In stark contrast to this environment lies a side of the globe where women’s virginity is held to the highest regard – it bears the weight of her whole family’s honor. In these societies, not bleeding on your wedding night could result in your own father killing you. Virginity is inherently connected not only to the woman, but her hymen specifically. The maintenance of the hymen is considered so important that women fear using tampons and playing sports. In some countries, parents mutilate their own daughters’ labia, clitoris, or sometimes even the whole vulva, and stitch them up for a lifetime of sufferance, so that they would be charged with incredible pain if they brought dishonor to the family (tried to have sex).
(A brief digression – I once heard that language grows instead of evolving – it carries cultural remnants that are thousands of years old that we might not even comprehend today. And this is one of those cases. In fact, the Greek goddess of marriage was named hymen, reflecting the age old belief that the hymen was created to mark the wedding night.)
A ‘Virgin’, for the longest time, as been defined as a woman whose vagina has not been penetrated by a man’s penis. However, today the term is used across genders and has been reconstructed to accommodate the LGBTQIA community’s sexual practices. In a liberal atmosphere, one could say that virginity is now a fairly abstract concept. It is commonly considered the period between birth and one’s first experience being intimate with someone. In these societies, people define for themselves the meaning of intimacy – it could be anything from a kiss to anal penetration.
If you compare these two social attitudes, you’d probably find it hard to spot a single similarity. But once you do a thoughtful linguistic analysis of the two cultures you’ll find that both these cultures believe that the day they have sex for the first time, one ‘loses’ something.
While in one culture this loss is more policed than in the other, the idea exists nonetheless. And language has a way of influencing belief if you don’t think too hard about it. Take, for example, the fact that we feel more comfortable offering people condolences with phrases like ‘passed away’ rather than ‘died’, even though they mean the same thing. There is a level of comfort we can often reach with this phenomenon – Doublespeak. Even ‘losing your virginity’ (since virginity is an abstract concept) is doublespeak for one’s first time having sex. But in this situation, doublespeak causes not only the perpetuation of the myths of the hymen, but also this idea that one loses their innocence of some sort.
If anything, one gains perspective from sharing their body with someone they want. But even if they didn’t, the idea that they would lose their innocence or purity is far too permeable for the brain and behavior. There is ample evidence to confirm the self-fulfilling bias, which means that when one believes they will perceive something in a specific manner, they usually do.
And this is what makes the fiasco so dangerous. So stop thinking of your virginity as a prize you possess. Even if you think your first time should be special, believe that it should, because it is a passage into maturation and identity formation.