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On Virginity

“What IS virginity?”

I first knew that different people would answer this question differently as I rode down an escalator in a German shopping mall a few years ago; my friend turned toward me and delivered this peculiar line:

“I could de-virginize you right now.”

“What?” I wasn’t surprised he had brought up the subject of my virginity. We had, after all, been arguing about whether or not it was “healthy” for me to be a virgin (he claimed – surprise, surprise – that it was not). But his proposed method seemed all wrong. “You can’t take my virginity on an escalator!”

“I can break your, um, [a furious search for the word “hymen” yielded no result]… uh, thing!” He stated triumphantly.

“Uh, but that wouldn’t be sex,” I said. “You can’t take my virginity without having sex with me.”

An argument on what is and isn’t virginity ensued. Having suddenly realized that the “traditional” notions of intercourse weren’t always applicable, I was entering a brave nude world of possibilities.

Today, after reading in Russian Cosmo about how a woman “can avoid getting deflowered by a tampon,” I am struggling to understand the huge importance that societies today still place on the hymen.

If an “innocent girl” can go into a bathroom stall with a Playtex and emerge “experienced,” something is wrong with the way we define virginity. If breaking of the hymen is what constitutes deflowerment, girls who did gymnastics at age eleven were not exactly virgins, huh?
It seems that what the hymen’s real significance is control and reassurance; a way for certain men and women to sleep more soundly at night. If a bride bleeds on sheets on her wedding night, her husband won’t feel “cheated.” How angry, I wonder, would he become if he had sat through my 6th grade sex-ed class?

“Some of you may bleed, some of you may not,” a room full of girls was told. “In some cases the hymen won’t break. It’s never a sure thing.” Hymens, it seems, are unique and beautiful snowflakes after all.

A broken hymen testifies to neither innocence nor experience. I look back down the corridor of time at the girls I knew who were far from inexperienced, yet considered themselves “innocent” because they had never actually “done it.”

I am reminded of a friend’s comments that anal intercourse was beginning to catch on back in various parts of the Middle East:

“The girls do it so they can still say they’re virgins,” he said.

To re-state the original question as to what virginity is: my answer is that there is no answer. The real issue then becomes as to why virginity is important in the first place. Especially in women… Or, um, not actually “in”…since that would constitute that they have been, um, you know, and um…Ok.

I can sort of understand the importance virginity plays in terms of health concerns. An inexperienced lover is, at least, a “clean” lover. Maybe, well, definitely not if he or she has been sharing heroin needles. Or tattoo needles. Yeah. And anyway, if there is sometimes no clear way to tell if a woman is a virgin, in the case of men it’s pretty much impossible.

Organized religion and virginity have a long relationship. An Islamic terrorist supposedly cavorts with 72 virgins in heaven after blowing himself up in a crowd. A friend says that it would only be fair for female terrorist should get virgins too: males, presumably. In the interest of humouring him: Why would any sane woman subject herself to 72 inexperienced lovers?

Actually, the entire relationship between organized religion and virginity is an extension of the relationship between organized religion and the female gender. As a female Christian, I note the ways in which various branches of my church treat my body: worse than dirt, considering that dirt doesn’t get condemned to hell. I shouldn’t even be in certain churches when I have my period, since my menstrual blood “interferes” with the blood of Christ. Naturally, when I have cramps and am exhausted, the idea of going to services is not particularly appealing. But no, women are just dirty.

Virginity, however, is where male church officials really get their collective panties in a giant twist.

Virginity = honour and virtue in a woman. An honourable woman isn’t one who doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal; she isn’t kind, or fair, or loyal. She isn’t a good friend, teacher, leader, mother, lover…She just hasn’t been penetrated outside of the confines of marriage.

Also, the discrepancy with which male and female virginity are treated (unless a man is devirginized in a “non-traditional” fashion…are we all just hung up on penetration?) leads me to believe that sexuality is ultimately the only way in which women are defined. And it’s not a glowing definition either. Meanwhile, it makes me angry that my desire to have men revealed for the harlots that they are, is catching on with so few people.

Here’s something that I do know though: Sex isn’t always joyous, exciting, safe, or right. People that don’t have sex usually have their reasons. And sex has its consequences. Derision, condemnation, and violent death shouldn’t be among them, however.

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Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She's the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.