Living Myths About Virginity
I notice that this page goes on quite a bit about people’s bodies and the physical act, but says nothing about emotional effects of sex or possible emotional ramifications of having sex.
It’s an interesting read, but I’m not sure I agree with all of its implications – there is some subtle virgin shaming going on here, suggesting that sex should be thought of as fun, so you should get right to it, and don’t worry about it.
I’m not saying people should fear sex or dread it or be legalistic about it, but, there are people who willfully choose to abstain from sexual activity, at least until they marry, due to personal or religious conviction, and I believe that should be respected.
(Link): Living Myths About Virginity
- Vacuums of reliable information and sexism in popular culture can have serious consequences for women’s health.
… Through interviews with historians, abstinence advocates, sex educators, and self-described virgins and non-virgins alike, Shechter learned she’s not the only one who had certain ideas about what sex is supposed to be like.
There are a number of pervasive and loaded myths about virginity: That having sex for the first time will be an irreversible transformation that changes your body and mind; that there’s a “right” way to lose your virginity, and how you lose it will affect the rest of your life; that it’s going to be the most pleasurable, magical feeling; that it’s going to be the most painful experience of their lives.
These myths persist in part because of a lack of information about what happens to the human body, specifically the hymen, during sex—information that’s often not taught in schools, that’s not always found online, and that’s not always available from medical providers.
“I’ve spoken to lots of women who are just terrified of having sex because they think it’s going to be this horrible pain and [they’ll] bleed gallons of blood,” says Shechter, whose documentary makes its broadcast premiere on February 8 on the Fusion Network and is airing in cities across the U.S. and internationally in coming months.
Abstinence-only education in U.S. schools isn’t to blame for creating these myths, but Shechter and Green say the programs, which have received more than $1.5 billion dollars and counting in federal funding since 1996 despite mounting research about their ineffectiveness, do create environments where this kind of misinformation thrives. (Even some schools with more comprehensive programs, Green notes, are guilty of getting the facts wrong, too.)
Abstinence-only education promotes marriage as the proper venue for sexual activity and the only prevention method for STDs and pregnancy—it doesn’t offer information about how, once someone becomes sexually active, to make sure sex isn’t painful or how to avoid the kind of bleeding Green talks about.
(Fewer than half of all women bleed during the first time they have sex; they can bleed a little or a lot, or not at all, and it can be painful or painless. There’s a range of experiences that vary from individual to individual and depend on factors like use of lubrication and levels of arousal.)
Reliable information is out there, but it doesn’t always find its way to young women (or men) who could benefit from it.
Kiki Zeldes, a senior editor of Our Bodies, Ourselves, the landmark book about women’s health and sexuality published by a Boston-based non-profit, says the Internet can often lead astray young women looking for answers.
While sites like Scarleteen, an independent sex-education website founded in 1998, are devoted to providing accurate, non-judgmental information to young people, Zeldes says she’s concerned by the number of Google search results and general information sites that describe the hymen as a tissue that completely covers the vaginal opening, one that tears and bleeds.
“There are a tremendous number of women who don’t understand how their bodies work and what happens when they are sexually active,” says Zeldes, who adds that “hymen” is the most-searched term on the book’s website. “There’s lots of information out there, but it’s more about reaching young women in formats that they will hear.”
Even the medical community contributes to that void. Most medical schools offer little education about the hymen, according to Virgin: The Untouched History author and historian Hanne Blank, and for relevant reasons: it’s medically uninteresting and very rarely poses health problems— it’s just tissue left over from sometime between the fifth and seventh months of fetal development, roughly.
“Your average gynecologist doesn’t know a whole lot [about the hymen],” Blank says. “From the medical perspective, we could fairly charitably say there’s a wide range of knowledge, and there’s a wide range of belief. Doctors are the same as everyone else. Unless an individual physician has taken efforts to educate themselves, chances are what they think they know about the hymen is more reflective of what’s around them.”
….Myths about virginity don’t exist solely because of misinformation about the hymen, however, and that’s because the concept of virginity existed long before the hymen was even identified.
First acknowledged in the 16th century by anatomist Andreas Vesalius, the hymen, historically speaking, is a relatively new discovery; social and cultural ideas about virginity, on the other hand, have been building on thousands and thousands of years of history.
For reference: Flip open a Bible to the Book of Deuteronomy, which declares that if “tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel … [then] the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.”
The exact origins of virginity are difficult to pinpoint, Blank says, because people have been talking about virginity for as long as we’ve had written records, and the earliest mentions of virginity suggest it was already an established concept.
(One popular explanation, called the K-Strategist Theory, suggests men used virginity to help determine paternity—a way to make sure the material resources they devoted to new or expectant mothers weren’t wasteful investments.)
Despite its long history, virginity has never had a precise definition.
Many associate the word with penile-vaginal intercourse between cisgender men and women, but that’s not the only way two people can be sexually active together, and that definition also excludes LGBTQ people. What constitutes the idea of purity, it turns out, is surprisingly messy.
Yet what’s allowed virginity to persist in spite of this, Blank says, is that virginity is a highly effective way of organizing women. Throughout history, virginity tests, like the “string test” (which “determined” virginity based on the relative size of your head and neck) Blank performs on Shechter in How to Lose Your Virginity, weren’t really concerned with science so much as they were concerned with control: However nebulous its definition, virginity easily sorts women into those who have had sex and those who haven’t, which, in societies that place value on a women’s purity, also helps determine their worth.
That value system—and the idea that a woman’s first sexual experience is this permanent, hymen-breaking change—is reinforced by the language used to talk about a woman’s first time,: She lost her virginity; he took her virginity; She gave it up to him; he popped her cherry; she was deflowered. “It’s kind of violent,” Green says in her video as she comically jabs a dildo into her home-made model of a hymen.
These words, she argues, don’t just further the idea that there’s a painful or bloody transformation, they also carry a lot of baggage about gender roles.
They characterize women as passive with something to lose, and men as the aggressors with something to gain; they suggest that men are the stewards of virginity—the same idea behind the “purity balls” that take place across the country today, where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers until husbands come along.
For evidence of just how strongly these ideas about virginity and sex are rooted in popular culture, Shechter points to the number of businesses that profit off them.
Genres of pornography fetishize virginity and frequently depict the moment innocent school girls are “corrupted.” Hymenoplasties, or controversial surgeries that “reconstruct” the hymen to induce bleeding during sex as proof of virginity, have become an established practice around the world (stories about the trend have appeared in Time magazine and The New York Times, which, it’s worth noting, called the hymen “the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse” in its reporting).
In her film, Shechter meets with a wedding dress vendor who markets a dress’s virginal qualities as a selling point.
…Because hymens vary greatly from person to person, they’re not reliable indicators of virginity—How to Lose Your Virginity even features a film clip from the 1940s saying as much—but the myth that looking at a hymen can reveal whether a woman has had sex can still discourage women from seeking medical care. “The biggest question we’re asked is, ‘Can a doctor or a boyfriend tell if I’ve had sex before?’ Zeldes says. “Many people think they can, so they’re scared to go to a gynecologist or a GYN exam because they’re scared, one, that it could make them not a virgin, and, two, someone would be able to tell.”
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Related posts this blog:
(Link): How the Sexual Revolution Ruined Friendship – Also: If Christians Truly Believed in Celibacy and Virginity, they would stop adhering to certain sexual and gender stereotypes that work against both
(Link): Weak Argument Against Celibacy / Virginity / Sexual Purity by the Anti Sexual Purity Gestapo – Sexual Compatibility or Incompatibility – (ie, Taking Human Beings For Test Spins – Humans As Sexual Commodities) (Part 2)
(Link): Problems Created by Conservative Christian Teachings About Virginity, Sex, and Marriage: Christian Couple Who Were Virgins At Marriage Are Experiencing Sexual Problems – Re: UnVeiled Wife (Marriage does not guarantee great sex)