Part 2- The Myth of Virginity, or Not
“vir·ginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse.”
Welcome to part 2 in the four-part series we are calling, “What’s sex got to do with her? Exploring deeper elements of female sexuality among Christians”. In this post, we shall uncover the myth or truth about the notion of “virginity.”
In my young girl years, there happened to be a club in my lovely city. The club was called “THE VIRGINS’ CLUB.” It was founded by my childhood best friend’s mother. It was an enjoyable moment in my life as every Sunday evening, I hung out with my friends from school and met other girls my age. That was my ulterior motive for joining the club. Oh, and the occasional parties and field trips made it even more enticing. But the real purpose of the club was, as you can deduce from the name, to educate teen girls about sex and abstinence. That was the first time in my life; I vividly recall having a ‘comprehensive’ understanding of the word ‘virgin.’ At the club, we were taught about STIs, teenage pregnancy and others. One thing heard time and over again was the phrase “Do not lose your virginity.”
You see, I have always been an analytical and curious person, so I recall, even as a young girl, how the phrase “do not lose your virginity” sounded wrong and problematic to me. But hey, who to ask or what questions to even ask. We were constantly admonished not to “lose our virginity” for various reasons such as:
- The boy wins in that situation
- You have no more value or less value as a girl
- You can’t undo it, and once it’s done, it is done.
But the problem lies within the language “losing.” Losing means to be defeated, to fail to win, fail to keep, something that has been taken away and cannot be recovered”. In essence, what is communicated is that once you have sexual intercourse, you have lost something that cannot be retrieved or something has been stripped away from you. I agree that something is indeed stripped away from you, and that is your innocence. Outside of that, you have not lost your value, your dignity or worth as a woman. Being told from childhood that “do not lose your virginity” screams once you have any sexual encounter, you cannot recover from that, which is not the whole truth. The other part of this language is that once you “lose your virginity,” some irreparable damage has been done to you. As such, the tale of policing the sexuality of women is as long as time.
The whole notion of “Virginity” is presented to the woman, in this context, the single Christian woman as a measure of her sexual purity. Virginity is, for some reason is tied to her value and dignity as a woman. The science behind the virginity of a woman, or the physical marker for virginity, is the presence of the hymen.
Misinformation and circulated myths about the perceived relationship between the hymen and a woman’s virginity can be incredibly harmful to women. Research had misinformed that the presence of the hymen determines a woman’s sexual purity. My recollection of how the hymen was explained to me as a young girl was that it was an elastic membrane that every girl had. And that elastic membrane can only be breached if there is penetrative sex. Hence, many cultures stuck to the examination of the hymen as proof of a girl’s virginity.
However, recent research has offered a more scientific basis as to why the hymen cannot be relied on as a physical maker on a woman’s virginity and why equating the virginity of a woman to the presence of the hymen is untrue and harmful. So, what is the hymen?
In simple, non-medical terms, the hymen is a remnant tissue just inside the vaginal opening that is leftover from the formation of the vagina during embryonic development. A tiny amount of excess tissue in a crescent-shaped or ring-like structure around the margin of the vaginal entrance is the most typical symptom. Many people are startled to hear that the hymen serves no medicinal or physiological function. For some women, there is almost no tissue at all. Others believe it is a membrane that covers the vaginal opening. That situation is uncommon, and it can interfere with sex or tampon use, but it can be surgically removed. The most common misconception about the hymen is that it is “intact” until it is broken during vaginal penetration, at which point it becomes a physical marker of virginity. Though many women do experience a small amount of bleeding from hymenal tearing during their first intercourse, this is by no means a universal experience, as many women have very little tissue there, to begin with.
With the misconception on the relationship between the hymen and the virginity of a woman established, let’s talk about the topic of today’s discussion, is virginity a myth or not? Below, I discuss 3 myths associated with the virginity of the woman.
- VIRGINITY=VIRTUE: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 31 v 10 Virginity is not synonymous with virtue. Virtue is behaviour showing high moral standards. It is delivering diligence, excellence, and integrity. While I agree that a sexually pure woman is more likely to be diligent, excellent, prudent and have more integrity, it is not always the threshold. I would walk us through Proverbs 31, which enlists the things that the woman does, which makes her virtuous, and I hate to break the news to you, but her virginity or the sexual life was not relevant to the situation. The point is this, we have, intentionally or unintentionally, in the church equated virginity to virtue. We have alluded that once a woman is a virgin or sexually pure, all that matters. We have insinuated that all other parts of her character are not relevant or not needed once a woman is a virgin. And for a long time, I too bought into the idea that the only proof of my character or the character of any woman for that matter is that they should be virgins. What if they were raped, sexually exploited, or taken advantage of? No more virtue is left in them. Also, assuming they even kept themselves till marriage before engaging in sex, does it mean that they have no more virtue? Or the argument is that you are only a woman of virtue if the first time you engage in sex is after marriage? If that is the case, then look around you. Yes, look around you; how many women, do you know, or have you heard of, who did not marry as virgins due to whatever circumstance but are virtuous in every sense of the word. So, the theory that virginity equals virtuousness is bogus, unfounded, and untrue. Virtuousness is a journey; Virginity is a state of being. The two are not synonymous or an indication of the presence of the other. You are not virtuous because of your virginity. In the same way, you are not un-virtuous due to you not being a virgin. Remember the parable of the Ten virgins, 5 wise & 5 foolish.
- VIRGINITY=DIGNITY & VALUE: The second myth about virginity lies in how it has been used as a determiner of the value or dignity of the woman. This is primarily because, as explained in the first post of the series, women have not been given the freedom to own and express their sexuality. Sex has always been seen as a trade-off. The woman is trading off her value, her dignity, for something. As such, the more sexual encounters a woman has, it is seen to de-value her existence and essence as a woman. Can we, for the love of Christ, separate the value, dignity and worth of a woman from her sexuality? Throughout scripture, I see how the hand of God reached out to women who were, in the eyes of society, worthless because of how they expressed their sexuality. Rahab, the woman with the alabaster box, the Samaritan Woman at the well, Gomea, the King Hosea’s wife. The list is tall. The fact is if God did not, for one split second, marry the value/worth of women to their virginity, why have we done so? I have witnessed how in certain cultures, the woman who is not married as a virgin receives a lesser bride price because apparently, her value has diminished. This narrative that a person’s value can be reduced because sex is not Godly. Because last I checked, no sin can ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. Romans 8 v 38 -39: I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if no sin can separate us from the love of God, and if we are worthy because God says so, can we dial back on how de-valued we have made women in the church feel for years!
- VALUING VIRGINITY PROTECTS WOMEN: Another lie! Or Myth! Or both? This part gets me all the time. Culture, society, and the church hide under the guise of “protecting the virginity women” all the time while engaging in activities that will put these women/girls at sexual risk. In fact, “valuing virginity” exposes girls and women to violence, abuse, and assault from members of a society who believe her sexual behaviour determines a woman’s worth. Violations of girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health occur daily in the name of preserving and protecting girls’ virginity, delaying sexual activity, or controlling the circumstances under which girls and women “lose their virginity.” From forced child marriages, female genital mutilation, and breast ironing to slut-shaming and the deliberate withholding of reproductive and sexual health information, the emphasis on preservation has negative consequences for girls worldwide. I don’t need that kind of “protection,” thank you very much. I mean the kind where I am still de-valued if abused, victim-blamed or slut-shamed. The type of protection where fear for the church, society or culture is placed above reverence for God. The kind of protection where I do not have access to the correct information, neither do I have the wherewithal to ask deep questions.
If you asked me, the only truth in the theory of virginity, of course from the Christian perspective, is found in 2nd Corinthians 6 v 12-20
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord and will also raise up us by his own power.
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which is God’s.
The conclusion of the matter is that God calls us all into a place of Purity for HIMSELF, which includes sexual purity. You can be sexually pure and not be pure in other facets of your life. Wholistic purity, where we do not get to pick and choose what favours us or makes us comfortable.
Next: SEXUAL PURITY, FOR GOD OR MAN?