An OB nursing colleague once told me, and I agree, that a woman should be considered “no longer a virgin” after she gives birth for the first time – not after she has sex for the first time. A woman’s body changes after she gives birth. After she has penis-in-vagina intercourse for the first time? Nada.
A woman feels no different after she “loses” her virginity, except maybe psychologically and that mostly due to society’s labeling than to any inherent physical or rational change. In fact, after sex, she doesn’t feel like she “lost” anything at all. Except the label ‘virgin.’ Heads up guys – we don’t feel our hymens, unless you’re poking at them. We usually don’t know if they are there or not. Nor do we care. They don’t do anything for or against us.
The word ‘virgin,’ some say, was derived from a Greek word that meant ‘not attached to a man,’ a woman who was “one-in-herself.” Goddesses like Ishtar (Assyrian-Babylonian), Diana (Roman), Astarte (Greek) and Isis (Egyptian) were called “virgins” not because they were inexperienced but because they were strong and independent.
‘Virgin’ Goddesses of:
Childbirth, the hunt, animals – Diana
Love, war, fertility, and sex – Ishtar
Fertility, sexuality, war – Astarte
Nursing, breastfeeding, death – Isis
War, wisdom, courage, strength – Athena
There is also evidence that the word ‘virgin’ derived from the combination of the Latin words ‘vir-‘ (for man, as in ‘virile’) and ‘-gyne’ ( for woman, as in gynecology) – a man-woman or androgynous person. This corresponds with the biblical story in Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Perhaps God and the first human he/she created is/was intersex? It also fits nicely with a saying attributed to old folk wisdom, “a virgin has the whole potential of the total original human being.” Sounds very independent.
It was only later in Genesis 2:22, that God was said to have made a separate Eve from Adam’s rib. Medieval rabbis have suggested that two women were created, the first being Lilith and the second, Eve. Perhaps the first was too independent for Adam, too ‘virginal’?
Further evidence of the term ‘virginal’ originally meaning strong comes from another Greek word for virgin – ‘parthenos.’ The root also builds the Latin word parthenogenesis, which if you remember your biology, means self-fertilizing, i.e., reproducing without a partner or, wait for it …..virgin birth!
Of course, Christians don’t hold the patent on virgin birth. Besides Jesus Christ, many great old cultural icons were said to be born of virgin mothers: Marduk (Babylonia), Gilgamesh (Sumeria), Buddha (India), Osiris (Egypt), Dionysus (Greek), and Genghis Khan (Mongolia) to name a few. It wasn’t until the mid-13th century that the word ‘virgin’ was first used to mean a chaste woman or a chaste man.
The CDC reports that rates of sexual intercourse among teenagers have been dropping. In 1988, 51% of female teens and 60% of male teens between 15 and 19 had ever had sex, whereas in 2015, the rates were lower and more even across genders at 30% for female and 29% for males. However, oral and anal sex rates have been rising. Many teens believe that non-vaginal sex preserves their virginity – so then what is a virgin anyway? Is someone who’s had oral sex and anal sex but not vaginal sex a virgin? Does a woman whose hymen disappeared somewhere between her dirt biking and her rock climbing days disappoint her husband on their wedding night? While the “purity ball” dads may have meant to prevent pre-marital sex, all they may have accomplished was to preserve their daughters’ hymens. Thanks, dad.
In discussing these issues with my partner, Walter, he confided that he did not think that the maniacal or brain-washed or involuntarily-commandeered Muslim suicide bombers were hoping to get 72 strong, independent or androgynous persons as an eternal reward for their martyrdom. More likely they were hoping for the religious meaning of the word virgin – pure, chaste, and “undefiled.” Further, he wondered why any man would want 72 virgins anyway? He reasons that they’d likely be scared and inexperienced, fumbling at best and crying at worst. What a horrible scenario for both parties. The poor virgins deserve much better and the suicide bombers much worse.
Studies have suggested that it is not uncommon for young women to have sex for the first time because they were tired of carrying the label “virgin.” Wouldn’t it be nicer if it was because two young people had gotten to the point of sexual maturity, human curiosity, and sensual intimacy – and that it was OK? Aren’t efforts, like chastity balls and church sermons, aimed to “protect and preserve” girls’ “virginities,” only drawing attention to that status, making it a big deal, causing too much pressure and hype – and setting girls up for failure? Why don’t we just retire the word?
Or, better yet, perhaps we should reinstate the original definition. If girls knew that a virgin is a strong, independent woman who does not require sexual intercourse with a man to be complete and successful – then we might have a concept to which young women could willingly aspire.
***Photo from DepositPhotos: Sculptures on Bellas Artes (Palace of fine art) in Mexico city.