Tag Archives: sexuality

Virginity Is A Social Construct

19 Dec

Jezebel published a piece today with the title “Nearly 1% Of Women Claim They Were Virgins When They Gave Birth,” and, because this is Jezebel we’re talking about here, they used this as an opportunity to shame and belittle the women who say that they became pregnant while still virgins. And just so we all understand what author Erin Gloria Ryan means by virgins, she writes that they are women who,

“… were unpenetrated by the peen of a man when they became pregnant.”

She further explains,

“This doesn’t include women who became pregnant via in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination; these are women who gave birth the old fashioned way and were like *shrug! SERIOUSLY GUYS I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED!”

Then (incorrectly) asserts,

“Getting pregnant without sex is virtually scientifically impossible, yet dozens of women in the study (who were teens when the research began) swear up and down that their babies happened sans man. This is the biological equivalent of claiming that your glass of drinking water spontaneously began boiling itself without the presence of heat. I mean, maybe it’s Unsolved Mysteries-possible, but it’s highly doubtful that 0.8% of all glasses of water boil themselves. Come on.”

Also, just so that we’re really super clear on how Jezebel views these women, the article was posted to their Facebook page with the following header:

Nearly 1% of women insist they were virgins when they gave birth, which means that nearly 1% of women are delusional.

Oh, Jezebel. Jezebel. I know all the cool kids have already said it, but damn. You sure do suck at feminism.

First of all, it is definitely scientifically possible to become pregnant without having penetrative vaginal sex. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s possible – all you need is for a someone to ejaculate on or in close proximity to the vagina, or else have some other thing with sperm on it – a finger, say, or a sex toy – penetrate the vagina. Yes, these are unlikely ways in which to become pregnant, but they’re not within the same realm as water spontaneously boiling.

Second of all, can we not have this discussion without calling women stupid or crazy or just flat out accuse them of lying?

Third of all, can we please stop talking about virginity as if it is a real, measurable thing?

Virginity is not a thing. Not really. It is a social construct meant to make people, especially women, feel badly about their sexuality and sexual experience. It is a way of policing other people’s bodies and passing judgment on how they use them. It is, at its very core, a way of controlling and subjugating women.

One problem with the idea of virginity is that there’s no hard and fast way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t. Many people would define loss of virginity in a very heteronormative sense – a sexual act where the penis penetrates the vagina. But does that mean, then, that a queer woman who has only ever been with other women is a virgin? Is a gay man, who has only ever had anal sex, a virgin? Most people, when pressed, would agree that no, those folks aren’t really virgins, even if they’ve never had penis-in-vagina-style intercourse. The flip side of this is that many rape victims don’t feel as if they have lost their virginity even if they’ve had penetrative intercourse forced on them. They consider themselves to be virgins because they don’t consider what happened to them to be sex. So taking all of that into consideration, how do we then define virginity?

Some people have said that performing any sexual act constitutes losing one’s virginity, but that seems like much too broad of a definition. Kids start experimenting with sexual play and experimentation at a fairly young age, so does it then follow that anyone who’s kissed someone of the opposite sex or shown them their genitals has de facto lost their virginity? I’m not sure that this idea makes any more sense than saying that virginity can only be lost through one very specific sexual act.

Another problem is that there is literally no way of knowing if someone is a virgin or not. Oh, people will tell you that you can check if a woman’s hymen is broken, but that’s not a reliable indicator at all. A hymen can be broken without any kind of sexual intercourse, through sports or through some kind of injury. Not all women are born with hymens. Not all hymens tear during penetrative sex. And yet we’ve all been sold this idea of torn flesh and blood on sheets as some kind of definite rite of passage for women. This idea – that you can somehow tell if a woman has been sexually active – has contributed to the oppression and subjugation of women for pretty much all of recorded history. It’s given men a way to control women, to make them ashamed of their bodies their sexuality. It’s led to a double standard where it’s fine – even encouraged – for boys to gain sexual experience, but women who are sexually active before marriage or have sex with too many people are considered to be slutty or damaged goods.

Finally, why is virginity so damn important to us? We don’t have nouns for who or what we were before we hit any other life milestones – there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk or talk or read and write – all of which I would argue are more important achievements than getting laid – and yet it’s the sex that we focus on. Why do we put so much more weight on this one small facet of human life than we do on any of the others? Why are we still making a big deal out of who is a virgin and who isn’t?

This is the discussion that we should be having – not about whether women are lying or delusional about their virginity, but about why we still use this damaging term. We need to talk about why the idea of virginity continues to hold such sway over our cultural consciousness, and why so-called feminist websites a perpetuating the thought that virginity is a tangible, definable thing. Most of all, we need to figure out a better way to talk to kids about their bodies and their sexuality, because the way that we’re doing it now clearly isn’t working.

Even Mary agrees - virginity is bullshit

Even Mary agrees – virginity is bullshit

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Guest Post: Three Compliments

4 Oct

This week has been incredibly hectic, and I haven’t had the chance to write anything here, not even the reading list for David Gilmour which I promise is STILL COMING. In light of that, a few friends have stepped in and offered guest posts – here’s one from my lovely friend Joanna, whom I’ve known since high school, about the ways that we “compliment” babies and toddlers. Enjoy! 

Three Compliments by Joanna Schmidt

Three “Compliments” I’d prefer you wouldn’t give my baby:

I love my kids. They are the most important people in my life. So naturally, hearing them complimented warms my heart. I love when they are called cute or pretty or someone says their hair is lovely. Even more so, I love when people tell me that my child is clever or funny, kind or a good older sibling.

There are, however, a few “compliments” that I find to be not so complimentary:

1. “He’s such a flirt” or “ooo, he’s flirting with me!”

My son is 13 months old. Sometimes he’s outgoing and has a quick smile that lights up his face. He will play peek-a-boo with anyone that will give him a grin, whether at home or with a stranger in the grocery line. Funny noises make him break into an infectious giggle. Like all of us, he’s sometimes shy, and that means he sometimes puts his head down and looks up at strangers through the lashes on his big blue eyes, a nervous smile on his face.

Also, he wants to kiss ALL the babies.

However, none of these things is flirting. He is socializing. He is learning about his environment and the people in it. He is developing a sense of self worth as his smiles and interactions are causing others to smile back at him. He is playing games and having fun.

Check out the Wikipedia definition of flirting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flirting Flirting has sexual undertones or seductive undertones. Babies are cute and cuddly. They give drooly smiles. They are adorable. Babies are not sexual. They are not seductive.

2. “Watch out mama, the girls are going to love him!”

This one is tricky. Because, you know, it might be true. He’s classic cute baby. He has these lovely wispy curls and big Disney Princess eyes. He’s tall for his age. It is likely that he will fit society’s narrow definition of traditional attractiveness when he gets older.

The thing is, as parents, we’re busy trying to teach our kids that being attractive is not necessarily what makes you loveable. We’re teaching them that how you act and what you do are the things that define you.

One of my proudest parenting moments to date has been in a conversation with my then 4 year old daughter. She was watching Beauty and the Beast and turned to me, totally unprompted and said of Gaston,

Belle doesn’t like him because he’s mean. The other three beautiful girls think that he’s beautiful but he’s not because he’s not nice. He’s a bully and I think that he’s really the beast.”

SO FREAKIN’ PROUD!

Secondly, the idea of watch out mama also bothers me – what are you saying about these girls that you imagine are going to love my son? Why would I need to watch out? What does this statement say about how we view young women?

And finally, I’m also very conscious that at his age, he has not asserted anything about his sexuality yet. His sister is six. Recently two of my female friends were married. She was very excited for them and proclaimed, “I’m so glad they are happy but I don’t want to marry a girl”. She says things like, “When I grow up and fall in love with a boy, I think it will be L______.” We’re pretty safe now to use terms like boy/man/husband/boyfriend with her. But my boys are younger than her and have not expressed their preferences yet. With them I use terms like person that you fall in love with, or the partner/person that you choose to marry. Statistically it is likely they will be attracted to females, however, until I know for sure I don’t want to make assumptions. Assumptions can alienate. Assumptions could make it hard for one of my boys to express who he is. And really, wouldn’t that be so incredibly sad?

3. He’s going to be such a heartbreaker!

And here’s the big one. This is what made me write this. I hear this often about my little baby boy.

Since when was it a good thing to break someone’s heart? Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever had to break someone’s heart? It SUCKS!

My hope is that he is NOT a heart breaker. My hope is that he finds just the right person at just the right time and they love each other forever. I know this is unlikely but I don’t want my son to be a person who causes or feels pain. I still like to wish that he’ll be one of the lucky few that falls in love with his best friend in high school and lives happily ever after.

The other thing that I don’t like about the “heartbreaker” comment is that it sets him apart from the babies that are not “heartbreakers”. Does that mean there are babies that are not as conventionally attractive that are bound to have their hearts broken over and over?

So, here’s the thing. Please feel free to compliment my child. Sometimes hearing that you’ve noticed that he/she has grown up a lot in his/her behaviours lately, or hearing that they made a choice that was kind or compassionate is what gets me through my, at times, difficult days. If my child overhears that, (s)he will catch my eye and see pride and joy and hopefully make a good choice again.

And me? I’ll try to notice the same moments and communicate that pride to your children too.

Joanna's three children

Joanna’s three children