This week’s topic was prompted by a person’s question. So for this week we are looking at virginity, and specifically comparing and contrasting how society views males vs. females losing it.
Virginity refers to the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions which place special value and significance on this state, especially in the case of unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth. Like chastity, the concept of virginity has traditionally involved sexual abstinence before marriage, and then to engage in sexual acts only with the marriage partner.
Unlike the term premarital sex, which can refer to more than one occasion of sexual activity and can be judgment neutral, the concept of virginity usually involves moral or religious issues and can have consequences in terms of social status and in interpersonal relationships.
The term originally only referred to sexually inexperienced women, but has evolved to encompass a range of definitions, as found in traditional, modern, and ethical concepts. Heterosexual individuals may or may not consider loss of virginity to occur only through penile-vaginal penetration, while people of other sexual orientations may include oral sex, anal sex or mutual masturbation in their definitions of losing one’s virginity. Further, whether a person can lose his or her virginity through rape is also subject to debate, with the belief that virginity can only be lost through consensual sex being prevalent in some studies.
The first act of sexual intercourse by a female is commonly considered within many cultures to be an important personal milestone. Its significance is reflected in expressions such as “saving oneself”, “losing one’s virginity,” “taking someone’s virginity” and sometimes as “deflowering.” The occasion is at times seen as the end of innocence, integrity, or purity, and the sexualization of the individual.
Traditionally, there was a cultural expectation that a female would not engage in premarital sex and would come to her wedding a virgin, which would be indicated by the bride wearing a white gown, and that she would “give up” her virginity to her new husband in the act of consummation of the marriage.
In some cultures, it is so important that a female be a virgin that a female will refrain from inserting any object into her vagina, such as a tampon, menstrual cup or dildo, or undergoing some medical examinations, so as not to damage the hymen. Some females who have been previously sexually active (or their hymen has been otherwise damaged) may undergo a surgical procedure, called hymenorrhaphy or hymenoplasty, to repair or replace her hymen, and cause vaginal bleeding on the next intercourse as proof of virginity (see below). In some cultures, an unmarried female who is found not to be a virgin, whether by choice or as a result of a rape, can be subject to shame, ostracism or even an honor killing. In those cultures, female virginity is closely interwoven with personal or even family honor, especially those known as shame societies, in which the loss of virginity before marriage is a matter of deep shame. In other cultures, for example in many modern-day Western cultures, sexual abstinence before marriage is not taken as seriously as it is in those discussed above.
Historically, and in modern times, female virginity has been regarded as more significant than male virginity. The perception that sexual prowess is fundamental to masculinity has lowered the expectation of male virginity without lowering the social status. For example, in some Islamic cultures, though premarital sex is forbidden in the Quran with regard to both men and women, unmarried women who have been sexually active (or even raped) are subject to name-calling, shunning, or family shame, while unmarried men who have lost their virginities are not. Cross-culturally, males are expected and/or encouraged to want to engage in sexual activity, and to be more sexually-experienced. Not following these standards often leads to teasing and other such ridicule from their male peers. A 2003 study by the Guttmacher Institute showed that, in most countries, most men have experienced sexual intercourse by their 20th birthdays.
Females are more accepting of male virginity, but there exists negative feelings about the topic even among women. Reflective of the Guttmacher study, some women perceive men being virgins past their early twenties to be an undesirable trait and would decline marriage due to the man’s sexual inexperience; in these cases, male virginity is considered to threaten the fantasy some women have about men knowing how to sexually please them.
Within American culture in particular, male virginity has been made an object of embarrassment and ridicule in films such as Summer of ‘42, American Pie and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with the male virgin typically being presented as socially inept. However, some have challenged the negative connotations regarding male virginity, as well as the belief that males should want to lose their virginities at earlier ages than their female counterparts.