By Divya Sethu:
Virginity is something we don’t talk about often. It’s a controversial topic to discuss. Whenever it does come up, it’s shrouded in misconceptions.
So, what is virginity? To put it simply, the word ‘virgin’ is used to describe an individual who has never had sexual intercourse.
In the case of cisgender women, virginity is attached with the breaking of the hymen. It’s a common belief that a hymen can only break if a woman has penetrative sex. The hymen can break due to other reasons as well. It could be due to playing sports, doing exercises and other reasons.
Look up synonyms for virginity and you’ll find words like ‘purity’, ‘virtue’ and ‘honour’. We view virginity as something that measures our value, pride and dignity. In our culture, losing your virginity is only acceptable, if it’s to your spouse. Most Indian parents struggle to accept the fact that their children may be sexually active well before marriage. Especially, when it comes to their daughters.
Let’s look at the portrayal of virginity in movies. In the movie “Very Good Girls”, two girls make a pact to lose their virginity in order to enter womanhood. In the popular “American Pie” franchise, losing virginity is like a medal of pride pinned to the chest, and a route of attaining manhood. Does this mean that ‘virgins’ don’t grow up? Does the lack of sexual experience inhibit a person’s ability to grow and learn? Why do we assume that manhood or womanhood can only be attained through sex?
The concept of virginity perpetuates the idea that someone needs to have sexual intercourse in order to grow up.
Virginity is a contributor to victim shaming. Our society often points fingers at the rape survivor rather than the perpetrator. It sympathises with the survivor based on whether she was a ‘virgin’ or not. With tests to see if the woman’s hymen is still ‘intact’, and hymen replacement possible through surgery, the absence of a hymen can determine a woman’s worth in this day and age. Bleeding is considered to be an indication of having lost virginity, which is yet another myth perpetuated by mainstream media and rumours. The truth is that all women don’t bleed when they have sex for the first time.
Sexist connotations around the concept of virginity impact women in a negative manner. Women are expected to abstain from sex before marriage, while men are not expected to follow such customs. On the other hand, where ‘virgin’ women are considered ‘pure’ and ‘worthy’, ‘virgin’ men are mostly shamed as ‘losers’. The contrast in how both genders are expected to treat virginity is evident. Women must consider it sacred and men are expected to be ashamed of it.
The concept of virginity is heteronormative. The traditional and generally accepted definition of sexual intercourse involves penetrating a vagina with a penis. This definition excludes the LGBTQ community altogether because oral or anal sex is never included in the definition of ‘natural sex’. In fact, there are a plethora of articles and debates on whether or not lesbian women really have sex.
At the end of the day, virginity is a moral obligation, constructed by society to define our value and self-worth. It doesn’t alter a human’s body and is a physical event constructed to perpetuate a homophobic, sexist and disgusting narrative.
Virginity, after all, is only a state of mind.