Who Called the Shots?
Female virginity is an umbrella term representing the multitude of different interpretations and understandings for what it means to be a female virgin— an ambiguous concept. Not considering the broad female perspective for millennia in the West, collectively, men in power have strictly limited female virginity to a singular definition. In a male-dominated society, female virginity is defined as the act of avoiding vaginal intercourse that involves penetration through breaking the hymen. Confining female virginity to one definition limits a woman in her freedom of choice. Female virginity is as limitless as the woman who defines the concept herself. The definition of female virginity is truest when the woman herself makes the choice to define the term, not men.
The word “female” is more than an adjective and noun, the word itself is also an umbrella term. No woman can be put into a box and limited to a one line sentence. As a Western society, men have put these limits on women, defining women as to how she is supposed to dress, act, and or speak. Planned Parenthood states that women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine[ly] ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. No woman will always dress in deemed femininely attire, be polite, accommodating, and nurturing— that request is simply inhumane, inaccurate, and outdated. If an individual who identifies as a woman were to live by misogynistic guidelines provided by men and act out in frustration, not keeping to being accommodating or polite, because her car was broken into and stolen from, that individual would not be a woman anymore, according to male-opinionated, prejudiced guidelines. Ideas of what a woman “should be” are constrictive like a cobra killing its prey, expectations and defining lines breed for inaccuracy and stereotypes. Planned Parenthood claims, “exaggerated gender stereotypes can make relationships between people difficult” (Planned Parenthood 1). In the world of want-to-believe limits, relationships are difficult when women are put into four-walled iron boxes. Authors Alice H. Eagly and Antonio Mladinic of “Gender Stereotypes and Attitudes Toward Women and Men,” claim, “women [are] perceived as inferior to men in agentic, or instrumental (i.e., masculine-positive), qualities…” (Eagly and Mladinic 554). Because women are perceived to be inferior to men in more masculine-positive qualities, this apparent gap becomes more distinct, therefore ruining any chance of equality. By understanding that the definition of a woman seeps out of this systemic patriarchal box, then can Western societies begin to understand the many layers to a woman.
According to men in power, female virginity is preserved only when a woman avoids having vaginal intercourse through her hymen being broken because of penile penetration (penile-vaginal intercourse involves the penis being inserted into the vagina). Penile-vaginal intercourse is a reasonable viewpoint to consider when conceptualizing what it means to be a female virgin— only if the woman herself believes the method of intercourse to be closest to her idea of what it means to be a female virgin. Limited to women who express only heterosexuality, penile-vaginal intercourse is applicable to heterosexual women, excluding women who are non-heterosexual.
Heterosexuality is not the forefront in the West. Restricting, the penile-vaginal intercourse fails to cover the vast array of diverse sexualities and/or preferred methods of intercourse. According to Jeffery M. Jones, author of an academic article highlighting LGBT demographics in the United States for the year 2021, “… lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identification finds 5.6% of U.S. adults identifying as LGBT” (Jones 1). This percentage is low but Jones adds, “7.6% [of American adults] do not answer the question about their sexual orientation” (Jones 1). The small percentage of confirmed LGBT American adults only accounts for adults who are fully out. The study fails to cover two pivotal points: LGBT children, teenagers, and individuals who keep their sexual orientation private, and the amount of individuals who identify as LGBT+. The percentage reported is likely to be larger— when including all different groups of individuals.
Besides penile-vaginal intercourse, anal and oral intercourse are two methods of intercourse that are valid and must be considered. Both anal and oral intercourse involve penetration of the penis. Respectively, both methods of intercourse have strict guidelines that set both of them apart: anal intercourse being achieved through the insertion of the penis into the anus while oral intercourse is achieved through the penis being inserted into the opening of the mouth. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, conducted by scientific researchers in America, found that 29.4% of American adolescents believed that virginity is lost through oral intercourse while 83.9% believed virginity was lost through anal intercourse. Alternatively, writers for the Journal of Adolescent Health state that “70.6% of [American] adolescent[s] believed that girls and boys retain their virginity if they participate in oral sex” (Bersamin, Fisher, Walker, Hill, and Grube 1) and “16.1% believed that an adolescent was still a virgin if he or she engaged in anal sex” (Bersamin, Fisher, Walker, Hill, and Grube 1). Being completely dependent on the individual woman, anal and oral intercourse can be considered when deciding what it means to be a female virgin.
Emotional-psychological aspects of intercourse are important which must be considered when defining what it means to be a female virgin. Intercourse is not only a physical process but rather intercourse is both emotional and physical (or only emotional— this perspective is dependent on the individual woman). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender women may never have penile-vaginal, oral, and/or anal intercourse. This possibility should not exclude these women who identify as non-heterosexual. Women who avoid penile-vaginal, oral, and/or anal intercourse have creative methods to provoke sexual intimacy. Fondling, foreplay, kissing, rubbing, stroking, and or touching are effective methods that provoke sexual intimacy. Emotional-psychological intercourse is enthusiastic and must involve the presence of two people. Penile-vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse all can be one-sided, even with consent. Emotional-psychological intercourse that involves the presence of two people will always be two sided.
Female virginity is multilayered and complex. Men have defined what it means to be a female virgin for millennia but when the woman herself decides to be in charge of defining female virginity, then will a woman be able to embrace the complexity of female virginity. An umbrella term, female virginity should always be open to ambiguity— truest when the woman herself defines what it means to be a female virgin.
Parenthood, Planned. “Gender Identity & Roles: Feminine Traits & Stereotypes.” Planned Parenthood, Simon & Schuster, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/sex-gender-identity/what-are-gender-roles-and-stereotypes.
Eagly, Alice H., and Antonio Mladinic. “Gender Stereotypes and Attitudes toward Women and Men.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 15, no. 4, 1989, pp. 543–558., https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167289154008.
Parenthood, Planned. “What Is Virginity & the Hymen?: Losing Your Virginity.” Planned Parenthood, Simon & Schuster, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity.
Bersamin, Melina M, et al. “Defining Virginity and Abstinence: Adolescents’ Interpretations of Sexual Behaviors.” The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1941649/.
Jones, Jeffrey M. “LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 20 Nov. 2021, https://news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx.