Saturday, January 22, 2011

Virginity: What is it Good For?

Recently, a young woman named Nicki Blue appeared on Kink.com to officially "lose" her virginity on camera and online. They even did a video close-up of her hymen to assure that she was indeed a "true virgin." And sex-positive bloggers have been posting and commenting about this event before the big event.

Now, there are all sorts of questions about the commiditization of sex and sexuality which I won't touch on here. I happen to think that, so long as we live in a society which markets everything including air in "oxygen bars," we might as well allow people to sell sex if they freely choose to do so.

Here's the question which has been bugging me: Why is virginity still a big deal?

In every other human endeavor, knowledge and experience is valued above naivete. Only in the realm of sex is the opposite true. We prize virginity, and even continue to argue about what that means, while looking down on people who have bothered to garner first-hand experience of sexuality and relationships. Worse, we maintain a gender-based double standard about it -- females are expected more than males to remain virgins until marriage, or at least for as long as they can, while male virgins are often ridiculed.

Lack of experience, for whatever reason, says nothing about a person's character, intelligence or capacity for love. A virgin can still be a lousy person, while someone who has been branded a "slut" for can still be caring and trustworthy. By the same token, one's first sexual experience isn't always magical, or traumatic -- sometimes it can be a letdown. So, why don't we stop playing such paradoxical games?

Let's start by ditching the idea of "losing one's virginity." Think about it: Does it really make sense to talk about losing a lack of something? Think of how we talk about a person's maturity with regard to sexuality and relationships...
* First kiss (gain)
* First sense of attraction (gain)
* First date (gain)
* First signs of puberty (gain)
* First steady relationship (gain)
* First sexual experience (loss???)

No, it doesn't make any sense. Especially when so many continue to view it as a loss for one side (female) and a gain for the other (male). It's only a loss when it's coercive and abusive; it's a gain when done in the spirit of love and mutual pleasure.

I usually respect Kink.com, but in this case they fell back on antiquated notions of sex, and especially as it pertains to women. Had they talked about Nicki Blue sharing this milestone on camera -- and ditched the so-called "Hymen-Cam" -- I might be inclined to speak favorably about this. But given how they presented it, I'm not so happy.

6 comments:

  1. Desmond - you're assuming that any fetish can be explained "rationally." That may not be the case.

    And the cultural fixation on virginity and hymens can be viewed as a fetish using the dictionary meaning that can be found in the dictionary that comes with Ubuntu:

    "Any object to which one is excessively devoted"

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  2. @Steve: I can see where some folks may have a fetish about virginity and hymens -- but this is different from prevalent cultural attitudes towards the same.

    In the kink community, we recognize fetishes as strong personal preferences. We don't attach any moral judgment to them. If someone likes feet, that's simply what brings them pleasure and we're happy to create space for them.

    The predominant culture, however, still places a moralistic value on virginity and virgins, especially if you're female. You're somehow valued more for "waiting for Mister Right" than for embracing your sexuality and finding positive ways to experience it.

    Our culture's fixation with virginity is a relic from the days when women were regarded as property, and a woman with a ruptured hymen considered "damaged goods." And I don't see how hanging onto it has done women and society much good.

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  3. Desmond - you're right that much of the virginity fetish comes from very old patriarchal attitudes about sexuality and women being "property" and males wanting to ensure that their children are really their own.

    I don't think that most of this "hymen fetish" is healthy. Given the wide-spread acceptance of it, it's not a kink that can be chosen voluntarily. Social and cultural pressure have added some non-consensuality to this kink.

    I also don't think that it's rational in any sense either (not that we should expect it be so).

    For the cultures that value an unbroken hymen on the wedding night, the biggest threat to maintaining that value is simple, low-cost, and over-the-counter "artificial hymen" that doesn't require a plastic surgeon to reacquire virginal status.

    "Gadget to help women feign virginity angers many in Egypt"
    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/07/world/fg-fake-hymen7

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  4. Another example of how irrational the fixation on hymens is: So many hymens are ruptured as the result of non-sexual circumstances, like riding a horse.

    Some have actually advocated a simple procedure to cut a young woman's hymen as she began puberty, to avoid the pain involved with a rupture. Perhaps if this were offered more widely, it might lead to a change in the culture.

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  5. What's the big deal about people needing to loose their virginity. Too many people are obsessed over sex - people who are getting it, and people who wish they were getting it. There are many Virgins on Fetlife even who wish they could get rid of their virginity. Personally I don't get the obsession either way. If I feel like doing it, I'll do it, or else I wont. The hymen, while I do understand the significance, don't seem like a big deal to me. I heard that it can break any number of ways that don't even have to do with anything sexual.

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  6. The hymen, while I do understand the significance, don't seem like a big deal to me.

    And just what is the "significance"? Some women don't have a hymen, or it becomes perforated by non-sexual means. It's time we discern emotional maturity and empathy as more important than the state of a membrane with little or no function.

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