Virgins Don’t Exist

When I was in high school, I had a classmate who claimed that virgins don’t exist.

My first thought when I first heard him declare ‘Virgin’s Don’t Exist’ was ‘Excuse me, I am a virgin” (I didn’t say this out loud, I just said it in my head).

But as I got to know him and his life philosophy better, I understood that he was critiquing the idea of virginity itself.

He didn’t mean that there weren’t people who had never had sex. That would have been ridiculous. What he meant is that people who have had sex are not fundamentally different from people who have not had sex, therefore the concept of virginity should not exist.

And the more I think about ‘virginity’, the more messed up I think the idea is. In every culture that I am familiar with, the notions of ‘virginity’ and ‘chastity’ are based on some really messed-up ideas.

(Trigger warning for this paragraph only: potential fictional sexual assault)

For example, in Mandarin there is a word (thankfully old-fashioned and rare, but it is still used), ‘zhēnliè’. When I encountered this word in a novel, some characters were claiming that a certain female character was not zhēnliè because she let her kidnappers have sex with her instead of committing suicide (actually, her kidnappers did not have sex with her, but that is beside the point). I think it is incredibly messed up that women would be expected to prevent being raped by committing suicide, and that if they prefer being raped to dying, they are somehow bad people or responsible for the situation (which is what these characters were implying).

Thankfully, there is no word for zhēnliè in English (though I must point out that there are respects in which Mandarin is a much less sexist language than English).

I know ideas about virginity and chastity are changing (for example, in the past, the word ‘virgin’ could only apply to females). But even today, it is still a) tied to the assumption that almost everybody should have sex (losing one’s virginity is supposed to be an important event in one’s life), b) that certain kinds of sex are illicit, and the criteria are not based on rational things like consent and power (im)balances, and c) slut-shaming (which feeds into rape culture).

While I suppose it is technically possible to adapt the idea of virginity into something that is not sexist, not supportive of rape culture, and inclusive of asexuals … why bother? Would a gender-equal culture, based on mutual respect and inclusive of the full range of sexual and gender diversity, really need the concept? Couldn’t we just say that somebody has little or no sexual experience, and leave it at that?

I’d rather just throw the idea of virginity in the trash.

Which makes me wonder how I’d answer if somebody asked ‘Are you a virgin?’ I could reply ‘none of your business’, but I might say ‘no, but I’ve never had sex’.