Can you lose what you don’t have?

Virginity is not a thing.  It describes the absence of something.  Like dark describes the absence of light.
The phrase “stole her/his virginity” bothers me.  As if virginity existed.  As if it were a jewel hidden and snatched away.  That is what we were taught.  But, it doesn’t make sense.  I don’t steal silence by singing, or ignorance by teaching.
No one says that the sun came and stole the darkness unless they are trying to be poetic.  Most people prefer sun.  In fact, there would be no life without it.
When a child (or anyone) is abused, I think it is cruel to say they lost their virginity.
Yes, I’m sure they have lost trust in those around them or in the safety or fairness of the world.  They may have lost feeling in control of their own body.  Security and autonomy are not the same as virginity.  The former are two very positive and necessary things that are a loss to be mourned.    Steps should be taken to restore them.
The latter describes a physical ignorance, but phrasing it this way adds yet another ‘loss’.  I’ve talked to people who felt extra worthless because in their eyes, an unwanted experience had taken away the status of virgin.  Mourn the abuse, yes!  As a society we need to take that more seriously than we do.  But don’t add another burden by fetishizing ignorance.
Why is this ignorance so valued in certain circles?  In the circle I grew up in, this ignorance was supposed to make one superior.  In other groups, it can be looked down on.
Sexually ignorant people are not superior or inferior.  They are just lacking a physical and emotional experience.  Sometimes for good reasons, like being too young, waiting for the right relationship, or being asexual.  Sometimes for not-so-good reasons, like fear or loathing of their bodies.
And then there is the tricky business of defining what levels of ignorance can still qualify for the title ‘virgin’.  This is complicated because we don’t really understand what ‘sex’ is.
One of my roomie’s boyfriends was a fervent Calvinist (when it suited him).  He looked down on my roomie because she had some knowledge of her reproductive system learned with her previous boyfriend.  He was constantly trying to pressure her into unwanted anal sex because he felt he could still retain his superior status of ‘virgin’.  She was not impressed, especially when he tried the ‘but you’re not a virgin, therefore you’re a slut and I’m entitled to treat you like a sex toy’ argument.
There are a lot of religious people who think that avoiding penile-vaginal penetration gives them the right to look down on others, while convinced they are being humble.  Respect and giving to others is not their measuring stick of right and wrong, but a checklist like filling out a tax form.  That atmosphere changed sexual encounters from mere expressions of intimacy by adding the competition of how far you could go or what you could get without being a bad example to the youth group.  It made sexuality some sort of idol.  (Yes, I speak from experience.)
Even though not explicitly stated, I thought that virginity was good and therefore sexuality was bad, or at least dangerous and dirty.  Realizing that virginity is not a thing, but an absence of a thing, and not good or bad of itself has been good for me.
I no longer regret premarital make-out sessions.  I do regret all the hours of anguish and self-loathing that followed such occasions.  We had been told that any kiss longer than 5 seconds (or more than 5 one-second kisses) could not be pure.  It was hard to sit in church and take communion knowing that feeling guilty and dirty was not enough to stop it from happening again.
I didn’t lose my virginity.  I found more of myself and my lover.  Poetically speaking.

12 thoughts on “Can you lose what you don’t have?

  1. Ahab says:

    I got a chuckle when I tried to imagine five one-second kisses.

    I think the whole fetishization of virginity goes back to the era when women were seen as chattel. A “virgin” woman was prized because it meant that the lineage of her offspring could be traced to the man who owned her. For this same reason, male virginity was never prized in the same way that female virginity was, because men were not seen as chattel in the same way. Yes, it was sexist, and it still colors how people see sexuality today.

    Virginity is an antiquated idea. Sexual experience isn’t an either/or thing, but a continuum. We begin life in sexual ignorance, and over time reach a deeper understanding of our own sexuality through our experiences. Instead of focusing on virginity, sexual discussions should focus on consent, intimacy, respect, honesty, and fun. That’s my two cents.

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  3. I was definitely one of those teens who thought that anything other than penis-in-vagina sex meant someone was still a virgin. Looking back now, I can’t even retrace my reasoning on that. Clearly I believed that virginity was an actual, physical thing, and that anything else was not really sex. Not that I thought my parents would have been very impressed with the things I was doing, but I still felt that I was bending the rules, not breaking them. This belief was common among my friends. I especially remember one Mormon girl who, at 19, believed that having anal sex with her boyfriend was okay. Maybe it was that we knew we were unlikely to get pregnant and we didn’t have a whole lot of access to birth control.

    But on some level, it was still about the notion of “purity”, at least for me. I had this romantic idea that I was “saving myself” for my husband, and I bought it when my mother said things like “why buy the cow…”, or that when a woman loses a sexual partner, it has the same psychological impact as a young child losing a parent.

    I spent the last six months of highschool having all kinds of non-penetrative fun with my boyfriend, and enjoying every minute of it. I was the one who dumped him when I graduated and got ready to leave the country for uni in Scotland, and I never had a moment of regret over that. I ended up “losing my virginity” to my first college boyfriend after dating him for about a month. He was sort of a jerk about it. He didn’t believe I was really a virgin, or understand why I would want to “save myself”. And once I had slept with him, I thought that was it, and I had better make the relationship work, no matter what. So I stayed with the guy for two years, when we probably should have just had our fun and then parted company after a few months.

    I know that no experience is truly wasted if one learns something from it, and I have learned so much in the 14 years since then. I only wish I had woken up to some of the things I had been taught sooner than I did, because I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble. As it is, I didn’t come around to an understanding of a lot of this stuff until I read “The Purity Myth” by Jessica Valenti last year. That opened and completely blew my mind. I’m so glad I read it.

  4. Kirstin says:

    Agreed, agreed, agreed. We’ve photographed for a couple of weddings where the bride gave the groom her “purity ring” as a part of the ceremony and it has always made me uncomfortable. Is virginity really something to boast about? Something to announce to all your wedding guests? To me it represents (this is from experience…) an awkward wedding night, guilt from any pre-wedding dalliances, and newlywed years spent dealing with the guilt and learning that being sexual is OKAY and, in fact, recommended.

    From a Christian perspective, the whole purity thing has always bothered me…where specifically does it say in the Bible that one must be a virgin until the wedding night? I think that belief has led to all kinds of unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality–and marriage, for that matter–in the church.

    • Kirstin, your comment here suddenly reminded me of something. When my sister and her husband were dating in high school and college, even though they had been together for years and were very serious about their relationship, my parents refused to treat him like family. He was never invited to family events, and they never got him anything for his birthday or Christmas, not even a card. I never understood it, because how can you make that transition and be suddenly welcoming, when you already have an established way of interacting with someone? When I realised how things stood, even though I was away at Uni in another country, I wrote to him and told him that, as long as my sister chose him, I would consider him to be family. To this day, my brother in law is not comfortable around my parents, whom he has known for about 20 years.

    • prairienymph says:

      Amen, sista. Well put.
      I have a purity card in my wallet from one of those youth meetings where they talked about the gift of saving yourself for your husband. One of my friends framed hers and gave it to her husband as a wedding present.
      I remember meeting with a group of girls who were impressed with that to hold ourselves accountable. We thought we were being spiritual but really we were being competitive and policing ourselves.

      I think in Jewish tradition, virginity was important only until engagement. Then sexual contact was fine, common, or at least not worth stoning a girl over. The issue was making sure the bought commodity would only bear the child of the buyer like Ahab pointed out.

      Of course, a lot of the early church ‘fathers’ believed that sex was wrong inside of marriage too. Was it Augustine or Aquinas who said that the only good thing about intercourse was the possibility of bringing more virgins into the world? But judging by their writings, they not only despised sex but physical bodies, especially those of women.

      Mary Adelle, doesn’t it feel good to be past the guilt and be able to laugh at our past ideals? I wonder what I’ll be laughing about in another 10 years. I also read that book. Fabulous. I want my girls to read it, but not for another 12 years.

  5. The Wise Fool says:

    Well said!

  6. Lorena says:

    Amen, sister! I’m thankful for the make out sessions. I’m just sorry I didn’t enjoy them without guilt.

  7. Saw a bumper sticker “Chastity is its own punishment”
    Be careful about anal sex. That is where lawyers come from

  8. Sex is the one area that I think my religious upbringing warped me the most. My desires vs. what I believed was right was the cause of most of my guilt issues as a teen, and it has had lasting effects in my views on sexuality and my (lack of a) sex life.

  9. prairienymph says:

    Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. It is hard to reprogram.

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