I’ve decided we need to retire the word “virgin.” It’s about as descriptive as the word “atheist” and it causes a lot more harm, particularly to women and girls, but to men and boys, too.
Like “atheist,” “virgin” tells me nothing about what a person is, only about what they are not. I don’t particularly care about what you don’t believe in. If you’re an atheist, fine. What DO you believe in? And how does that guide your life? These are interesting questions.
Now we get to our obsession with one activity and how it “changes” a person. Look, I’m not saying that sex isn’t important. It is. It’s a big responsibility, something rightly reserved for adulthood, or at least late adolescence, and for most of us, it’s a rite of passage the first time we do it. You know what else is described by that? Buying a car.
But we don’t have a word for someone who has never owned a car. You know why? Because although you can tell a little something about a person by the car they own–you can look at what kind of car they like to buy, or how well they take care of their cars, or how many cars they have, and make some inferences–the fact that someone does not own a car doesn’t really tell you much about them.
Sure, they could be an environmentalist, and not have a car because of a strong belief. But maybe they’re just too young. After all, nobody expects a child to own a car. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to owning a car yet. Maybe owning a car isn’t important to them. Maybe they can’t use a car because of some physical disability. Or they don’t feel ready to own a car. Or maybe they used to have a car, but they don’t need one anymore.
The point is, we don’t have a word for not having a car, because buying a car is just an experience, and the fact of not having that experience does not describe a person.
Likewise, virginity is not a state of being, and the fact of not having the experience of sex does not tell me much about a person. Or anything, really. The only time that information is relevant is when the person is about to have sex for the first time, in which case the partner should be informed so that she can say, “Oh, okay. Here are a few things you need to know so you can enjoy it.” And also, “You’ll get the hang of it–it just takes a little practice.”
In the mean time, we’ve placed so much baggage on that word that people tie themselves into knots over losing it. But you can’t lose it. You can’t give it away. And we need to change the language to reflect that. When we tell children (girls, especially) that virginity is a state of being to be lost, we give too much power to sex, and way too much power to sexual violence. If you are raped, was your virginity taken? Are you now forever robbed of your first sexual experience? And is the value of that non-thing gone?
I say we abolish the word. Do not apply it to people. If you want to order a virgin daiquiri, go ahead. You can ski in the virgin snow or protect the virgin old-growth forest. Like “Oriental,” the word “virgin” now applies only to objects. People have experiences when they have them, and while we may be able to learn something about them from the experiences they have, there’s very little to learn about them from the experiences they haven’t had.