Virginity is a Social Construct
an article by Lora Kwon
Dear Asian Youth,
In October of 2019, US rapper T.I. sparked public outrage by revealing that he takes his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist every year to ensure that her hymen is intact. Many rightfully criticized T.I.’s invasive obsession with his daughter’s virginity as a violation of privacy that strips his daughter of the right to her own body. Furthermore, others found these controlling actions even more outrageous considering T.I.’s possessive logic. He reasoned that men will stay away from his daughter if she is a virgin because, “They’re no fun, who wants a virgin? Like, really? All of that work?” This inappropriate reasoning is surprisingly normalized, particularly for women, who are often judged on when, how, and to whom they have lost their virginity. Not only are many virgins judged for being frigid, but misogynistics notions state that women who have had sex are impure and of lesser value after being “used.” However, these judgments are ludicrous considering that virginity is nothing more than a social construct weaponized to shame women for what they do with their bodies.
Virginity is inconsequential considering that there is physically no way to tell if somebody is still a virgin. After all, the hymen is not an indicator of penetration because hymens don’t actually “break”. The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the opening of the vagina. Females are born with hymens that cover the entire opening of the vagina, but over time, the hymen becomes thinner and more flexible until it forms a natural opening that allows for menstrual blood to leave the vagina. The size of the hymen varies per person; some are born with so little hymenal tissue that it seems like they don’t even have a hymen at all. The hymen does not break during vaginal intercourse. Discomfort and bleeding during one’s first time are attributed to stretching or partially tearing the hymen due to a lack of lubrication. Bleeding is also not an accurate representation of losing one’s virginity. This was proven by Dr. Sara Paterson-Brown’s study in the British Medical Journal, which found that around 63% of women do not experience any bleeding during their first time of sexual intercourse. Various activities including riding a bike, playing a sport, using a tampon, and masturbating can stretch the hymen before a female has intercourse.
Not only can one not tell someone else’s virginity during intercourse, but virginity testing is also inaccurate considering that there is no medical or scientific evidence that a hymen indicates anything regarding sexual activity. Besides, these examinations are so invasive that the UN Special Rapporteur has recognized forced virginity testing as a form of gender-specific torture. This is particularly because various countries have used virginity testing as a way to separate the “pure” and “impure” women. Due to the lack of accuracy, sexist implications, and traumatizing procedure, the UN has called for a nationwide ban on virginity testing. However, these practices are still found in at least 20 countries, including the United States.
Even though there is no way to accurately discern “virginity”, society is obsessed with the implications surrounding this social construct. In the end, insisting on knowing whether one is a virgin is just an excuse to be sexist. The history of virginity supports this claim. While the word “virgin” is of Greek origin, the concept dates back to medieval times where young, virgin girls were used as commodities that guaranteed pure bloodlines. The allure of a virgin girl came from the guarantee that she would not bear another’s child. Later on, Christian principles encouraged girls to stay virgins through the story of the Virgin Mary, which perpetuates that only the purest womb could birth a God. Not only does the history of virginity act as a reminder that virginity is completely a human creation, but many of the historical implications also related to virginity are fully present in contemporary society. Many still celebrate virgin women for their purity, while shaming any woman with a sexual history. This slut-shaming behavior is made more evident by the fact that women are criticized for how many partners they take, not how many times they actually have sex.
These destructive assumptions regarding one’s virginity is part of a greater issue where females are stripped of the right to do what they want with their bodies without constant judgment. As shown by T.I.’s disgusting behavior, this mindset often begins at home where parents mistake protecting their daughters for having a say in what they do with their bodies. These efforts are counterproductive. The Eastern Michigan University has conducted studies sampling emerging adults ages 18-28. They found that young adults who “grew up with more caring and less controlling parents and who talked about sex with their parents were most likely to have better quality relationships and to a limited extent, engage in safer sexual behaviors.” Furthermore, the Seattle Children’s Research Center has cited multiple studies regarding the health repercussions of controlling children’s sexual behavior. One analysis found that around 60% of girls aged 12 to 17 in the US reported that if their parents found out that they used sexual health services, they would stop using these services or even be willing to delay testing for STIs. Another reported that about a third of adolescents do not seek health care for sensitive health issues if their parents could find out. Parents should have open and honest communication regarding sex with their children because children are safer when their parents do not adopt such controlling behavior.
It’s also an essential undertaking to improve our sexual education system. We need to teach our children that a female’s value is in no way dependent on the intactness of her hymen. It is incredibly important to dispel myths regarding hymen and virginity in general at a young age, to avoid confusion in the future. There should be no religious context nor misogynistic undertones when it comes to a children’s sexual education, as it interferes with their sexual safety.
All in all, society needs to change the way we talk about virginity. When men boast the loss of their virginity, it’s a burden off their shoulders. Yet when women lose their virginity, it comes with a set of societal implications and judgments. We should remember that we don’t actually “lose” our “virginity” because there is nothing to be lost. There is no proof of lost virginity, and it does not change who we are or how much we are worth. No matter what anyone does, we have the right to our own bodies, and that right is something that nobody should be allowed to take.
- Lora Kwon