clearly defined. When do you consider someone no longer a virgin? I also encourage you to have the same conversation with your children regardless of gender, gender identity, or orientation. Instead of making virginity a “stamp of approval,” make it a conversation about how you want your child or loved one to experience sexual pleasure. Sexual intimacy is about equality; sharing a part of yourself you want the other to know personally, an expression of love and care, and a place where both people should be able to experience amazing pleasure.