Why Virginity is a Social Construct

I am not a virgin.

Have I gotten your attention? Maybe it’s just because I’m in university, where so much of our social life is focused around sex and hookup culture, but to me it seems that sometimes worth in relation to sex is more important than worth in relation to personhood. It’s important to recognize that the concept of virginity is a social construct that functions to commodify women and shame men who aren’t able to lose that V card “fast” enough. Truth be told, I could write a dissertation on this topic. However, for the sake of word count, I’ll try to boil it down for you.

Historically, virginity was tied predominantly to women. Through biblical texts and societal perpetuation, the “virgin” was defined as a woman who had yet to have sex, as proven by her “unbroken” hymen. Women’s virginities were seen as a necessity in marriage, because women who weren’t pure were considered damaged goods. Marrying a “virgin” woman would also ensure that any future offspring were truly yours, an important point in a time that placed such a heavy emphasis on inheritance.

The blatant pursuit of “the virgin” may have gone out of style, but the stigma surrounding virginity has continued to live on. Let’s break it down. Physically, the hymen does, in fact, exist. However, it is not supposed to fully cover the vaginal canal. This condition does exist, (it’s called “imperforate hymen”), but is not very common, and results in the lack of a period because menstrual blood has no opening to flow out of, requiring surgery or medication. In other words: if you have a period, you don’t have a hymen that needs to be “broken”. So what are the implications for virginity? If a virgin is defined by an “unbroken” hymen, then virginity is a fairly rare medical condition rather than an inalienable fact of life. Most hymens only partially cover the opening to the vaginal canal. While it is true that they can stretch or tear during sex, this can also happen by riding a bike, inserting a tampon, or playing sports. If you’re suddenly scared of doing all of these things for fear of hymen-related pain, fear not - changes to the hymen almost never result in bleeding. The “popping your cherry” myth actually has nothing to do with the hymen - the bleeding is more likely vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication. Furthermore, like any other tissue, the hymen heals itself and will not remain “torn” for the rest of your sex-having existence.

Beyond the physical myth of female “virginity,” the concept is problematic in it’s implications on sexuality. The majority of people consider losing one’s virginity to happen between a man with a penis and a woman with a vagina. This heteronormativity presents a problem: do we consider non-heteronormative individuals virgins for life if they never have sex in the “traditional” way? Does non-heterosexual sex count as sex at all? What about anal sex, even between a heterosexual couple? Does that count as losing “virginity” too? The answer is, of course, yes - other forms of sex count as sex - but within the concept of “virginity,” they are overlooked and demeaned.

There is also the issue of sexual assault. If a “virgin” is sexually assaulted, does that count as “losing” his or her virginity? The importance we place on this idea of “virgin pureness” creates painful emotional conflicts for victims of sexual assault, who are left feeling impure because of the unforgivable actions of another. Victims don’t deserve to have this additional burden on their shoulders.

Why do I care? Why should it matter when virginity clearly isn’t about selling women anymore? While it may not “sell” women, virginity instead commodifies them as something to be won, or conquered. If you don’t believe me, just look at how we slut shame non-virgins! If you’re a man and a virgin you’re inferior because you haven’t had the experience of sex, and if you aren’t and you’re a woman, you’re a slut and therefore less of a person, especially if you partake in hookup culture.

Young women expect their first time to hurt because “that’s just the way it is,” when in reality IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE! This just excuses people who don’t do their research and think they can go in without lubrication or concern for their partner’s comfort because “it’s going to hurt anyway.”

Virginity is spoken of as if it’s a tangible thing to be “given” or “taken” freely. In doing so, we commodify the sexual body and allow it to determine our worth - whether we’ve “lost” our sexual purity or “taken” someone else’s. It’s incredibly objectifying. Virginity isn’t something we can materialize - he “took” my virginity, I “gave” it to her… it’s not a chocolate bar. This notion is dangerous as it essentializes a potentially meaningful, pleasurable experience into a status competition.

So far in this article I’ve predominantly focused on the dangers of “virginity” for women, but this is a harmful issue that affects everyone. Virgin men are often made fun of for not being able to “get any,” shamed for their inabilities as men to find a mate. This can result in self-esteem issues and overcompensation - which often results in men who think that they have to lie about their sexual experiences to be desirable to women, and women who become insecure about their virginity in comparison.

If you didn’t read the whole article and want a summary of the message, here it is: virginity is not real. It’s a socially constructed phenomenon that functions to police our bodies and make us feel guilty about our sexual experience, (whether profuse or non-existent). It continuously puts power in the hands of heterosexual men, subjugates and takes power away from heterosexual women and denies the existence of non-het sexual bodies.

It doesn’t need to be debated, it doesn’t need to be “considered,” and it doesn’t need to be contested because it’s not a question of theory. The proof is here: virginity is a harmful concept that affects not just women but EVERYONE in society, providing no tangible benefits and creating harmful power relations in its wake. Whether you want to refrain from sex or have it every day, what you do with your body is none of anyone else’s business. Your sex life doesn’t define you, and no one should be deciding whether or not to be with you based on how fast you’ll sleep with them. When it comes down to it, we should care more about our worth as good people rather than if we’ve had sex or not.

The social construct of the “virgin” had its moment in history - it’s time to eradicate its damaging effects from our society and allow everyone to feel comfortable in their bodies whether they’ve had sex or not - because in reality no one can take your worth away from you. You lose your keys, not your virginity.