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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Like a Virgin

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor


Friday, October 26, 2007

I have a confession: I love those games we played back in middle school. The completely lame (but at the time exciting and sexually tense) games like Never Have I Ever and Truth or Dare. I still find myself playing them with random groups of people on occasion, stuck in the back of a bus or sitting around an awkward party to kill time. In recent years, these self-revelatory games always seem to come back to the age-old uncomfortable subject around which we so delicately tiptoe: virginity.

The immature games that we maybe should have stopped playing 10 years ago are by no means the only venue for this subject. I hear people at St. Olaf, often women, judged according to their virgin or non-virgin status. Comments range from the incredulous "What?! She's still a virgin?" to the more subtle "Let's be honest, she probably lost her virginity when she was 16." In some communities at St. Olaf, virginity is upheld as an unspoken virtue, and anyone who doesn't adhere to it is spurned through subtle comments about what's appropriate and normal. Other social groups consider sexual activity the norm and talk about virgins as if they don't exist, rendering those without sexual experience virtually invisible. Both groups use virginity as a tool to form lines and boxes, as a vehicle through which they can categorize and exclude people. Interestingly, both views on virginity place its importance on vaginas (with slang like popping cherries and losing your v-card perpetuate the emphasis), putting pressure on women to value themselves according to their virginity or non-virginity and thus silencing men's voice in the whole issue.

The definition of virginity itself is highly debatable. Does its loss occur with the breaking of the hymen? If that's true, super-plus tampons took mine a long time ago. What about the insertion of the penis into the vagina? That leaves most people who identify as gay or lesbian out in the cold or labeled as virgins their entire lives. With oral sex? Stimulation of the genitals? Masturbation? Emotional intimacy? The topic is so hotly debated that a Google search on "virginity" yields over 6 million results, including a Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the subject, ads for hymen repair surgery and a whole slew of personal blogs about first times and failed attempts. Yikes.

So does virginity actually exist? Who is to define the moment that we lose it? And what does losing it entail? In our climate of diverse sexualities, these questions cannot be socially prescribed in a formula that fits every individual. I recently read a review of sex educator and historian Hanne Blank's "Virgin: The Untouched History," a book that examines historical and cultural perspectives on virginity. In a section about tests used over the years to define virginity, Blank says that "virginity tests cannot tell us whether an individual woman is a virgin; they can only tell us whether or not she conforms to what people of her time and place believe to be true of virgins." Our perceptions about virginity (and many other aspects of sexuality) are dependent on the climate of our social location. As relatively unencumbered college students, we have the privilege to decide what our virginity means to us, and whether it even matters at all. You have the right to adopt your parents' view of what constitutes virginity, just as you have the right to reject the entire concept. You can cling to your virginity or your non-virginity as though your life depended on it; you can decide not to give it a second thought for the rest of your life.

Virginity is an issue that we, in our Minnesota-niceness, often drive underground. Therefore, it surfaces in twisted ways – in subtle comments meant to deride those who have not made the same decisions we have or to silence people who don't think about sexuality in the same way we do. Wherever you rest on the virginity spectrum, keep an open mind about other perspectives. And amidst all your philosophical musings on the subject, keep in mind that as a social construct, the concept of virginity only has as much power as we give it.





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