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Virginity and use of language

February 15, 2012

Big ol’ trigger warning for rape.

I am a member of a club that no one wants to join: my first sexual experience was not consensual.  I know and know of way too many people for whom this is also true, and it’s got me thinking about the language that we use around virginity. 

Most of the time, when you talk about that awesome time you got together with your sweety and did ‘it’ for the first time, you call that ‘losing your virginity’. I think it would make far more sense to talk about ‘giving your virginity’. 

Okay, some background to how I came to this conclusion. I was raped when I was 13 and oh so very very innocent. I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t even know the right names for the bits of me that were being violated. I knew that my parents were very keen on me marrying as a virgin, so I didn’t even tell them it had happened because I couldn’t face them knowing that not only had I been brutally assaulted, which was by then over and they couldn’t change, but that also I had had my virginity taken from me, and I figured they were better off not knowing. I also repressed the whole thing to deal with later. Which turned out to be about the age of 20.

I had my first consensual sexual experience a few months before I turned 19, but I didn’t at that point think that I was losing my virginity – I thought I’d already lost that. I thought I was spoilt goods in that sense – I could be ‘good’, but I would never be best, and could never marry in white. 

When I did get around to dealing with the whole rape thing (my subconcious figured I was ready to deal, so dumped it all in my lap – fun times) one of the things I had to think through was the virginity thing. Was it time to re-think my earlier assumptions? I knew that from a technical point of view my hymen was no more. But I hadn’t bled during the rape, so I figure that it had been broken before that through heavy exercise, which is possible, and, to be fair, likely given the amount of running, irish dancing, climbing, lacross and general other activity I was into at the time. So what had actually changed?

I came to the conclusion that the only change was in my memory. I hadn’t undergone some mystical transformation from ‘pure’ to ‘sullied’. And I came to the conclusion that virginity cannot be taken unless it is first given. 

(Incidentally, this also made me retrospectively regret the time I actually gave my virginity, as, had I been thinking about it differently, I would have valued it more, and not given the experience to such a total fucking loser, whilst drunk, when I had only known them 6 hours. Me, I’m classy.)

This subtle shift in language can have big consequences. Consider this exchange:

Spotty Teen 1: ‘So, did you guys do it?’

Spotty Teen 2: ‘Yeah, I totally took their virginity!’

Spotty Teen 1: ‘Way to go!’

And how it would differ with new language:

Spotty Teen 1: ‘So, did you guys do it?’

Spotty Teen 2: ‘Yeah, they totally gave me their virginity!’

Spotty Teen 1: ‘Way to go!’

There’s not that much difference in the actual words, but the tone is completely different. 

Also, putting aside the heartache that would be saved by the unwilling members of my club by the removal of the doubt about virginity, think of the change in attitudes this could induce. If virginity is something that is given rather than taken, then that subtly shifts sex from being something that one person does to another, to something that two people do together. All in a mode of speech. That, if widely used by teachers in sex ed classes, should only take 15 – 20 years or so to become the accepted and expected way to discuss this.

So, you! Start now! Language evolves through usage. And usage can be conciously changed for positive social progress. Get to it!


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One Comment
  1. limnaia permalink

    As I said when we talked about this – you make an excellent point. While I think that spotty teenage gits of any gender will always find a way to imply through their language that they are taking someone’s virginity as some kind of trophy to hang on their wall, it’s a step in the right direction. (read: the direction that doesn’t make people feel like inevitable notches on a belt/bedpost)

    I also think it would be nice if it was treated like less of a ENORMOUS DEAL that happens precisely once. Sleeping with someone for the first time is special and important, whether you are virgins or not. Sleeping with someone for the millionth time is special and important. Sex in general has the capacity to be as special and important as you would like it to be EVERY SINGLE time you do it. Having given your virginity doesn’t change that.

    From my point of view, the only thing that changed as I had more sex is that I worried less about it. I wish I could have had that from the first time. (Although apparently, I was significantly less nervous than my then-partner was expecting. He was more scared than I was, despite having had sex before. It creeped him out that I was so calm and relaxed.)

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