The Vagenda

Does Feminism Have A Problem With Virginity?


I’ve had sex. Have you heard of sex? It’s this thing you can have with other people where you touch and probe your tongues around and hope you’ll have something “like a sneeze, but better,” although you probably won’t. I quite like it. Sometimes it tires me out a bit because I’m horrendously unfit, and after a few minutes of bobbing up and down I can find myself thinking about how a Babybel would really give me a much-needed energy boost right about now. But that’s okay, because no one cares if you have a nap right afterwards, or a cigarette, or indeed a Babybel. Yeah, sex, wow. What a thing.
Oh, what’s that? You’re a woman and you haven’t had sex? And you don’t even want to? What on earth are you on a feminist blog for? You’re certainly no feminist. You’re a backwards, judgemental prude who damages the cause of feminism. You’re too anal for anal, babe. Not cool.
Disclaimer: this is not true. Of course it’s not bloody true. Klaxons for satire. But it alarms me to see this prevailing trend in some strands of feminism: the idea that it is inexorably linked with a varied, dedicated and open sex life. To be a feminist, you have to be willing to walk around topless most of the time, shag all manner of partners in all manner of ways, and go into painstaking detail about your rimming techniques at restaurants (“Say, ladies, tell you what this onion ring reminds me of… and that’s to say NOTHING of the vinaigrette dressing…”)
Take the girls (women?) of Lena Dunham’s Girls. I love the girls of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Hannah: highly sexualised, openly declares she’ll experiment with pretty much anything sexually. Marnie: steady consummated relationship with a boyfriend for four years, quick to comment when he eats her out like never before. Jessa: unsmotable. And then we have Shoshanna. What’s Shoshanna’s big story arc of season one, exactly? She begins the series as a virgin, a fact revealed in a confession which provokes shock and, seemingly, pity from the other girls. Her big defining moment of the season in the closing episode when she – phew! – gets laid. 
Admittedly, Shoshanna expresses frustration at not having had sex and a strong desire to do so, meaning sleeping with someone is an achievement for her. All fine and dandy, because she got what she wanted. But then, of course she wanted it, because it is so rare we see a modern female character who may, lo and behold, simply choose not to have sex – especially if that’s just going to be one small facet of her overall personality, rather than some defining attribute. 

Needless to say, I’m in my early twenties and I know women of the same age who are virgins. I just don’t see them in the media very often. And what is more, they want to be virgins, for many different reasons. For instance:
-          Because of religion. I have had discussions with friends of various faiths who have expressed their deep, unwavering belief that sex before marriage is wrong – for them. They’ve never once judged me for feeling differently. They sure as shit wouldn’t be my friends if they had.
-          Because they haven’t found someone they feel comfortable with. Some people don’t wanna fuck, they wanna make love (“Make love, not whore”…? I’ll work on it). Fair play to them, I say.
-          Because of fear. This is, of course, not something I advocate, and a lot of us would, I hope, agree that mutually consensual sex is nothing to be afraid of. But then again, I have no idea what their prior experiences are. I’m not about to order these guys to grit their teeth and face their demons before they’re ready – why would I? For one thing, I don’t have the inclination – and for another, I don’t have the right.
-          Because of any number of personal, subjective reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with me or you. And this is probably the one that we all find hardest to accept. But it’s not always oppression, shyness or the inability to find it, guys. Sometimes it’s pure, unadulterated choice.
I’m your average Sex and the City kind of woman. Not that I spend utterly asinine amounts of money I don’t possess on shiny footwear, but I do go out and fuck and then gloat and/or gripe about it to my gal pals the next day. A lot of my gal pals don’t do this, though. Some of them (as aforementioned) haven’t had sex. They are intelligent, witty, compassionate women who have a lot to say, and they usually say it far more coherently than I can ever muster. They have never once criticised my behaviour, or that of any sexually active woman; instead they’re always exceedingly supportive. Why aren’t they considered a prevalent part of the feminist revolution too? Why does feminism necessarily have to be about open, deliberate and emphatic sexual empowerment?
Don’t get me wrong – sexual empowerment is imperative if we are to reside in a fair world. Slut-shaming is a tendency society ought to be dismally ashamed of. Any woman has the right to choose to have sex with ten, twenty, thirty partners a day/week/month/whatever, if that is indeed the choice of all involved. She does not deserve comment or diminished respect for this. No one gives a flying fuck if a man sleeps around and it damn well ought to work both ways. This is, essentially, Feminism 101.
But equally, any woman (not to mention any man, any human at all) has the right to choose to have sex with zero partners. These feminists never seem to show up on TV; they’re never given a high-profile platform through which to speak or write. The female virgin character is always striving to release her inner wanton woman-of-the-world. If it’s set in the 21st century, you can bet that her virginity is never a choice, always a burden. To be a real woman, you supposedly have to do a little dance, make a little love and, preferably, get all the way down tonight. Yeah, all the way down.
The tacit implication that feminism requires erotic openness suggests any woman who doesn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason, can’t be a proper feminist. It’s virgin-shaming, abstinence-shaming, and it’s as bad as slut-shaming because both suggest that who a woman chooses to have or not have sex with is open for scrutiny and judgement by the world. Who a woman screws does not build or reduce her worth, and precisely the same is true of whether a woman screws.
Feminists: if you have sex and enjoy discussing your intimate night-time activities, good on you. No need to be ashamed of it.
Feminists: if you don’t have sex and don’t particularly want to, good on you. No need to be ashamed of it.
Now, that’s done – Babybels for all and sundry.

20 thoughts on “Does Feminism Have A Problem With Virginity?

  1. Good food for thought ladybros. However, where is this sort of abstinance-shaming? Maybe I just haven’t seen it among women and men that I know.. Do you mean that it is tacitly implied in the bombardment of ‘how to give the eprfect BJ’ (blah) articles in stupid glossies, or in other tv programmes? I didn’t get the impression that this was the messaging in Girls (OMG – new series – eeeeep!)



    • Intentional virgin here. The shaming happens. Over the years, from feminists and non-feminists, I have received the following comments.

      -Grow up and have sex already
      -Rumors came back to me in high school that I was a lesbian because I hadn’t kissed a guy at that point
      -I’m homophobic for choosing my own definition of virginity, that only applies to me
      -Sex is a normal, biological urge that I’m weird for denying
      -I’m a liar
      -I can’t know anything about lingerie or sex toys

      That’s just a sample. I’ve also been called a slut for my boobs and for having oral sex. Women literally can’t win.

    • I know about some of this. ‘What can you know of these things? It’s not like you’ve done it yet.’ On buying my colleague a vibrator for her birthday and backed up by my other work mates, she expressed incredulity that I got it because I haven’t done it yet blahblahblah. Making jokes abut immaculate conception haha. Being excluded from conversation because I don’t fit the criteria. People think they are so funny when they virgin shame

    • I had to deal with it as well when I was in my early 20s. I’ve had so-called friends try and come up with their most graphic sex stories to see how uncomfortable I would be with it, but I was most uncomfortable with the fact that I thought these people were my friends! I kept it a secret from most people because I would get weird looks as well. I don’t regret waiting until 24 to have sex, I just never met the right guy until then. I know women who think that it’s their right (because guys do it) to sleep around and not use protection, because they’re having fun. I might seem a bit boring to be married now and have only slept with two men, but it’s my choice, and I’m okay with that!

  2. I enjoyed this, very interesting. I’m curious though, about the inherent ideas around female sexuality that are behind many of the reasons women cite for not having sex – for example, there are lots of icky ideas around ‘giving bits of your soul’ to people, and wanting to ‘make love’ instead of sex, which is, in a way back way, probably grounded in religious policing of people’s bodies. We’ve so many crazy, inflated ideas, and bombastic ways of talking about sex that it can’t help people who are trying to decide whether to do it or not…

    Of course, all of these arguments to or for or meh about sex are grounded in some sort previous reasoning we’ve come to take on as our own – I am a fully fledged member of the ‘Virginity Myth’ cult so I’m guilty of this too (thanks Valenti) – so I do struggle when I hear people who have not had sex judge the act with an entirely pre-conceived notion of what it entails, and use notion that to justify why they’re a virgin.

    But hey, if you don’t want to have sex, that’s fine. Feminists should and are continuously fighting to make that a reality for women the world over. We can always talk about The Tunnel instead of last night’s conquest, and make sex less of a constant dialogue.

  3. Always love a piece that mentions Babybels. But also yes to this, big time; yes to choice and to people keeping the hell in or out of our business, as we wish.

    (Reading that last sentence back through, I realise it could be taken as a euphemism, which I’ll just leave with you.)

  4. I feel like a big deal is made out of feminists being sexual is because it’s such a historic stigma that women aren’t/shouldn’t having sex. So in the media, It’s important to obviously subvert this conservative oppressive myth. The fact that we’re now at a point where all we see are sexual feminist figures is obviously good, and testament to the fact that we’re on the way to destigmatising female sexuality. I suppose, if women feel unprepared to interrogate their sexuality because of these conservative myths, then it is our problem as feminist (our business?), to help them not feel like that. Obviously, nothing wrong with being sexual free, and choosing not to have sex, obviously. But it is important that women don’t feel like they have to not have sex because of any reason other than a well-educated and free one.

  5. Yes, thank you vagenda! So glad you wrote this! I was a virgin until I was 22 (and, gasp! My wedding night!!), not because of an opporessive fundamentalist upbringing: my dad, in his awkward way, encouraged me to get a birth control perscription if I chose to do it, and when I told my mom at fifteen that I felt I wanted to wait till at least eighteen, so at least I’d be already making other really important decisions, she said she thought that sounded like a good idea and left it at that. My choice did have to do with my religious beliefs, but once my future husband and I had been together a couple years those beliefs didn’t hold much sway. For me, waiting was about keeping a promise I had made to myself, and never ever ever having to worry about getting tested for STDs, and putting off pregnancy scares for as long as humanly reasonable!

    I’ve never for one minute regretted my choice, and I wish more women of various belief systems or lack thereof felt comfortable genuinely considering the pros and cons of having sex/not having sex, instead of feeling like it was something they were going to do sooner or later, so why put it off? (Goes without saying I hope: anyone who does make a well thought out decision to have sex, that’s your choice, and I respect it 100%!)

  6. It astounds me that this is never something that we discuss in terms of feminism, only in terms of sexuality or a scientific kind of sexuality – thank you

  7. This is most excellent. I do feel that there is some form of ‘competitive sexual one-upmanship’ happening (mostly on Twitter) among women in a manner that was normally reserved for teenage boys in early noughties teen movies, and it does make me a little uncomfortable. But nor does it make me a prude, and I’m glad that you’ve said this. Hat tip to the commissioning editor.

  8. So glad to hear something like this. Sex is a very individual thing. How we approach it and our choices concerning it are exactly that—our choices. As a 22 year old woman, I sometimes feel shamed by the fact that I am still a virgin even though it’s my choice.

  9. Happy to see more like-minded people. I’m 33, a virgin and an asexual lesbian (I find it defines me best even though I have never been in ANY relationship…). And I consider myself a quite radical feminist.
    I believe it’s a good thing to free virginity of that “prudish”, patriarchal burden attached to it. Virginity is so strongly associated with humility, anxiety, submissiveness – a feminist approach should show it as a CHOICE. For me the most important association is: virginity is sexual nonconformism. This is a notion almost antithetical to traditional images of virginity, yet I find it pivotal for my own perception of why I consider virginity something dear to me.

    • @ nowhere girl

      I have a lot in common with you:
      I am a 35 year old asexual hetero-aligned female virgin who also gas never been in a relationship. I think, in addition to being asexual I am also aromantic.

      This really rings a bell: “For me the most important association is: virginity is sexual nonconformism”.
      I think that really hits it on the head. Virginity, particularly long term chosen virginity, is like the ULTIMATE opt-out.
      I get to side step the whole mess with just one move. It is ultimately freeing.

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