Virginity:The Purity Myth?

Absence of the term “virginity” or its equivalent in the Ju/’hoan society
The word or concept of being a virgin and “virginity” is of no meaning to the Ju/’hoansi. Most boys and girls would have had the experience of sexual intercourse by age 15 and are hence no longer “virgins”. The Ju are also said to have a “natural and unselfconscious” attitude towards sex, with children beginning to learn about it at a very young age in ways that might appal most in modern society such as parents making love to each other as the child watches.

Virginity – science or just a myth?
I was surprised at the way in which the Ju/’hoansi talk about and view sexuality which is vastly different from the way in which we view it. This made me question the discourses around sexuality in the developed world. I stumbled upon this book which was later made into a movie by Jessica Valenti called “The Purity Myth”. According to Valenti, the concept of virginity is actually not as clear-cut as we make it out to be. Before Hanne Blank wrote her book: Virgin: The Untouched History, there were no medical dictionaries, encyclopaedias and anatomies which explained or even hinted at the concept of virginity. Even if they did, they were no scientific explanations but normative ones. Blank then came to explain virginity as “the state of having not had partnered sex” which how this concept is widely understood by today’s society.

Denaturalizing the "natural"
Valenti argues that the United States is fixated with virginity and that the country’s extreme focus on chastity is harmful to young women. Women’s perceptions of themselves, their bodies and morality all become inseparable from their sexuality.

There was one phrase in Valenti’s book which struck me,
“while boys are taught that the things that make them men – good men – are universally accepted ethical ideals, women are led to believe that our moral compass lies between our legs”.

Men’s ethics are tied to so many other things while a woman, is viewed as immoral once she is no longer a virgin. What about other things which are tied to morality such as compassion? The term virgin have positive connotations to it while non-virgins may have derogatory terms such as being slut attached to them.

Often, it is male-led institutions which always defined the values or virginity. However, there is absence of the usage of this term on men themselves. By judging women based on their sexuality, men are in effect dictating female's proper place within the patriarchal household. As we can see from the youtube video, the fact that women themselves revere this the virginity movement shows how women has internalised this discourse behind virginity and has come to think of the concept as natural.

I realised this discourse which has been internalized only becomes apparent as being very unnatural only when we contrast it against that of other society’s such as that of the Ju/’hoansi in this case. This shows how ideas about gender are not universal and differ due to cultural systems.
For those interested, the book "The Purity Myth" can be borrowed from Central Library. The movie's trailer can be found in the link below:

More pages