Throughout time, the concept of virginity has always been presented in society as a mark of virtue. Subsequently, it is not surprising that the idea carries different connotations for men and women. Women have always been encouraged not to “lose” their virginity, in consequence of being regarded as a slut. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to “lose” it as early as possible because that speaks to their manhood and whether or not they have what is termed as “game”. However, a bigger concept that exists in contemporary society has been women seeking autonomy. A changing and progressive society has paved the way for a change and progression of ideals and belief systems, women owning their sexuality, and a shift in sexual culture. As a result, many are starting to question whether virginity really is a mark of virtue or just a social construct designed to oppress women.

As progressive as our society is, the idea of virginity is still somewhat viewed from two lenses. One lens draws from a patriarchal perspective with notes of slut shaming and the belief that sex is meant for a man’s pleasure. “I wish I had not left my virginity and sexual experiences at the hands of other men instead of taking responsibility for my own sexuality”, one student said concerning this matter. The other lens encourages sexual autonomy and liberation. Even though contemporary society is largely moving away from archaic misconceptions of sex, the former has shaped and continues to shape women’s first sexual experiences, how they view the idea of virginity, as well as their subsequent sexual experiences and outlooks.

Virginity is also looked at as something that only a woman possesses, the “loss” of which is associated with guilt and shame. This is taken to the extent that some cultures even impose virginity tests on little girls. This has impacted women by defining their sexual experiences and sexual autonomy from the male perspective. There develops this idea that only a man is supposed to enjoy sexual intercourse and is allowed sexual liberation. As a result, virginity for many women has been something a man takes from a woman. This speaks to why men have little to no understanding of the concept of consent due to being the product of a culture that has prioritised their sexual needs above all else.

On the flip side, more women are coming to terms with and starting to embrace their sexuality. This has meant that women have started defining the idea of virginity for themselves and are putting their own needs as a priority as well. Many students, especially female students, have asserted that if given the opportunity, they would have a do-over of their first sexual experiences. This is based on several reasons, ranging from how sexuality and the idea of virginity were presented to them, to peer pressure and pressure from their partners.

It is apparent that today, most women are moving towards owning their sexuality even though pre-existing patriarchal views on virginity and sexuality for women continue to greatly impact how women view and experience sex. Women are now allowing themselves to define their sexuality for themselves, separate from the man. Some women have even asserted that since they have allowed themselves this opportunity, they have come to learn more about consent and self-pleasure and have gained a voice in terms of what they like and do not like. This speaks of where society is today on the scale of virginity being an archaic oppressive device for women or a mark of virtue. However, even as we are slowly leaning towards progression, the weight of the past still lingers.

Boitumelo Mabogoane
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