Lesson 1 sparked a lot of questions. The first being, “Where did all this false information come from?” Basic etymology could shed light to this history.
Note: Like in Lesson 1, the concept of “virginity” is rooted in hetero- and cis-normative social constructs. In this piece, woman is being used as shorthand to explain this concept rather than being indicative of genitalia, identity, or expression.
Virginity: History & Roots
The term virgin comes from Old French virgine from the root of Latin virgo, genitive virgins-is, meaning “maiden” or “virgin”–a sexually intact young woman or “sexually inexperienced woman.”
This definition explains the source of the term virginity while also opening the door as to why the concept of virginity is in fact a social construct. This meaning, unlike the inclusive definition provided by Merriam Webster previously mentioned, is proof that virginity only was intended to refer to the purity of a woman.
Ever heard the phrase “sex sells”?
Women were (and in some places still are) considered property. Prime example, marriage was never about love but business. The notion of ‘giving the bride away’ and the father walking the bride to be down the aisle was more of a transaction than a sweet tradition.
Women’s sexual purity became especially important because of its function in transferring wealth within patriarchal societies. And because religion regulated sexuality, it resulted in both taboo and shame for coitus outside of marriage. This stigma has transcended into modern society, further perpetuating harmful language and ridiculous expectations regarding the sexuality of women.
The social implications and significance of women understanding that having sex makes them “impure” creates a Virgin/Whore dichotomy. This binary is dangerous and extremely reductive. Society telling women that their virginity is valuable and that value can be determined by having lost it in a right or wrong way is damaging.
Those who approached sexuality the “right way”: not too soon or waited until marriage, are “good girls”, “wife material”, the kind that partners can “bring home to mom,” whereas those women who did it the “wrong way” are described as easy, sluts, whores, or damaged goods.
Modern Madonnas & Whores
This dichotomy has changed slightly in modern society. Now, women are expected to have had sex. Being a virgin translates into being prude, yet they cannot have had too much because then they are definitely whores. Society has always been inherently limiting to women, but when language and expectations are ever-changing and destructive towards women, the society as a whole is not advancing.
When people subscribe to these types of respectability politics surrounding sexuality, it robs women of body autonomy. Meaning, women are deprived of the right to view themselves as to whom they naturally are: sexual beings. It forces women to only exist for consumption for everyone but not themselves. It rewards those consuming sexuality, while shaming those expressing it.
These stipulations surrounding sex that are forced upon women, again snatches autonomy from them and thus rationalize rape. Further snatching autonomy from women rationalizes rape by deciding that women can deserve rape, women can ask for rape, women can be responsible for rape, women are the problem with rape. None of this is true, rapist are responsible for rape.
Now, even though this concept of virginity is extremely limiting to women, ironically enough, it isn’t exclusive. Come back for Lesson 3 as we discuss why sexual purity is heteronormative and what it means for those who identify on the queer spectrum.