Virginity: Double Binds & Double Standards

Lost your virginity?

Lost your virginity?

By Sabrina Szpetkowski 

A close friend called me one morning, crying and asking me to come to her house.

When I got there I found her crumpled up on her bed. She told me that she had lost her virginity to her boyfriend the night before and she felt disgusting. She worried that if they ever broke up she wouldn’t be able to find someone else who would want to be with her because she wasn’t a virgin.

Obviously, I told her that she was absolutely not impure. Or anything along those lines.

After we talked, she felt better. But it’s scary to think that there are girls who will believe that once they have sex they are dirty.

The experience reminded me of something Jessica Valenti said in “The Cult of Virginity”:

My sexuality has been defined by that one moment when my virginity was lost. It meant that I was no longer discriminating, no longer “good.”

When her mom found a condom wrapper in her bag she said that if she kept having sex no one would marry her.

But a guy’s status soars to “very, very good, indeed”?!

Yet, virginity has no clear definition. I had never thought about that before reading Valenti’s article.

“What is virginity?” I wondered…

I suppose most people think that intercourse is the deciding factor. But does that mean that gays and lesbians can’t lose theirs?

What is virginity?

What is virginity?

The fact that virginity has so much power over our lives is very strange considering that there is no clear definition.

The more I thought about it, the stranger is seemed that this now-seemingly imaginary label had guided how I had approached relationships and looked at people for so long.

And then there’s the double bind: nowadays it seems most women feel caught between being a slut or a prude.

I have been called both, interestingly enough.

It’s an impossible situation. At some point I simply stopped caring what everyone else thought. But it was a very tough time for me. And I didn’t even have it as bad as some girls.

Double standards and double binds seem to revolve around giving men freedom and power and taking women’s away.

Men are free to do as they will. Women had better watch themselves.

Girls should be the symbol of innocence and purity — but not too much. Boys should be powerful and take what they want.

I believe that women need to take power and control over their sexuality, once and for all.

This was written by one of my students who gave me permission to post it on my blog.

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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 July 10, 2015, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 75 Comments.

  1. I can definitely understand why your friend felt that way. Growing up in an asian household, we were always told to not have sex before marriage. My mom or sometimes even my dad would give these painfully awkward analogies of how a flower will become ‘unpure’ after sex and will be the only one who is negatively impacted, whether it is the boyfriend leaving or unplanned pregnancy. Talking to my other friends, who are also asian, about virginity is always so interesting because there are a few who believe in waiting for marriage and the other who think sex is natural in a relationship after a time. It’s kind of crazy how something like virginity has so much control over a person, when the definition of it is so broad.

  2. In response to the “Is it the hymen breaking?” question:

  3. Brittney Putman

    This blog really spoke to me, as I have faced the double standard girls must deal with and I also have been caught in the limbo between a prude and a slut. Our society has created the symbol of sex as an act of rebellion and promiscuity for the female gender. Losing ones virginity has been made out to be the big “V Card”, where young girls imagine losing their virginity to the only boy they will date with candles and all the works. However, this is not reality. In our generation the dating world has changed, where casual sex has become a normal phenomenon. While I don’t necessarily agree with our generations way of dating, it is the truth that we take the subject of sex very casually. While yes, losing ones virginity is a life changing experience, it should not be held in this high pristine, where girls feel dirty, unwanted, and un-pure due to losing their virginity. If men are allowed to celebrate sexual desires and maturity, shouldn’t women as well? Instead, losing ones virginity, in the right situation, should be a positive thing, as in reality we all are sexual beings. Girls should realize that losing their virginity is their choice and only they own that moment. This blog post also reminded me of the religious practices used all over the world that include circumcision. This is the process of cutting a young girls private parts in order to tame her sexual desires and keep her pure for her future husband. This “practice” goes against everything I have just stated, as women’s rights and choices are taken away by men who fear women’s sexuality. This act is very disturbing to me and goes along with the double standard this blog speaks of. I am just glad our society does not practice these horrible surgeries.

  4. I definitely enjoyed when you brought homosexuality into the equation because I’ve never thought about it in that way. Is losing virginity based on breaking a hymen, or simply an act of entering sexual intercourse?

    This topic was a throwback to my past decision of ultimately losing my V-Card to a guy I got into a relationship two days before.

    After telling it to my friends, I was immediately indirectly labeled as a slut or an ‘easy’ girl, both demeaning value or the self-worth I had ownership to. The question would always appear to be: “how can you give yourself away so easily?”

    After rolling my eyes, I would simply go over this outline.

    First off, my value is not correlated with my sexuality. I am still a good and pure person because I pick up trash that’s not mine when I see it on the floor. I pay my taxes and don’t steal. I donate to charity on a regular basis. I help out those who need help, even when they don’t ask for it. I do good, when it doesn’t necessarily reward me. In my perspective, my value is correlated with the ‘good’ I have in my actions and intentions. In a moral sense, I am ‘good’ (and still improving to be) person, and that itself defines my worth and value. To have my personal identity impacted by a small hobby like intercourse is demeaning because that does not correlate with my moral character at all. Intercourse is a sexual activity, like any other activity. There’s more value to it because it has a personal touch to it; but, nonetheless, it’s an activity separate from moral character. It’s like correlating your personal worth and value towards bowling, sky-diving, and other sports like that.

    Second off, because I saw that intercourse did not add or subtract my self-worth, I had the opportunity to partake in an activity I actively enjoy: sex. But, because I knew the weight that society has placed on a single hymen would be detrimental to my reputation, I had to be wise with my choice of guy too. The man I selected was a guy who I knew as a friend before–quiet, moral, and giving. A typical nice-guy who definitely was not the type to flaunt the ownership of my v-card (I owned his too). My rationality was to give it to a nice guy who kept it quiet, rather than risking it to another guy who didn’t (assuming our relationship might have an ending).

    When the chance was there, I took it, and boy did I enjoy it.

    I got to do what I discovered I loved to do, and that itself felt liberating.

    To be very honest, I hated my V-Card because of how heavy it was. Guys flaunt it to claim ownership of our own dignity, and I was afraid of losing it to someone who would. Once I was free of the V-Card weight; I wasn’t afraid of embracing my sexuality out-loud.

    Sex should be an enjoyment of each other’s company, not an indication of moral character.

    And, because we both acknowledge that, my boyfriend and I can mutually enjoy each other’s company for already six months and continuing. We both like each other, and we’re not afraid to embrace it through sex.

  5. Such a good point -w hat is virginity anyways? Is it the hymen breaking? The first time? or it just a made up concept that we’ve put so much weight on. I like the idea that a virgin is a woman whole unto herself, in which case I hope to stay one forever.

  6. This is one of the best opinion articles I have ever read. I am so glad that I came across it, especially at this point in my life.
    The double standards regarding sexuality and gender are very real. Women are supposed to be sexy but they are not supposed to have sex. Men are expected to have a lot of sex but if they express their desires they are perverts.
    An intersectional approach to this topic takes the oppression one step further. Growing up, I have always dealt with culture conflict. I am Mexican-American. My Mexican culture is very conservative while my American side, influenced by my friends, American TV, and media, is very liberal and kind of carefree.
    Sex has been a very open topic with my mother and I who is also Mexican-American. However, she has always told me that I am to only engage in intercourse with someone who I am deeply in love with. Sex is not to be done with just anyone because that would “look bad.”
    So you can image my surprise when all my girlfriends began having sex with their high school boyfriends. It was wrong in my mind. Why are they having sex with someone they don’t love? The more sex they had the less I though them.
    Today, after developing my own ideas on sex, (with the help of a few sexuality classes), I realize how brainwashed I was. I was so blinded by my Catholic Sunday school teachers, my mother, and my grandmother. But I now realize that sex does not define nor does it change me. I am who I am regardless of my sex life.
    I should also point out that this idea of not engaging in sexual intercourse is still being drilled into my brain. I now choose to listen but not take it to heart. My brother who is eighteen was recently caught by 8 year old brother, naked with his girlfriend. My family’s response: “Why didn’t you lock the door?” I can’t bet my life that if my brother had walked in on me and my boyfriend I would be asked a lot more questions than that and lectured a lot more. Hell, I bet I’d even be kicked out of my house.

  7. Claudia Robinson

    I truly agree with your post and enjoyed reading it. Double standards exist everywhere but there are so many when it comes to women and men. Men are congratulated and even encouraged when they lose their virginity. They are made fun of the longer that they are sexually inactive. On the other spectrum, women are chastised for losing their virginities and are expected to be responsible, since they can get pregnant. In many cultures, women are supposed to keep their virginities until they are married and then lose it to their husband and only their husband. Women are criminalized if they commit adultery and are even shunned from certain communities, whereas, men are encouraged to have multiple wives. Another example is how men are encouraged to fight if they are picked on. On the other hand, if a woman fights then she is deemed dirty and that she is too “manly”. There are many double standards that exist and that women constantly have to face. Society needs to realize that these standards are outdated and that women need to start being perceived both legally and mentally as equal.

  8. Losing your virginity before marriage is still a taboo in INDIA. Though there is a change as compared to the earlier times, but still a girl is looked upon as wrong if she is not a virgin. One interesting thing, I would like to share, in a fewer cases, after marriage, a date is finalised by astrologer for first night to lose virginity. Strange, but true

  9. virginity is based on our psychology ! If a girl is ready to give her virginity/sex ,then every single man (whether he is married or unmarried,is all time ready to take her,& that is the thing of extreme pleasure for him) .But what if a girl from his own family does that with other, then U also know how he reacts. All time, mens are ready to have sex with others wives But they cant even imagine that what if their own wife is with other man.
    Ya virginity is a physical proof stating whether U had intercourse before OR not,though it has also some limitations.If you are a virgin, then man feels safe & he can easily avoid the thought that -though the girl is virgin but she might have 1 or more relations, mentally, as well as physically up to some extent, with others.But if she is not virgin & she already told you the truth that she had relationship with 1 guy only even that was accidental,though the man will always be doubtful about her past.And if someone knows that a girl has physical relationship with more than 1 person,then he thinks that he also can have relation with her.
    So honesty is most important again,no matter U R virgin OR not ,if UR partner is comfortable with that,then no problem.. but you must tell him/her about your past..because if he/she got to know about U from other outside sources,then it means U betrayed him/her,then U R worth slut whether U R a woman OR man…

    • I’m still confused. What is virginity? Do you think that gays and lesbians can lose their virginity? And I’m unclear on how you feel about the double standard.

      • yes, virginity is actually biological term but we always take that as psychological ..yes as U mentioned, in past years as well as still in some tribes ,its(virginity) meaning & value is totally different ..yes people always judge U on virginity whether U R male or female..their judgement depends on their socially environments & beliefs/experiences ,and thats also acceptable..gays & lesbians definitely can lose their virginity.. I believe that everyone must be treated as same at least socially & mentally..but though its very very difficult & nearly impossible to overcome the beliefs that comes to U by UR social environment..again I am saying “What is virginity?”, the answer is different from every person..because it depends on persons thinking..

      • Well Jessica Valente researched a medical library for a definition of virginity, And there was no clear definition. So it’s not actually biological. The fact that different people have different ideas of what it means is part of the reason for that — why it doesn’t have a biological definition.

        I don’t think it’s acceptable for people to judge each other on virginity — whatever it means. It’s so hurtful and it represses women’s sexuality. Nearly half of the American women experience sexual dysfunction and the judgment is part of the reason for that.

        Repression: Not What You Think It Is
        https://broadblogs.com/2014/10/27/repression-not-what-you-think-it-is/

  10. This notion of putting too much importance on virginity and holding the concept of losing the same before marriage as something impure is much prevailed in our society. To many people, women who lose their so-called sanctity before marriage are sluts. The thing that surprises me is, no such concept is there for males…what mockery!

  11. It seems to me that part of what it means to be human is have moral standards….and part of being human with one’s head on straight is to develop moral standards freely and seriously arrived at, rather than dictated by religious agendas or cultural expectations. Easier said than done, no doubt, but all the more valuable to one’s sense of self-knowledge and worth.

    Just as an aside, the subject of morals dictated by religion always reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s definition of Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.

  12. It’s alarming to see these double standards and the more you learn about them, the better you become at spotting them throughout your daily life.
    Take the idea that girls(and in turn women) should be the symbol of innocence and purity. When you put this into the workplace you start seeing the slights perpetrated against some women for their aggressive actions while their male counterparts get approval for their aggressive ways. It plays into our cultural idea that women should be innocent and not be angry or demanding but can ruin a company because you’re paying people to work for you but you don’t allow them to be fully invested in the company.
    I think this type of expression in our sexual lives carries a broader impact across our entire spectrum of living, if a woman cannot be herself and is in fact discouraged from discovering herself through sexual liberation but a man is elevated among his peers for doing so, what message does that send? I would love to see where all of this shaming comes from. I know we live in a patriarchal society but it seems to me that the majority of batons tend to be wielded by other women instead of men. I just can’t understand why they choose to do so.

  13. Alexis Gulcher

    Virginity really is a social construct. Why does it even exist? It only exists if you want it to–and for women it’s unfortunate because the concept of virginity holds such a high power over them. For men? It’s like a tick they’re just itching to get rid of. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it has always been taught, especially in my household. From my experiences growing up, this double standard has been the bane of my existence. While my three brothers ran around having as much sex as they pleased, my mother spent hours explaining to me that if I had sex before marriage I’d go to hell and no man would want me. Did she ever have this conversation with my brothers? You can imagine.

    It’s just very disgusting to me because the only reason something like this exists is because someone a long time ago created this concept as just another way to control and have more power over women. In my high school I remember these group of guys who specifically sought out to “take” as many girls’ virginities as they could find. They’d date them, have sex, and then leave. It was disgusting! But they still got away with it.

    However I also know many girls who love the concept of virginity, and ultimately I’m happy for them. That’s the nice thing about feminism, if you want to be a proud virgin and wait until marriage, good for you. If you want to have lots of sex and never even get married (a shocking thought I know!) then good for you as well. The only issue is when girls start to shame other girls for doing what they will with their own bodies.

    As for men, their opinions are irrelevant anyway haha.

    • “I remember these group of guys who specifically sought out to “take” as many girls’ virginities as they could find. They’d date them, have sex, and then leave. It was disgusting! But they still got away with it.”

      Isn’t it ironic? The d bags guys who break girls hearts, one’s the most vulnerable and who are virgins. but they are the ones getting sex and not having a problem with it in highschool, probalby because they were popular jocks? Yet the socially, akward, quite, geeky dudes who want sex too, but would like a girlfiend and are romantic, etc, they remain virgins in highschool? Girls paying attention and rewarding the wrong guys, yet ignoring the ones who’d more likely appreciate the girls and treat them better, but these guy’s are pretty much ignored.

  14. I would like to give a round of applause to your student who wrote this. Virginity is an abstract concept which has no clear boundaries and vary from person to person. I’ve known of people who have thought that only penetration meant the loss of virginity and purity. I remember one Christian guy from my early 20s who once told me he had done everything under the sun, even participated in threesomes and placed footage of himself with women online, but without intercourse. He still felt he was pure and virginal.

    In my time off from blogging, I did a lot of reading of other blogs and articles, written by both men and women where this topic has come up quite a bit. It seems that in our society, men are given a free pass to do as they please, and the response I heard to that is that it’s more difficult for men to get laid. All women have to do is show up. I guess that is supposed to be their excuse for the double standard.

    I also remember the days of blurry lines between being a prude and a slut. Then I got to a point where I realized that no one gets to define the rules of my sexuality except me. No matter what you do in this life, there’s always going to be someone to judge you. You’ll never be a saint in the eyes of someone. Might as well live your life according to your own standards and forget what everyone else has to say.

  15. Growing up I was taught and understood women and their choices in regards to virginity was always a respectful moment in her life and seen as a choice she makes to empower herself. Let that be sexually, spiritually or mentally. There was no change to her after she chose that moment to lose it – or actually give herself to a moment of appreciation. Nothing is actually lost. The physical action has taken place and some biological things have changed but she hasn’t. In no way does she become dirty or unwanted after that point because she made a choice at a point in her life in which she thought she was ready to be appreciated and ready to give a form of love or affection. There is no and should be no difference between one who is and is not a virgin. They both made choices to be who they are sexually. Looking into an example of the negative impact of losing one’s virginity in a recent show a single mom on the show “The Bachelor” was very jealous of another contestant’s virgin status because clearly it was the way to win the man’s heart. That common attitude, that a man is responsible for taking a woman’s virginity in some cultures–leads to the idea that a woman can be transformed from being pure to being dirty through the action of sex.

  16. My family has never been religious so I was never taught that sex before marriage was wrong. It was always about being protected and careful if it were to happen. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that girls my age often felt ashamed for what they had done with a boy. It was especially worse when they were not in a relationship. When one of my friends had done something sexual with a boy, she was ridiculed and called horrible names while the boy was congratulated on his “success”. I find that absolutely ridiculous when both parties has done the exact same thing, but one feels ashamed while the other feels confident. Women should also be feeling confident about their sexuality. This is something that needs to be addressed. It is not only men that are doing the name calling but also women. We need to start respecting each other, so men can start respecting us.

  17. It also saddens me how many girls believe that their “virginity” defines who they are as a person. Girls who are said to be virgins think that they are special, and even better than girls who aren’t virgins. I remember being in high school and one of my friends announcing with pride that she was still a virgin and not “a slut like all the other girls”. So, whatever virginity means to everyone, most girls I grew up around believe that it is something so precious they need to hold on to for as long as possible. This leads to girls who aren’t virgins anymore feeling like the girl from this post: like damaged goods.
    Then there’s the question of what virginity even means. I have heard a variation of definitions for the word, but most of them unconsciously only include cisgender straight women, and no one else. This is because it is generally believed that a person loses their virginity when there’s penile-vaginal penetration. Like this post asks, does that mean that gay men, even straight men, don’t have a virginity to lose? Even if the answer was no, society surely only manages to make women feel bad about it. This post is a great example of it.

  18. I completely agree that women should take control over their sexuality as you said. Everyone should have the freedom to express their sexuality however they please and should not be inhibited by the stigmas society surrounding virginity. Regrettably, I think most people, at some point in their lives, feel ashamed by their sexual status. I know I did.

    I went to an all girls Catholic high school. I myself am an atheist and my family is not particularly religious, but all of the friends I made in school are Catholic. The Catholic Church, as you may or may not know, deifies “pure” women (i.e. the Virgin Mary) and condemns women that lose their virginity before marriage. My friends were taught that sex was not only physically damaging, but spiritually damaging as well.

    In college it could not have been more different. All of a sudden I found myself ashamed by my status as a virgin. I was not ready to lose my virginity when I was a freshman and like your friend I felt dirty not mature and cool like I thought I would feel. I wasn’t emotionally mature enough and I let myself get pressured into sex in order to avoid being labeled as a “prude.”

    I believe that it is imperative that women decide for themselves when they are ready to have sex without being influenced by society or religion. Some women truly are ready to have sex when they are in high school and others are not ready until well into their twenties. Being “ready” means wanting to have sex because you want to have sex, not because others want you to have sex. It also means having a partner that you trust and respect (I don’t think love is necessary, but it helps) and understanding and preparing for the consequences that sex can have.

    I disagree, however, that men are not affected by similar stigmas. No they do not get labeled as “sluts” for having sex, but they are humiliated by other men and occasionally by women for being virgins. They are called “weak” or “pussy” or even “gay.” Like women, men are not always ready for sex when society says they should be, so they can also feel pressured to have sex before they’re ready. In addition, many members of the LGBTQ community do not understand or embrace their sexuality until later in life, so being pressured in this way is confusing and diminishing. I think people of any gender can be affected by the stigmas surrounding the label of “virgin.” Sexual oppression is ubiquitous and not limited to women alone.

    • The main difference is that men at least have a choice that society approves of — even if they don’t want to take it. With women it’s very hard to find an acceptable choice at all.

      • True there’s a choice, but it can feel like it’s not a choice for many men. Women are caught in a catch 22, I get what you’re saying. They can’t have a lot of sex or else they are sluts, they can’t be withdrawn from sex or else seen as a prude so less or little wiggle room as far as what is acceptable. And women don’t even have to have sex, but dress certain ways and still be called sluts. But sometimes for a man, he wouldn’t like being caught in a catch 22 like women, but sometimes if a man is failing, he’d rather have that as he’d atleast have an excuse for failure. The problem is if a man is a virgin not because he isn’t ready and didn’t want to make that choice when the choice is there. Well that’s one thing. It’s another thing for men who are socially akward which there are many and ironically, sometimes belong very, very intelligent men. Men who can otherwise figure complex math and sciences, but can’t figure how to talk to women without stumbling and bumbling.

        Well these guy’s made the choice and have the choice, but only makes it even more frustrating and depressing for them to still either not approach women or fail at it or overlooked, thus being virgins while other guys are having sex or a lot. That’s not salt to the wound, but a big huge dump truck of salt to the wound, That’s a huge ego bruising to these guys. And that’s the worst thing is actually have a choice in that sense, becsause everything tells these men they shoudl man up and can and should change things, yet they revert to not doing anything or scared to or fail again, so a feeling of helplessness when there shouldn’t be. Men HATE the feeling of helplessness, men are like geared to fix things and it’s very depressing and unsettling to not have the courage or ability seemingly to fix what’s not working and want it so bad and knowing others are doing what you can’t do for some reason. So getting more psyched out and just a downward spiral from there. So in that sense, no choice would be better, because then a man can make an excuse that it’s not him, but this or that. But instead a man has to come to the fact that he has a hard time talking to or attracting women and even though it’s more likely him not trying enough, a man will more than likely reside to the fact that he has the choices, but is failing and failing because he is completely and utterly undesirable to girls.

      • Sure. Just different kinds of pressures.

  19. Standish Student

    I found this article very interesting and even slightly applicable to my life. I come from an Indian background and it is very common in our culture to have girls stay virgins until marriage. The reason behind keeping your virginity until marriage is to serve your husband and be pure for him only. However, in my case the reason why I keep my virginity is for other reasons beyond the concept of staying pure for my future husband. On the contrary, for men the whole concept about virginity follows a different direction. Usually, men are rewarded for being sexually active before marriage. As a matter of fact, there is usually no cultural restriction for men to stay virgins until marriage. I have always been against this double standard that men do not pay any consequences for being sexually active while women are labeled by society. Being labeled a slut or a prude can have detrimental affects on both men and women. The negative connotations behind each label further oppresses women into feelings of guilt and shame for being sexually active and inactive. In addition, the concept of losing your virginity has culturally been associated with men stealing women’s innocence during sexual intercourse. This perpetuates the norm that men are powerful and can always take control in a patriarchal society.

  20. Emily Quintanilla

    Hello,
    I really thought that this post was really familiar with aot of the same experiences that I have heard from my own friend and to be quiet honest the same experience for myself. I think for my self it had a lot to do with how I was brought up in my culture with my family, I remember I mom always telling me that I needed to be a virgin until I was solely married to that one individual or else I would not be concidered pure. I remember that I was also told exactly by my parents that no one else would want me if I had relationships before marriage as I would be in a sense “used”. So song the course of me growing up I was always frighten at men in general or even trying to have a relationship with someone because I knew that at some point that guy would want to do something with me. I truly believe as well that there are double standards in this situation, it’s all based on the type of society that we live in, what we see in TV, what the norm is now based on magazines and celebrities. It’s still a tough issue to many in this world

  21. I really liked how this article started off with a little anecdote. It was a nice way to start such personal topic that many women might deal with. The anecdote gives the reader the emotions of how one felt after losing their virginity. Of course, there are many other situations on how one felt after losing their virginity, from fright to happiness. I think there are double standards because of society. For example, in some religions, it is believed that one should only lose their virginity after marriage. Also, in another scenario, some people think that a person is a slut or a whore if their virginity is taken away. I also the view of virginity changes among cultures. Within my family, they think relationships in the young adult years are pointless and education should be the only thing on our mind. I do not think that’s right, because no matter what age, I think that one should not be prevented to fall in love with someone. And when this happens, I think that it should be her choice whether or not she wants to lose it. People make virginity a bigger deal than what I think it should be. I think this is because women are viewed as innocent as what the article states. When one shows something that is no longer innocent, she may be judged upon it easily. In the end, it’s hard to please everyone, so one should do what she want and try her best to ignore the hatred of others.

  22. I much prefer “sexual debut” (as coined by Laci Green) and think we need to “lose virginity”:

  23. I’m very sorry for what you and your roommate had to go through. I completely identify with what your roommate was saying since I come from a very conservative family that also views having sex before marriage as sinful and disgusting, however, getting married to a complete stranger and losing your virginity to him is completely okay for whatever reason. It’s the complete opposite when I’m with my female friends since I don’t have nearly as much sexual experience as them so I’m seen as the “innocent girl” or the “prude”. I completely agree with the notion that society today places way too much pressure on women to find the perfect balance between “slut” and “prude”.

    Virginity is definitely a social construct that was only created to demonstrate the “purity” of a woman. Although things are definitely getting better in a very liberal country like USA, we have a lot of improvement to make around the rest of the world.

  24. I take it that your student got an “A.” Good post!

    I tend to think that the double standard (men are more “manly” by sexual experience but women are “unclean” by theirs) harkens well back into our evolutionary past. I know there is debate over exactly which gender selected the mate and why, and it could be that a great deal further back in evolution, women did, indeed select the male (much as the female bower bird selects her mate).

    Once we acquired what we call “self-consciousness,” however, I think the male’s tendency to dominate over other males (territoriality) and take the female(s) he wanted became codified into religion, and thusly became an attribute of culture. We are, I think, still awakening from our primal journey through that state of nature–perhaps, at one time, rather Hobbesian.

    I’ve not read much on this subject, but it is fascinating. I’m putting this on my “I’m gonna research this” shelf–which is already quite crowded. I often wish my major had been psychology–or, is there such a thing as evolutionary psychology (or is that, epistemology)?

    • Yes, she got an A!

      As for the evolutionary argument, you don’t find males taking over other males and insisting on monogamy for females in every species. Including primates.

      Or among humans.

      In fact, new research suggests that humans became monogamous pretty early in the human experience, as opposed to one Man having a lot of monogamous wives. And this led to bigger brains for children.

      Societies that practice polygamy tend to be unstable. In the middle east you get a lot of sexual frustration among young men, and a lack of stabilizing forces as men don’t take on responsibilities for families. And you get high rates of male violence.

      Or in southern Utah among the polygamists, boys are accused of crimes for frivolous reasons and their parents are told to take the boys out into the desert and leave them. Luckily people who don’t belong to these polygamous cults know about this, travel the roads they are dropped off at, and pick them up at regular intervals. Also, the girls are forced to marry at younger ages to support polygamy.

      Human polygamy is pretty much a disaster.

      Inside cultures it goes the other way — if you don’t have enough land to support population then polygamy takes the form of one woman marrying a family of brothers. I haven’t researched the difficulties that arise from that. But you are going to have a lot of unmarried women.

      I also wrote this to someone else in an earlier reply:

      In some cultures they don’t care,and there is no such thing as slut-shaming in those places. Like Oceana or the East Coast of the Americas when Europeans first arrived.

      If you look at those places, women have a lot of power. When you don’t know who daddy is family line is traced through women, women head family clans, and property is passed through women. That gives women a lot of power in those societies. (Not knowing who daddy is won’t give women power in complex societies like ours – but in simpler societies where the community can care for children, and where brothers take on a fatherly role — since they know that they are genetically tied to these children.)

      In patriarchal cultures men want to have all the power, so it becomes very important that they know who daddy is. So women’s virginity becomes important. But not men’s. I’ll be writing more about this later.

  25. I completely agree with this article. I don’t understand how women are so scared to be sexual because of what men and even other women will call them. The words slut and whore are now name tags for women who: dress provocatively, post or send revealing pictures, are talking to multiple men/women at one time, hook up with multiple people, and even women who go from relationship to relationship. However, when men do this, they receive titles like: the man, player, legend, and a bro; none of these nickname bring shame to them, but honor. I believe if women put an end to using those words against each other and replacing them with the ones that men use, then men will follow our example. Another way we would prime men is using these negative words towards them and show them how it feels to be disdained. Overall, I believe that once women accept that their sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, men will start to stop shaming us.

  26. I suppose the emphasis on virginity may have biological roots. After all, what male wants to waste resources, contributing to the raising of another’s offspring? Since the only way to ensure the bloodline was to guarantee fidelity–starting with a virgin was imperative. This imperative has, over the millennia, justified any manner of restrictions on female freedom. It has long since outlived any biological rationale, and is high time to abandon any policy that doesn’t guarantee equality and autonomy to both genders.

    • The biology only matters if the culture cares.

      In some cultures they don’t care,and there is no such thing as slut-shaming in those places. Like Oceana or the East Coast of the Americas when Europeans first arrived.

      If you look at those places, women have a lot of power. When you don’t know who daddy is family line is traced through women, women head family clans, and property is passed through women. That gives women a lot of power in those societies. (Not knowing who daddy is won’t give women power in complex societies like ours – but in simpler societies where the community can care for children, and where brothers take on a fatherly role — since they know that they are genetically tied to these children.)

      In patriarchal cultures men want to have all the power, so it becomes very important that they know who daddy is. So women’s virginity becomes important. But not men’s. I’ll be writing more about this later.

  27. Well, which one are you? A slut or a prude? Because it’s totally my business, you see. I have to determine whether you are worthy of marrying (insert male relative here).

    P.S. I’m kidding, but I realize that unfortunately too many people wouldn’t be.

    P.P.S. For what it’s worth, I discovered to my delight that my mother was wrong – it was simply not true that no “good” man would want a woman with a baby. Most guys seem to have realistic expectations about the world and the people in it.

  28. The image has a great message. I liked the underlying tone of this post. I wish the society grows. 🙂

  29. … nowadays it seems most women feel caught between being a slut or a prude.

    Reminds me of something Sarah Fielding wrote over 250 years ago:
    “A Prude cannot, by an observing eye, be taken for a Coquet, nor a Coquet for a Prude, but a good Woman may be called either, or both…”

    • Yes, and I have been called both. And I was called a slut even though I had never even have sex.

      Some of my students had talked about having that exact same experience.

      • My classmates went the “prude” route with me, but instead of settling on “prude” they settled on “lesbian.” Which was weirdly frustrating, because it’s not as if “lesbian” is an insult; it was simply inaccurate.

        Anyway, agree with your comment down below – it does get WAY better after high school!

      • (There are a couple of posts on my blog you may find interesting and relevant. The Naming of Women links to a number of posts in the context of fictional characters. On a lighter note, Slut – Extended Musical Version is an entertaining poem about slut shaming.)

        There really is no excuse to call anyone a slut. Men use it to control and diminish women, to make them possessions passed from father to husband. Women use it too, alas, for much the same reason, because any woman who dares to act independently of the established patriarchal order is automatically a threat. (‘How dare she flutter her eyelashes like that! She’s getting ahead of us by ignoring the rules – what a cheat!’)

        In our modern society where it has become more acceptable, indeed normal, for women to have sex with multiple partners and outside wedlock, the rules are still there, i.e., the sex should be within a formally established romantic couple (thus the obsession with sex on a third date, and so on). A woman who does not follow these rules is potentially a threat to other formally established romantic couples.

        But really, as long as the sex is safe, legal and consensual, and not an infidelity, then no one has a right to pass judgement.

      • Thanks for the links. They look interesting.

  30. To think all we do to each other in the name of power. Humans are strange!

  31. “It’s an impossible situation. At some point I simply stopped caring what everyone else thought”
    Of course not caring what everyone else thinks is easier said than done but I think this is the key.

    I think are changing though, sloooooowly, but there is still a massive scandal. “male slut” is almost considered a compliment.

    • Yeah, because of the social construction of personal identity – meaning how others see us affect how we see ourselves (if I think I’m a particular way it feels more subjective that if many others see me a particular way, which seems more objective).

      Debra Tolman wrote a book on girls in high school and she found that they were harmed whether they got called sluts, repressed their sexuality, or just try to ignore it all and become numb. It’s pretty much a no-win situation.

      Yeah things are changing slowly. It helps if you have a boyfriend – then it’s considered more acceptable. But I get papers like this from my students and some of them are grown-up and very conservative homes and social groups and end up like my students friend here.

      • I have a question for people that call other people ‘sluts’ I’m interested to know why someone’s sex life is so interesting to you that you’d actually go out of your way to make a person (usually a woman) feel bad about it? And don’t try and say ‘you don’t care about their sex life’ ’cause if you didn’t care you wouldn’t be talking about it and you wouldn’t be calling people names.

        I think a lot of slut shaming is actually jealously.

        When you talk shit on someone, you make yourself look worse than the person you are talking about.

        And calling women sluts, it’s a bit weird. I mean as long as it’s between consenting adults it’s kind of creepy to be fussed and obsessed about the kind of sex someone else is having to the point that you’d talk about them and call them names.

      • Thanks. You make some good points.

        I suspect that status is involved whether men or women are doing the shaming. I think women are often trying to put another woman down because they’re jealous. Whereas guys are 1) using a conventional way of bragging about their “Conquest” and 2) supporting male superiority — enhancing their own personal status while at the same time basically saying that a) men are better than sluts and that b) men may be free but women may not.

  32. Carolyn Honeycutt

    As someone who grew up in very strict religious schools, I was taught that a woman was dirty and undesirable after having sex. That somehow the act of intercourse made her a different person, a slut. That was of course, unless she was married, then it was completely acceptable. Unfortunately, my upbringing is not the outlier. I have met so many other girls who tell me how they kicked their boyfriends out of their rooms, only to curl up and cry after losing their virginity. And when it happened to me, the story followed this same path, but that isn’t the worst of it.

    Girls (and boys) who were brought up in religious schools tend to not have gone through sexual education classes, or if they have, it was a “Bibled out version” that lacked the frankness necessary in a sex-ed class. For example, my sex-ed class in high school consisted of reading bible passages that talked about the many sins a woman could commit. Where friends of mine who went to public schools learned the differences between STD’s and STI’s, the common forms of each, and how to protect yourself once you become sexually active. Growing up, I never thought of this as being a degradation to my education, just more of an annoyance, that was until about a year ago. I will spare you the details, but my college roommate contracted herpes. She and I came from very similar backgrounds and had no idea how to handle the situation. After we spent a Saturday doing research and talking to her doctor, we learned that she could have easily avoided getting this STD and that there were obvious warning signs that her boyfriend at the time had the disease, that she had missed. Now she will have to tell every future partner that she has an incurable STD.

    I know this is slightly off topic from your post, but I thought it related.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I can relate. I didn’t go to a religious school but I went to a conservative church and had conservative friends. I managed to be slut-shamed even though I had never even had sex. But I developed an aversion to the idea of sex, which I came to see a scary and bad. And then when I got married it’s not like I completely changed overnight. I was very sexually repressed. I’m better now, but still trying to get over it completely. And I’m pretty pissed off.

    • I’m so sorry for what you and your roommate went through, and I completely agree that it’s abundantly clear you are not outliers.

      In addition to Bible’d out “purity” messaging at my Evangelical middle school and similarly unhelpful conservative Catholic “purity” messaging, for a few years I actually thought that never having sex was an expectation of normal people. Here’s how that happened –

      When I was growing up I was given various “Lives of the Saints” books to read which were filled to the rafters with saints who were either virgins, mutilated themselves so they wouldn’t be forced to marry (and consequently have sex), ran away and hid so they wouldn’t be forced to marry (and consequently have sex), and employed various other heroic strategies simply to avoid marriage (and consequently, sex). For any saints who were motivated by avoiding sex, that fact was an integral and central part of their story and their sainthood. For any saints who were married, any mention of their spouses or children seemed to be carefully airbrushed out of the story, so any evidence that marriage (and consequently, sex) might possibly be a normal part of life was seemingly absent.

      And people wonder why Catholics have weird hangups about sex!

  1. Pingback: Virgin in Virginity – The Bolt

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