On the Concept of Virginity

I realized recently that I can’t remember when I lost my virginity. I would have thought that realization would have a much bigger effect on me and feel like a real loss. However, it doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t remember exactly when I lost it (although I do remember with whom). It got me thinking about the significance we place on the loss of a girl’s/woman’s virginity. I was in my friend’s wedding a few years ago, and her sister made her maid-of-honor speech all about how lucky the husband-to-be was because he would be marrying a virgin and how wonderful her sister was for waiting. I felt incredibly uncomfortable about my friend’s lack of a “body count” being discussed for several minutes in front of all her family and friends. However, she was very religious, so I’m sure was viewing it from a different perspective, and she seemed to love the speech, which was really all that mattered in that moment.

Why do we say someone loses their virginity instead of gaining something? To me, this makes it sound as though it’s a rite of passage, chore, or duty a woman must go through, not something she enthusiastically chooses. Is it painted in a negative light to deter women from partaking, to shame them once they decide to “give in?” Granted, men are also said to “lose their virginity,” but the act is not perceived in the same serious, negative light nor loaded with the same often damning connotations. For these reasons, I try to remember to say “started having sex” instead of “lost my virginity,” which is more empowering — a decision I made instead of something that happened to me.

Virginity is not a physical or medical concept. There’s no medical test for virginity, although these are given to women, even young girls, in certain countries. One of these countries is the U.S., where it is legal for a physician to do an exam on a woman or even a girl for the primary purpose of checking her hymen. When you break it down, it is legalized sexual assault and quackery, considering those underage cannot give consent and the exam tells nothing of whether she is a virgin or not. These exams attempt to determine whether the hymen, the skin that often covers the vaginal opening, is still intact. However, the hymen can break in other ways, such as tampon usage, horseback riding, bicycling, or gymnastics. Boys’ sexual history is not nearly as discussed or worried over. Neither is it used as a basis of valuing a boy. Women’s sexuality is always being politicized.

Virginity is a religious concept designed to control women and their sexuality. In Abrahamic religions, a daughter is her father’s property until he finds an interested mate of whom he approves for marriage to his daughter. Traditionally, the woman has had little to no say concerning who she marries. Purity balls are father/daughter dances held by some Christians in which a girl (who in some cases hasn’t even hit her teens) makes a promise to her father she will not lose her virginity until marriage. Similar mother/son purity balls or any other formal ceremony in which boys pledge their chastity to their mothers, to my knowledge, do not exist.

Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, posits that men see women as either pure and virginal or slutty. This can be seen in the way a teenage girl who has had sex is often seen as “fast” or “loose”, while a woman who has entered her 20’s (and certainly her 30’s) without having sex is often considered frigid or a “bitch,” someone who is holding out on giving men the pleasure they deserve. This dichotomy has created generations of women who experience anxiety about losing their virginity, about seeming to come on too strongly, not coming on strongly enough, or passing their “expiration date” by losing it “too late.” By having sex with too many men and coming off “trashy” or by having sex with too few and coming off “weird”, “stuck-up”, “inexperienced”, or “difficult.” It seems, regardless of the timeline a woman feels is right for her regarding when to start having sex, and regardless of her best intentions, she cannot win and is destined to be marked inadequate and perhaps even conniving. I experienced this at 24 when I decided to have intercourse for the first time ever, in the first serious romantic relationship of my life. During that year-long relationship, I was accused of all of the following by my partner: being “frigid”, being (conversely) “a nymphomaniac”, and (by contrast, yet again) of not initiating sex as much as I should.

The concept of virginity seems to be loosely defined, putting a woman’s sexual status up for personal interpretation. Some consider a woman to have lost her virginity only after her vagina has been penetrated by a penis (an overtly heteronormative stance). Some consider any sexual activity, such as giving or receiving oral or being fingered, or the use of a dildo, as a loss of her virginity. Additionally, there are girls and women who have sexual activity forced on them against their wills. Some would still consider them to be virgins until they choose to have sex, some wouldn’t. For many young girls or women who have been forced to lose their virginity and taught it is a gift from God that can never be gotten back once lost, the trauma they face after their assaults is often much worse.

I would challenge anyone reading this to question the way in which we talk to girls about virginity and sex. Although losing your virginity to someone with whom you are in a committed relationship (if not marriage) is often considered the “gold standard,” this is often impossible for girls to reach. The average age of first sexual experiences in the U.S. is 17. Only a small portion of people stay for life with the same person to whom they lost their virginity. This is too high a burden to bear, and girls should not be taught that their virginity status in any way determines their worth as a human being. Boys are not seen as dirtied by sex, and by framing the act as dirtying women, we treat women as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and that loses value as she becomes “used.” It is up to each one of us to change the dialogue and thinking behind these concepts. One way I challenge the concept that a woman’s worth and character should be judged based on whether or not she has had sex (and if yes, how many partners she’s had) is by refusing to answer the question from a dating partner or potential dating partner: “How many partners have you had?” There is no upside to answering this, and the downsides are multitudinous. If your answer is more than they want to hear, you’re a whore. If it’s fewer, you’re a prude or stuck-up. In either case, you have legitimized the question and its underlying misogyny just by answering it.

What do you think? Have you considered this topic? As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the matter!

Ego Depletion

Ego depletion occurs when stress causes a lack of self-restraint. For example, when I am working a stressful job, it is harder for me to choose healthful food over food I like better, but that might not be good for me. I might have had customers yelling at me all day, coworkers or bosses mistreating or belittling me, or a workload that didn’t allow me to take adequate breaks to recharge. The allure of something comforting after a day like that is a lot stronger in this context than the allure of giving my body what it needs, such as healthful food. Hence, the stressors in your life can have a very real and very negative effect on other seemingly-unrelated parts of your life. You might be more prone to yell at your partner or kids. Instant gratification becomes an urge too strong to fight due to ego depletion. One way I have found helpful in combatting this is to prepare. For instance, knowing how you are likely to feel after a hard day, you might have a healthy dinner already prepared for yourself so that you’re less likely to eat junk food.

In what ways have you experienced ego depletion in your life, and how do you combat it?

On Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Emotions

A painful lesson I’m trying to learn is that I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions. I’m trying not only to learn and understand, but also to believe, that as long as I do right by people — by not violating their rights or acting unnecessarily cruel — that I am fulfilling my end of the social contract with my fellow human beings. It is just really hard when faced with close relatives who harbor unreasonable expectations about what a relationship with me should look like. I have always felt a need to be a solution-finder and peacekeeper, and the mental and emotional toll of needing to keep people happy and trying to stabilize their extreme reactions can be overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Anybody else going through the same thing?

My Favorite Writing Quotes

If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write. — Martin Luther

As a writer you try to listen to what others aren’t saying and write about the silence. — N.R. Hart

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. — Franz Kafka

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. — Allen Ginsburg

A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. — Susan Sontag

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer? I have to say no! I always was a writer. — Ursula Le Guin

For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing. — Virginia Woolf

This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard. — Neil Gaiman

I need solitude for my writing. Not like a hermit — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man. — Franz Kafka

Hey, it’s been a while…

I’ve been busy with work and school and dealing with a close family member being seriously sick. Been meaning to make another blog post for a while now. I’m not myself when I’m not writing out my feelings.

A couple thoughts I’ve had recently:

I’ve realized I’m always either hypersensitive or numb. Either blowing something out of proportion and creating a mess or ignoring something important, tamping it down so I don’t have to deal with it in a mature and reasoned way. I know this isn’t the way to handle things that will make for a satisfying and peaceful life.

Also, I’ve realized even change that feels good can be daunting because you know the depression you’ll experience when you realize how long you’ve been miserable and how long you could have been happy. That you’ll hate yourself for not having made the change sooner.

Can anyone relate? Let me know your own thoughts.

Anger

I’ve written about anger before, but feel the urge to do so again. It’s amazing the immediate release I feel when I make my anger trigger deeper introspection instead of just more blind rage. It feels like such a triumph to pinpoint the emotion my anger is concealing and calmly confront myself with the knowledge that there’s more going on than me just being angry. And, weirdly, considering those deeper emotions and their origins usually makes me feel calmer. It’s as though my inner self is telling me I need to do the hard work of learning to become self-aware before I can ever find peace or contentment.

I notice I often excuse my anger as righteous. If I am angry about an injustice, I feel justified in allowing myself the anger. However, anger itself is not helpful. Logical thinking, planning, and knowledge are more helpful to foster positive change than pure anger. Anger is disempowering, chaotic, and counterproductive, while self-awareness is empowering, peace-inducing, and change-making.

The Number of Friends You Have Doesn’t Define You

I’ve been thinking about how often we use someone’s popularity to ascribe to them the level of worth we believe they deserve. As I have gotten older I find it harder to make and maintain friendships. I prioritize similar values much more highly than other traits and characteristics, such as similar hobbies, appearance, or even personality. I also suffer from social and generalized anxiety.

Do you struggle with making or keeping friends and perhaps relate to some of what I’ve written here? I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.

Boundaries

I know I’ve written about boundaries before. I feel it’s such an important topic. Having strong, healthy boundaries is often the difference between staying true to yourself or going “whichever way the wind blows.” There are many different types of boundaries.

Physical boundaries can include who you let in your home or who you let touch you. Time boundaries determine how much time you’re willing to spend on a given activity. We all only have so much time and in order to decide how to spend it, some things must be sacrificed. Emotional boundaries can include not spending time around toxic people or limiting the amount of time you spend around them. It can also include protecting yourself from triggers. Sexual boundaries include determining which sexual activities you engage in, when, where, and with whom. Financial boundaries can include not spending more than a certain amount on eating out monthly, requiring a certain salary before accepting a job, or not loaning money. Material boundaries can include not owning a lot of stuff, minimizing stuff so that it doesn’t create an unnecessary burden or so that your priorities do not become skewed. Intellectual boundaries can include refusal to believe something without evidence or not holding a certain position just because your friends and family do.

I often have trouble with striking a balance and maintaining healthy, not rigid or porous boundaries — speaking up for myself and saying “no” when need be, while allowing wiggle room for exceptions. But I am working on it.

Finding Out Who I Am

I have realized I need to stop trying to “find out who I am.” This expression is overly dramatic, as well as scary, in my opinion. To be disconnected from myself is a terrifying feeling. In reality, I already have myself. I do not need to find myself. I am myself. I think spending time in nature and staying busy doing the things I enjoy will help me learn more about myself. I feel like I create myself little by little, and more puzzle pieces start falling in place. How are you creating yourself?

On Soulmates and Unconditional Love

I don’t believe in the concept of “soulmates,” and believe it to be an inherently self-defeating concept and unreachable standard. I think about how many people have multiple happy marriages in their lives and how many people agonize over not finding “the One.” I believe you’re lucky to find someone who aligns with your values and your personality, and who understands how to engage in healthy conflict. The idea of “soulmates” seems metaphysical and borne of religion. You can go your entire life wondering if your partner is “the One,” constantly comparing them to an abstract you hold in your head, without appreciating them for who they are and how they complement your life. Not feeling as though you’ve met your “soulmate”, you’re bound to feel like a failure.

I also don’t believe in unconditional love except for possibly the love a parent has for their child. No other kind of love is pure and unselfish. And often even parental love is at least partly based on selfishness. The closest concept to unconditional love that exists is what mental health professionals call “unconditional positive regard”, which involves a therapist supporting a patient/client without judgment, no matter what they are told by the patient/client. However, even this is conditional, based on the patient/client’s ability to pay the therapist.

I’m not sure I even believe in love. “Love” seems to describe a feeling, an abstract concept, a checmical reaction. Often commitment, respect, affection, and exclusivity (in the case of a romantic monogamous relationship) are present; however, these aspects can also be present without any pretense of love being involved.

Does anybody else agree or have a different perspective they’d like to share?