Ever had sex? No? Then you haven’t lost your virginity. Right?

Is it as simple as that? Not really.

Sex means different things to different people and that’s why virginity is perceived differently by different individuals. In many cultures however there is a misplaced value on virginity.

The legs of a woman sitting on a bed visible and the legs of a man standing near the door visible. The picture indicates two people about to have sex.
How society defines virginity is itself very unclear and slippery

This article aims at clearing the fog around virginity and debunking the myths that revolve around it.

Who is a virgin? (What really is virginity?)

As mentioned above, there are many ways to look at virginity. Some consider a person to be a virgin if they have not had penovaginal sexual intercourse.

This means indulging in oral sex or other forms of physical intimacy do not impact the status of being a virgin. By this logic, homosexuals are virgins for a lifetime!

Women's black panties with a red flower as a symbol of virginity.
Most cultures around the world give undue importance to the virginity of women

Many consider an intact hymen (discussed below) as a mark of virginity. A few associate achieving orgasm for the first time with loss of virginity. While others do not care about it at all.

The bottom line is that virginity itself is hard to define. This in turn makes it difficult to define who a virgin is and who isn’t.

Religion and virginity

Cultures in the east, as well as the west, have fetishized virginity especially that of young women. Many religious leaders have gone as far as calling women who choose to have sex before marriage as ‘impure’, ‘ruined’, ‘a disgrace’, and a lot of other not-such-nice words.

Sana Al Khayat, a writer and social commentator, believes that the idea of virgins being pure that of control. She says: “If a girl is inexperienced, she will not have anything to compare her sexual experience with. Women with sexual experience are more independent-minded and can then seek partners who satisfy them better. Hence patriarchal societies give undue importance to virginity because it is a means of controlling women.”

Image of a woman being controlled as a puppet by a hand holding the strings. It indicates how society tries to control women by controlling their sexuality by placing such importance on virginity.
Importance given to the virginity of women is a way to control women’s sexuality in a patriarchal society

Many feminists criticize the representation of the Virgin Mary in the Bible. They believe that the representation is a way of controlling women. And that it celebrates the obedience of women and portrays sex in a negative way. It also conveys the unattainable ideals of spotless virginity and perfect motherhood. Similarly, Hindu mythology celebrates Hanuman and a number of saints for being celibate (that is abstaining from sex).

But the spiritual and moral value assigned to a woman’s virginity has put it on a different pedestal.

There are ‘purity balls’ conducted in the US, where young women pledge their abstinence to their fathers until they marry. The language used is: “I shouldn't have sex because that's someone's future wife or that's someone's daughter.” These women are asked to call themselves someone else’s property. This takes away from the person-hood of women and reduces their agency.

The undue importance given to virginity across world cultures is a strong way of maintaining patriarchal control over women.

Is there a way to identify if a person is a virgin?

The answer is no. Several scientific studies emphasize that we cannot prove who is a virgin and who isn’t. However, an intact hymen is still considered a tangible proof of virginity.

The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue located at the entrance of the vagina. And there is a lot of confusion around the hymen itself. Some hymen tissues are so thin from the birth that they are almost non-existent. Others stretch enough to not bleed during sex.

The hymen can also break due to various reasons. This includes horse riding, use of tampons, masturbation, use of a sex toy, rigorous physical activities such as gymnastics, and so on.

The condition of the hymen and virginity of the hymen owner are completely unrelated.

Slut-shaming and virgin shaming

Women’s biology allows for virginity to be measured in a certain way (that is through an intact hymen). This allows conservative societies and cultures to have greater control over their sexual decisions. Hence, moral policing through shaming in society takes place when women are found to have ruptured hymens.

Slut-shaming in the form of being called ‘loose’, or having a ‘poor character’ is common for women and transgenders. This is because the notion that ‘a virgin is pure’ still prevails. This societal pressure restricts sexual freedom and gives the rein of one’s personal bodily pleasure in the collective hands of society.

Image showing wooden dolls to indicate human beings. The wooden dolls are standing in a circle with one doll with a pink scarf standing in the middle. The image suggests shaming of a female who has lost their virginity.
The shaming of individuals based on their ‘virgin’ status is a toxic one and needs to change

This same mentality also results in victim-blaming when molestation or rape takes place. The idea that a woman desires physical intimacy is seen as a crime. Such shaming forces women to reconstruct their hymens so that they can be seen as decent ‘marriage material’.

Wedding night virginity testing is a ritual practised by several communities including the Kanjarbhat ethnic group of India, at the behest of tribal elders. On the first night post the wedding, the groom goes inside the room with a white sheet and has to come out with a blood-stained one (blood to prove that he was the one who broke the woman’s hymen). This stain is proof that the ‘product’ was good and pure.

Men, on the other hand, are virgin-shamed. This means that they are bullied if they remain virgins until a particular age. Many men have sex or ‘lose their virginity’ due to peer pressure. They have to prove that they are ‘man enough’.

What do we need to mindful of?

Many people follow cultural norms with ease and pride. But a safer and more equal world needs to be created. Those who feel uncomfortable or feel that their privacy is being evaded by these norms need a change urgently.

Healthy conversations around virginity can lead to greater understanding and empathy among people.
Young activist woman protesting for a change holding banner cover mouth with hand shocked with shame. It's time we stop giving importance to virginity in society.
Treating women like products needs to end; the person-hood and choices of women have to be celebrated
We cannot measure the worth of human beings and their characters by their sexual experience or the lack of it.

Every individual, irrespective of their gender, has the right to choose what they want for themselves. What is important is that these choices are respected. This can help create an equal society where people feel safe making personal choices that are not controlled by society.

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