What do you think of when you picture a “virgin?” Do the pictures in your head change when you imagine the virgin as either a young man or a young woman? Often times, in mainstream culture, it seems as though virginity for young women is a “prize.” Virginal women are seen as pure and innocent, and the loss of virginity may be associated with shame. For young men, virginity seems to be thought of as more of a burden. It can be associated with a lack of masculinity or seen as a source of embarrassment. These stereotypes regarding virginity highlight the ways in which the concept of virginity is highly gendered, meaning that the way we think about virginity is different whether it’s applied to men or women. Discussions surrounding gender and virginity highlight a lot of the issues that our society has with sex and gender.
Why would we value someone more or less for never having had sex? It is most definitely of the utmost importance that sex take place between individuals who are able to consent. Sex should also include risk management strategies such as a barrier method (condoms, dental dams), and birth control (such as the pills, the shot, or the ring) if there is a possibility of pregnancy. However, why do we place more focus on the moral weight of purity or the burden of proving oneself masculine, instead of paying greater attention to legitimately preparing people to know whether or not they are ready to have safe, consenting sex?
Why do we “count” some forms of sex, namely penile/vaginal intercourse, while other kinds of sex, such as oral, are not given as much attention? By limiting discussions about various kinds of sex, and by ignoring discussions about safe sex and consent, in favor of gendered stereotypes we lose sight of what’s important in any sexual relationship! The gendered stereotype for young women might limit them from learning about safety, desire, and recognizing whether or not they are ready. Young men may relate not having sex to insecurity, and feel the need to push themselves when they aren’t ready! Additionally, stereotypes associated with young men can be hyper-aggressive, and ignore the consent of their partner in favor of male desires. Forcing these kinds of ideas onto young adults and teens may mean that their relationship with sex can have very negative components from the get-go. It’s time to place more value on personal awareness and safety, and move away from harmful stereotypes!