Women in high school and college struggle with the concept of virginity. It seems we can never handle it in accordance with society’s expectations.
“If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude; if you say you have, you’re a slut,” explained Allison to Claire in “The Breakfast Club.” This catch-22 creates misconceptions that keep women from having confidence in their sexuality.
The concept of virginity has been in society for a while. One common feminist theory suggests men invented the concept to organize women as a commodity. If she was “used,” she was not worth time or money. Women were expected to be pure, and if they engaged in sex they no longer deserved a respectable status, according to The Atlantic. It also inserted paternalism. Paternalism is expressed through the idea of virginity “loss”—lost to or taken from a man in a heterosexual relationship. The idea that a man “pops her cherry” has a violent connotation, and is also misleading. There is very little discussion of the hymen and its function—which only sometimes tears or bleeds depending on lubrication and arousal. If a hymen does break, it will repair. Every “first time” is different. Women are also often discussed in the passive voice—an action being done to them—while men are illustrated as dominant through use of the active voice—they are the one’s performing the action. This not only marginalizes women, but completely excludes LGBTQ couples in the concept of “first time” intercourse.
Women in America have historically been pressured by mainstream Christian conservatism. Even today, abstinence-only education encourages the vow to purity. According to the New York Times, in 2014 about half of American middle schools and three-quarters of high schools focused on abstinence, while only 43 percent of these institutions mentioned birth control.
Purity balls––a celebration of the vow to abstinence until marriage between daughter and their fathers, or partner––still occur in the Bible Belt. Purity rings, which a father gives to his daughter as a promise to stay pure until marriage, are also prevalent in American culture and media. Companies have used purity rings as a marketing stunt, sensationalizing virginity.
Simultaneously, America’s mainstream media, including movies, television, and advertisements, gains much of its success through the hypersexualization of women. Women in close to no clothes with a specific body type are used to draw in consumers for everything from a burger to cleaning supplies. Because of the prevalence of social media, men are exposed to this one type of female behavior and beauty everyday. This sets the norm for girls at a young age. The American teen girl is told she will be sought after if she acts like “Girls Gone Wild.”
Those who fall between both extremes may have found a happy medium. A third of the interviewees for Laura Carpenter’s book “Virginity Lost” saw their first time having sex as a part of growing up. They valued the sacredness of their bodies like those vowed to abstinence, yet embrace dexploration of sexuality like women influenced by the media. They understood the importance of safety and consent. They did not over value intercourse, and they saw “lesser” acts of sex just as valuable or intimate.
Comparably, those who practiced abstinence were more likely to engage in fellatio––just as vulnerable to STIs––while those who stigmatized virginity felt these acts did not fully satisfy their sexual status. For the most part, women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
These conflicting messages create a teen female population in America varied in their views on their own sexuality. The girls of the purity culture see their virginity as incredibly sacred. They believe that when they finally have intercourse, it will be a fairy tale moment that will forever connect them to their partners and strengthen their love. Unfortunately, for girls across the spectrum, their first time may not be what it is cracked up to be. That can leaves those who have waited to feel confused or lost. They often feel incredibly guilty for having sex, or blame themselves for the lack of pleasure.
On the other hand, the hypersexualization of women often encourages many to be ashamed of virginity. They believe their self-worth is determined by their sex appeal, and that they will be a new person post-first time. These women can intentionally get drunk in order to hook up with someone and “get it over with,” putting their comfort and safety at risk for percieved social status.
Luckily, comprehensive sexual education has become increasingly advocated for in the past decade. America is taking notes from Scandinavian countries and has begun to teach the entirety of the female anatomy, the concept of consent, and the importance of female self-pleasure. In the end, the emphasis should be on comfort. Some may be ready to have sex at a much earlier or later age but nobody should jeopardize their body or values just because society said so. Women should be driven by their own emotions and pleasures, not what the media is telling us.
Ladies, you are beautiful. Shut out society’s shouts and murmurs and open up to you: ask yourself, “what does my body like and want, and what is it ready to experience?”