College Angst and the Cult of Virginity, Part II.
Advisory Warning: This is the second of a two-part blog on virginity, and it contains frank talk about sex. If you are under age, don’t want to read about such things, can’t read about them without euphemisms or clinical terms, or have no sense of humor, please don’t read it. By clicking the “continue” button, you agree that you can, and want, to go on. If you’re coming directly to the full blog and don’t want to go on, just hit the “back” button now. You may also want to read my last entry. But whatever you decide, please remember that my blog is not about getting anyone to see things a particular way, it’s about getting myself and others to think about the ways that I, and they, see things.
So, where was I? Oh, yeah; we had just gone through the yada-yada-yada about virginity having been a social construct that mostly men have applied to mostly women, and that a bit about how this construct got tangled up with notions of health and spiritual purity in the second century AD. But hardly anyone is really interested in that ancient history. If we fast-forward to our present day, where has that brought us?
Well, as someone who spends the greater part of his life around young adults in the 18 to 25 year-old range, I would say that it’s brought us to needless angst, genuine confusion, dizzying rationalization, hypocritical protestation, an astounding degree of denial, and some of the most ridiculous blather you’ll ever hear.
You see, part of the point of the last entry was that the concept of virginity was created for 13-17 year-old (mostly female) adolescents who were kept carefully under guard until they could be exchanged between families like fruit baskets at Christmas. You wanted them to arrive, unwrapped, just when they were getting ripe.
However, once you move things back a season, the fruit is not only ripe but the baskets can unwrap themselves. In a culture that values autonomy and choice, mutuality relationships, and venerates personal development and self-fulfilment — even in religion — throw young adults into a college or work environment and you have a quagmire in which neither traditional virginity or marriage (see my post on “Everyone Needs a Starter Marriage”) work very well. And it’s not because of a flaw in modern people, or that people are worse than they used to be. It’s a flaw in the application. The social codes for which these programs were written are no longer compatible with the operating systems we use, even those of us who claim to be using JC 1.0.
What to do? To stay with the operating system and application analogy, numerous patches have been written over time to try and fix the bugs and eliminate the crashes.
Bug Fix #1: Add extra layers of personal shame, guilt, and fear, and eliminate access until the program can be activated in the proper operating environment.
At some conservative universities, social contact is strictly monitored and regulated to keep physical contact under tighter wraps. Even holding hands can get you expelled for fear of something getting out of hand. They do try to help: there are even masturbation support groups, where young men confess their indiscretions, give each other a hand up when they have gotten off the straight and arrow, and struggle to purge any hint of sex or sexuality from their heart, soul, and mind.
You might as well ask a 15 year-old not to grow pubic hair. It’s so terribly counterproductive. Do you know, or can you even imagine, how much such people obsess about sex? I do. Sex and sexuality is — I’m sorry, it just is — an integral part of our being, and it’s just coming into flower at this time. And it’s corrosive. You’re not going to teach young adults to fear, repress, distrust, and even loath sex and their sexuality and end up with adults with honest, good, or loving sex lives. Ain’t gonna happen. Not in 2000 years. Nor do you end up with very grounded decisions about marriage. I know that I got married young, in part, because everything in my body told me that it was time to have a fully adult, and fully sexual, relationship, and everything in my training and mind told me that meant…it was time to get married. I’ve witnessed it happen with young people more times than I want to mention here.
Just a shakin’ in my knees, just a cold chill,
Don’t know what it is; some call it a thrill.
Just a lump in my throat, just hot blood,
Don’t know what it is, some call it love.
–Lucinda Williams, Hot Blood
Bug Fix #2: Promise more than the program can deliver if the customer waits to use it in the desired environment.
I sometimes hear from students that virginity will make their their love, relationship, and sex life better, deeper, and more special when they finally do that with a married partner, and will be something that they can look back on and treasure. Where do they get these ideas? People remember their first loves fondly, and their first sex with a cringe. It’s awkward, painful, and short. I’ve known couples who were all for virginity until marriage who, when they approached the day, got the first time out of the way before the wedding so that they could enjoy their wedding night. It baffles me.
Virginity doesn’t make you treasure or love the person you love any more or less, and we wouldn’t like it if it did. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: turn to your partner, look him or her in the eye, and say, “Honey, I really would love you more now, and you would really be more beautiful to me, if you had (or had not) been a virgin.” Go ahead. I double-dog dare you. I’ll stay right here and dial 911, because you’re going to need an ambulance. And if you mean it, I don’t feel sorry for you: I feel sorry for your partner.
Bug Fix #3: Change the definitions for “having sex” or “premarital sex.”
I’ve heard creative definitions of what doesn’t constitute sex that would baffle even the people who created credit default swaps, but they are generally predicated on the syllogism that if sex must be open to procreation, any act that is not open to procreation must not be sex. It does have a perverse logic. It worked for me. Nowadays, I think that if someone is having hand sex, oral sex, or anal sex, or if one person is humping another’s ass crack, cleavage, or feet — they’re having sex. I now think that I really wasn’t a virgin when I got married, even though I waited to have full sexual intercourse until then. And now I think that, even if you are engaged or really, really intending in your heart to get married and have sex…you’re still having premarital sex.
I loved you for your beauty; that doesn’t make fool of me:
You were in it for your beauty too.
And I loved you for your body; yes, a voice that sounds like G*d to me
Declaring (declaring), declaring that your body’s really (really, really, really, really) you.
–LC. Closing Time
Bug Fix #4: Lie now and pretend later.
It’s amazing to me how many people will fuck like rabbits or have prior relationships and then lie later about it to their kids, their partners, their friends, and even to themselves. Parents, despite the fact that they actually turned out to be good, responsible, loving people — in part because of the things they did, good and bad — will misrepresent their past, especially to their kids, to an alarming degree. All that misrepresenting does is perpetuate a cycle of false assumptions and impossible communication.
Bug Fix #5: Give up completely.
How to handle sex and relationships during this extended time (which now runs from about 18 to the late 20s) is becoming pretty complicated. The old virgin/whore binary reduces reaction to these complications into, what seems to me, two equally dismal cultures: one a dismal and empty hook-up culture in which sex becomes an overused condiment (kind of a casual relationship ketchup) and the other a paranoid and fearful culture that is so terrified of sex and fixated on purity that it can only preach but not really minister. Both, to my mind, as disassociated from reality in ways that often warp and scar people. No wonder so many just give up trying to make sense of it all and pretend that it all was a hazy bad dream when they finally get things settled down for themselves later on.
What to do, what to do?
I don’t pretend to know what to do. And I don’t think it’s my job to tell people how to run their relationships or sex life. But I do think people can do better when they are better informed, and that the young adults would be better informed if we started talking honestly about our own experiences. Sure, some of us are not proud of things we have done or not done in our past. Some of us are. Some of us may regret missed opportunities. Others do not. But if we began to talk honestly about them, about ourselves, and about growing up and through that earlier period of our lives I think we would all benefit. And I think that we would find that our most meaningful conversations would come down to things like complicated choices and their consequences, expectations met or unmet, and coping with ambiguous experiences and relationships, all of which go into making us who we are. And I think we would find that the whole preoccupation with virginity is mostly a means for not talking honestly about all those things.
PLEASE at least read this before you go off prematurely.
- I am NOT saying, “Don’t be a virgin.” Go right ahead if you know clearly what, for you, that means and why you did or are doing it. Be content with that. Just realize that definitions and decisions about who is a virgin, what virginity is, and when one should be one are made between individuals and the social groupings (tribes, families, religious groups, etc.) to which they belong. The problem, as I see it, is that these decisions and definitions are so malleable (there are now even different kinds of “re-virgins”), inconsistent, and misapplied that the term has no real positive value. I vote to unpack the term and get rid of it altogether. But if you want to hang onto it, at least know what you’re hanging onto. And stop judging other people based on whether you think they are living up, or down, to your definition.
- I am NOT advocating indiscriminate casual sex as an alternative to virginity. It’s not an either-or proposition, unless you buy into the virgin/whore dichotomy that has been so utterly destructive and demeaning over time.
- I am NOT talking about adolescent sex. I’m talking about young adults who are old enough to ship off to war, ship off to prison and execution, and old enough to vote for the arguably the most powerful person in the world. I think they ought to be given accurate information to make adult decisions about their sexuality, and they should be able to make them.
- I AM saying that, as adults, let’s be honest with what virginity is and isn’t, and can and can’t do. Let’s take away the confused, contradictory, and inaccurate mystique. Let’s stop venerating something that doesn’t exist in an attempt to ignore dealing with how things actually are.
- I AM advocating honesty and authenticity. I think we all — not just young people — would be better off if we were more honest about sex, relationships, and about ourselves. And you can’t be authentic until you are willing to deal with how things actually are, not how you wish, want, or imagine them to be. Persistent denial isn’t a strategy for a better world.
- And lastly, although it will disappoint some, this is NOT a post about “real” love or “real” beauty, except to say that virginity doesn’t really have anything to do with either of them. If you want to disagree, fine. The facts of human development, logic, history, common sense, and general experience are not on your side. But I suspect that really doesn’t matter to you; what matters is holding onto an ideology that doesn’t accord well with any of those things no matter how much damage, or how little good, it does. And how’s that workin’ out for you — really?