A few months ago I decided to finally check out the TV show Jane the Virgin on Netflix because I had heard so many great things about the show. I thought the idea of the show was cute and Gina Rodriguez is amazing to watch, however, I couldn’t get past one of the first scenes of the show which is Jane’s grandmother telling her that her virginity is like a beautiful flower in her hand, once you crush it the flower will never have the same shape again, it will be crumpled and wrinkled…basically ruined. I wasn’t shocked at the message because as a woman I have heard many versions of this while growing up, I think I was more shocked that this message is still as relevant today as it was many years ago when I was a young girl. At least relevant enough to be the theme of a show on the CW.
First, why do we have to compare virginity to a “flower” or “gift”? I mean, I do get that the underlying message is that sex shouldn’t be taken lightly, it is a responsibility, and I agree, entirely, but why does it seem that this message is only targeted towards the female gender? Why is it that women are the only ones that should take their virginity so seriously that it often induces guilt and anxiety?
For women virginity is equated with being a pure, innocent and ultimately good person which I just have to call bullshit on. Abstaining from sex does not automatically make you a warm, kind or caring person. Nor does having sex make a person cold, mean or destructive. Again, I have to point out that this only pertains to women. Hardly ever is a man’s goodness tied to his virginity. In fact, he could be spreading it all over town and still be considered a hero – I’m looking at you every high school football captain in America ever.
What even is virginity? Most people think of the physical aspect which for women is all about the hymen. There seems to be a misconception that a hymen can only be broken through sex which I hope most people know is NOT the case. A hymen can be broken through many other physical (and non-sexual) activities. If you did not know this and have concerns about it I encourage you to seek the counsel of a medical professional who could give you much better information than I can. Please do not WebMD it, or anything for that matter. Trust me.
So if we take away the physical indicator of virginity then what is this thing we are wrapping up and putting a bow on? Is it simply the act of abstaining from sex? To speak in grade school terms, is sex only when you score a “home run” or do some of the other “bases” count as well? If “home runs” only count then can a woman who has spent several innings on “third base” still claim the same “virginity virtue” as a woman who hasn’t even made it “up to bat”? I can’t believe how well I’m rocking this baseball metaphor.
I know I’m getting very technical but the point I’m trying to make is that we may not have a clear understanding of what we are valuing. Are we valuing a woman’s technical virginity of having an intact hymen and having abstained from the physical act of the dictionary’s definition of sex, or are we placing the value on women not doing what society perceives to be any act that makes them not seem pure, innocent or tainted in any way? If the latter is the case then why is it that sex is seen as something that “taints” women? And more importantly why does it only taint women and not men? Is it because we don’t think sex has the same consequences for men as it does for women? I feel that is what some people think, but is that really true? Really?
Let’s talk about the consequences for a minute. Are there not physical, mental and emotional consequences for both genders? Are we both not susceptible to the same sexually transmitted diseases? Are we both not at risk of growing emotional attachments, having our feelings hurt, having our hearts broken or falling in love? About the only difference is that women can get pregnant, however, does that mean that men are totally free and clear of this consequence? The answer should be absolutely not, but as a society we have done a horrible job in the past of making men just as accountable for unplanned pregnancy as we do women. Don’t believe me? Spend an afternoon binge watching 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, Teen Mom 2 or just about any reality show on MTV and you may see that my argument does hold water. That even though it has been scientifically proven that it takes two to tango, it is women who are expected to bear the brunt of the consequences of pregnancy because it is seen as solely their responsibility to not get pregnant to begin with. How fair is this? Is it really that hard to not only tell my gender to keep their knees shut but to also tell the male gender to keep it in their pants? Because if they don’t they will have to deal with the aftermath just as much as a woman does and there are no longer any hall passes. It doesn’t sound that hard to me at all.
I think it’s time we re-evaluate the messaging we put out around women and virginity. We need to stop tying virginity to a woman’s value where they are either the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene. We need to recognize that there is an actual spectrum where between these two famous but extreme figures there can be Mary None-Of-Your-Damn-Business because she choses when, where and with whom and is neither a better or worse person for doing so.