Virginity as a social construct?
“I don’t really believe in virginity.”
I heard “The F Word” blogger Holly Combe say this during a segment on BBC World News yesterday morning. She had a slightly different view of virginity than did Miriam Babooram, a woman who, at 33, is a virgin and has decided not to have sex before marriage.
If you’d like to listen to the segment, it starts at about 17 minutes in. I also undertook the painstaking task of transcribing the interview, since I couldn’t find it anywhere else (and since I need it for a project you may hear more about soon). Below is the conversation I’m pretending to have with Combe, or someone who thinks likewise, as I entertain the thought of virginity as a social construct.
Just to be clear: This conversation has not taken place, with Combe or anyone else. Also, please note that my purpose in linking to Miriam Babooram’s interview with the UK Daily Mail is NOT so you can comment here (or there) on whether or not she and the other women pictured look like trolls. If you make such statements here, they will be deleted.
COMBE: I don’t believe in virginity.
COMBE: I think it’s a social construct.
ME: So, wait. You don’t believe virginity exists?
COMBE: Only in our minds, in the way we choose to label and categorize things to create hierarchies in society that benefit some people and restrict others.
ME: So … that thing that happens when a penis goes into a vagina…
COMBE: Exactly! That’s why I say it’s a social construct. Is a lesbian who’s never had sex with a man a virgin? Is a homosexual man who’s never had vaginal sex a virgin?
COMBE: And why are there so many pejorative terms associated with it? Like “lose” your virginity. Loss implies grief. “Saving myself for …” If there’s safety one place, there’s danger in another. “Give my virginity to…” That means someone on the other end has to be the taker.
Lori "Lolo" Jones was the catalyst for this BBC conversation
ME: Or the recipient of a gift.
COMBE: Again, a social construct. I mean, aren’t gifts just objects? If virginity is so precious, why is it also considered a commodity?
ME: Because … Well, sex is bought and sold. Has been for centuries. Even virginity has been. Hellloooo, Memoir of a Geisha? Wait. Is this a trick question?
COMBE: And if it isn’t a commodity—something to be lost, given, taken, gained, preserved, etc.—and it isn’t used as yet another way for us to define who’s good and who’s bad, what can virginity be?
ME: Um … a physical state, I guess?
COMBE: A physical state that only heterosexuals can change?
ME: No, that doesn’t seem fair.
COMBE: So what if the label, “virginity,” doesn’t exist at all, and people just participate in various sexual activities when they’re ready?
ME: Hey, some of these sexual activities make babies.
You thought this movie was about a party? Nope. It was about 3 high school boys desperately trying to lose their virginity before graduation.
COMBE: Okay. Then let’s tell people that. What if we tell kids: a certain sexual activity often makes a baby. You should do this activity when you’re ready to start taking care of a baby. You’re going to feel like doing this activity before you’re ready to start taking care of a baby, and there are ways to prevent the baby when you do this activity, but I want you to understand that the baby is the big deal, not the activity itself. The activity is just something that most people do at some point because it’s fun and it feels good. But not doing it doesn’t mean anything one way or the other. What if conversations in the boys’ locker room go from, “Dude, you’re still a virgin? What a loser! When are you going to become a man?” to “Dude, you started making babies yet? Yeah, me neither. I’m having too much fun for all that.” Or if the girls went from saying, “Girl, I love him! I can’t wait. I’m going to give him my virginity!” to “Girl, I’m ready to make babies! On second thought, no, I’m not.” Or from, “Ho. Slut. I heard about her. She’s nasty,” to “She hasn’t made any babies. I haven’t made any babies. Hey, nobody we know has made any babies!”
ME: Idealize much?
COMBE: No pressure to get rid of this horrible thing that makes you a social pariah …
ME: Yeah, but c’mon. There’s an emotional component to virginity because there’s an emotional component to sex, especially for women. We release a bunch of attachment hormones during orgasm.
COMBE: Sex can be emotional without virginity.
ME: Are you sure?
That’s the extent of my devil’s advocacy here. Please share your thoughts!