Perception of Virginity

Posted: February 21, 2012 by lildanadoo in Uncategorized

Throughout history, the female Virgin has been depicted in different forms of media as the pinnacle of femininity. She is idealized and sought after yet have you ever wondered why so much value is placed on female virginity? Why are women expected to maintain their virginity and abstain from sexual desires to remain respectable? There are no easy answers to these questions. At the same time, especially in western culture, men are made to feel embarrassed if they remain a virgin for “too long.” Transnationally female sexuality is perceived differently, however virginity is almost always held up to a high esteem.

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Western culture has a slew of depictions of men’s perception of virginity as a conquest. For example, the movie Cruel Intentions shows that virginity is held to such high esteem that a man would be willing to lie about his entire life in order to sleep with a female virgin. Yet men are not depicted the same way. It is assumed that men who are virgins past their teenage years are “un-cool” or somehow not good enough. The movie The 40-yr Old Virgin is a good example of this concept. The main character is shown to be a nerd unable to “seal the deal.” In Dennis Altman’s Global Sex he discusses this phenomenon as result of: “female honor and male nobility” (Altman 5). For many cultures women are taught not to show signs of being interested in sexual desires, while men are not given this same message. Altman describes this as: “…the very common practice of defining sexual desires as something ‘nice women’ do not experience, and the construction of women as either madonnas or whores, no matter that the reality is almost always more complex” (Ibid 5). This notion is not something new; it can be traced throughout history. Female virginity was held to be so important that at one time women were expected to show proof of their virginity with blood stained sheets. In Shakespeare’s play Othello depicts this tradition: “Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted” (VI 35-37). In some cultures the sheets were hung outside of a window for public display. This tradition is just an example of the stress put on women in order to be viewed as respectable.

Religion has a major effect on the perspective of sexuality and gender: “…it may well be that the primary social function of religion is to control sexualities and gender in the interests of hegemonic masculinity” (Altman 6). The majority of religions view female purity as a central aspect to the religion. An unmarried woman must retain her purity in order to be viewed as respectable. It is astonishing to discover that this transnational theme is communally globally consistent. Altman explores this concept: “Often national and religious identities are linked to a particular view of women, who are both venerated as the defenders of moral purity and feared for their sexuality, which risks escaping total male control” (Ibid 140). By taking on this perspective it is easy to make the connections between patriarchal societies, which use religion as a means of policing women’s sexualities and the fear of women’s reproductive abilities. Religion is often used as a method of preventing and condemning the use of contraceptives or abortion. These practices place major constraints on women‘s sexuality.

 The scrutiny of female sexuality leaks over into the perception of the criminalization of prostitution. Sex workers are transnationally denied basic civil rights. Especially in the United States sex workers who have been raped are ignored because of victim blaming. Sex work is an occupation which is looked down upon, women involved are viewed as “un-rape-able.” Since sex work is an extremely prevalent, many women are being forced into the occupation through circumstances or sex slavery. Yet not much is being done to protect women from this phenomenon. In Manila, the mayor closed down the brothels “he succeeded only in pushing the trade into adjoining cities- or farther underground. The criminalization of prostitution- and the denial of basic civil rights to sex workers- is a significant factor in the perpetuation of a whole set practices which amount to sex slavery” (Ibid 114). As a result of the scrutiny of female sexuality, sex workers are viewed as undeserving of protection.

As a result of female virginity being regarded in such high esteem, if a woman is raped she is deemed to be corrupted and impure. “Indeed in some societies a girl who has been raped is treated as ‘dishonored’ and hence unfit for marriage, even though she was powerless to preserve her virginity” (Altman 4). This demonstrates the importance placed on virginity, which results in the objectification of women. In this situation a woman is treated as a piece of property, as though she is somehow devalued by an act she had no control over.

As a result of  idealizing virginity, in certain cultures it is believed that virginity has the power to cure HIV/AIDS. This has been defined as: the rape myth. This is the belief that if a man contracts HIV/AIDS, it can be cured by raping a virgin. In the CNN article “Child Rape Survivors Saves ‘Virgin Myth’ Victims” the continuation of this practice is examined: “This so-called virgin myth, perpetuated by Zimbabwe’s traditional healers, has led to the rape of hundreds of girls, according to UNICEF. Some of those victims are too young to walk, much less protect themselves.” Consequently thousands of girls are contracting HIV/AIDS as a result of the rape myth.

It is strange how much of an effect female virginity has. The understanding of female purity influences how women are treated socially and culturally. Has your exposure to this subject been different? Why do you think that male virginity isn’t held to such a high standard? Is it because only women can have “proof” when they lose their virginity? Again there are no easy answers to these questions. However, it is interesting that in a transnational setting, female virginity is almost always held to a higher standard.

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Comments
  1. Carly Bea says:

    you brought up a lot of interesting points — it’s so problematic that often, sex workers cannot press chargers against someone who has assaulted them because they would have to reveal that they are indeed a sex worker, which would likely put them in even greater danger.

  2. I realy liked the points that you brought up here. The ideas of what the ‘perfect age’ for virginity to be no longer, or exist till is something that impacts our generation. I like that you also tied this western view into other countries, and I am curious to see what these commonalites will be like several years down the road

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