Judging by some of the stories I get sent, virginity is not a place that most of us want to go. A recent contributor summed it up thus: ‘most people view virgins as pathetic losers who should just make more of an effort.’
Harsh. But he has a point. Time and culture have dictated virginity to be a place of shame, disempowerment even, despite the fact that our definition of virginity loss precludes any number of sexy things that we might have done that don’t involve putting a penis into a vagina. As one of my interviewees once said, ‘I certainly didn’t feel like I had ‘lost’ anything, I’d had so much cunnilingus, I had lost my innocence long ago’. I rest my case.
Virginity loss is a nebulous issue, but in the end it doesn’t really matter what I think or how we define it, it is still the bogeyman of modern culture. Who wants to be a dried up old virgin when you can be, well, Jordon?
Which got me wondering if virginity really is all that bad? And do we all have such a negative outlook? There must be someone out there who could turn this thing on its head?
I found her.
‘Virginity is extremely alluring’.
Its author continues: ‘its mysterious allure is not rooted in an image of innocence and purity, but rather in the notion of strength. It takes a strong woman to be abstinent, and that’s the sort of woman I want to be’.
Now, I can’t speak for the guys, and something tells me that these words are unlikely ever to be uttered from the lips of a man, but whatever way you look at it, this is an intriguing statement. Who would say such a thing?
Janie Fredell is who, a student at Harvard University and contributor to a series of articles by Randall Patterson for The New York Times. Janie is a Catholic girl who had never found the need to join the abstinence movement, mostly because she came from a place where ‘literally everyone’ wore chastity rings - but Harvard was the opposite end of the scale.
‘The hook-up culture is so absolutely all-encompassing’, she says. ‘It’s shocking! It’s everywhere!’ She decided to take a stance and took up the reins at ‘True Love Revolution’, Harvard’s very own answer to ‘The Silver Ring Thing’. I should be shot down for such a lazy comparison, so, to re-dress the balance, here is their homepage mission statement to read for yourself:
‘TRL is a new non-sectarian, student run organization at Harvard College dedicated to the promotion of pre-marital abstinence. We strive to present another option to our peers regarding sex-related issues, endorsing ideas of abstinence and chastity as a positive alternative for ethical and health reasons’.
OK, so far, so…abstinent. It’s not my cup of tea but each to their own and here’s the bit that interests me:
‘It’s extremely countercultural for a woman to assert control over her own body’, says Fredell. ‘It is, in fact, a feminist notion. Conventional feminism’, she explains, ‘teaches that control of your body means the freedom to have sex without consequences – sex like a man. I am an unconventional feminist’.
This is a pretty big statement and we could spend all day picking it apart. Believe me, I have just spent twenty minutes trying to do so in a nutshell. We all have our points of view. I’ll just say this. I admire her stance. In this day and age, it’s not easy to stand up and say ‘I don’t have sex and that’s my choice’. ‘Feminist notions’ aside, it is still her right as a human being and as a woman to do as she pleases.
But is self-inflicted fundamentalism really healthy? After all, whether we like it or not, human bodies are hard wired for procreation. Even if we were deaf and blind with no sense of smell, we would still have the hormones and as such, the urge to mate. Should we be holding ourselves back?
Just a thought.
The point I am trying to get to is this: does virginity have to be the last word in hell or can it be something better, a position of power even?
I don’t know about power but medieval woman might have argued for something even more intoxicating: freedom.
Back in the day, you were either married or waiting to get married. These were the roles that were allocated to women. There was none of this ‘you can be anything you like’ nonsense. You got married and fulfilled your duty as a wife, a mother and a housekeeper. Nobody expected any more, or less of you.
You can see why the convent held a certain allure.
Virginity equaled opportunity for the medieval nun. Yes, they were married to god and a life of devotion, but above and beyond that, relatively speaking, nuns got to call the shots. They spent their time with like-minded people. Nobody expected them to change nappies, tend children and have sex with their parent’s choice of marriage partner. More than that, they were educated. This might not sound like a big deal but back in the dark ages, women’s education was not top of the list of priorities. As Hanne Blank writes in her book ‘Virgin, The Untouched History’…
‘Years of singing or listening to a relatively limited collection of familiar texts whilst looking at the books would eventually result in women figuring out how to match what they heard to what they saw’. She continues, ‘to the nuns, it was a miracle bestowed upon the deserving, pure-hearted virgin by god: when the gift of literacy bloomed in the mind of Hedwig von Regensburg, the entire choir of sisters saw her heart shine through her body and habit “like the sun through glass”.
Powerful stuff. Just throw Elizabeth 1st into the mix, a woman who knew that relinquishing her (so called - just thought I'd throw that in there) 'virginity' for marriage could cost her her freedom and the future of her country, and we see that virginity packed quite the heady punch in those days. But all to an obvious cost: our sex lives.
Times are different now. We live in the era of ‘having it all’. We have the freedom, the education and the sex life. But it still comes at a price. Because this will all be cold comfort to my lonely friend, the ‘pathetic loser who should just make more of an effort’. And I am right back where I began.
I feel for men. I really do. You could argue that women’s freedom has been to the detriment of men. Because whilst women may have the opportunity to have ‘sex like a man’, the sad fact is, that depending on which way you look at it, this now means that she can choose not to have sex with you.
Women hold the cards. A fact that I wish I could shout from the rooftops to teenage girls who still think that they need to lose virginity in order to gain acceptance/to be a ‘real’ woman – insert whatever your particular insecurity is here. But they don’t, and nor do men. Because that’s what this post is really all about. That times may change, as does our perception of virginity loss, but the pay off is that we suffer in equal measures. It’s not just women who are sweating about virginity. Men are too!