Dear Searcher part 3: “purity and secondary virginity”

person, couple, love

This is my third post responding to search terms that have led people to my blog. You can read the first post here, and you can read the second post here.

The premise of these Dear Searcher posts is that I write an open letter to a person who found my blog using search terms that I find thought provoking or unsettling.

On March 14th 2016, someone found my blog using the search term “purity and secondary virginity.”

Dear searcher,

Virginity is one of the most ill-defined concepts we have in this world. Ever notice that? There’s a myriad of sexual things we can do and still be technically “virgins.” Then again, it depends on who you ask. One of my earliest memories of learning this was at a pool party in high school. I was fourteen, maybe fifteen, and one of my friends said, “If I let a guy do it in my butt, am I still a virgin?”

One friend said “Heck no!”

Another one said, “Maybe. Did he go all the way in?”

Sure, there are clinical definitions of sex, and a doctor once told me the definition of “sexually active” was “physical contact with any body parts covered by a bikini.” By that definition, I was sexually active by the end of high school, even though I didn’t have sex until I was almost done with college. But “sexually active” is different from “virginity.” Virginity is much harder to define.

Some people define losing one’s virginity as a person’s first time having penis-in-vagina sex, but by that definition, gay and lesbian people who never experiment with straight people will remain virgins their entire lives. That doesn’t make any sense. I’m sorry to anyone who was using this as a sneaky way to cheat the “rules” and remain a virgin, but  oral and anal sex are included in the umbrella of acts that can remove one’s virginity, no matter what your friend Tara says. As clear as this is to me now, I considered myself a virgin for a while after I’d had oral sex. Our culture is very heteronormative, and still views sex largely from a straight male perspective. Even though penis-in-vagina sex doesn’t really do a whole lot for many women as far as pleasure is concerned, it’s still considered the gold standard.

With all that being said, at the end of the day you’re the one who needs to decide how you personally feel about sex. The question to ask yourself is, does any of this really matter? Does whether or not you are a virgin affect your value as an individual? Does it affect your identity positively or negatively? Does it affect your self esteem?.

Virginity is not always given up willingly, but it is still considered gone if it is lost in rape. If you do believe a person’s value is tarnished by sex, do you consider it just as bad for a victim as for a person who’s doing it of their own volition?

What about gender differences? If you find out that a female friend has had sex, how do you judge her? Now imagine that instead of a female friend, it is a male friend. How do you judge him? If there is a difference? Why is that?

You may have noticed that there is one, or any other number of unsettling things about the way you view virginity by asking yourself these questions, and there’s a reason why they’re unsettling: virginity is a concept that society made up: a social construct. It’s not actually important at all. I really mean that. Virginity is as much a social construct as the way we assume video games are for boys, the way someone invented dresses and said “these will be women’s clothing, not men’s.” It could have gone the other way. There’s no biological reason for women to wear dresses, or for video games to be marketed heavily to boys. It’s not the way things have to be, just the way our culture is. “Virgin” is a label applied to people who have not had sex, but sex is, at the end of the day, an experience, not necessarily a terrible or life-altering event.

Imagine if we had a label for people who had never eaten sushi, and although we judged people for never having eaten it, we also judged people who have. Imagine if people also claimed that there was a biological difference between people who ate it and those who didn’t–a sushi barrier that broke as soon as the delicious fish slid down your throat. Ridiculous right? That’s exactly what sex is though.

It’s an experience, just like eating sushi, or going sky diving, or going to work for the first time. It’s something many people do, and while the first time may be a milestone for you, it doesn’t make you a better or worse person than you were the day before. Yes, even in women, there is NO PHYSICAL DIFFERENCE between those who are virgins and those who are not. (FYI, hymens DO NOT POP, please click the link and educate yourself. And this one while you’re at it. Trust me on this, I’m a cisgender female with a hymen who’s having sex. And yes, those are both YouTube videos. Sadly, YouTube has frequently been a more reliable sex ed resource than traditional resources.)

But your search term included “secondary” virginity, which tells me that you’ve been sky diving. You’ve had figurative sushi before, and you’re interested in becoming a virgin again. I was raised Catholic, and taught that this could be done spiritually, through an appeal to God and a promise to follow Catholic teaching on sex (abstaining till marriage) in the future. I’m not going to lie to you. This is a complete waste of your time and energy. If you’ve eaten sushi, you’ve eaten sushi. If you’ve gone on an international vacation, you’ve gone on an international vacation. If you’ve been sky diving, you’ve been sky diving. Sex is part of your life experience now, just like every job you’ve had, every friendship, every lesson, every skill. Maybe you aren’t happy with how it happened. Maybe it was the wrong person. Maybe you were a victim. Whatever the circumstances, you can’t change the past. You can only move forward. Pretending the past didn’t happen is not a healthy way to do that.

You have to come to terms with the fact that you are no longer what society labels a “virgin,” just like I am no longer a college student. The transition from one label to another is difficult because it can become a huge part of your identity if it matters to you. I loved being a college student. But I was ready to move on to the next part of my life. Try to think of sex like that. You don’t have to do it again if you don’t want to. But you’ve done it now. You know what it’s like, at least in one circumstance, and now you can learn from it just like you can with any other experience. What you take away from it is up to you.
Has anyone else encountered this idea of secondary virginity? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

My Business Card Purity Pledge

Since coming home I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning my bedroom and getting rid of old items I don’t use or need. Some of the many things I’m having trouble getting rid of (even though they’re thoroughly embarrassing) are my diaries from when I was in middle and high school. I wrote in them sporadically, usually about boys, and I’m not entirely sure how my fiancé would feel picking up and reading the diary I filled with entries about my high school crush who never liked me back. As cliché and whiny as these diaries are, I did find one hidden gem:  a purity pledge I made between my junior and senior years of high school. I had tucked it between random pages of the diary, probably because I had no idea where to store it. Here it is:

Front

Front

Back

Back

I’m not 100% positive, but I believe I got this card at the Steubenville conference I attended that summer. The date that I signed is right around when I went, either during or right after the event. The best part? This supposedly binding promise to myself is on a business card. Someone went through the trouble of designing business-card-sized purity pledges that could be passed out like the much more-effective condoms of actual sex educators.

Despite the brevity of this particular purity pledge, I do have something to complain about when it comes to its contents. Ignoring the fact that it’s clearly meant to be a promise to myself AND God, whom I no longer believe in, there’s one particular sentence that doesn’t sit well with me:

“As a daughter of the King, I pledge now to live my life in a way that will guard my dignity, my purity, and my beauty…”

In a promise that’s generally understood to mean “I’m not going to have sex until I get married,” what are “beauty” and “dignity” doing in there? How does having premarital sex compromise a person’s beauty or dignity? Have I gotten uglier as a result of having sex? Do I no longer have dignity? This is especially disconcerting when one considers the definition of dignity:

“The quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect.”

Does a woman surrender her dignity when she has sex? Is she no longer worthy of esteem or respect? Do people who have premarital sex not deserve respect?

With just a few words, this pledge becomes disturbingly dehumanizing. It ties a woman’s worth to the state of her genitals rather than to the fact that she is a human being with a brain, and feelings, and all the things that go into a person. Furthermore, in the process of trying to get young women to choose abstinence, it puts down the people who don’t.

Regardless of whether or not you think purity pledges are a good idea, this kind of language shouldn’t be included in them. It’s degrading, it’s sexist, and it’s wrong.

Have any of you made purity pledges? What do you think about them? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Purity in Disney: Tangled’s Take on Premarital Sex

A man with a frying pan, a girl with long blonde hair, and a white horse.

Image taken from Tangled’s Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangled

I may be in my twenties, but I absolutely love Disney. You may be wondering where that fits into a blog about religion and politics, but trust me–it does.

Disney has shown itself to be fairly progressive. For example, several years ago, the Disney Channel show Good Luck Charlie aired a much anticipated episode featuring a lesbian couple. But sometimes Disney is a bit more subtle, addressing serious adult topics through its much-loved children’s movies in an indirect, even symbolic way.

Take Tangled for example. It’s a song-filled adaptation of the well-known story of Rapunzel.  Like most fairy tales, it has fantastical elements, and it’s definitely intended for children. But I was thinking about the film the other day and realized it can be argued that in some scenes, Rapunzel’s crown stands in as a symbol of her virginity. If that is the case, then her decision to give it to Flynn when she does–prior to marriage, but after they have gotten to know each other fairly well–and the fact that everything works out for them in the end, suggests that despite what Rapunzel’s mother warns her about giving the crown away, premarital sex isn’t always a terrible thing. In a movie about coming of age and making your own decisions despite what your parents are telling you, the inclusion of such a symbol is pretty ballsy of Disney. I say more power to them.

Maybe I just miss taking English classes, but I think this offers a pretty cool way to interpret the scene when Rapunzel gives the crown to Flynn. He’s just done what she wanted:  he’s taken her to see the lanterns for her birthday. Basically, he’s taken her on a really nice date, and they’ve gotten to know each other fairly well throughout the course of the day. He even brings lanterns for them to send floating into the sky in the scene, to participate in the event she’s watched from a distance for years. By doing that, he’s offered her something he didn’t have to give, showing that he actually cares about her. When she gives him the crown she says,

“I should have given it to you before, but I was just scared. And the thing is, I’m not scared anymore. You know what I mean?”

Those words would fit pretty well in a scene with someone having sex for the first time. It takes a lot of courage to trust someone like that, and at this point in the story, Rapunzel finally does.

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Not convinced that the crown symbolizes Rapunzel’s virginity? It definitely isn’t such a symbol in every part of the film, but it’s safe to say that the symbolism holds for the majority of the story, and I’m not the only one to notice this either. One person’s explanation of the symbolism on Reddit is pretty strong. You can read it most of it below. I’ve inserted some brackets and a link for clarity, as well as some nit-picking on facts, but altogether it’s a pretty strong argument and I’m convinced:

…When Mother [the witch in the original fairytale] sees the crown later and deduces that Flynn is with Rapunzel, it stops being a MacGuffin, but until then it functions as a fairly average one. However the crown is not simply a MacGuffin; it is a symbol for Rapunzel’s virginity.

First, it is important to know that technically Rapunzel has had the crown since birth. After all, as the daughter of the king and queen, the princess’s crown is hers by birthright. It is something that she wholly owns. However, she didn’t always know it was hers because she was kidnapped. She only begins to figure this out later when she goes out into the world and learns more about it and herself. This is not unlike a girl’s virginity. It is something she is born with and that she owns. However, many girls don’t know what it is until they are older and begin to learn about their bodies and the world around them.

Second, consider Mother Gothel’s words to Rapunzel once she finds Rapunzel the first time. Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel that as a mother, she knows that once Rapunzel gives Flynn the crown he will not want to be with her anymore. She says that Flynn doesn’t really like her and that he is only sticking around, waiting for Rapunzel to give him the crown; once he has it, he will leave her. If you replace crown with virginity, you get the same advice that nearly every mother tells her daughter(s). Mothers tend to warn their daughters to save themselves for the one they love and warn them of those that will just use them until they get what they want, i.e. sex.
Third, there is the fact that in the original Grimm version of this story [English major technicality here: the Brothers Grimm collected stories from oral tradition, so the Grimm version is not technically the original, though it may be the earliest written form of the story] Rapunzel does give her prince her virginity, leading to a teen pregnancy. This idea of the crown being a symbol for virginity would make sense since by the end of the film, Rapunzel does end up giving Flynn the crown.
It would also make that scene that much more significant and heartbreaking. In this scene, Rapunzel tells Flynn that she was afraid, but now she wasn’t and then gives him the crown. Then when Rapunzel thinks that Flynn took the crown and left, she is devastated to the point that she willingly goes back home with her manipulative and cruel “mother”. If we equate the crown with Rapunzel’s virginity, then her giving it to Flynn becomes a sexual act: she is giving him her virginity. She is no longer scared because she trusts him. Then when she believes that he has left her, Rapunzel’s devastation is now a product of the real life fear that many girls have: trusting a guy with her virginity and having him basically spit and trample all over that trust. Traumatizing, indeed.

Ultimately it’s impossible to know for sure whether the creators of this film intended for this symbolism to be there unless they say so themselves, and I doubt that they would for a children’s film. Nevertheless, considering what a clear parallel it is, I suspect it was intentional, and I love being able to think that.

There was a bit of conservative recoil from this film from what I recall, mainly because Rapunzel acts like a real teenager and rebels a fair amount, and despite that everything turns out OK for her. As one reviewer puts it,

 “…the legitimisation [sic] of the heroine’s rebellion against the authority over her was just too terrible. Our children are rebellious without any encouragement: to see how a rebellion is carried out and ends in glorious joy is very disturbing. The film says not to trust your parents and to despise their claims of love.”

I understand his concern, but by putting in this virginity symbolism and depicting teenage rebellion for what it is, Disney has shown a very real part of growing up:  realizing that your parents, who do what they feel is best to keep you safe, aren’t infallible. Granted, in this movie the parent is actually the villain, but what better way to show that not every parent is right about everything?

When people argue for parents’ rights to control every single aspect of their children’s lives, including education, they often conveniently ignore that some parents are white supremacists who would like to teach their children inaccurate, racist versions of historical events because they think that’s what’s best for their kids, and that other parents don’t believe in modern medicine and would rather have their kids die than receive a life-saving blood transfusion, or disease-preventing vaccination.

In Tangled, for the first time in any kids movie I can think of, a parent was depicted as being wrong about something–or even a lot of somethings. I wish this movie had come out when I was much, much younger. It might have prepared me better for the realization that my own parents, while loving and well-meaning, can be very, very wrong. This film is Disney at its finest, and I applaud them for it.

While we’re on the subject, do you know any other kids movies that contain fairly adult topics? Have you ever re-watched a film you used to love and finally understood half its jokes? Feel free to leave a comment.

All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Recommended Reading: Conservative and Progressive Views on Sexual Morality

I’ve considered weighing in on the Josh Duggar situation and the conservative reaction to it, but this post does such a fantastic job, and explains why that reaction makes sense from a conservative mindset, so I won’t add much to it before sharing the link.

To give you some background, Josh Duggar is known to have molested five girls, some of whom were his sisters, when he was 14. He is now 27. He never faced criminal charges for it, and the conservative reaction has been fairly supportive of him, whereas progressives are frustrated that his transgression was swept under the rug for so long, and that there has been no justice for his victims. The Young Turks go over the details in this video if you want the full story.

As a former homeschooler with pretty harsh feelings towards families like the Duggars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, this scenario only increases my frustration with this family and the conservative celebration of their backwards, antiquated, sexist lifestyle. I have a hard time looking at it objectively, but Libby Anne from Patheos, in a blog post that was shared on the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog, was able to take a step back and examine why conservatives have reacted with so much support for Josh Duggar and so much frustration and even harsh language towards progressives. The post is titled “Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes” and can be read here.

If you have conservative, religious friends and family members with differing sexual mores and have trouble talking about these things with them, this is for you. And them. Maybe they should read it too.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Premarital Sex: It Can Actually be a Good Thing

Photo courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lot has happened since my last post. My boyfriend, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is now my fiance. He proposed a few days before our college graduation.

After the announcement, my mother took me aside the next day to talk to me about sex as she sometimes does in the hopes of influencing me in that area. She said, “I hope you’ll continue with your previous promise to wait until marriage.” (A decision I’ve discussed in a previous post, and which I made under a lot of peer pressure.) She added, “I know you know who you’re going to marry now, but it’s really meant for marriage, and diseases can still spread.”

I didn’t argue, but I found it telling that her only argument in support of restricting sex to marriage was to avoid STIs. While that argument does have some merit for most people, when you’re engaged, it’s not as strong. Sure, people do sometimes call off engagements–but not frequently. More likely than not, two engaged people having sex are already monogamous, at least in this culture, and will continue that monogamy into their marriage. Ultimately, maintaining monogamy is what limits the spread of STIs when one waits until marriage, not the contract itself. The marriage contract is just a legal document. It’s not a condom.

That conversation with my mother reminded me of a fact that I would never have believed when I started college: I’m glad I didn’t wait to have sex,  mainly because of how difficult and even painful the first time really is for many girls–including me.

For this post, I’ll be sticking to a discussion of vaginal intercourse because that’s the type of sex that Catholics consider to be acceptable in marriage, since it can lead to babies.

If you don’t want to read about vaginal sex in detail, skip the next paragraph.

Vaginal sex can hurt a great deal the first time for many women, but it can also hurt the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. You probably know all about hymens and how they need to be stretched (not popped–that’s a myth!) the first time. What not everyone knows is that for some women, it can take more than just the first time to stretch that darn thing. I did my research, so I went into it with some preparation, and it still hurt really badly for me. It wasn’t an issue of the other usual problems either. We were very thorough. We used plenty of lube, and foreplay, and went very slowly. It sometimes felt like someone was stabbing me down there. It took many tries on different occasions for the pain to finally subside to the point where he could stay in there for more than a minute. I made myself do it because I knew it was supposed to get better, but sex was varying levels of pain for the first month or two. We couldn’t even focus on figuring out how to make it feel good until the pain was out of the way, and that later task took some time too.

My reason for going into so much detail is to establish the length of time it took for sex to start to feel good for me, and why that was the case. I’ve looked it up online, and while this is not the case for every woman, it is a fairly common complaint. It’s completely biological as far as I can tell, and in my case was definitely not due to just not being good at it. We knew what to do; we just couldn’t actually do it for a really long time without putting me in agonizing pain.

Waiting until marriage would not change that for me. I would still experience a great deal of terrible pain every time I had sex for the first however many times. If we’d waited and had a week long honeymoon, sex would most likely hurt me every single time we did it that week, and even when the pain had subsided, it still would not feel good for months afterwards while we tried to figure out what works. I can’t imagine spending my honeymoon like that. Frankly, who would want to?

Growing up, I was sold the idea that waiting until marriage makes your first time special, but I now realize that even if I had done that, I would still experience the intense pain and the incredible frustration my fiance and I felt at the time, just during our honeymoon instead of while we were dating. Trust me: pain is not romantic. It sucks.

The only thing that waiting until marriage would change is the situation in which we were having sex, not the biological factors of sex itself. I don’t want to spend my honeymoon in agony. I don’t want to walk out of the wedding reception nervous about going to bed with my husband. And thanks to that horrible, forbidden thing called premarital sex, I now know I don’t have to.

But what if it isn’t special, you say! What if having done it before takes away the novelty of it?

You know what else takes away the novelty of anything? Agonizing pain. We’ll find our own way of making it special when the time comes, but trust me, at least in my case, that novelty was completely overrated.

I feel bad for women who are built like me down there, who wait until marriage. They’ve been sold this image of a magical first time, but for them, it won’t be magical at all.

This is not to say that having premarital sex is for everyone. I support the right of all people to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies, and that includes waiting to have sex if they feel that’s best for them. If you don’t feel ready, don’t do it. If you really want to wait until marriage, then by all means, wait. But be advised that for many women, that first time is completely overrated. If you’re going to wait until marriage, make it an informed decision, just as your decision to engage in sex should also be.

What are your views on premarital sex? Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy