This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012


t the beginning, there was Mary, who was a Virgin.
Yeah, right.
If there is one thing which continues to amaze me, it's the fascination of our societies with virginity. Either - in the more "conservative" societies - it's a straightforward condemnation of premarital sexual relations, sometimes with violent repercussions, of which more anon.
Or, in the "liberal" societies, it's the in-your-face and almost public loss of virginity, including stunts like selling yours on eBay to pay your student fees. Or signing farcical pledges of abstinence.
Either way, it's just two faces of the same coin.
Personally, as I've mentioned before this, I don't get it at all. What is the big deal?
Why should entire human societies tie themselves in knots over whether two people, consenting and adult, decide to have genital contact with each other? What does it matter to everyone else? Is it envy?
I might have accepted that proposition, but then one comes across the phenomenon of honour killings in Indian villages. If you are a young person in a village in North India, and you happen to fall in love with another young person, either forget him or her or run as far and as fast as you can if you decide to elope. If you want to live, that is.
So, virginity is not just a matter of envy. It's got mixed up with honour - whatever that might mean. Not just the "honour" of the individual, but of the society at large.
Also, of course, there are all the young women (it's almost always women) carrying around colossal guilt complexes because they are no longer virgins. I know some myself.
All over the presence or absence of a piece of tissue, the hymen, which has nothing to do with sexual intercourse anyway.

Sometimes one just can’t leave a topic alone.

I realise I’ve discussed the deification of virginity before. But then I had concentrated on the ridiculous fascination with this state, and not the fact that, especially if you’re female, it can be actively injurious to your health…

First off: I don’t mean literally. Although I’m of the firm opinion that virginity isnot normal (would it be normal to deliberately refrain from using properly functioning arms and legs? In that case, how is it normal to refrain from using one’s genitalia?) I’m not saying you’ll go blind or turn sour in your mind if you have never had sex. No.

Oh, and I’m also not talking of the nuns who used to be (and for all I know still are, in some deep dark corner of the world) bricked up in convents for the crime of being caught in flagrante delicto with a man;  things began going wrong with virginity a long, long time before that.

In centuries past, when life was brutal and short, each adult’s duty was to propagate the race, so each adult was a valuable breeding resource. It was also the age when gods were real and walked among men and could only be kept in good humour by sacrifices. Some of those sacrifices were notional, like the Roman Vestal Virgins who swore off sex (well, notionally, and there were “penalties” for transgression, which makes one wonder how and why so many of these vestal virgins ended up with property, slaves, and luxury) like the monks and nuns of Christianity  and Buddhism. Now, assuming that each adult has to procreate the race, choosing not to do so becomes a major sacrifice on the part of the community (and not just the renunciation of pleasure on the part of the individual).

And then some were much more direct sacrifices – naked young virgins tied up before strange gods and having their throats cut or their hearts plucked, still beating, from their bodies, such as the Druids sometimes did. That was a great honour done to the virgins involved, I guess, but I’d have passed it up, thank you very much.

No, being a virgin wasn’t all plain sailing, and nor is it today.

I think it was Margaret Mead who, in a study of Pacific Islanders, pointed out that those races that placed no premium on virginity and allowed open and free consensual sex also happened to be the societies with the least social trauma, the least aggression, the least violence and the greatest amount of happiness (that was of course more before the Christian missionaries turned up and began teaching everyone morality). Whereas the sexually repressed societies, as in Asia(West and South Asia most of all) or in the West (the US) are infinitely more likely to be violent, aggressive and intolerant than more open and sexually laid-back nations (Thailand, the Scandinavian countries). In South and West Asia, a woman’s virginity became – a long time ago, but it was not always so, the Kama Sutra is proof of that - a part of societal “honour,” and they would kill her to keep that “honour” intact. They still do.

Or else, so that their responsibility to keep their daughter “pure” and “unsullied,” parents would marry her off as soon as they possibly could, sometimes before she was old enough to learn to talk. This still happens in Indian villages and is not even against the law (the law can “prevent” the “marriage” but can’t declare it null and void once it’s taken place). This girl will then become an illiterate domestic and sex slave of her husband, and often of his brothers as well, and have multiple pregnancies so her health is ruined and she becomes an old woman by the time she hits thirty, and die soon after. All because her virginity was some kind of rare resource to be preserved at all costs till she could be got off her parents’ hands.

It’s not even as if all the claptrap about virginity works. The US is big these days on “abstinence only” sex education and on “true love waits” pledges. So what happened? A study showed that those who signed “true love waits” pledges were more likely to have had sex before marriage than those who did not. Hah.

Not that they can define virginity, of course. If it’s the absence of the hymen, that piece of tissue can just as easily be lost in sports, accidents, tampon insertion, or even as a result of masturbation; it can even be congenitally absent. And if a woman has a thick and elastic hymen, she can keep it through life even if she has sex ten times a day.

And furthermore…

I wish I could claim credit for the following anecdote, but it was told me by a close (and usually reliable) friend.

When, after the passage of some years, he met one of his old girlfriends again, she went into rhapsodies about her husband and children and whatnot. Then she said “And it’s all because God is rewarding me because I went virgin to my wedding bed.”

His response, goggling: “You did what? I screwed you myself many times and you weren’t married then.”

Her answer: “I went virgin in my mind. I was pure in my mind and that’s all that matters.”

So, you can have as much sex as you want, and you don’t even have to go to the extent (like some Arab women these days) of surgically reconstructing the hymen  before marriage. All you have to do is tell yourself, “I’m a virgin,” and believe it.

I don’t know whether to laugh or snort with contempt at the whole damn mess. 

There is still this pernicious idea that the presence or absence of a piece of redundant tissue constitutes "honour"; that "true love waits" (how long? Forever?); that a woman is "defiled" by using a portion of her own body for the purpose for which it was evolved; that being raped is being defiled for life; and that "nice women don’t do it."
Amazing, in this day and age.
So,here’s my theory about the premium still placed in psychologically primitive societies on virginity-
If you are the first man to have sex with a particular woman, and you then keep her out of contact with other males, you can be reasonably sure that any children you invest your efforts in raising are yours. So you can be sure you’re spreading your own genes. Therefore, the premium on virginity in these societies is genetic disguised as social. Lions deal with the same problem by killing all cubs once they take over a pack, because only the dominant lion breeds (this is about his only function, impregnating lionesses. The lioness does almost all the hunting. So much for the gallant king of the jungle) and propagates his genes. More balanced societies with communal bringing up of children, as on many Pacific Islands, had no premium on virginity. In fact some societies had ceremonies for the ceremonial deflowering of young people when they reached puberty. Those societies were also much less warlike and aggressive.
I'm not a virgin, and I don't think the fact that I have sex has made me any less than I was when I still was one. Private and intimate and wonderful contact with another human being is not ugly. It's a pity that (almost entirely) patriarchal systems have tried to make it so.

No comments:

Post a Comment