Women's bodies have been the source of personal and political debate across centuries. Thirteen-year-old girls have been bought and sold by forty-year-old men, had their reproductive rights regulated by male politicians, and have had their bodies fetishized by mainstream media for decades. Traditionally, virginity was a way to measure a women's purity before she was sold into marriage, a practice which can be traced back before the 1200s. The continued importance given to virginity binds women to medieval social politics that have sexually policed women's bodies while becoming obsolete when involving men.
While contemporary society has become significantly more liberal and sex positive over the course of three waves of feminism, the concept of virginity still holds a toxic patriarchal weight when it comes to our contemporary discussion of sex. Here are five reasons why virginity is a damaging social construct that should be abolished.
1. Virginity imposes double standards.
Virginity holds a considerably heavier weight for women than it does for men. Traditionally, women are taught that their virginity is a valuable commodity that reflects upon their moral character. If a woman “loses” it to someone who she wasn’t in a relationship with, or wasn’t married to, she is regarded as “loose” or “impure.” While women are shamed for having sex, men are empowered by society and encouraged to have sex as much as possible. Historically, men didn’t face cultural consequences if they weren’t virgins when they got married. On the other hand, women were often beaten or killed if they weren’t believed to be “pure” according to the degrading cultural practices that measured a women’s purity.
We like to think that these cultural practices are limited to the fading paragraphs in history textbooks. Unfortunately, the invasion of women’s bodies is a very real practice even in the modern age. Virginity testing was used on women entering the United Kingdom on a “fiancee visa,” when they said they were immigrating to marry their fiancees who were already living in Britain. The British government said that “if the women were virgins they were more likely to be telling the truth about their reason for immigrating to the country. In 1979, a woman arrived in London and was required to undergo a virginity test claiming that she was there to marry. This practice was exposed in The Guardian in 1979, and the policy was quickly changed.
2. Virginity causes people to view sex in a negative light.
The concept of losing one’s virginity is a medieval social practice used to police women’s sexuality. When virginity is given great importance to sexuality, it adds considerable amounts of shame and guilt to the way that people use to connect to each other and procreate. It makes connections between people difficult and complicated. As a sex positive feminist, I firmly believe that adding politics of fear to personal connections is a very very bad idea. The idea of virginity suggests that sex is something that will tarnish one’s character and complicates the very thing that binds people together and creates human life.
3. Virginity is non existent.
Virginity is a entirely a social construct that is actually completely irrelevant in a biological sense and equally non-existent. According to historical and women’s rights activist, Hanne Blank, virginity doesn’t "reflect [any] biological imperative and grants no demonstrable evolutionary advantage."
4. Virginity contributes to slut shaming
As previously mentioned, the concept of virginity applies a double-standard to sex. When sex is equated with an “impurification” of the body, it results in slut shaming. Slut shaming essentially involves instances when people place feelings of guilt and shame on a women who dress in a revealing way or are perceived to have lots of sex. Slut shaming is sexist and forces a toxic mindset based upon medieval values and ideas about sexuality.
5. Virginity is extremely heteronormative.
The definition of “losing ones virginity” primarily denotes vaginal sex, which applies primarily to heterosexual relationships. A lesbian who has had plenty of sex with other women is still regarded as a “virgin” according to this heteronormative definition of virginity. For trans folks, the issue of virginity becomes even more exclusionary and convoluted. When society uses such a limited word to describe what constitutes sex, it legitimizes and disempowers many different groups within the community.
I propose that we abolish the word “virginity” or else reclaim and use it a source of personal power. Within the linguistic economy, the notion of virginity has been permeated as a measure of morality throughout a variety of cultures to control, shame, and demonize women’s bodies. In recent years, we have made great progress as a society and have become more critical of the media and our own personal biases with sexuality but there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done. This work, like many others within social politics begins with the very mechanism we use to wield inequality. Language.