Virginity and its Double Standard
In the movie easy A, Emma Stone's sexually inexperienced character, Olive, is pressured into lying about having been sexually active by her friend - who, after Olive has given in to the pressure, subsequently labels her a 'dirty skank'.
Embracing her new image, Olive pretends to sleep with equally inexperienced guys to help them increase their popularity. While the guys are celebrated, Olive is shunned by friends, classmates, and even teachers for her sexuality.
Unfortunately, this double standard is not just limited to easy A: it is an attitude that is still very much prevalent in today's society - a society in which sex education in schools tends to focus on purely biology and often abstinence rather than pleasure and consent; a society in which girls are inherently raised to be ashamed of their sexuality; a society in which the notion of purity determines a woman's worth.
The value society still ascribes to a woman’s virginity is reflected in the steady 20–30% increase in hymen reconstruction surgeries both Germany and the United Kingdom report. While a German plastic surgeon, Dr Stephan Günther, discloses that he currently performs around a hundred hymenoplasty surgeries annually, the official numbers are much lower: as doctors are under no obligation to report the surgeries and many patients choose to pay privately, it is difficult to generate representative data.
Adhering to equating female virginity with morality and purity, women in more than twenty countries around the globe are still subjected to virginity testing. Among them is Indonesia, where virginity testing remains a requirement for both unmarried women wanting to join the police force, and for women set to marry a military officer.
Contrary to expectations, however, virginity testing is not just limited to the ‘less developed world’. A 2017 study conducted in the United States found that of the 288 gynaecologists surveyed, 16% had reported having at least once been asked to perform virginity testing. In fact, HymenShop — a company selling fake hymen kits spurting blood during penetrative sex — reports that their customers are predominantly located in the US, accounting for the sale of several thousand kits a year.
Heavily tied up in a complex web of patriarchal — and arguably questionable — social values, virginity testing still subjects women to trauma and shame. With the concept of virginity rooted in Mariology — the belief in Virgin Mary — not only was (and is) it reinforced by the patriarchy in an effort to control women, but emphasising virginity as a goal inevitably mutes the necessary conversations about consent, pleasure, and inclusivity.
With its phallocentric nature, the concept of virginity itself is further embedded in a heteronormative framework. Referring purely to heterosexual vaginal intercourse, virginity excludes — among others — anal sex, oral sex, and queer sex, yet none of which cannot be described as ‘not sex’.
So, according to society, do sex partners need to possess certain genitals in order for it to count as sex? Does society’s understanding of ‘sex’ exclude people based on gender or sexuality? And if so, is the concept of virginity outdated?
Since many LGBTQIA+ people do not engage in vaginal intercourse and are, therefore, by society’s definition, not having sex, they are forced to re-define not only what virginity means to them, but they also need to construct a new framework around the concept of sex. How is it that — among both LGBTQIA+ and heterosexual people — simply the absence of vaginal intercourse invalidates the experience of sex itself? Why do we, as a society, not prioritise emotional and sexual intimacy over the simple act of a penis entering a vagina?
Not only does the concept of virginity negate the legitimacy of non-heterosexual sex, but it is in its entirety a social construct — yet upheld, promoted, and reinforced by society. As there is no widely-accepted medical definition of virginity, the concept is primarily used to augment the patriarchy’s intention to shame women and control their sexuality.
The value society ascribes to women maintaining their virginity further plants unrealistic expectations, giving the impression that vaginal intercourse will be — and has to be — an inherently transformative and life-altering experience. How come that as a society we are so concerned with virginity that we fail to make pleasurable sex the objective, and further still fail to re-define language to embrace inclusivity?
Continually emphasising the gravity of vaginal intercourse rather than the significance of sexual (and emotional) intimacy is arguably equally problematic as is the exclusion of non-heterosexual sex. With the concept of virginity amplifying the inequality between male and female sexual norms while negating the validity of non-heterosexual sex, it is imperative for society to embrace reform and facilitate a paradigm shift — to allow for unconditional inclusivity and equality.