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The virginity myth

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On Nov. 6, 2019, 39-year-old rapper T.I. “Tip” (real name Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.) disclosed while on an episode of the Ladies Like Us podcast that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter, Deyjah Harris, to her gynecologist appointments in order to “check her hymen” and make sure “she’s still a virgin.”

According to Buzzfeed News, co-hosts Nazanin Mandi and Nadia Moham had been asking T.I. questions on the subject of strict parenting, striking the question of whether he’s “had the sex talk” with his daughters.

“Have I? We go … Deyjah’s 18, just graduated high school, now she’s attending her first year of college, figuring it out for herself,” T.I. began. “And, yes, not only have we had the conversation … we have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen.”

He continued: “They come and say, ‘Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broken like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding, and just other forms of athletic physical activity.’ So I say, ‘Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.'”

T.I. was also quick to add that as of Dejayh’s 18 birthday “her hymen is still intact.”

The comments made by T.I. caused immediate outrage with one Twitter user, @sammyhammy727, tweeting: “So instead of celebrating the fact that his child lived another year, TI spends his time hyper-fixating on whether or not her hymen is intact? This is so overwhelmingly weird and toxic and he needs to be stopped.” @sammyhammy727 has since changed their Twitter handle to @szascoloredwig.

The hosts have since apologized and removed the podcast from their site. On Nov. 18, T.I. publicly apologized to Deyjah for talking about her business while speaking with Jada Pinkett Smith on her Facebook Watch show, Red Table Talk, but refused to apologize “to any of these other strangers and any of these weirdos who just kind of toss lies around.” As for Deyjah, she seemed to appreciate fans’ reactions and support by liking tweets calling her dad “disgusting,” “possessive,” and “controlling,” and later unfollowed both her parents on Instagram. At the time of print, she is still unfollowing them.

It’s important to recognize that virginity is a social construct and functions to commodify women and shame men who aren’t able to lose their V-card fast enough. Perhaps a reason it may still be a topic of discussion is because we’re in university, the place where so much of our social life is engrossed in hookup culture.

MEDICAL EXPLANATION

“The hymen is a left over collection of cells that typically partially occludes the vaginal opening,” tweeted Canadian-American gynecologist, Jen Gunter, who writes a weekly Q&A column for The New York Times.

At birth, “the hymen is more rigid and provides more covering for the first three years in order to keep urine and feces out of the infant’s vagina as it lacks estrogen, making it very sensitive to irritants.” Once that function is completed, Gunter tweeted, the hymen has no other biological purpose. “Yes, the hymen is like baby teeth. It served a biological purpose for a narrow developmental window and then when no longer needed is discarded.”

“The hymen is no virginity indicator,” Gunter continued in her thread. “Fifty per cent of sexually active teens do not have a disrupted hymen.” Not only that, Gunter noted, two out of three women also don’t bleed after their first sexual encounter, and for those who do, it’s usually spotting as a result of sexual trauma due to a lack of lubrication, not from a broken hymen.

While they can stretch or tear during sex, this can also happen by riding a bike, inserting a tampon, or playing sports. The ‘popping your cherry’ myth has nothing to do with the hymen. Gunter explained that, like any other tissue, the hymen heals itself and will not remain ‘torn’ for the rest of your sex-having existence.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Leslie Dawson, an Anthropology professor at MacEwan University, explained that discussions of hymens and virginity have always been up for debate.

“The whole symbolism of the (wedding) dress is purity and virginity. The entire traditional Christian wedding ceremony is about the father walking the bride up to the groom and giving her away; it’s like the woman is transferred in that particular ritual with those symbolic meanings,” said Dawson.

There were many ways fathers tried to protect their daughter’s virginity such as using chastity belts which, as explained by Live Science, is a European invention designed to prevent sexual intercourse and/or masturbation. Another way was to make young female equestrian’s ride side saddle, according to Entity Magazine. Ellena Kilgallon, writer and editor for Entity, wrote it was a way to “off-set the accidental loss of virginity” and “guarantee the king that his new wife was a virgin at their wedding.” It was also seen as a way to “preserve a lady’s modesty” because to ride astride — with a leg on each side of the mount — was “considered vulgar and unladylike.”

POLITICAL EMERGENCE

“I’m sure it was part of the emergence of the state,” said Dawson. “And with that came patriarchy.” She suspects many feminist anthropologists would argue that “the importance of a hymen as representing virginity parallels the patriarchal control of female bodies.” One example Dawson referred to is Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, wanting to re-implant ectopic pregnancies.

“It just points that you (DeWine) don’t even understand what’s going on with that body,” said Dawson.

Though many women still believe in waiting till marriage, Dawson believes “the perception (of the hymen) was something they needed to protect whether they wanted to or not because they weren’t necessarily in control of their body. So females are usually only worrying about their virginity through the lens of what men expect.”

MALE VIRGINITY

The value of heterosexual men is measured by the sex they have. They’re rewarded and praised for their “accomplishment” while the value of any woman is measured by the sex they don’t have and are stigmatized for having sex.

But when a man remains a virgin past a certain age, that’s where the problem arises; it’s seen as a sign of weakness (just watch Steve Carrell’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin). It can lead them to feeling broken or unworthy, like they’ve missed some sort of open time frame where they could’ve and should’ve lost their virginity, and now things are just uphill from there.

In 2009, rapper Lil Wayne discussed the topic of how he lost his virginity during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel.

“The girl was older than me and she cut the lights off,” said Lil Wayne. “She pulled my pants down. I was 11 and she was like 14. When she pulled my pants down, I went to feel her like ‘what are you doing’ and I felt she was naked. Then I stopped like ‘oh’.”

Though viewers of the clip can hear this and immediately identify that he did not ‘lose his virginity’ so much as get raped at the age of 11, the audience and Kimmel himself still proceed to erupt into laughter at this story.

In a documentary about his life called The Carter, Lil Wayne went into more detail about this event, noting how the older men around him joked about his lack of sexual experiences and encouraged the girl to take him away and help him experience them. In the clip, the rapper joins in with the jokes, telling them that he “loved it” and that because he was “young money” it was what he was supposed to be doing.

“We don’t put this purity and virginity business on the male body,” said Dawson. “We often expect the male body to go off and ‘sow its wild oats’ before it settles down. Although we question ‘well who’s he sowing wild oats with’? ”

LGBTQ2IA+, PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, AND SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS

Not only is virginity a social construct but it’s also a part of the heteronormative narrative, because it implies someone’s only ever had sex if it was vaginal penetration by a penis; it makes the assumption that heterosexual vaginal sex is the standard.

It also creates “anxiety and pressure” for those living with disability, explained Adjunct Professor Matthew Yau, a certified sex therapist, to ABC Life.

“It has created mixed messages for people with disability, particularly when their expressions and ways of gaining sexual satisfaction may be hindered by their disabilities or do not fit in the so-called ‘social or sexual norms’.”

And as a ” first time” concept, virginity also disregards people whose first sexual experience was sexual assault.

REDEFINING VIRGINITY

The concept of virginity, as Dawson believes, is harmful “because it doesn’t exist.” She would rather see it redefined as “have you ever had sex? ”

If we continue to use the definition of a virgin being someone with an ‘unbroken’ hymen, then virginity is a fairly rare medical condition rather than an inalienable fact of life.

But to redefine virginity from its heteronormative orgins means we should also look at redefining sex. It may be stating the obvious, but sex does not automatically equal penis in vagina intercourse. Any two people (or more!) — men, women, nonbinary, agender — can have sex, be sexual, give and receive pleasure, and orgasm with any number of acts that do not include that exact penetrative intercourse.

“We need to protect the person’s right to their beliefs,” said Dawson. “And their choice on how they want to live their life and when they want to start their sexual life versus controlling bodies of women and using a measure that doesn’t make any sense.”

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