What about virginity?
by Linda Plenert
Dear Ate Anna:
A friend and I were talking about the cultural expectations we grew up with as teenagers. Girls were expected to be virgins when they got married but it always seemed that the boys had more freedom in this area. You know, “boys will be boys.” Why isn’t virginity an issue for men?
There are many beliefs about virginity and, unfortunately, most of them are rooted in myth. It’s important to say that some myths exist because people didn’t have the scientific information we have today. So why do we still hang on to these ideas even though we have witnessed the social, legal and financial importance of virginity change over time, especially in Western cultures? Although women in many parts of the world are supposed to be enjoying a new “sexual freedom,” they are still judged differently than men for their sexual relationships.
First, we need to clarify what we mean by virginity. To most people a virgin is someone who has not had sex, which is usually defined exclusively as penis in vagina penetration. Does this mean that a person is still a virgin if they have only had oral sex or anal sex? How do lesbians define virginity for themselves?
The beliefs around virginity are historical – from a time when a woman was her husband’s property. If an unmarried girl had sexual intercourse she became less valuable to her society and less marriageable, which could have dire consequences for her life in general. In many cultures virginity was “tested” on the wedding night by a show of blood with first intercourse. Unfortunately, not all females have bleeding the first time they have intercourse. Ate Anna has heard many unfortunate stories about young women who were shunned by family and community because they did not bleed on the wedding night; despite the fact that they insisted they were virgins.
The bleeding supposedly happens because the hymen (or vaginal corona) is torn. The hymen is like a thin membrane or piece of skin that may exist around the opening to the vagina when a female baby is born. It doesn’t completely cover the opening to the vagina and there are small holes in it. This is because women have vaginal fluids and menstrual blood that has to have a way to leave the body. In some women the hymen is so small or thin that there is no bleeding when it is stretched or torn with first intercourse, inserting a tampon, or other activities like exercise, riding a bicycle, or sexual self pleasuring.
There is no test that can determine whether or not someone is a virgin. A female’s body does not go through any major physical transformation the first time she has sex. Neither does a male’s. No one can feel the difference either. So the truth is that nobody can determine whether or not a person is a virgin – however one defines virginity. Each person has to trust what their partner tells them.
The issue you are asking about, Lucy, is the double standard that exists. While both sexes are taught about the importance of virginity, it is girls and women who bear the responsibility for it. While it has never been as important to establish whether or not someone with a penis is a virgin, we now need to recognize and talk about the myths related to the idea of female virginity.
The emotional side of the virginity issue is also important to consider. Many people are taught that they will undergo some psychological transformation the first time they have sex with someone else. While this may be true for some people, it is definitely not true for everyone. There are many factors to consider in the experience of first sex. Was there consent? Were alcohol or other drugs involved? Were condoms and birth control used? Did it feel good for everyone? Was someone anxious to “lose their virginity”?
The double standard that exists globally is the reason we are concerned with girls’ virginity and not boys’. In fact, there is a myth that all boys want to lose their virginity to the first willing person. This reinforces the belief that virgin teen boys deserve the shaming and teasing they often experience. Popular culture reinforces the belief that boys who have not had sex by a certain age are socially inept.
It’s time to break the taboos about virginity for both males and females. We need to talk about the physiological facts, the emotional issues, and the socio-cultural factors that influence our thinking about virginity and what it means. We need to have these conversations with friends, family and, most important, with our teenage children. Lucy, you and your friend are already on the way.
Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, Suite 200- 226 Osborne St. N., Winnipeg, MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit us at www.serc.mb.ca. You will find reliable information and links for many resources on the subject of sexuality.
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