The Virgin’s Sacrifice
I was 14 the first time I had sex.
In my claustrophobic hometown, restlessness consumed us. Gripping at anything that cleared the fog, my friends and I slipped out of bedroom windows, stole cigarettes from our parents and passed bottles of tequila around bonfires ablaze on the midnight sand. We were passionately protesting a mediocre life, and sex was another welcomed rebellion in our pursuit.
With fearless naivety and incompetence, in the heat of summer and young love, I lost my virginity.
Lost it? As if it were a set of keys or a limb.
Over a decade later, I still vividly remember the stairs groaning under our feet as we snuck to his bedroom, the warm flicker of the candle that he had bought specifically for the occasion, the hasty undressing and the adoring laughter that thrust us into the uncharted waters of sex.
What I specifically don’t recall is feeling like I lost anything that night.
It strikes me as incongruous that society refers to a new sexual experience as a loss, maliciously declaring that your virginity is an irreplaceable piece of you, a piece that should only be broken off and sacrificed under circumstances predetermined by somebody else and implying that without it, you are no longer whole.
Christianity has long associated virginity with dignity in young women, deeming marriage the most honourable and appropriate reason for engaging in sexual intercourse. It is the ultimate badge of devotion to future husbands, a pin to be worn proudly to the purity ball.
In a religion where abstinence largely determines a girl’s worth, the contrary message also emerges: indulging in fornication decreases your value.
The confession of my own sexual escapades were met with a mindful discussion about pregnancy and birth-control with my mum, a social worker who supported my decision on the basis that I understood the consequences of unprotected sex and consent. Ironically, it was a scornful appointment with my female GP that exposed the most judgment. Repeatedly emphasising what a grave and irreversible life choice I had made, she signed my contraceptive pill prescription with a disapproving scrawl.
This mentality has snaked its way through cultures globally, rearing its disapproving head in environments where it should not survive. A reptile thriving in barren terrain.
“You are a slut,” a friend’s own mother hissed at her. “Your reputation is in the gutter.”
These words, too callous to defend and too damaging to forget, were hurled heartlessly into the ears of my teenage friend. A young woman who was raised in a secular, Australian household and had waited 12 months to sleep with her long-term boyfriend, in consent and in love.
“What are my friends going to think of you? Stupid girl.”
Choking back tears, she desperately attempted to defend herself in the face of condemnation. Failing to find any comfort in the eyes of her mum and in the wake of the last trusting conversation that they ever had, she vowed to honour the choices of her own future daughters, a sentiment she was cruelly denied.
In the west, Muslim women torn between the apparent freedom afforded by their environment and the deep-seated tradition of their religion are surrendering themselves to the surgical knife in fear of alleged impurity. With the promise of “restoring” virginity, hymenoplasty surgery has soared to fame. The procedure involves one semi-circular cut and 10 dissolving stitches sown into the woman’s hymen – the vaginal membrane anticipated to break during a first sexual encounter.
“In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,” affirms a 23-year-old French patient of Moroccan decent in an interview with The New York Times.
It is this injurious concept that fuels exasperation in me – the concept of an “intact” woman.
How have so many outdated notions bound together and resolved that employing a scalpel to create the illusion of virginity is a safer alternative to personal choice?
In South Africa, comparable illustrations of sexual discrimination have emerged in the form of Virgin Scholarships. Aimed at young women, The Maiden Bursary Awards are granted on the basis that the applicant’s virginity remains intact, a status determined by a series of tests performed by female elders.
“Remaining a virgin is my only chance to get an education, because my parents cannot afford to take me to school,” explains 18-year-old recipient Thubelihle Dlodlo.
The prospect of virginity being exploited by academic institutions to govern women’s access to an education stabs me in the heart and twists the knife.
It seems that virginity is a covert price tag knotted securely to our wrists, dictating how we travel through a world of materialism and archaic inhumanity. Maybe your tag was tied by your priest, by your parents, by your community, by your social group or by yourself, but the undertone of suppression remains consistent. The stigma that surrounds virginity breeds angst and insecurity and for as long as sexual independence is punishable by disapproval and humiliation, we are not free.
Your first time may have seen you lose sleep, lose composure, lose your socks, lose balance, lose track of time, lose focus, lose confidence, lose direction, lose your glasses, lose your temper or lose your phone reception, but the truth is that you never lose your virginity.
I have been having sex for 11 years now, and I’ve never lost mine. Virginity is not a set of keys or a limb: it is a concept, and you can not lose nor be robbed of a concept.
Cover by Jana Martish