The Virginity Complex: Having It, Losing It, and Wanting It Back

When you’re young, it’s easy to view virginity as a black and white concept. You either have it or you don’t. The older you get, however, the more exposed to the world and its many shades of grey, you realise this isn’t the case at all. What actually constitutes popping your cherry? Is there a medical definition somewhere that states exactly what changes your status from virgin to non-virgin? The general seems to be that it’s heteronormative penetration: a penis penetrates a vagina, the hymen is broken. But what about non-penetrative sex, or homosexual sex? When you really start to examine the social construct of virginity, you realise how unclear it is – as well as outdated, heterosexist, and misogynistic. At its core, it is a way to police people’s bodies and pass judgement on what they choose to do with them. So why are we so obsessed by it?

Even the term ‘virgin’ itself – the fact that we have nouns to identify whether someone has had sex or not – is ridiculous. We don’t have specific nouns for when we learn how to walk, or have our first kiss, or our first hangover. So why is this milestone worthy? Long story short, it should only be momentous if you want it to be momentous. If you want to wait until you’re married to have sex, cool. If you want your first time to be a drunk encounter with a bartender, I support that. As long as you’re comfortable and happy with your choice, and don’t judge other people for not following the same path as you, I’m on board. It’s strange that we tend to feel it’s our business to know what’s happening in other people’s sex lives; that we deserve to know who they’re sleeping with/how often/where/what positions… and this is if they’re sleeping with anyone at all. If they’re not, we want to know why not/how long they plan to wait/who they want it to be with. It’s bizarre that we feel entitled to know every last detail about something that is not only one of the most natural things in the world, but also one of the most intimate.

Having It

There is pressure when it comes to the subject of virginity. Too early and you’re a slut, too late and you’re a frigid freak. It’s a misogynistic view that feeds into the idea of the Madonna and the Whore – a woman can only be one, and it’s pretty much tied to the state of your hymen. Except, this is wrong. As in, not just wrong in terms of equality and modernity and social acceptance, but as in biologically wrong. Many women break their hymens long before they have sex, through sport, tampons or masturbation. Some women never even have one to begin with. When it comes to virginity status being a marker of the quality or purity of a person, I can also very confidently call bullshit. I know people who have never had sex who are fairly hideous in character. I also know people who have had so many sexual partners they’ve lost count, and are kind, generous, good-hearted people. I have friends on both ends of the virginity spectrum; it doesn’t change my opinion of them as people. As long as whatever you choose to do is consensual, legal, and no-one’s getting hurt, then why not?

Losing It

Losing your virginity is considered a milestone. I know that when I was a teenager, I thought that losing my V-card would mark me as experienced, a woman. I can assure you that this is not the truth. If you’re inexperienced before you have sex (as I was) you’re still inexperienced after. It’s just that now you know what it’s like to have a dick inside you, and you probably ache a bit. I felt so certain that as soon as I had sex for the first time, I would become some sort of sexual goddess (apologies for the Anastasia Steele style terminology), but I didn’t. In fact, it just felt a bit weird. There was something inside me, but it didn’t feel good. It just felt… present. If it didn’t feel good, if I didn’t bleed, did it count? I remember telling my best friend the next morning: “I think I had sex.” She thought it was the funniest thing ever and couldn’t understand how I felt unsure. There had been a penis inside you! How could you not know if you’d lost your virginity or not?! When she had her first time a few months later, she told me: “I get it.”

Wanting It Back

Some people regret how or when they first had sex. This doesn’t really surprise me when society literally paints it as a loss. Why do we choose to focus on the loss of childhood and purity as opposed to the gains that can come with consensual sex? Sexual and emotional maturity; trust in another person; the growth of a relationship – when we choose to share a sexual experience with someone, we are gaining. Some people even go to the extreme of ‘revirginising’ – yes, this is a legitimate phenomenon.  Take the example of Victoria Watts, a young woman from Ohio, who lost her virginity to her high school boyfriend when she was 16. Although they were together for seven years and had two children together, she always regretted the circumstances in which she first had sex. The granddaughter of a Pentecostal pastor and daughter of an assistant pastor, she comes from a deeply religious family and believed sex outside of marriage was wrong, saying that her future husband “deserves a whole person”. So after a lot of prayer and reflection, she declared herself a renewed virgin. This isn’t a one-off. Spiritual reclaiming of virginity has been happening across the USA since the 1990s, and in the last decade a surgical approach has gathered steam: undergoing cosmetic surgery to replace a broken hymen. I’ll never be able to explain it quite as eloquently as the Pregnancy Resource Center of Northeast Ohio, where Watts actually began working after she renewed her virginity. Their website scoldingly asked:

Have you already unwrapped the priceless gift of virginity and given it away? Do you now feel like ‘second-hand goods’ and no longer worthy to be cherished? Do you ever wish you could re-wrap it and give it only to your future husband or wife? Guess what…? You can decide today to commit to abstinence, wrapping a brand-new gift of virginity to present to your husband or wife on your wedding night.

…yeah. This was honestly written on their website. But can we really blame people for attempting to become a born again virgin when the idea that having sex – particularly for unmarried women – is almost hardwired into our brains as dirty and disgusting?

I was lucky to grow up with a mother who is open-minded and will talk about anything and everything with us. She taught me that who I am as a person is not defined by the choices I’ve made – I dropped out of university, but I don’t introduce myself as a dropout. I choose to be in a relationship, but I don’t define myself as someone’s girlfriend. When I first had sex, I didn’t think: “Okay, so from now on if someone asks me about myself, I’m a non-virgin Taurus from Northern Ireland.” Similarly, just because I didn’t experience fireworks that first time, it didn’t fill me with regret and shame. I just kind of assumed that everything would fall into place and it would get better (spoiler alert: it absolutely does). So I think it’s time for society to lose virginity and move into a more liberal, unprejudiced state of being. I think we’re ready for that milestone, right?

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