Virginity—now that’s something we don’t talk about often.
It’s a controversial topic to discuss, and whenever it does come up, it’s shrouded in misconceptions.
So what is virginity? To put it simply, it’s the state of never having had sexual intercourse.
In the cases of cis gendered women, virginity is attached with the tearing of the hymen, which is a membrane that covers the vaginal opening. It’s a common belief that a woman loses her virginity when the hymen tears as a result of penetration by a penis. That’s a myth. The hymen can tear through many things, some of them being exercise, sports, injury, disease, usage of tampons, or even simply walking. When a woman experiences pain during her first time having sex, it’s not because of the hymen tearing; it’s the result of inadequate lubrication or the partner being too rough.
Another myth regarding virginity is the common belief that a woman must bleed during her first time. In most cases, a woman doesn’t bleed during her first time having sex. However, the misconception continues to plague women everywhere. In a case in India, a woman burned her grandson’s wife to death because she didn’t find blood on the sheets, and assumed that the woman was not a virgin before marriage.
Losing your virginity is always viewed as ‘giving a part of yourself away’. This is an ideology that has been ingrained in us over a long period of time. Look up synonyms for virginity and you’ll find the words “purity”, “virtue” and “honour”. We view virginity as something that is the measurement of 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’, the two girls make a pact to lose their virginity in order to enter womanhood and grow. In an interview, the actress Dakota Fanning talks about how every woman faces a ‘challenge’ like this, and how it shapes her from a girl into a woman. In the popular ‘American Pie’ movies, losing one’s 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 is a feat that can only be achieved by having sex?
This ideology not only glorifies sex, but also perpetuates the idea that to grow as a person, losing your virginity is the first and major step.
Virginity is a contributor to victim shaming. Our society, which often points fingers at the woman raped rather than the one who rapes her, views the presence of virginity as a major factor in whether or not the rape was justified. With tests to see if the girl is still ‘intact’, and replacements for hymens (Artificial hymens and restructure through surgery), the absence of a hymen can determine a woman’s worth in this day and age.
The blunt sexism of virginity hits both men and women hard. Women are expected to protect and hold in, while men choosing to lose theirs is not considered a big deal. 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 their virginities is evident, where women must consider it sacred, and men are almost expected to be ashamed of it.
Virginity is extremely heteronormative. The traditional and generally accepted definition of sexual intercourse involves penetrating a vagina with a penis. This definition excludes the LGBT community altogether, because oral or anal sex is never included in the definition of ‘natural sex’. In fact, there is a plethora of articles and debates on whether or not lesbians really do have sex.
With the taboo surrounding sex as a whole, virginity too is shrouded in mystery. With the aforementioned fallacies around it, it’s no wonder that our interpretation of it comes with several moral connotations.
In the Vedas, maidenhood is essential to consummate a marriage. The term kanyadaan too comes from this ideology roughly translated, it means the giving away of a virgin or maiden. In a marriage, it is said that the virgin is first to be accepted by God, so He can give her away to the groom. But these, like so many other things mentioned in religious scriptures, are a thing of the past. As a society progresses, we show our hypocrisy time and again by choosing to adapt some habits and beliefs of the modern era, while choosing to hold out on to certain outdated and ancient ideologies as per our own convenience.
At the end of the day, virginity is a moral obligation, constructed by society to guilt us into believing that it defines our value or self-worth. It doesn’t alter a human’s body, and is a physical event constructed to perpetuate a homophobic, sexist and disgusting narrative.
This is a clear indication to realize a simple fact; it is, after all, only a state of mind.
- Divya Sethu