Once Was, Virgins Had A Lot of Sex 

Daddy-Daughter Purity Ball

Daddy-Daughter Purity Ball

In its original meaning, virginity had nothing to do with sex.

Virgins were women who took ownership of themselves.

They were autonomous, complete and holding status in their own right — not bound to any man. So virgins could have a lot of sex, if they wanted to. 

But over time patriarchy took such hold that all women were “owned” by fathers or husbands. Then the meaning shifted to signify who controlled a woman’s sexuality.

It’s all highlighted in the contrast between female “purity balls” and male “integrity balls.”

In some American communities a young woman’s rite of passage trods thru a “purity ball” where she pledges chastity to their father until marriage.

But the young men don’t pledge chastity to their mothers until they wed. Instead, they vow to hold integrity. Because it’s just wrong to have sex with someone’s future wife, and damage his “property,” isn’t it?

The HuffingtonPost’s Alanna Vagianos pointed this out, along with a quote from author and historian, Hanne Blank who says women’s virginity is,

very much about real, palpable, tangible policing and control of bodies, specifically women’s bodies. You always have to ask the question when you see an apparatus of control like this: who is at the reins (who is doing the controlling) and who benefits from that control being done?

Probably not women. After all, the virginity-promoters are same folks also seek jurisdiction over a woman’s ability to use contraception or terminate a pregnancy. They think women should obey their husbands — as heads of home — too.

Hmmm, I like the idea of virgins being “women who own themselves” a lot better.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 6, 2014, in feminism, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. I just think this is all so sad! Sex is just a normal, though very awesome, part of life. Trying to control young women’s bodies and normal, healthy feelings is horrible. Seeing women as ‘property’ men should have the ‘integrity’ not to ‘damage’ is so messed up!

  2. I took a purity pledge at my church when I was a teenager and was given a purity ring (though I will say that my church taught purity and gave purity rings to boys as well). Oddly enough, it was at my mother’s insistence since my father is not religious. While I can say that my experience was less one-sided as far as gender goes, and my church preached more about the benefits of “saving it for marriage” as opposed to shaming pre-marital sex, I do wish that I was either given more guidance or that i had not taken the pledge at all. When I became involved in my first very serious relationship (to the man I eventually married), my purity pledge caused a lot of anxiety and guilt. No one had sat me down and explained to me that my feelings were normal; I just thought they were sinful. My partner was not religious and several years older than me, and there were many times when my purity pledge came between us and we almost broke up. Not because he couldn’t respect my boundaries or because he was pressuring me, but because I did not have the understanding or tools needed to deal with my feelings in a healthy manner. I had no mentors and I was much too embarrassed to talk to anyone; I felt like I had been given this purity ring and then thrown to the sharks. It took me a really long time to sort myself out and develop a healthy attitude about sex. I gave my purity ring back to my father at my wedding (to make my mom happy; truly I didn’t want the purity ring ceremony at my wedding because of all the grief it caused) and I was happy to be rid of it. My husband and i have now been married nearly seven years and we don’t have kids, but if we do, I will not push a purity pledge on them. I will teach them that sex is best reserved for long term, committed relationships with someone you love and trust, but I would never want them to feel as though they are damaged goods or dirty sinners if they do happen to have sex before marriage.

  3. I consider myself more a virgin now than when I actually was “physically” – a woman whole unto myself and getting there took a lot of hard work. Like you mention above, “Virgin” is just one more empowering term that got misappropriated by the patriarchy and distorted to take ownership of women. To my understanding, marriage was also created for that purpose too– not to say I am opposed to marriage, because I plan on getting married, but interesting to know the origins.

    • Yeah, I will be writing on this more later. But in ancient societies, anyway, having sex with whomever you wanted seem to give women a lot of power — which came not so much from merely having sexual freedom as not knowing his daddy is is.

      • True. But, we also know that there were lots of harems.

        Most, if not all, of the central figures of the Bible (especially the Hebrew Bible) had multiples wives and concubines. King Solomon had several hundred wives and concubines.

        Question(s): Harems. Were women forced into harems say during Biblical/Ancient times? Or was this also patriarchy at work? Or were women OK with it?

        So, were they really having sex with whomever they wanted ? Perhaps they were OK being a member of a harem or a concubine?

        “…..as not knowing his daddy is is.”

        Hence under Judaism descent is passed via the female line. Matriarchal.

      • This meaning of “virgin” comes at the beginnings of patriarchy in northern Europe — Britain. Possibly also German and Nordic. The Northern Europeans came to patriarchy/a strong form of patriarchy later than the Semites (the group you are describing, who were deeply into patriarchy during the time you are referencing). And the Semitic influence — as Judaism spawned Christianity which invaded the north — may have influenced this English word.

  4. I like this little article it makes a good point. And that quote “They were autonomous, complete and holding status in their own right — not bound to any man. So virgins could have a lot of sex, if they wanted to.” That left me like wow heeh.. made me think a little too. It’s crazy how men want to control when women should have their first intercourse which is until marriage. I use to think that way when I was younger that I would save it until marriage. But then I gave it a good thought Was I staying virgin for myself or because of what expected of me? It turns out I was doing it because my religion and my parents instead of doing it for me. As I grew older I desired to experience it and after my first experience I felt guilty. I felt like I disappointed my parents and I failed my religion. And I couldn’t talk openly to my mother because She will think that I’m a whore or something. And I went to school and through society I learned that sex is part of nature its a way to explore what you like and what men like also. I turned out to be okay but I never talked to my mother about my experiences. Now That I live with my Aunt she made me realize that communication with mother and Daughter is important no matter that it is the daughter has to talk about the mother should always hear her daughter out even if it is a talk about sex.

  5. Stephanie Masina

    This is half right and half wrong. I believe everyone as a one should be able to do what they please with there bodies. If some decides to go out and do what they please with it then so be it. But putting us females in a catagory of judgment upon weather or not we keep our “virginity” is stupid and down right rude. Okay so makes can go out and have sex while females get called certain names if they go out and have sex with multiple men … Dumb !

  6. Is Virginity a stage to be overcome?.. I bet it must be related with the hero’s journey in epic tales and old myths, I would probably link it with a initiatory ceremony, the same way Bar Mitzvah in Jewish religion culturally means for a boy to become a man.
    One thing is sure though… Virginity is an epic threshold, that’s why you need to take your magic shield with you when you are decided upon someone to be the chosen one to conquer your virgin lands!.
    Best wishes, Georgia!, Aquileana 😛

  7. Agree…
    On a further note:This is what I was referring to above (threshold, the Hero’s Journey, according to Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”).
    Cheers!, Aquileana ♠

  8. I can give credit to this idea of praising women virginity as limiting them and That women should be free to have sex with who they want, when they desire to do so . However, I think we need to consider that back then parents were also concern with this idea of protecting their family and their daughters honor too. Nowadays were the concept is less important So many girls lose their virginity not always understanding the difference between love and sexuality, leading a confusion when men don’t always feel their need of commitment ,having taken their virginity or not . My point is, even though we can easily said that this idea of “pure” is just another way to control women ,we should also said that if more parents educate their children this way(understand that virginity is important since it is not taken back) ,we might have less of those young girls traumatize with a early sexual contact , or less of broken heart or irresponsible fathers.

  9. A close friend of mine and I were talking about the importance of virginity and the great significance placed on it in relationships today. He had a very specific idea of what it meant to be a virgin and said he greatly disliked when people referred to themselves as virgins when they had some sexual experience. It’s crazy to see what importance people still place on being a virgin and what strict standards one must keep to hold that title. People, including my friend, all seem to hold this image of women as pure delicate creatures that will be ruined by sex, even today. It seems like such an outdated value, but so many people still feel that way.

  10. Marilyn Jauregui

    Growing up I was always taught that having sex before marriage made you a slut or a whore. My father was brought up as a christian and my mother was brought up as a catholic but converted to a christian once she married my father. Both of these religions follow the idea of sex until marriage. I was brought up as a christian my whole life until i hit the age of 17 and branched off. I realized then that Christianity does not glorify women as highly as they glorify men. The whole concept of virginity is tied into religion to keep a male dominated society, in my opinion. It teaches women and makes them feel like having sex with more than one person is frowned upon.

    • That’s probably true today. But not with pagan religions. I actually discovered this fact when reading some mythology from the British Isles and the author had to explain that to these people “virgin” referred to women who had autonomy over themselves (the story didn’t make sense otherwise). So I did a little extra research, and it was pretty interesting.

  11. this is very interesting and deep topic. It might be complicated!

  12. It is really cool to hear the real meaning of virgin and how over time it changed into what it is today. Even though I believe that any woman can have sex with whoever I believe that it should be something that isn’t given to just anyone. Especially for your first time. Many people might disagree with that but its what i strongly believe in. A lot of people say sex is just sex, well if that was true how come you dont fuck everyone.

  13. The purity ball is a good example of the double standard in our patriarchal society today. I think it’s degrading for a young woman to make a pledge to wait to have sex until one is married and the same standard is not set for young men in their respective communities. The image of virginity being tied to that of a woman is something that becomes detrimental to the women in our society. I grew up in a catholic household, thus our family worshiped La Virgin Maria, Jesus’s mother who become impregnated the Holy Spirit. Thus much of my celibacy was towards respecting my religion but more so my parents. Being the obedient daughter I was, I refrained from any type of involvement with boys. This was mainly due to the idea that my religion looked down upon pre-marital relationships but more so that mother saw women who had pre-martial sex or more than one sexual partner as a whore. I also believed that if I had sex before marriage, no one would ever marry me. As an adult, this idea was degrading especially since my mother did not feel that my brothers did not have to wait until marriage to have sex. Eventually, I had sexual partners before I was married and I have not regrets, especially since I did not marry the first person I had sex with. Was their guilt? Yes. I always felt the pressure of religion but more of letting my parents down. On the flip side, this guilt helped me set healthy boundaries with potential sexual partners. Or could I have tried to save myself from being labeled a whore? I strongly believe that our patriarchal society has changed the meaning of what it is to be a virgin. The word virginity is tied to the image of a woman. If we begin to make a conscious effort to raise young women and young men equally, we can begin creating a society where both genders take ‘ownership of themselves’.

  14. I doubt the correctness of this post, which posits a long history for the modern English word “virgin” which simply did not exist at the times being discussed here, because modern English was not being spoken at all!

    I also think it unsupportable to describe Judaism as “spawning” Christianity and being in any sense responsible for Christian sexual mores, which of course differ greatly from those of both ancient and modern Judaism. In fact, early Christian propaganda often depicted Jewish communities as women precisely because of differences in how gender was conceptualised. To blame Christian sexism on whatever Jewish roots Christianity is supposed to have (which I would argue are far fewer than many Christians like to believe) is to invert a centuries-long power imbalance where Jews were oppressed and killed by Christians, during which a major axis of oppression was precisely due to Jewish women being relatively empowered and Jewish men considered “feminine” and weak for failing to adequately oppress “their” women.

    Note, for example, that this very comment about “Semitic” patriarchy was made in response to an observation that Judaism is matrilineal!

    The idea that Northern European (white) culture was sullied by “Semitic” influences is an old one, although not one usually employed by feminists for obvious reasons. I am surprised and disappointed to see it here. Christianity surely played a huge part in the support and expansion of patriarchal structures, but it is incorrect to blame Christian sexism on Jews.

    • On one point you are wrong. On another point you are both right and wrong.

      Here’s where you are right and wrong:

      Whatever exact word was used in the British Isles (which we now translate to “virgin”) later became the word we use for “virgin.” Every single source I’ve looked at says that “the word we now use for virgin” (they just say “virgin”) indicated a woman who had ownership of herself. I haven’t done enough research to know whether there was once an even older word that was overtaken by the word virgin. But according to all of the sources I’ve seen, the word “virgin” was once used to mean “a woman with control over herself.”

      And: “Virgin” is an English word. Originally “virgo” in Latin. Then “virgine” in Old French. And then “virgin” in Middle English (and today’s English).

      So it would be more accurate to say that the British Isles myths use a word, which in today’s English would be “virgin.”

      So whatever the letter of the law, the spirit of the law remains.

      And it’s incredibly empowering to women, and important in that way.

      Since it was in the comments section, and hardly anyone reads it, I wrote in a way that would be easy to understand — instead of the confusing verbiage above. If this point has been made in the post I would’ve been more careful and exact about the wording. I didn’t expect anyone would assume I was saying that “virgin” was an old English word.

      Otherwise, Judaism did spawn Christianity. Jesus was a Jew. So was Paul. Early Christians did not see themselves as a separate tradition from Judaism. And this is a point often made to quell anti-semitism.

      When this Christian sect of Judaism (as they saw themselves early on) decided to convert peoples, there were big arguments about whether to sustain Kosher laws and whether adult men needed to be circumcised. Also, during that time Christ lived women were stoned for having sex outside of marriage, which Jesus seems not to have liked, saying, “You who have not sinned cast the first stone.” Whatever was going on in Northern Europe at the time this was happening, women were not stoned for having sex outside of marriage.

      I brought this up because said commentor started talking about something that had occurred in Israel, and I was talking about something going on up in the British Isles. I was trying to point out that they were two different places and two different cultures.

      This history makes neither group better than the other. Each has positive and negative points, and which is which will be seen differently by different people.

      The most important thing is that it is very empowering for girls and women to understand that at one time, and in one place, virgins could have sex.

  15. Broadblogs: You are right that the very earliest followers of Jesus (if he existed at all) would have been Jews. That movement, which would have created the Q document (if it existed at all), and would have been following a kind of social justice religious charismatic, were not anything like a separate religion.

    But by the time Paul takes over, and certainly by the time Christianity becomes a religion in its own right, they have separated themselves — deliberately — from any sort of Judaism.

    “Virgin,” btw, comes into English with the William the Conqueror and the Norman Invasion, around 1200 A.D.

    • I’m afraid you have the Christian history a bit wrong.

      The early Christians saw themselves as Jews, which is why they had a debate as to whether they needed to continue doing the kosher laws and circumcising adult men — the latter of which was dangerous, and so there was concern about doing it. Paul was part of that debate.

      It was finally agreed that since Christ had come, they no longer needed to continue those laws. And that may be the point when they come see themselves as a new tradition.

      So Judaism definitely spawned Christianity.

      Plus, the Christian Bible contains the Hebrew Bible, and makes many references to it.

      You’ll notice that I edited your post because I will not post hateful things on my blog. And because you seem to have a hateful perspective I won’t be posting anything else by you — or anything else that sounds like it was written by you with another name — on my blog.

      By the way, the hatefulness does 2 things:

      1) Discredits your argument

      2) Strengthens my earlier suspicion that the other commenter — and now you working in tandem — are antifeminists — hoping to take the air out of an idea that is empowering to girls and women.

      Because haters hate: women, feminists, people of any ethnicity other than their own, and most especially, justice and equality.

  16. Once was, Virgins Had A Lot of Sex
    Virginity means that you wait until marriage…
    Virginity meant just what it said back in the days of old. Little girl were taught to save themselves until marriage, that was every fathers and mothers dreams for their little girl. Virginity means that the women were and is in control of her own body no matter. Women back in the days wore chastity belts to make sure that they would save themselves only for marriage and for their husband. Virginity is so one sided when it comes to boys and girls. When a young man discovers his sexual need, it is said that he need to go and sow his oaks (go have sex). When a young girl discovers her sexual need they are told to keep you legs cross (no sex until marriage). Young men are never told to save themselves for marriage, just make sure you don’t get that girl pregnant. And young girls are told if you get pregnant don’t bring that baby home. Marriage is honorable in Gods site. If women should be (virgin) and save their bodies for them husband, the young man should have the same rules for marriage. I feel that if the girl makes a promise or vow their parents to wait until marriage to have sex the same rules should apply to the boys. “Virginity is not just for women”

  17. This post was very interesting. I never thought back in the old days that women were allowed to keep track of their own purity. From all the history that I have encountered in my life, I have never seen it where the woman has control over that. I understand fathers and husbands wanting their daughters and wives to be pure but if men learned to control their urges to have sex with women till they were married then it would be a lot easier. I am not saying that women do not have the urges and want to have sex before they see fit but I have several friends that only had sex with their partners before marriage because they felt if they did not have sex with them that their partners would leave them. In history, a woman was shunned if they were not seen as pure but in reality if they had control over what was happening with them then they could have a lot of sex until men wanted to control everything that a woman does.

  18. It’s’ disappointing how something that once meant empowerment is now deprivation. I never knew that virginity once meant owning yourself. Your sexuality your individuality. Virginity for me since I was a little girl meant something that you protect. It wasn’t to be touched because without it you where someone else. No one said what you were after it was “gone” I was only told that I couldn’t go there. I din’t take a purity pledge yet i felt that I was in a way, obligated to follow certain rules. Once the time came I felt that I had done something wrong, I felt guilty and that dirty. Once my mom asked(i don’t lie) I told her the truth hoping that she would ask how I felt. The first thing she asked was if I knew that if i was going to marry him. The way that she told me everything thing made me feel that I was to rightfully be punished. now that I’m older and somewhat understand better than i did before, I know that it’s ok if you want. This topic just makes me fell happy that women were once in control of themselves.

  19. Mariela Rodriguez

    I find it interesting how once Virginity was not such a big deal and women were not up posed to save themselves for one man and have sex with only that man. I like the Idea that Woman owned themselves and were free to do as they wanted with their body. I believe this is how it should be women do not need to save themselves to one man and be owned by one and save themselves until marriage.
    I had never heard of a purity ball or integrity ball before this is interesting but I also find this a little bit incomodating. I don’t think its peoples business to know if one is a virgin or not and I find it wrong for people to celebrate this and share with a bunch of other people. Is the purity ball something like a “Quinceñera” ? I’m from Mexico and we have this ball when they “Girl “becomes a “Woman” at 15 and we do a big party to celebrate. This is a big tradition and it sounds like it might be something like the purity ball.

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