Extra Virgin Thinking

Edited by Nidhi Munot

Usually, people think virginity is “the state of never having had any sexual intercourse”. Sexual intercourse, here, refers to “sexual contact between individuals involving penetration, especially the insertion of a man's erect penis into a woman's vagina, typically culminating in orgasm and the ejaculation of semen”. Besides being mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary, these definitions have been carved in the hearts of the majority of the population. 

As we now respect, unique individuals can have distinct perspectives about different topics of discussion. Similarly, people have different perspectives on and interpretations of virginity. According to a study done by Laura M Carpenter in Gender And Society, the people interviewed believed that virginity loss is synonymous to the first experience of vaginal sex. Simultaneously, most thought that other types of penetration rarely affect virginity. Several people identifying with sexual orientations other than heterosexual mentioned same-gender sexual encounters in their definition. Based on these interviews, the study finishes with a few significant conclusions. Firstly, it states that women value virginity more than men. For women, sex for the first time has a connotation of loss attached, while men view it as gaining their masculinity and empowerment over women. Secondly, women usually lose their virginity while they are in a committed relationship, whereas men prefer to lose it outside one to escape the expectations of emotional attachment. Lastly, several women can’t express sexual feelings because they feel trapped in the dilemma of preserving chastity and offering themselves to their persistent partners. The aforementioned points are realities defined by the false definition of virginity.

Several people experience negative emotions such as sexual guilt following the loss of their virginity. Women feel more sexual guilt than men which, as mentioned by Caitlin M Lipman and Alexis J Moore in Virginity and Guilt Differences Between Men and Women, is attributed to two reasons. Primarily, men have a higher chance of having an orgasm during their first time than women. Secondly, women are made to expect love and affection during their first time. When this imaginary benchmark is not met, they tend to regret their decision. Mainstream media, coupled with societal norms, work actively to promote this expectation of emotions. As mentioned in Virginity Loss Narratives in “Teen Drama” by Maura Kelly, the narratives of several teen dramas are based on virginity loss and the prospective decisions surrounding it. By showcasing love and affection in every scene of a female character having sex for the first time, media embeds these expectations in the minds of its young audience. Media also embodies a platform for derogatory stand-up comedies and social-media posts. For instance, a British comedian, Jenny Eclair, based her jokes on the ‘elasticity’/’tightness’ of a vagina, commenting that she started using “rolled up duvets'' instead of tampons after childbirth. In similar ways, media promotes the false notion that a vagina becomes loose if one engages in sex multiple times,  which reinforces that virginity should be preserved until marriage. Subsequently, acute importance is put on the ‘tightness’ of a vagina and women go through various procedures to make it “as tight as a rectum”. Several times, after childbirth, the husband's stitch is performed by putting an extra stitch to a woman’s vagina for a more pleasurable experience for the husband. 

Several marriage traditions also contribute to many wrong perceptions of virginity. Firstly, on the wedding night, the bride is expected to bleed and the bloody sheets are then paraded around the neighbourhood to welcome a ‘pure’ woman. Secondly, the red rose petals on the bed of the newly wedded couple are supposed to symbolise fertility and the expectation from the bride to bleed. Lastly, brides are made to wear white (more common in the West) to denote her purity. Another misleading belief about virginity in India stems from the backward thinking surrounding the use of tampons and menstrual cups. Hanne Blank wrote in Virgin: The Untouched History, “While tampon manufacturers have occasionally felt moved to publicly allay fears that tampon usage threatens virginity, as in a 1990 Tampax ad that showed an introspective, white-shirted teenage girl beneath the question, ‘Are you sure I’ll still be a virgin?’ (the ad’s text made it clear that the answer to the question was ‘yes’), on the whole it has become relatively rare for contemporary First World women to question the suitability of tampon use for any women of menstruating age.” This highlights the illogical practices, traditions, and perceptions which prove to be detrimental for women. 

“After a while, the same woman opened the door a little, and the first girl, who seemed to be about 17 years old and wore a short skirt and colourful t-shirt, ran inside. She quickly let her underpants drop to the floor and hurried over to the tester. She was a bit confused before she understood how to lie down, with her bottom between the tester's legs. The tester took two pieces of folded toilet paper and drew from the thighs downwards and out, to uncover the hymen. She gave the girl a rough but encouraging tap on her thigh and said 'muhle', which means 'beautiful’. . . . The girl then dressed, and one of the women by the table painted a white round mark on her forehead. Full of happiness, she hurried outside and was met by shouts of joy from her peers, who were waiting in the queue on the stairs outside the classroom, and by the characteristic ululation from some adult Zulu women who were present.” 

These lines, taken from Virginity testing as a local public health initiative: a 'preventive ritual' more than a 'diagnostic measure' by Anette Wickström, address the misdeeds of virginity tests. In this scenario, the ‘white round mark’ is supposed to signify the intactness of the hymen and the purity of the woman. Based on hymen intactness, virginity tests aren’t reliable for a woman could’ve damaged her hymen during horse riding, masturbation, etc., while several are born without one. Virginity tests are not only unethical but also have a negative impact on one's mental state and dignity. As a result of these unreliable tests, non-virgins often become victims of honor killings for not preserving themselves till marriage. To guard themselves against facing the ‘consequences’, many women go through the extensive procedure of hymen restoration which can cost up to INR 60,000. Therefore, storing the honor of a family in a woman’s vagina forces women to take drastic measures to avoid facing the repercussions of not having an intact hymen. 

Defining virginity as something that determines whether or not a woman will be permitted to stay alive has placed the society’s honor in a woman’s vagina and in the intactness of her hymen. This, as mentioned, forces women to resort to ‘solutions’ that should not exist in the first place. Eradicating the existence of the word is close to impossible, but the way it is being perceived needs to be changed.