The concept of virginity, though incredibly salient in our culture, is a social construct. When I say it is a social construct, I mean that there is no biological marker for being a “virgin” or not. Nothing distinguishes a virgin from a non-virgin besides the social stigma that is attached to each, respectively. So really, virginity shouldn’t be a thing. This is not to downplay its social influence however – the concept of virginity has serious consequences in society, especially for women.
Let’s start with “purity culture.” Purity culture is the set of social standards that tell women that there is virtue in remaining pure and refraining from taking part in sexual activities that will “dirty” their bodies and souls. Purity culture includes the notion that women should wait until marriage for sex. The roots of purity culture can be found in traditional Christian notions about sex. Oftentimes, young Christian girls will take a purity pledge and wear a purity ring to mark their chastity and commitment to God (and/or their father). The problem is not the personal decision of a woman to wait until marriage for sex, but rather a culture that mandates it. The idea that women must remain pure is incredibly damaging for several reasons. First of all, it creates the virgin/whore dichotomy in which women cannot win no matter what they do. We’re expected to remain pure while also satisfying the sexual needs of men. Not to mention the fact that women have their own sexual needs just as men do – but to fulfill one’s own needs as a woman is to be a whore. For a survivor of rape or sexual assault purity culture is especially damaging, because it tells them that they are no longer pure or whole. They are worth less because their virginity was taken from them, whether or not they consented to it.
The idea that a woman’s worth is dependent upon her sexual history is awful in so many ways, and purity culture only seeks to reinforce this message. Purity culture also perpetuates several falsities about the nature of sex. Primarily, that sex is one and only one thing: penetrative vaginal sex that requires a penis. This definition of sex only includes heterosexual people. In reality, there is no singular definition of sex. Sexual acts are many and varied, and they all count as sex. And when you take this into consideration, you have to wonder what exactly counts as “losing virginity”? If I don’t enjoy penetrative sex, does that mean that I am perpetually a virgin? What about the first time I had oral sex? Or the first time I was fingered? Does that count? What about lesbians? Are we to assume that they never have sex because a penis isn’t involved? When you get into the definition of virginity it gets messy, because sex is not just one thing. People enjoy sex in a variety of ways, and we’re not all heterosexual.
Another myth that purity culture teaches is that your “first time” will change your life. For the longest time I was terrified to “go all the way” because I thought I would be emotionally changed in some way and there would be no going back. This is just simply not true. Now that I know that virginity is not a thing, I realize how foolish I was. I don’t even know what my “first time” really was, and it certainly wasn’t life-changing in any major way. The problem with putting so much emphasis on one sexual act is that it diminishes the importance of all the others. Isn’t it more important to have meaningful and consensual experiences throughout your life? So what if your “first time” sucks. Realize that you’re not actually losing anything. It’s not going to make you a bad person or change who you are. You’ll likely have many more sexual experiences in your life and they’ll probably just get better and better.
Perhaps the most damaging thing about virginity is the idea that having it or not having it somehow defines who you are as a person. Even some of the most open-minded people I know talk about virgins as being a certain way as compared to non-virgins. Why does this distinction even need to be made? One’s sexual history should have absolutely no bearing on how they are perceived as a human being. Too often, women are judged under the criteria that virginity matters. It’s supposedly good to be “pure,” but you also run the risk of being labeled a prude. If you do choose to express yourself sexually, you’re immediately a slut or a whore, especially if you have sex with more than one person. The importance of virginity has a lot to do with misogyny, and this cannot be ignored. In reality, a woman’s sexual history has nothing to do with her inherent value as a human being. Unfortunately, society teaches us otherwise.
See also: Laci Green’s LET’S LOSE “VIRGINITY” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIm1FK4MQ2w