As I began writing an article trying to encompass all of slut-shaming but found myself trying to fit many articles into one. So now I am going to break down the elements of slut-shaming and feminism over several weeks. I am going to begin with what many people consider a big point in one’s sexual experiences, a concept called virginity.
I believe virginity is a incredibly problematic social construct that needs to be reevaluated if we are to progress as a society. The concept of virginity is sexist and hetero-normative, and contributes to rape culture. It erases queer folk and transfolk, and frames a woman’s worth as inversely proportional to the number of penii that have been inside her.
So since this was originally supposed to be about slut-shaming, let’s start with how virginity contributes to that. Slut-shaming is when you place guilt and subordination on women for their sexuality. The whole thing is sexist and reinforces a sex-negative mindset, based on puritanical sexual values. Slut-shaming constrains a woman’s behavior and choices by placing these expectations on to how they should go about being sexual. Losing your virginity to be at the wrong time, wrong age, with the wrong reasons, or with the wrong person has social consequences. I’m not trying to discredit or judge the way anyone loses their virginity, quite the opposite. I am showing how the entire concept of virginity is degrading to almost everyone.
Virginity is typically the most important for women to keep and for men to get rid of. Men are praised for losing their virginity young, and women are supposed to stay “pure” until a socially acceptable moment (old enough, besides a legal sense, in a committed relationship where one is “in love” and for the sole purpose of pledging your love and devotion to one’s partner). Women are labeled as easy, desperate, or damaged if they lose it any way other than that socially acceptable moment. In some cultures, women who aren’t virgins when they marry can be exiled or even killed, particularly for shaming their families. Virginity is a sign of purity. And not being pure when you marry in many societies brings shame and dishonor to your family, even if you were raped.
One problem with the idea of virginity is that there’s no definite way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t. A wide consensus defines loss of virginity in a very hetero-normative sense – a sexual act where the penis penetrates the vagina. Heterosexuality is the norm, and virginity just works as reinforcement to this. So consider a queer woman who has only ever been with other women, is she a virgin? Is a gay man, who has only ever had anal sex, a virgin? Most people, when pressed, would agree that no, those individuals aren’t really virgins, even if they’ve never had penis-in-vagina-style intercourse. Virginity erases the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and other non-heterosexual people – and the experiences of straight people who just don’t have PIV sex.
The flip side of this is that many rape victims don’t feel as if they have lost their virginity even if they’ve had penetrative intercourse forced on them. They consider themselves to be virgins because they don’t consider what happened to them to be sex. So taking all of that into consideration, how do we then define virginity?
Why is virginity so important to us? We don’t have nouns for who or what we were before we hit any other life milestones – there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk or talk or read and write – all of which are more important achievements than getting laid – and yet it’s the sex that we focus on. Why do we put so much more weight on this one small facet of human life than we do on any of the others?
This discussion needs to be continued about why we still use this damaging term. We need to talk about why the idea of virginity continues to hold such sway over our cultural consciousness. More importantly, we need to figure out a better way to talk to kids about their bodies and their sexuality, because the way that we’re doing it now clearly isn’t working. Teaching kids about how they can prevent pregnancy and deceases is not enough. Merely teaching children about their reproductive systems is not enough. That is not sex-ed. This leaves especially the girls vulnerable to all sorts of unwanted experiences they will later regret. It leaves boys (and sometimes girls) vulnerable to pornography, where the primary focus is in most cases violence and coercion. This way children don’t learn what sex is and confuse rape with sex.