Language Matters: Virginity
April 22, 2009 § 4 Comments
Courtney’s response to Jessica Valenti’s latest book, The Purity Myth, discusses society’s construction of virginity – because indeed, there is no scientific definition of the concept; it is purely (ha! purity puns!) social in origin. From her post:
But the trouble with [recognizing that virginity is scientifically mostly bogus] is what to do about it, right? I mean knowing race doesn’t technically exist doesn’t mean you can start acting like Stephen Colbert and pretending to be color blind. Likewise we can’t act like our societal value on purity isn’t affecting girls just cause it’s bullshit. So I came up with a few things we can personally do in reaction to the learning that virginity doesn’t exist:
1. Language matters. Stop talking about the first time you “lost your virginity” and start just referring to it as sex–especially when you’re interacting with younger women.
2. Tell people far and wide about the fact that there is no scientific definition of virginity.
3. Get involved in the movement to make sex ed comprehensive far and wide! Check out RH Reality Check, Shelby Knox’s work, and other great blogs for the best way to do that.
Great advice. She even uses this series’ moniker! I’m particularly struck by the importance of being conscious of how we talk about our own sexual experiences, both to combat internalized sexism and slut-shaming and to set an autonomy-positive example for those younger than us. I’ve been reminding myself to use the phrase “when I had sex for the first time” instead of “when I lost my virginity” or, in my opinion even worse, “when I gave it up.”
Commenter Caro13 adds,
A note on linguistics: I’ve recently been thinking about how many women will say that they “lost their virginity TO x-guy,” rather than saying “lost their virginity WITH x-guy.” Saying “with” at least implies that having sex for the first time was an experience that you shared equally with a partner (whether or not it was also their first time). Saying you lost it “to” someone seems to say that you’ve passively allowed someone to take something important away from you, and now they hold a piece of your identity because they “took” your virginity.
I agree. The linguistic implication that sex is a commodity that we give to other people, instead of a collaborative experience that we share with partners, inherently lends itself to inadvertently heavy statements about the “value,” “worth,” and “price” of said interaction.