Construct of Virginity
Virginity, or the construct of virginity, has been present in the traditional roles of both men and women for centuries. Socially, young individuals are expected to save themselves in order to enter marriage with virginal purity, only to give themselves to their new spouse. This expectation finds its way into traditional gender roles as both genders are expected to maintain a light of innocence when marrying.
While men are still expected, in a traditional sense, to save themselves until marriage, there is a much less harmful reaction towards male sexual activity. There are a number of stereotypes that come along with both maintaining virginity until marriage as well as losing virginity. For men, staying a virgin can often be viewed in negative light in which men are seen as weak or lacking masculine qualities. On the opposite end, men involved in sexual activity are more often than not viewed as macho and maintaining their male expectation. Male sexual activity, especially within a family dynamic encourages pride from father to son for having sex for the first time, followed by a firm pat on the back or a lighthearted affirmation. There is very little negative societal connotation aligned with men and sex both prior to and post marriage, in fact, men are often praised for their sexual encounters - “The concepts of honor and virginity locate the prestige of a man between the legs of a woman.” [ 1 ]
For women, however, the expectation is much more harmful because it perpetuates female worth in their sexual purity. When women are involved in sexual activity prior to marriage they are often labeled as a slut or whore for their loss of innocence. Unlike the male comradery, there is a sense of familial disappointment that comes alongside female sexual activity prior to marriage. For this reason, female sexual experience is often an overlooked subject matter, almost seen as too controversial to even speak about. This creates an unwelcoming environment for female sexual experience and liberation in aspects of society even outside of virginity. The opposing side is just as harmful, as women who remain virgins prior to marrying are seen as prudent if they refuse to ‘put out’. This social construct is slowly being dismantled as many individuals recognize it as a myth rooted in the patriarchal practices throughout centuries of culture. However, until that destination is reached, it is detrimental to understand the narrative of virginity as a social construct and how it impacts everyday experiences for all people, not just in the light of traditional enforcement.
[ 1 ] Mernissi, Fatima. 1982. Women's Studies International Forum: Virginity and patriarchy.
Volume 5, Issue 2, Pages 183-191, ISSN 0277-5395, https://doi.org/10.1016/0277-5395(82)90026-7.