Friday, February 12, 2016

Fetishizing Virginity

Can innocence be sexy? Is it allowed to be? By the principle of contradiction, every concept invites its own opposite. And as nature abhors a vacuum, so it is also true that virginity is a hole begging to be filled. Of course, this view implies that sexual activity is an inevitability, but few things in life are more certain. In that category, Benjamin Franklin would undoubtedly include death and taxes. But as sure as we struggle for survival as individuals, our biological imperative demands that we fornicate (for the inconvenient if critically important intended goal of procreation).

For some people, this involves raising a family. For others, it leads to a long string of one-night stands. For others still, it simply means masturbating before the warm glow of a computer screen (and that approach certainly has its merits). Regardless - and in spite of the existence of an asexual minority, for whom much of this discussion will probably not apply - the recorded difficulties of a celibate lifestyle (whether voluntary, or the product of ill fortune) lend support to the view that virginity was designed to be (at best) a temporary state.

So I was munching on some chocolate-covered dried cherries the other day (very tasty), and a thought occurred to me (because that's how my brain works). It's hard to find any aspect of human sexuality that is not reviled in some circles, but - popular though it is in the annals of history - lusting after virgins is not generally considered a politically correct expression of one's sexuality. Why should that be? While I don't see it as being intrinsically problematic, there are a couple of potential pitfalls that deserve to be addressed.

Love the Madonna, Hate the Whore

I despise the Madonna-whore complex. It is a woefully sex-negative view that encompasses the epitome of everything that is wrong with the Christian approach to sex. Purity is divine, because the stain of sex is a sin. When we begin to value virginity - not just for its own sake, but even as a sexual ideal - we run the risk of disparaging those with sexual experience. This view is often applied within a sexist framework, dovetailing neatly with the phenomenon of slut-shaming. If the vestal virgin is godly, then the woman who has carnal knowledge of man is one step closer to the fires of Hell.

The unfortunate result of this belief is the cultural appraisal of a woman's value based on her [lack of] sexual experience, manifested in the traditional version of marriage, in which a father barters his daughter's virginity as if it were an item for trade. This is the appalling historical origin of the custom of a man asking permission from his lover's father for the privilege of marrying her (i.e., having intercourse with her - which leads to babies - in the antiquated view). The even more disgusting flip side of this is the notion that an unattached woman without her virginity is fallen and worthless - damaged goods.

I Saw, I Conquered...Then I Came

Another potential pitfall comes in the form of the stereotype of the man who wishes to "conquer" or "steal" a woman's virginity - or, worse yet, the idea that the man wishes to "destroy" the woman (leaving her a confused and bloody mess) by taking her purity (and thus value) away from her. This relies on the belief that sex is a corrupting influence, shared by puritan religious conservatives and sex-negative feminists alike. But while it can be "perverted" (in the sense of being twisted to evil ends), I view sexuality as a positive force - a pleasure-inducing principle. I would never propose to assume that a person would be better off without carrying the weight of their own virginity - as that is a decision everyone must make for themselves - but I don't see the harm in a little friendly influence (god knows the abstinence educators use it to their own dirty ends).

A New Awakening

So, then, is the fetishization of virginity redeemable? If one were to successfully navigate the pitfalls, is there anything legitimately positive that could be said about the desire to relieve another person of their virginity? I would argue that the answer to that question is a resounding yes! It's important not to put too much emphasis on a person's virginity, to avoid running the risk of reducing a person to the level of sexual experience they have, with an objectifying focus on defloration as a stackable award, instead of the importance of the thoughts and feelings of your sexual partner, while simultaneously contributing to the sexist double standards that promote unhealthy attitudes towards female sexual empowerment.

But if the evil that undoubtedly exists in the world - self-gratifying male "maidenheadhunters" - has obscured your vision to the point that you see only the evil, for fear of its possibility, and not the potential for good that underlies it, then you have already lost. And what is the loss of virginity but an expansion of horizons - the acquirement of a brand new source for pleasure? It's the first step on an exciting, and truly eye-opening journey. What man - or woman - could be criticized for wanting to share in that experience, to be responsible for giving a person their first orgasm, or even just the first stirrings of sexual reception?

Surely, you've heard the stereotype that the first time is always bad. But this doesn't have to be the case. While practice improves performance, experience can never replace the novelty of awakening a newfound sense that's never been engaged before. And while the fantasy of two first-timers groping about in the dark is (arguably) seductive, it pales next to the promise of the age-old pairing of innocence and experience. In any other discipline, we would welcome the expertise of an old-hat guiding a newbie, but for some reason, with sex, we insist on leaving the blind to lead the blind.

Again, it is imperative that we do not overvalue the importance of virginity, lest we end up hoarding it and lording over it like in the past. The second, third, and fourth times can be just as thrilling as the first - if not more so. And surely there are those who prefer experienced partners. As for me personally, I have a low opinion of those sorts of persons who have an inflated sense of modesty, and look down their noses on anyone who freely indulges in their "baser" instincts. I don't see any intrinsic value in a person holding onto their virginity beyond artificial bounds - and I don't believe that the journey from sexual innocence to experience is one that ought not to be taken, under normal (and not necessarily special, as on one's wedding night) circumstances.

But I would never disparage a virgin for her lack of experience, provided she's willing to experiment. I wouldn't disparage a seasoned veteran for her abundance of experience, either - sometimes it can be just as much fun to learn as it is to teach. But if we can be allowed to appreciate the one, then we should be allowed to appreciate the other, as well. Consider the fact that the MILF phenomenon (young men desiring experienced women) is more mainstream than its inverse - cougar culture, and that digging for gold carries a considerably less sinister connotation than robbing the cradle. Yet surely, it is no mystery to me - nor an indictment of the general goodness of human nature - that some may find an erotic appeal in innocence, and harbor a desire to participate in the sexual awakening of others.

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