Sex and virginity

When I was younger, one of my moms said to me, “Virginity is just another way for a man to stick his penis in you and tell you it somehow changes who you are.” I came across a similarly heartwarming sentiment a couple weeks ago on some tumblr, and it resonated.

In order to discuss the concept of virginity, we need to discuss the concept of sex, and what counts as ‘sex,’ which is more diverse when factoring in the experiences of queer people, trans* people, or those who have been sexually abused. We need to discuss how certain things about sex are ‘culturally proper,’ like certain ages or numbers of partners. We need to discuss how language dictates how we discuss virginity, with women giving and men taking, about how only women’s sexuality is commodified, and about how not having had sex makes you a weirdo and having too much makes you weird, too.

So I asked; I asked students at McGill who identify as virgins to tell me what this concept represents to them.

“I’ve remained a virgin for you.” —Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

“I see sex as…something beautiful, as something that two people within the confines of marriage who, hopefully, love each other, share.”
“I suppose it’s a continuation of love more than anything else. I do believe inherently that sex should be related to love.”
“I don’t appreciate the commercialization of [sex]. It devalues it and turns it into something cheap. It’s an instinct, as much as you’re tired or hungry, you’re appealing to the drives of people. If someone is hungry and you offer them food, it sells, obviously, because it is a basic drive.”
“I remember thinking I hated the idea of it, because it reduces our higher intellect and it becomes a drive that controls you; it’s something so base and I had no power over it.”
“We have the capacity to elevate it with the emotional connection, but when it’s treated like this and casual and commercialized, it’s upsetting.”
“Sex can have multiple functions, and reducing it to one function isn’t doing it justice. I value it more than that. Then again I can easily say that because I’ve never been in the environment about whether I would choose or not choose. It’s never been a question, ever.”

“You never get over it. But you get to where it doesn’t bother you so much.” —Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

“Just hearing ‘you’re on our list [of virgins],’ – well first I was like ‘okay, I’m not number one, I’m not the only person’ and as reassuring as that was it’s like I’m in a minority; it’s like I’m in a cage at the zoo and ‘this is the virgin.’ That was kind of when it hit me that my ideal moment of having a girl I had an emotional connection with and then getting to that physical union probably wasn’t going to happen.”
“To me it’s not a deliberate thing, I never said I’m going to wait until I’m 20, 21, or married; as a kid I said I’m going to be in a relationship, but I never quantified it in a way that others have. It’s just that it hasn’t happened.”
“A good friend of mine lost her virginity recently, and it’s not like our conversations changed, it’s not like I was all of a sudden on a lower echelon, or now this innocent kid, and that’s also when it hit me that it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.”
“It was a demonstration of how close you were, and now it’s not. The people in my past who have gone the farthest physically are not those who have gone the farthest emotionally, and because of that I’ve separated [the two onto] two different planes.”
“I get that fear, like, what if I don’t like it? My biggest fear is just really being shit at it. Well it was; now I understand your first time you’re not an expert. No one’s expecting you to be an expert.
“I’m just afraid that I’m not going to like it. I’m petrified.”
“I’ve definitely felt that there’s still some sort of stigma around still being a virgin, I’ve felt that I’m a child still; you’re not a real man unless you’ve had sex. You know, some people [say things like] “I thought you were such a nerd and then I found out you got laid?” But I’ve learned from my good friends it doesn’t change you, it’s not like you’re going to be a completely different person once it happens. I’ve stopped trying to glorify it. I’ve stopped actively seeking it out as some sort of rite of passage.”
“But it’s not just about sex itself. When I’m with a girl it’s because I want to be with them as a human being, not as a vagina.”

“People with lost personalities will suffer a great deal more than those with lost virginities.”—Melina Marchettta, Saving Francesca

“I feel like in our society there’s a lot of pressure for young women to just have sex, the idea that there’s an amount of time where you have to give it up or he’s going to leave; you have to be willing to give it up for a guy to be interested in you.”
“When we talked about the homeless woman that you met, in a lot of spectrums that completely applies to all types of women, especially the younger ones, when you’re trying to discover who you are and there are all these pressures, and when you’re not sure, it’s so easy to go with the flow.”
“I feel like the comfortable woman isn’t everyone – if we look at this environment, I think we’re really lucky as women to be educated about other types of pressure that are given to women: societal, patriarchal, and others; we’re taught and learn about these things [and] able to be more educated about our decisions and approach it more healthily than someone who doesn’t have access and who has never had access to this sort of empowerment. I feel like in these situations sex is a very detrimental weapon that is used against these women.”
“I mean, the different thing about my sister and me is that after immigration we were put into good schools in good neighbourhoods, where the structures of relations were based on psychological violence and addressing the differences between men and women.”
“I always saw a lack of empowerment or power assigned to women and elders, which is detrimental to the development of an identity where you know yourself and don’t fall prey to the pressures that are assigned to you. Even as educated as I am there is still a lot of pressure on me about the way I should be acting.”
“During the war I saw women being raped, people being close to me being raped, so sex can be a tool of violence, physically as I saw or more subtly.”
“For me sex is not … sex very much alters a person. It’s not just something you do.”
“There are way too [many] patriarchal politics, sexist politics, that go with this idea of giving it up; of having an age where there are expectations about what the sexual life of a woman should be, about not having a lot of sexual partners because society wants us to, or doesn’t want us to.”
“I can’t bring someone else in when I’m not even completely centred or sure about who I am as a person. I know it would change me and I would have expectations from another person, and I don’t know if those expectations would be related to the relationship or me trying to find myself within that person.”
“A lot of people use relationships to avoid any type of self-reflection on their own identity issues or problems or whatever, and until I know exactly who I am I won’t involve myself on any level with someone. I want to be able to be sure about what that means to me, for reasons other than me wanting to have that relationship. I don’t want it to be a proxy for something else.”