Virginity as a social construct?

The 40 Year Old Virgin Poster

“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.


ME: Huh?


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?


ME: No.


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 Wiki Photo

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.


Superbad Official Movie Poster

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!

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5 thoughts on “Virginity as a social construct?

  1. Hi Marium,

    I was one of the people interviewed for the BBC discussion and would first of all like to say thanks for taking the time to transcribe the conversation and also for engaging further with my position here on your blog. I know we didn’t actually have the conversation above but I really appreciate the further exploration of the issue.

    I have just a couple of small points of clarification with regard to the 10th paragraph on page two after listening to the programme again. They’re minor but I thought I’d flag them up here anyway, as I think the missing words do help convey my meaning. Firstly, I made a reference to what I think might happen *if* the concept of virginity was taken out of teaching (as opposed to suggesting the concept perhaps has been). Secondly, I talked about “retaining virginity *as* some sort of object” rather than listing it separately.

    But, as I said, these are minor points and I’m basically just really glad you covered the topic 🙂

    I will be sure to bookmark this blog and send a heads-up to the other F-Word bloggers!

    1. Holly,

      Ping-backs work! Hooray! Thanks so much for visiting the blog, bookmarking it and for catching those omissions/errors. Transcription is challenging, especially when I’m listening to accents different from my own, so I’m glad to have another ear here. Now to dig out the Word doc and upload the PDF again…

      Thanks for sharing your views on the BBC! I think of all of Europe as considerably more secular and liberal than the U.S., but you still surprised me and gave me something to think about.

      And the spelling error is forgiven.

  2. Wow! Mariam this is such an interesting topic. Thanks so much for writing about it. As a Christian feminist it has always been so hard for me to write about sex as I can’t seem to reconcile my thoughts. I do believe sex is important because it is more than a physical act but an emotional and spiritual one (for most people, at least). Yet, I do hate the idea that a woman’s worth is somehow tied to her virginity or that a man’s worth is tied to the number of women he’s had sex with.

    Thanks again for writing this.

    1. Javacia,

      I have the same issue, which is why the fictional conversation above ends with a question. I’m figuring out if I’ll have to pursue a master’s degree in theology just to figure out how I think about sex and virginity, and so I can write about it with some official authority. I will be writing about the topic more, regardless of grad school decisions.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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