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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Greenberg

Virginity is a Social Construct

For the sake of this post, I am discussing the heteronormative, penis-vagina intercourse ideology of virginity and sex.

Lately, with many of my clients, I’ve been relating experiences to my favorite problematic structure, The Patriarchy. I’ve referred to it as my party trick or my version of “Six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon” because I can always find a way to link the flaws of our society to The Patriarchy.

It’s worth saying again: virginity is a social construct.

Cue the eye rolls, the “radical feminist” sneers, and the jokes. I get it. But for real, it is, just as gender is a social construct. So, what does “social construct” mean? It’s something we’ve made up. It isn’t tangible– it’s a story or an idea created by society. Social structures are how humans make sense of our existence.

The idea of virginity dates back to a primitive era when paternity was essential to maintaining control and ownership of land. This ownership meant ownership of women, and in order to ensure one had ownership, one needed control. And to control, there also had to be fear of consequence. The policing of women’s bodies further intensified when Mariology emerged (the study of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and The Virgin Mary, the most revered feminine figure in Christianity, particularly Catholicism).

Historically, virginity made girls more valuable.

Potential husbands would pay more to fathers of girls and women who remained pure, linking their worth to monetary gain. The link to worth remains in the present day. As we grow up, we learn about virginity as something that you lose. There’s a piece of you that belongs to someone else forever. And, you can never have that piece of you back. However, remaining a virgin makes you worthy, desirable, and good. If you’re not good, you’re bad. A chewed-up piece of gum, an old sock, and a piece of food passed around the room. Who wants to eat the food after everyone’s touched it? On the even more extreme side of honor and expectation, girls and women are still killed or mutilated to pay for the sins they’ve committed for not remaining pure. We are told abstinence is the only path to take if one wants to be wanted and loved.

Boys learn that virginity is something they take.

Jessica Valenti writes in her book, The Purity Myth, we are into “idolizing virginity as a stand-in for women’s morality.” For those who have not grown up in religious purity culture (virginity balls, engagements to fathers as a promise of saving oneself for marriage), you’re either a virgin or a slut. Oh, and if you ENJOY sex and find PLEASURE in it (a human right), you’re definitely a slut.

To be a slut means you have no morality and no self-respect. And, you’re dangerous because others can’t control you. This is why women, who for centuries have been shamed into being ‘good’ and ‘pure,’ have been taught to fear sex. Because who doesn’t like dangerous women? The Patriarchy. For generations we have learned to look a certain way and act a certain way, because if a man doesn’t want you? You’re worth nothing.

If we only knew how good pleasure could be, the opportunities we could have, and the people we could experience. Instead, we are stripped of our rights, and our bodies are policed and exploited.

I encourage my clients to take back the pleasure they deserve.

Much of this work looks like breaking down old scripts and discussing what we would prefer our sexual experiences to look like. This might begin with talking about our bodies, relationships, beliefs, fears, and desires. But all of it includes exploration and the understanding that we belong to ourselves and ourselves only. This means we cannot lose a part of ourselves to anyone when we are all worthy of experiencing pleasure and connection.


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