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Virgins And Other Mythical Creatures

June 24, 2010

Virginity does not exist. At least, it can’t be defined in any useful way, and the concept does significant harm.

In the past few days, there has been a number of posts about virginity. These posts don’t exist in isolation; Jessica Valenti gave the topic of virginity as a social structure book-length treatment in Purity Myth. Before that, Hanne Blank dealt with it in Virgin, The Untouched History, and in her excellent essay in Yes Means Yes, “The Process-Oriented Virgin.”

I’ve also written about it. Inspired by Blank’s essay, I wrote Counting And Other Games For Children, When Was Your Real First Time? and What Is Sex? The Wrong Question.

Guest poster Erica at Feministe has posted a series on the sexual learning curve this week, and the comment threads have included many personal stories. Her posts are:

What Kind of Mirror Did You Have To Look At Your Vagina With?
On Being Totally Okay With Losing Your V Card
Your Virginity Is A Delicate Flower And If You Give It Away You Will Die; and
Hotel Rooms Are Where The Best Sex Always Happens Anyways.

Today, Miriam added a post on queer virginity at Feministing. She links to a post about defining sex and virginity for queer folks at Brightest Young Things.

I am in favor of talking about this stuff, but I’m against imposing definitions. I have come to the conclusion that:

I can wing a bullshit, arbitrary definitions just fine, and I have before. Hint: mine is not penetrocentric, I don’t think there’s anything about Tab A in Slot B, or any other slot, that I want to put on a pedestal. But really, I think the whole thing is a bit of a fool’s errand. I’ll repeat my older post … :

Unless one is a sex or public health researcher, rules for what counts as sex so that one can count don’t really serve any purpose that I can respect. The reason for this counting is to slut-shame, or to defend against slut-shaming. Those readers who have gotten through the book know my view is that “slut” as a concept is a byproduct of a view of sexuality that I reject, and that has got to go.

There is no medical definition of virginity, so a biological and objective line is nonexistent and would not be of much use anyway. A social definition is necessarily tied to a definition of sex; I conclude that there isn’t one and trying to create one is a just plain terrible idea. Therefore, I conclude that virginity is similarly a fool’s errand. No fair and useful definition is possible.

The truth of most of our lives is that we have a progression from our childhood to our adulthood, which includes our sexual development — internal and experiential. Marking arbitrary points on the curve of our own development loses the larger truth.

I’ll briefly relate my own experience, and that of one ex-partner. I first had PIV when I was seventeen. many surveys and many ordinary people would say that before that day I was a virgin, and after, I was not. That makes no sense to me. In fact, before that day I had already been in an MMF threesome, a MFF threesome, had started doing some BDSM with partners, was polyamorous and had begun to identify myself as a kinkster and grapple with the political implications of a non-mainstream sexuality. In college, I dated a woman who hadn’t had PIV or PIA intercourse until well into her twenties. But in my relationship with her, she was poly, played with women and did regular BDSM. And we both identified as het, so the cheap dodge of different rules for queer folks cannot erase the incongruity of calling open, experienced poly kinksters virgins. We’re not alone in that regard; as CBrachyrhinchosis said on one of the Feministe threads, “[a]nd of course, being queer and occasionally kinky really pushes PiV sex out of the central place it’s assumed to have.” For a lot of us, the standard measures don’t well describe our experiences.

Virginity is a holdover from a reproductive property model of womanhood and marriage that has no place. Preserving such a vestigal construct is not a useful endeavor. I’m not the only person who thinks so; on one of Erica’s Feministe threads, Maggie referred to a “virginity losing process.”

That, I think for most of us, is really what happens. We start as children and we become adults, and in between is a learning curve.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2010 8:54 am

    It’s so funny to think that you “lost your virginity, technically” before I did (I was 16 when I first had PIV). It seems so clear to me from reading your work that you had a much better grasp on your sexual self much earlier than I did.

    • June 26, 2010 8:32 pm

      I assume you meant “after” there? And, yeah, I had a lot of things figured out earlier than a lot of folks, certainly in my generation. I probably have a post in the works about it.

  2. Sam permalink
    June 27, 2010 7:37 am

    I certainly agree that not having a binary structure would help a lot of young people to feel less pressure to either stay or no longer be a virgin (as in my case). But on the other hand, having clear-cut definable states and rituals to mark the transition from one to the next is certainly an anthropological constant in humans – I mean, you go to college for a couple of years, you accumulate knowledge and experience but you still only get your degree when you have completed a number of courses and attended a ceremony. Since being sexually active is so fundamentally tied to being adult, I suppose there will always be a tendency to look for a cut-off point to mark that point in life, even though it will not always make too much sense, certainly not for people with “non-standard” sexualities.


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