*contains mentions of rape/sexual assault*
Have you ever lied about your body count? And no, I’m not talking about the number of people you’ve murdered. Whether you were exaggerating it or underplaying it, if you have, you are definitely not alone.
The toxic culture around sex at university can be both pressurising and shaming. If you’re a woman, you can expect repeated attempts to get you into bed by the same people who will later shame you for having slept with ‘too many’ people (google the Madonna-whore complex). If you’re a man, you might feel like you must lie about sexual encounters, so you don’t feel embarrassed when that round of ‘Never Have I Ever’ comes around.
So why is being a virgin at university such a big deal? It all stems from – you’ve guessed it – the patriarchy. Cultural norms simultaneously place pressure on men to make sexual conquests while shaming women for being too sexually liberated. The sexual oppression of women has a long historical precedent. Promiscuity was especially condemned when women’s primary role in society was to produce heirs for their husbands. Due to religious and familial pressures, men needed to be sure that their wives were ‘pure’ and that there was no chance the father of the children could be anyone but themselves. Since virginity is a concept rooted in female oppression and objectification, it seems high time that we leave these social connotations in the past.
Another damaging perception surrounding virginity is that it is any way biological. You’re probably familiar with the traditional story of a virgin bleeding after her wedding night. The blood on the sheets is evidence that she remained ‘pure’ before marriage. Supposedly, when a woman loses her virginity, this ‘loss’ is signified by the tearing of her hymen. However, as sex education is finally catching up to admit, a hymen can be torn by various non-sexual activities including horse riding and inserting a tampon. While this acknowledgement might seem well overdue, the banning of hymenoplasty (cosmetic surgery designed to restore a woman’s hymen) has only just been proposed in the UK. We still have a long way to go in disassociating virginity from biology.
Aside from the problematic suggestions of something being ‘lost’ and the person (usually a woman) being fundamentally changed when they lose their virginity, this traditional definition of virginity promotes a reductive and narrow view of sex. Seeing virginity as something physical ties it to straight, penis-in-vagina sex which devalues sex for the LGBTQIA+ community. In order to change our conception of virginity, we need to expand our definition of sex. Sex can take so many different forms for different people, and should include oral sex and anal sex, among other forms of sexual activity. The pressure placed on losing your virginity, as if a clock is gradually ticking away, is also harmful to asexual people. It can make them feel invalid or isolated, or even force people into situations in which they do not feel comfortable for the sake of fitting in.
Most importantly, our definition of sex must include consent. There is no such thing as non-consensual sex. It is rape. It is ultimately your decision if you are a virgin. Virginity is a social construct, not something biological, so it cannot be taken away. But it can be given, in a consensual sexual encounter whenever (and if ever) you are ready for it.
Ultimately, the way we think about sex and virginity needs to change. Why do we place so much emphasis on an idea historically constructed to oppress women? Sex should be something exciting and wonderful, if you want to do it, and not something to be ashamed of or to tick off a list just so you don’t feel panicked whenever anyone brings up your ‘body count’. We should be focusing on expanding our definition of sex and building a healthy relationship with it, instead of worrying about our number on the kitchen shag chart.
– Eirwen Abberley Watton
Featured Image Source: Pexels