For a long time, stigma around sexuality has been used as a tool of oppression. Most notably, the concept of virginity has been used to control people. It is often forgotten that virginity is a social construct and not a right of passage to become a sexual person. The cultural concept of virginity runs deep, and ridding it from our society may not be easy or simple. To demonstrate why we need to dump virginity, let’s explore some of the ways the concept of virginity is harmful.
Although the concept of virginity affects everyone in a negative way, the concept of virginity has been heavily targeted towards women and people with vaginas from its inception. Women’s ‘purity’ has been a method of transferring wealth within patriarchal societies via marriage for centuries and suggests that it is acceptable to share and criticize women’s sexuality publicly. Common terms like “popping your cherry” refer to the “loss” of virginity with blatant sexist definitions. Virginity testing is also a shocking and unjust reality for some vagina owners. This ‘practice’ usually involves checking for an intact hymen, an act that is not only violating but is flawed in its accuracy. Some people with vaginas naturally don’t have a hymen or they are broken during activity other than sexual penetration, like tampon use or athletics.
It's Harmful to Sexual Development
The concept of virginity promotes the idea that sexual purity is valuable and preferred, and conversely, that anyone who isn’t a virgin is dirty, impure, and worthless. However, we are culturally obsessed with sex, so participating in sexual activity is seen as a sign of maturity and development for adolescents. Virginity becomes simultaneously a pressure to have sex and a pressure to abstain during sexual development. These opposing views and pressures around virginity become a prime breeding ground for sexual shame in our youth.
Virginity is a concept often taught as a fact in most government supplied sex education. This kind of fear based teaching full of misinformation, misrepresentations, and religious undertones is harmful to healthy sexual development. Positioning sex from the very beginning as something that you lose, give, or take teaches unnecessary power dynamics and a harmful sexual hierarchy. Instead sex should be something you share (or don’t) with others consensually.
Connection of Sex and Self-Worth
The concept of virginity has a strong moral and religious background and in the past has had social and legal implications. While this isn’t a reality in most societies today, virginity still gives value to someone’s sexuality in ways that are harmful. Some groups within society believe virginity makes someone more desirable while other believe the opposite.
Furthermore, there is so much pressure to have a good, even live-changing, first sexual experience that our expectations usually set us up for failure. Society doesn't typically include narratives about negative experiences ‘losing your virginity', so people are often left feeling inadequate.
It Reinforces Heteronormativity and Cisgendered Ideals
Virginity positions PIV (penis in vagina) as the only form of valid sex and the desired destination for all sexual encounters. However, there are some many other way to have sex that are just as normal, health, or valid. This heteronormative view bypasses the LGBTQIA+ experience and invalidates all other sexual activities. If we use the all inclusive definition of sex (which we should all be doing) — any intimate activity that we find sexual stimulating, virginity becomes blurry. If sex is masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, etc., defining the boundaries of virginity becomes arbitrary.
It's Been Used to Impose Racism
Virginity has been used as a racial weapon in many different cultures and governments. Virginity tests have often been used as tool of oppression and control of people of color, most distinctly during immigration testing or to dispute claims of sexual violence, sometimes on a large scale.
The historical background of virginity gives us problematic depictions of virgins also. Most representations of virgins are light skinned to apparently reflect their ‘purity’, essentially concluding that darker skin can’t be such. However most of these examples are manipulated as a tool for white supremacist ideologies. For example, the Virgin Mary was most lightly a dark skinned jewish woman, yet the image of her are often shown as extremely pale.
As you may have noticed, most of the reasons why virginity is harmful often blend together and reinforce one another. It is no mystery why virginity has stayed a social norm within our societies even as we have evolved and progressed. It’s important for our sexual freedom and to dismantling racism and sexism that we rid ourselves of the concept of virginity to measure sexual experience. Virginity is a myth and a social construct than we can reject.