It seems peculiar to me virginity is the only major area of life in which many of us value inexperience more than experience. When I mentioned that thought to a friend the other day he responded, “Is it inexperience that’s valued or innocence?”
Now, my friend has a habit of spinning ideas to fit his agenda, so I at first dismissed his distinction as mere spin. After all, there is a sense in which it doesn’t matter whether you call a lack of skill and know-how “inexperience” or “innocence”. Both words can be used to point to the same reality, and the only difference between them might be the separate emotions each word conjures. So, thinking along those lines, I dismissed my friend’s choice of the word “innocent” as both insubstantial and sentimental.
Unfortunately, my friend’s damnable weasel-like distinction won’t stay dismissed. Over the past few hours, I’ve been trying to reason his distinction back into the rodent burrow from whence it emerged, but to no avail. Instead of meekly retreating, the notion there might be a practical and useful distinction between inexperience and innocence is advancing on me. So, let’s take a closer look at the filthy little beast.
What is innocence? Some of us may say the opposite of innocence is guilt. That is certainly true in a court of law. But is it true in any useful or practical way when applied to sexual experience? Is the opposite of sexual innocence, sexual guilt?
Frankly, I think calling the opposite of sexual innocence, sexual guilt, is a pretty crazy idea. I know some people have reported feeling guilt after having sex for the first time, but their guilt doesn’t seem to have much to do with the intrinsic nature of sex. If it did, then everyone would feel guilt after first sex, and that simply is not the case. Instead, feelings of guilt seem to have more to do with remorse or regret that the sex was exploitative, or that only one of the partners really wanted it, or that having sex broke some moral rule the people had internalized. In any of those cases, it’s not the sex itself that is at fault, but the circumstances surrounding it. So, it seems crazy to me to insist the opposite of sexual innocence is sexual guilt.
Yet, if sexual innocence is not the opposite of sexual guilt, then is sexual innocence the opposite of sexual experience?
Once again, I don’t think so. I at first took sexual innocence to be a synonym for sexual inexperience, but I no longer believe that. For one thing, it seems to me a person can have had sex a thousand times and still approach it with innocence. For another thing, it seems to me a person can never before have had sex and yet approach it while lacking innocence. So, I don’t think we can at this point assert the opposite of sexual innocence is sexual experience.
So, what exactly is sexual innocence? To me, it’s non-exploitative sex. Put differently, the opposite of sexual innocence is sexual exploitation.
Of course, I am merely stating my opinion here. And I don’t know whether my friend would agree with me or not the opposite of sexual innocence is sexual exploitation. But it makes more sense to me to define sexual innocence as non-exploitative sex than it makes sense to me to define it as either sexual inexperience or a lack of sexual guilt. That’s to say, it seems more useful and practical to define it that way.
By “exploitative”, I mean where one person is taking advantage of another. That doesn’t seem at all innocent to me. Yet, the person who is taking advantage of the other might have years of sexual experience or none at all. They may be the furthest thing from a virgin or an actual virgin. Hence, I cannot agree with my friend that we value virginity because it entails sexual innocence. It simply does not entail that. At least, not as I see it.
What is the value of virginity, then?
I think virginity is no more valuable than any other kind of inexperience. Perhaps the best thing you can say about any kind of inexperience is it might leave you more open to learning something. Of course, that’s because our experiences can sometimes get in the way of our learning something new. We can become set in our ways. Or, we can have preconceptions and prejudices based on what we already know or think we know that color and influence our experience of something. But before we make too big of a deal about sexual inexperience, let’s take a moment to recall all the preconceptions and prejudices most of us brought with us to our first time, despite our inexperience.
So, for all the above reasons I rank sexual innocence a lot higher than virginity, which is merely sexual inexperience. Moreover, I still find it peculiar that virginity is the only major area of life in which many of us value inexperience more than we do experience. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we cease to exaggerate the importance of inexperience, the better.