Cherries don’t actually pop…
by Annie Muscat
C’mon, ladies. Would you rather be a porcelain teacup or a red solo cup? My friend recounts the words of her high school health teacher and I shudder. I’m disappointed and appalled by the blatant slut-shaming young girls are being fed. Authority figures are supposed to educate with logic and reason, not through cheap scare tactics. But I can’t say I’m surprised by any of this. Since the dawn of time, female virginity has been socially constructed in a way that male virginity has not. Archaic cross-cultural thinking has persisted throughout centuries as women are generally expected to remain “pure” until they are married.
Even downright myths are propagated to further stigmatize female sexuality. For instance, justifying a woman’s virginity by whether or not her hymen is intact is completely inaccurate. The hymen is a thin membrane made up of tissue in the vagina that many women tear during physical activities including horseback riding or gymnastics. Secondly, the idea that a woman becomes “loose” if she engages with numerous sexual partners is, in the wise words of Dwight Schrute: false. As a muscle, the vagina contracts and expands. Contrary to popular belief, it does not expand exponentially until it is a gaping black hole that swallows up everything in sight. Although, that would be a cool super power.
Nowadays, perceptions surrounding female virginity have become increasingly complicated. Especially since the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the 1960’s sexual revolution, feminists have sought to subvert traditional gender roles and restrictive understandings of femininity. Echoes of my body, my choice relate to everything from abortion to sexual liberation. In their mission for empowerment, however, women have been tirelessly subjected to an extreme binary: prude versus whore. Women who turn men down are labeled prudish. At the same time, women who are considered too outwardly sexual and confident are deemed whores. There is little, if any, middle ground.
Female virginity is placed on such an elevated pedestal that there are women who sell their virginity for incredible sums of money. Chances are you’ve encountered a news story and heard about the many bidders vying for their chance. It’s like a contemporary version of a medieval archery contest to win the fair maiden’s hand in marriage. Except bows and arrows are dollar signs; eligible suitors are slimy, rich guys; and marriage is sex. Once again, women can decide of their own volition what they want to do with their body; yet the consequences that arise from advertising virginity as a commodity cannot be ignored. By auctioning off one’s virginity, the concept is further mystified and sex is weaponized.
Virginity has also become a very slippery slope as continuous debates rage on about what constitutes sex and what doesn’t. Many of these arguments are hetero-normative and counter-productive. Does it even matter if having oral sex counts as “losing” your virginity? The obsession with distinguishing virgin from non-virgin is a senseless obsession. While men are championed for getting it on, women are overwhelmingly shamed. College may be the pinnacle of this detrimental social structure. Not to mention, paired with the conservative values of a religious institution, Fordham can be a toxic breeding ground for sexual guilt and misogyny.
In examining the harmful views of female virginity, we can’t discredit more implicit implications that hinder women. The language itself around sex perpetuates unhealthy understandings. “Losing” one’s virginity implies that something was lost–purity, dignity, what have you. Likewise, “taking” someone’s virginity sounds forceful. Casual slang like “body count” is not only dehumanizing, but it’s also more reminiscent of a serial killer’s track record than of an account of the people someone has slept with.
Why is it that the longer someone waits to have sex, the more pressure there is for it to be “special”? Sex can be as special or insignificant as you want it to be. This can be true for people of all genders, but for women especially, there is an assumption that if she’s refrained from sex, she’s “waiting for the right one”. What if she just doesn’t want to have sex? What if societal pressures have paralyzed her with fear?
When it comes down to it, sex is an innate human desire. The extent to which a person chooses to engage in it is entirely up to them. Sex can be a difficult enough terrain to navigate even without external forces working against you. To all the women out there: you are not defined by what you have to offer sexually. Your body is your prerogative, sis. Have all the sex you want or don’t. We are doing women everywhere a disservice by sensationalizing female virginity. Change is long overdue.