Today, most of us like to think of ourselves as modern, progressive and ‘woke’.  Society is moving forward and our collective approach of looking at things is changing each day. And society’s views of sex has also evolved with time, thanks to the numerous sex-positive, feminist and LGBTQ movements around the world. 

However, the obsession with a woman’s virginity and sexual choices still exists in pop culture- movies, cinema and literature as well as in real life.  From ‘Twilight’s’ Bella Swan who had to wait to be within the confines of marriage to have sex with the man she loved to ‘FRIENDS’ Monica who was confronted about her “number”- there has always been a stigmatised narrative around a woman’s sexuality. 

From slut-shaming to kink-shaming and giving labels to passing snide comments- there is no dearth of assumptions about socially acceptable expressions of sexuality. And unsurprisingly, these assumptions ultimately judge women more harshly than men.  It is high time that we shun the double standard that men who have a lot of sex are supposedly studs and women who have sex are sluts! 

Female virginity is considered synonymous to purity, whereas male virginity is seen as he is not yet a man! The virility side of this discussion is that when a man loses his virginity, it is seen as a positive thing and does not necessarily have to happen within the confines of marriage.

What Is Sex?

The general definition of sex is extremely narrow and heteronormative. It is almost ignorant to other forms of intimacy and is, unfortunately, bound in a patriarchal obsession with virginity. Virginity, to me, seems like a social construct grounded in religious traditions and heterosexuality that value women as mere properties. In many religions, there is emphasis that sex is meant for baby-making and thus a woman should remain “pure” until marriage and have sex only to create a progeny (reducing us to “child bearers”, which can be altogether another article!). Hence, any form of non-procreative sex between two people of any gender becomes a taboo.

Accepting the whole idea of virginity implies that any form of non-heterosexual sex (sexual acts beyond penis-in-vagina penetration) do not “count” or are not “real/natural” sex. So, the concept of virginity is also totally ignorant and dismissive of the entire LGBTQ population of the world.

Are You A Virgin? 

Women are very often asked this question. Again, what is virginity? By definition, the act of having sex, which leads to the “loss of virginity” is defined by penis-vagina penetration. Then, do we count masturbation, or does that not affect virginity? In hindsight, why do we even have this obsessive need to define virginity? Many people and textbooks believe that the presence of the hymen is the symbol of a pure virgin woman.

If it is about the hymen then what role does sex play here (because, Science)? I think, by that definition, I lost my virginity when I was 9 and was riding a bike! Some of my friends who were athletes may have lost it on the tracks, and some while just jumping around in their homes. Does this make us all impure?

What’s Your Number?

Yet another question that women are often asked is “what’s your number”? Generally, the person asking this is looking to quantify a woman’s sexual experience and wants to determine her worth accordingly. Is she a pious virgin or a slut who has been sleeping around? How many men has she slept with? 

And then, begins the name-calling- from being easy to unwanted and ripe to fresh- we are labelled as things. While I, without any doubt, hold a grudge against the ignorant and closed-minded people who ask these questions, I also blame pop culture. From ‘Sex and The City’ to a film literally called “What’s Your Number”- movies have fed us an idea of a “acceptable” number of people that it is ok to sleep with!

Everyone has a different number of sexual partners they consider to be “normal”. But the real question here is who decides what counts as “normal.” TV shows, movies, women’s magazines and outdated social expectations- that’s who!

The Inherent Anxiety Around Female Sexuality

I feel that the society’s obsession with a woman’s virginity, her number of sexual partners and other sexual choices revolves around an inherent anxiety and fear around female sexuality. The idea that women can have sex for pleasure and not just for bearing children seems unacceptable, even in this day and age.

I remember only a couple of years ago, the Director of the Indian Film Censor Board denied the release of a movie titled ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ that revolves around the (sexual) lives of four women from different age groups and social classes. The official statement that the Director gave to the media was that this movie was “too female-oriented” and that Indian society was “not ready to see women in that light”. I believe that what made the deciding authorities uncomfortable about this film was the fact that the female protagonists were calling the shots of when, with whom, and how much!

Another example would be from the famous Chinese TV Show ‘Ode to Joy’ when Qiu Yingying, one of the show’s five young female protagonists, gets dumped by her boyfriend after he finds out that she is not a virgin. This was in 2017.

We are living in a day and age where our phone wishes us a Happy Birthday and our refrigerator tells us to Have a Nice Day! We are walking on Mars and building smart cities. But, sadly from women’s bodies to sexual preferences- everything continues to remain either a taboo or a stigma.

Can we get over a woman’s body, her sexual choices and virginity already, or, is it too much to ask?