While browsing the web during Thanksgiving break, I managed to come across an interesting article on virginity. The article, “11 Things Everyone Should Know About Virginity Culture,” gives a brief virgin culture 101 course as it presents a lot of information that I either didn’t know or rarely thought about. Here are some highlights:
The root of the word virgin is the Latin word virgo, which means young woman. While both men and women can be virgins — and the experience of losing one’s virginity can be confusing regardless of gender — the etymology of the word points to the idea that issues of virginity are always about women.
Now, I’m fully aware of society’s unequal focus on the virginity of women over their male counterparts, but I had no clue it extended into the word itself. Fact number 3 goes further to express the issues with language our class talked about recently. My questions then is: Do we work to adapt a new gender neutral word or work to change the definition of “virgin” despite its Latin foundation?
Most people have heard of purity balls — formal events where young women pledge their abstinence to their fathers until they marry — but we had no idea that the tradition had an equivalent for young men. The difference is that Integrity balls do not involve a young boy pledging his virginity to his mother because he wants to stay virtuous. As Jessica Valenti explains to Shecter:
[Integrity balls are] not about ownership or I’m pledging my virginity to my mother or it’s important for me to wait because that makes me a virtuous man. The language was: ‘I shouldn’t have sex because that’s someone’s future wife or that’s someone’s daughter.’ So you don’t want to do damage to someone else’s property.
I had no idea Integrity Balls existed, but I was a little surprised by their difference in focus. The boys proclamation to stay virgins in not connected to them, but instead to their possible future sexual partner. They are charged with restraining themselves in order to not violate the pact that a “future wife” may hold with her future husband or one’s “daughter” with her father. In essence, the boys are trained to not have sex out of marriage out of respect for the girls, but instead out of respect for the men in the girls’ lives, which, to me, has it’s own set of issues.
Sadly, many people still believe that a woman’s virginity can be verified by her intact hymen. Because of this false assumption, some women go to great lengths to ensure that their partners — and sometimes partners’ families — believe their hymens haven’t been torn. Often these great lengths include purchasing a fake hymen, which can be found online for only $30.
Now this one threw me for a curve ball. I linked the website that sells hymens to the quote in order for curious souls to check out. It seems to be a pretty legit set up that even includes fake blood with your order. The thought of someone going this far to hide their past sexual life frightens me, but the more I think about our society’s (especially when it comes to religion) emphasis on virginity and its relation to purity I can completely understand why someone would do this. Keeping the hymen intact serves as a social symbol that plenty of men find highly appealing (if not necessary) in their women. The artificial hymen serves to save face for the women who no longer have theirs, but find themselves in relationships with men who demand it. But then, I’m left asking myself: What right does any man have in demanding such a thing and what would their reaction be if a women demanded the equivalent form them?