Culture, Late Night Thoughts, Learning, Sexuality

The Value of Virginity

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.

18 thoughts on “The Value of Virginity”

  1. I think in the context of virginity, and some other stuff, “innocence” is the opposite of “knowlege.”

    We refer to children as “innocent” meaning they have not acquired that knowledge which would make the world other than a wonderful, magical place.

    Knowledge is not, of course, a bad thing, and even little kids are going to find out they are going to have to “root hog or die” as they grow up, that some people are going to be cruel, etc.

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  2. That’s a good point, Twoblueday, but in this specific case, I’d rather choose not to define innocence as the opposite of either knowledge or experience — although that’s an accepted usage. To do so would make innocence synonymous with ignorance and therefore a rather superfluous word so far as I’m concerned.

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  3. Sex is fundamental to life and living. States of mind or cultural constructs which minimize it, ignore it, repudiate it, fail to teach it, or even fail to embrace it do so at their peril and put they who adopt these at risk. It is the risk which always attends being out of touch with real things about us and part of us.

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  4. The “value” of virginity today is a throwback to the medieval (if not earlier) concept that (in a sexual sense, not to mention any other sense) a woman is property, which would make a non-virgin woman something akin to a used car. If you married a virgin, you were getting a brand-spankin’ (interesting expression in this context…) new frak-vessel; but if she wasn’t a virgin, well… who knows who had been in her, eh?

    Reality? I’d prefer a sexual partner who, at least to some extent, knows what she’s doing rather than an abject rookie.

    – M. \”/

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  5. Interesting stuff. I think it’s important to bear in mind the very different attitudes associated with male and female virginity.

    (I was also reminded of an article I was reading about why we buy new cars.)

    Sexual innocence is a fascinating idea. I think infants start with a completely innocent , natural and healthy awareness of their own bodies and those of other children. And then adults come along and tell them that certain parts of their bodies must not be touched by themselves or others. And that feeling pleasure on touching themselves is somehow wrong.

    Yes, children need to learn to set boundaries for appropriate contact – and until they can do so, adults need to set those boundaries for them. But the problem is that somewhere along the lines the natural and curious innocence about bodies is replaced with the attitude that “part of my body is dirty”. Which may be modest and virginal… but for me it somehow isn’t innocent.

    It’s a shame that so often the message is sent that bodies, and touch, are only about sex, when there is so much more to both!

    Of course it’s important to draw a distinction between expressing your own sexual identity and the curiosity of your desires (one of the most wonderful things there is) and finding yourself forced to express someone else’s sexual identity (one of the most traumatic things there is!)

    Bodies and their reactions and desires are fundamentally innocent and natural things. Yet somehow our moral and social and child-rearing creates cracks where all sorts of pressures can build up – not just exploitation, but cynicism and guilt. Which can frustrate and intensify some people’s desires to the point where they become destructive for them and those around them.

    So for me sexual innocence is about a natural awareness of our bodies and those of other people.

    I tried to express some of the marvels of touch in a poem I wrote a while back.

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  6. I think…LOL!!…That you are “not guilty” after sex for the fist time..Because if you are guilty..???Most of us are guilty over and over and over and over again..If every time you have sex makes you “guilty”..Then we (most of us) are all criminals..and repeat offenders..

    Love

    Dallas

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  7. Man, friggin’ awesome post. Really! I like your notion of “sexual innocence” as contrary to exploitation, but, really, that certainly has NOTHING TO DO WITH your interlocutor’s conception of it AT ALL. Not that it had to, anyway. I just wonder… Well, it is easy to dismiss the whole innocence VS inexperience thing as “mere chauvinism”, but maybe we could learn something there, he?

    For what it matters, i do not have an opinion yet, i’ll think about it. I’ll talk about it with friends.

    One thing that is FOR CERTAIN is that sex is more pleasurable with an experienced partner. I doubt even the most feverish proponent of “sexual innocence” will dispute that, even if he wishes that both parties gain experience exclusively from each other. As in: sex gets better with time. And your own experience also counts a lot, not only the partner’s.

    Now i do think the concept of “sexual innocence” has a link with exploitation, in the sense that if you are having sex with someone who is much less experienced than you (as say with a virgin) it is much more easy to exploit him. I fear “virginity” is valued as a form of male-predominance or as a fear that the female will somehow be “dangerous” through her seduction powers…

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  8. I think it’s in part due to jealousy (as a generalization). Many men think of sex as possession in a sort of way and having the thought that their woman was “possessed” by another man is not something they like to think about.

    I also have heard it applied to cleanliness. With sexually transmitted diseases, many men and women want a partner that hasn’t had sex so they can insure the absence of disease.

    I really think it came out of how women and men were viewed in our culture historically. Women had two models of behavior – modest and pure or brazen and whorish. Those models, while much diminished, still exist in our society today.

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  9. Re: Dallas: “That you are “not guilty” after sex for the fist time..”

    OK, that’s a contender for “Typo of the Day.”

    – M. \”0

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  10. After my first sexual experience, I still considered myself a virgin.

    I didn’t feel like I had had sex.

    What did change is that all my romantic ideals related to sex were destroyed, and I realized that the experience and process of learning my sexuality was far more fulfilling than any romantic fireworks display.

    So I think I had lost my virginity after all.

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  11. In my blog, I had a discussion about the exaggerated importance of virginity in the Indian context . A couple of interesting points emerged from the comments. One was the assumption that a woman would consent to have sex with a man only if she was deeply in love with him. And for the man this somehow meant that he had an unknown competitor he had to match.
    And it also put pressure on the man to perform better. And this is why men prefer virgins. Possible, you think? Seems plausible in the Indian context given our obsession with virginity.

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  12. @ Usha: “…for the man this somehow meant that he had an unknown competitor he had to match.
    And it also put pressure on the man to perform better. And this is why men prefer virgins. Possible, you think?”

    In other words, these men prefer virgins because (it’s assumed) they don’t know any better than to conclude that the man in question is a stud (because they haven’t had a wider “database” to reach the conclusion)? Yeah, that’s possible.

    – M. \”/

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  13. I believe the value of virginity can be appraised by the motivation behind it. Some make virginity into a commitment, holding off until marriage or until that special person comes around, but even then there are different reasons for doing so. I believe a majority are making this commitment because they grew up being told this was how they should think regarding the giving of their virginity. However, for those that truly believe in their commitment, they make the concept of virginity priceless.

    And then there are those who have made no such commitment. They’re virgins due to indifference or lack of opportunity to change it. I could even go further saying that the latter even despise the fact that they’re still virgins because of the status that sexual prowess entails in some people’s eyes. That lowers the value for these two kinds of people, respectively, as worthless and detestable.

    Regarding the former, those who are virgins due to indifference (or maybe it would be better to say here “those who see virginity objectively”), I would say that they can justifiably regard sexual innocence as higher than virginity, now called sexual inexperience, having extracted the subjectivity from the term.

    Again, excellent post, Paul. I love the approach you take to such topics.

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  14. Meowlin: Yes, that was indeed what the comment seemed to suggest …hmmmm, then don’t you think it is in a woman’s interest NOT TO be a virgin and put pressure on the man to perform!!!

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  15. @ Usha: “then don’t you think it is in a woman’s interest NOT TO be a virgin…”

    Practice and experience increase the probability of a pleasurable encounter. For both (all?) persons involved.

    “and put pressure on the man to perform”

    I don’t think pressure (in the definition you’re using here) is conducive to the best pleasurable encounter, certainly for the one being pressured, and, ultimately, for the other either – unless, for the other, the encounter is more about power and manipulation than pleasure and intimacy.

    – M. \”/

    “But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.” – Dennis Miller

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  16. “Sexual innocence is a fascinating idea. I think infants start with a completely innocent , natural and healthy awareness of their own bodies and those of other children.”

    Yeah, I think infants are wholly sexual beings, unto themselves. We impose our notions on top of them, to protect them during the extended time humans have “childhood”, and because their sexuality isn’t at all like our adult notions, which are all about power.

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