54% of men in the UK think of women who have multiple sexual partners negatively. Purity, chasity, a lack of experience, even a disinterest in sex are all female traits that are celebrated and desired in myriad cultures around the world. Equally, many people expect their partners to be up for it, experienced, turned on and able to orgasm easily. So given this unique paradox, why does virginity matter so much to so many people?
Often, virginity is seen as a virtue – that woman hasn’t slept with anyone so therefore she’s better than women who’ve explored their sexuality. In celebrating virginity, we automatically slut shame women who aren’t virgins. But here’s the thing, no matter how many times you’ve had sex or not had sex, either with a penis or a toy or a vagina or with yourself, virginity is an entirely social construct.
Why does virginity matter?
The concept of virginity is another example of where economics intersects with the policing of women’s bodies. As our ancestors moved from communal, hunter-gatherer communities to land-owning societies, they developed hierarchical and patriarchal systems of governance.
To keep your land and titles you’d have to produce a male heir so it became important that the woman carrying your child was only carrying yours. Attributing virginity was a way to wield and retain power, though women didn’t directly benefit from this in many cases. Especially given that virginity or a lack thereof was also used as an excuse to cancel and anul marriages and exploit women for their bodies and family wealth. Or just get rid of them altogether.
In this case the traditional concept of virginity also posits that the only type of sex that ‘counts’ is penetrative penis-in-vagina sex. So for hundreds of years, society has only acknowledged a very particular heteronormative idea of sex and relationships as ‘counting’, erasing the validity of LGBTQ+ sex and relationships.
What is virginity?
So when does one ‘lose their virginity’? Is it the first time they have a sexual encounter with another person? The first time they orgasm? The first time something goes into the vaginal canal i.e. a finger or a toy? And what on earth does all that have to do with your hymen?
The average hymen isn’t flat tissue that covers the vaginal opening, it’s usually a loose — and not at all intact. Depending on its size, a hymen can be torn during exercise, sex or some other physical activity. But it doesn’t signal anything to do with virginity, it’s just a body part. Plus, not everyone is even born with one.
Innocence and experience
Do you know who I like to sleep with? Confident people who are tuned into their own pleasure and who are good in bed. Fear based sex education and lack of experience isn’t a sexy combination. So why does virginity matter? Surely the key to good sex is knowing your body, knowing what you like, feeling relaxed, confident and enjoying yourself – that goes for everyone involved.
Of course, we want to protect our girls. We want them to make good choices and discover their sexuality naturally and at a pace that isn’t in the least bit damaging to their mental and physical health. However, placing the highest possible value on their abstinence and lack of experience is a recipe for disaster. It creates a culture of shame around having ‘lost’ one’s virginity and a maudlin sense of the loss of innocence, which is not helpful or supportive of young developing minds.
Teaching our girls that shame and sexuality are inextricably and absolutely linked doesn’t produce young women with a healthy relationship to sex. Nor does teaching our boys that experience is key but that girls who are also experienced should be ashamed of themselves. In doing so, we devalue every female who’s dared to enjoy the natural sensations her body provides her with – which is almost all women and girls, everywhere, ever. We really need to stop teaching kids that female suffering is a normal natural phenomenon and that female pleasure and joy is unnatural.
We need to talk about ‘tightness’
Vaginal tissue becomes more flexible and lubricated as a response to arousal. So the notion that vaginal tightness is a desireable sexual trait is entirely counterproductive to mutual pleasure.
And let’s be honest, your sexual debut isn’t usually the most mind-blowing pleasure of your life. It’s often uncomfortable and sometimes painful. If we set aside cultural and religious notions of chasity for a minute, the desire to retain the state of virginity is ultimately to remain anxious, inexperienced and in a state of discomfort. Which, frankly, is not a sex life I imagine we’d all enjoy in perpetuity.
‘Are you wet for me’ and ‘you’re so tight’ are phrases you’ll often hear used in tandem in mainstream porn. But as previously explained, it’s anatomically nigh impossible to be both at your tightest and wettest simultaneously. Talk about impossible standards.
Virginity is a mythical thing, like a unicorn but far more insidious so less of the ‘chaste’ and ‘pure’ making girls feel uncomfortable, and more sex-positive education around consent and sexual pleasure. Let’s think of virginity as less of a loss of something and more of a gain. The beginning of a very personal journey, a relationship with your body, a coming out into the world as the standard bearer of your own joy – a sexual debut.