Why do we keep making fun of people for their personal choices when it comes to sex?
Virginity-shaming happens when someone is shamed or made fun of for their personal choice to abstain from sex. It’s the other side of the slut-shaming coin, and it’s just as hurtful and unnecessary.
Although slut-shaming is still a problem many face on a daily basis - especially in more traditional environments - it is becoming more and more frowned upon to judge people for being sexually experienced. Virginity-shaming on the other hand is a relatively new type of bullying (especially among women) and these days it seems fairly acceptable, especially with those who seem to think sexual prowess equates status.
While virginity is recently being portrayed as acceptable and plausible possibilities for young women in shows like Jane The Virgin and Chewing Gum those who choose to wait to have sex are still vilified.
Olwethu, a 24-year-old lecturer at a private college knows this all too well. She says being a virgin is a choice that’s gained her many surprised reactions. “Every time I utter the fact, I am low-key vilified and alienated with gasps, ingrained sexism (unintended to be offensive), as well as in the multitude of side-eyes.”
“Many will ask, and look at me - asking in disbelief - how I dare dress provocatively and celebrate my body and still be a virgin. That looking the way I do and being so weirdly knowledgeable and vocal about sex, warrants me being a bonafide boner fiend.”
Sometimes the decision not to have sex is a religious one. In Jane The Virgin the main character becomes pregnant by artificial insemination, but still decides to keep her virginity until marriage because of her Catholic faith.
But for Olwethu for instance, the reasons are personal. “[For me] it’s not religion. It’s not an overly romantic decision either. It's about my state of mind at any time. I'm just picky and finicky enough to know I'll be [ready] for sex, with someone that... just triggers my brain and body simultaneously,” she says.
The same is true for Lisa*, a 33-year-old accountant, but for very different reasons. Lisa is a transgender woman who decided to remain a virgin because of her gender identity. “During my struggles with my gender identity, I always placed myself in the position of [my] possible partner. Knowing the pain and hurt these changes (gender transition) often cause was a major motivation [to keep my virginity]. As you move through your life's journey your views and reasons change.”
Lisa is Afrikaans. Before her transition she was regularly shamed by other men. “For most Afrikaner men I knew, sex was nothing new and when they realised I was a virgin, I was always shamed. Since my transition, I've never been shamed, but often questioned about it. When you are transgender people are more curious about your life and choices,” she says.
Lisa says she will probably remain a virgin until the day she receives her gender confirmation surgery. She also says that being shamed for being a virgin seemed very malecentric. “When in male only spaces, women are one of the popular topics and they often talk about sex. If you are the virgin, you are the odd one out. My absolute honest opinion, it feels like alpha male contest and you are the weakling.”
But sometimes, even being a virgin won’t protect you from being slut-shamed. Ashley Iaconetti, a former contestant on The Bachelor, wrote a piece for Cosmopolitan about how social media debated “the status of [her] hymen” after her appreance on the show. Many people didn’t just doubt that Ashley could be a virgin because of her seemingly sexual attitude, but straight up believe she was lying about it. It seemed being a virgin somehow also means you also need to lean into the stereotype of being demure.
Olwethu says “I'm really not ashamed of being a virgin. It’s as if we're meant to ascribe to the stereotype and be conservative, buttoned-up, chastity belt-wearing Bible-thumpers. My being the queen of sexual innuendo, and a curvy, verbose, body postive blogger with a penchant for revealing fashions, doesn't negate my virgin status. We're not all the same.”
As we know, through the ages women and girls have been treated differently depending on their virginal status. Virginity has been praised and women who are “pure” and “demure” were and often still are valued more than their “spoilt” counterparts. In South Africa, a very real example of this would be the found in the Zulu culture.
According to SouthAfrica.net, the reed dance is an annual ceremony that takes place at the start of spring and involves young Zulu girls (who have to be virgins) from all over the country dancing and singing and eventually presenting the king with cut reeds. According to Zulu myth, if a non virgin woman takes part in the dance, her reed will break. Also in Zulu culture, once a couple has decided to be married, the bride is allowed to spend some nights with her intended groom as long as she remains a virgin. If not, the groom has to pay a fine and then the wedding is carried out immediately.
This type of attitude allowed the illegal virginity testing of girls in Kwa-Zulu Natal in order for them to keep their bursaries. The aim of the practice is to keep these girls “pure” and focused on their education as if having sex means they’re suddenly going to become sex-crazed maniacs who can no longer concentrate on their schooling.
As you’ve probably guessed, there is no such testing for boys.
But it’s not just in Zulu culture, the problem is worldwide. There’s an impoverished district in India where young girls’ virginity is auctioned off. According to The Wall Street Journal, girls who are dedicated in local temples under the illegal devadasi system have their virginity auctioned off to the highest bidder after an 11-day purification ceremony. This happens after the young girls has her first period and it marks her transition into womanhood.
In Islam, Muslim girls are expected to be virgins until they day they marry no matter their age. The same is not expected of Muslim men. According to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, it is still customary in some areas of Afghanistan for in-laws to check the sheets of the bridal couple the night after their wedding to make sure that the bride was indeed a virgin. In some cases non-virgins can be imprisoned for adultery or horribly abused.
Then, in the Western world, there's the concept of purity rings. Worn as a sign of chastity, they first became popular in the United States in the '90s. While we obviously support the boys and girls who decided to wear these rings and take a vow to remain virgins, it's a shame that many were ostracised because they chose not to take part.
It seems as if many people are damned if they do or damned if they don’t. Have sex and you’re labelled a whore. Stay a virgin and you’re seen as a prude.
When is the world going to realise that what you do with your body is your business and shouldn’t mean that you’re any less of a person?
The societal pressures of being a woman are hard enough without also having to consider things like your virginity.
Have you ever been shamed for being a virgin? Tell us about it.
*name has been changed