Virginity

Virginity is the state of being a virgin. Historically, virgin referred to a young woman with no sexual experience (see Etymology), but in modern usage, the term can apply regardless of age or gender.

The term is also applied informally to non-sexual matters. For example, someone who has never gone skydiving might be referred to as a skydiving virgin, and the first journey of a ship might be called its maiden or virgin voyage. It is commonly used in reference to purity; unalloyed metal is sometimes described as virgin, and olive oil is called virgin or extra-virgin if it comes from the first pressing and contains no refined oil. A similar connotation is moral purity due to inexperience; cocktails might be described as virgin when prepared without alcohol.

Etymology

The word virgin is the root form of the Latin noun, genitive, meaning "young woman" or "girl". The Latin word probably arose by analogy with a suit of lexemes based on, meaning "to be green, fresh or flourishing", mostly with botanic reference - in particular, meaning "strip of wood". The first known use of virgin in English comes from an Anglo-Saxon manuscript held at Trinity College, Cambridge.

In this, and many later contexts, the reference is specifically Christian - alluding to members of the order of virgins known to have existed since the early church from the writings of the Church Fathers. However, within about a century, the word was expanded to apply also to Mary, the mother of Jesus, hence to sexual virginity explicitly. Further expansion of the word to include virtuous (or naïve) young women, irrespective of religious connection, occurred over about another century. These are just three of the eighteen definitions of virgin from the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, pages 230-232). Most of the OED1 definitions, however, are very similar.

Frank Harris (1923) claims to have given the following humorous etymology in a lecture, " 'vir,' as everyone knows, is Latin for a man, while 'gin' is good old English for a trap; virgin is therefore a mantrap." Other, serious, but unsupported etymologies exist in print.

The German for "virgin" is Jungfrau. Although Jungfrau literally means "young woman", the standard German word for a young woman, without implications regarding sexuality, is Fräulein. Fräulein can be used in German, as a title of respect, equivalent to current usage of Miss in English. Jungfrau is the word reserved specifically for sexual inexperience. Clearly it implies a female referent, as Frau means "woman". Unlike English, German has a specific word for a male virgin Jüngling ("Youngling"). It is, however, rarely used in this sense. Jungfrau is the normal German word for both male and female virgins, as evidenced by the fact that the film The 40 Year-Old Virgin (about a 40 year-old male virgin) is titled Jungfrau (40), männlich, sucht. German also distinguishes between young women and girls, who are denoted by the word Mädchen. The English cognate "maid" was often used to imply virginity, especially in poetry.

By contrast, the Greek word for "virgin" is parthenos . Although typically applied to women, like English, it is also applied to men, in both cases specifically denoting absence of sexual experience. When used of men, it does not carry a strong association of "never-married" status. However, in reference to women, historically, it was sometimes used to refer to an engaged woman - parthenos autou = his fiancée as opposed to gune autou = his wife. This distinction is necessary due to there being no specific word for wife (or husband) in Greek.

Human sexual selection

In 1989 and 1990, evolutionary psychologist David M Buss and colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin published results from a large study of expressed preferences in mate selection, then current across human societies. The study involved more than 10,000 respondants from 37 cultures. "The desire for chastity or virginity (lack of prior sexual intercourse) proved to be the most cross-culturally variable. Mainland Chinese placed tremendous value on virginity; Scandinavians typically placed little importance on chastity." Respondants also expressed preferences regarding appearance, income potential, age difference and other factors. Some factors - like kindness, intelligence and health - were valued highly across cultures and by both sexes. A mate's appearance was more commonly reported as being important to men than to women, whereas income potential was more important to women than to men.

Also published in 1989 and 1990, a much-cited study at a United States campus by Clark and Hatfield involved male and female researchers approaching total strangers of the opposite sex one-to-one and asking one the following questions.

Female students answered yes to the male researchers 50%, 6% and 0%. Male students answered yes to the female researchers 50%, 69% and 75%. (A later Austrian study attempted to reproduce the results, but found as many as 6% of females responded yes to a sexual invitation from a total stranger, concluding that social context was significant in female assent.)

Studies like those above are consistent with evolutionary explanations of certain aspects of human psychology. Psychological preferences in sexual behaviour can have reproductive consequences, hence natural selection should operate on them, and may do so differently in men and women. In particular, "Males who preferred chaste females in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness, ceteris paribus, presumably enjoyed greater reproductive success than males who were indifferent to the sexual contact that a potential mate had with other males." Dickerman (1981) and Daly & Wilson (1983) argue, "chastity would also provide a cue to the future fidelity of a selected mate. A male failing to express such a preference would risk investing in offspring that were not his." Buss notes, "A female could be sure her putative children were her own, regardless of the prior sexual experience of her mate. This sexual asymmetry yields a specific prediction: Males will value chastity in a potential mate more than will females."

David Buss has had a long and distinguished career, pioneering cross-cultural study of sexual jealousy and refining evolutionary explanations of this psychological phenomenon. The Evolution of Desire (ISBN 0465077501) makes the academic work accessible for the popular market.

The evolutionary theory also accounts for the linguistic evidence, where terminology for sexual inexperience is more often associated with women than with men. Virginity, or chastity, in women is probably simply more valued psychologically, hence talked about more. Nonetheless, the evidence also suggests that cultural influences are significant in reinforcing or suppressing any evolved, psychological factors.

In culture

Historically, the state of virginity has had special significance, usually as something to be respected or valued. This is especially true in societies where there are traditional or religious views associating sexual exclusiveness with marriage. Attitudes regarding male virginity and female virginity have often diverged, however, usually placing greater emphasis on the latter, and even devaluing the former. In modern times it is not uncommon for either male or female virginity in adolescents and adults to be disparaged by peers, as a sign of immaturity.

Female virginity is closely interwoven with personal or even family honour in many cultures, especially those known as shame societies, in which the loss of virginity before marriage is a matter of deep shame. For example, among the Bantu of South Africa, virginity testing or even the suturing of the labia majora (called infibulation) has been commonplace. Traditionally, Kenuzi girls (of the Sudan) are married before puberty (Godard, 1867), by adult men who inspect them manually for virginity (Kenedy, 1970). Female circumcision is later performed at puberty to ensure chastity (Barclay, 1964).

In Western marriage ceremonies, brides traditionally wear veils and white wedding dresses, which are believed by many people to be symbols of virginity. In fact, wearing white is a comparatively recent custom among western brides, who previously wore whatever colors they wished or simply their "best dress." Wearing white became a matter first of trendy fashion and then of custom and tradition only over the course of the 19th century.

History evidences laws and customs that required a man who seduced or raped a virgin to take responsibility for the consequences of his offense by marrying the girl or by paying compensation to her father on her behalf.

Technical virginity

Some historians and anthropologists note that many societies that place a high value on virginity before marriage, such as the United States before the sexual revolution, actually have a large amount of premarital sexual activity that does not involve vaginal penetration: for example, oral sex, anal sex and mutual masturbation. This is considered by some people "technical" virginity, as vaginal intercourse has not occurred but the participants are sexually active.

Assertions of technical virginity, often made for religious reasons, may be regarded by some as inaccurate. A number of sex educators have challenged the idea that "having sex" explicitly excludes sexual activity other than vaginal intercourse. They propose instead that it should rather include oral or anal sex, and mutual masturbation. It therefore follows that once an individual has engaged in such sexual activity, they are no longer a virgin in any meaningful sense. Still, many people would admit a somewhat important difference between those acts that merely give sexual pleasure (i.e, performing oral sex, a handjob, etc) and those that receive it (penetrating, being penetrated, or otherwise brought to orgasm). Though there might be the notion that the recipient of a handjob has lost their virginity, few people would consider the hand that performed it to be therefore deflowered.

There are however anthropological reasons for the view that vaginal penetration, especially on the part of the woman, is especially indicative of a change in status, a threshold irrevocably crossed, the most incontrovertible "loss of virginity". And that is because a woman who has been vaginally penetrated is one who may have potentially conceived. From an evolutionary standpoint, men would prefer "virgin" mates under this definition to be sure that the woman was not carrying another man's child which the new husband would be "tricked" into caring for as his own.

Loss of virginity

The act of ''losing one's virginity'', that is, of a first sexual experience, is commonly considered within Western culture to be an important life event and a rite of passage. It is highlighted by many mainstream Western movies (particularly films aimed at a teenaged audience). The loss of virginity can be viewed as a milestone to be proud of or as a failure to be ashamed of, depending on cultural perceptions. Historically, these perceptions were heavily influenced by perceived gender roles, such that for a male the association was more often with pride and for a female the association was more often with shame.

In human females, the hymen is a membrane, part of the vulva, which partially occludes the entrance to the vagina, and which stretches, or is sometimes torn, when the woman first engages in sexual intercourse. The human hymen can vary widely in thickness, shape, and flexibility. The presence of an intact membrane has, by some throughout history, been seen as physical evidence of virginity in the broader technical sense, though the hymen can be easily broken by other means.

In the majority of women, the hymen is sufficiently vestigial as to pose no obstruction to the entryway of the vagina. The presence of a broken hymen may therefore indicate that the vagina has been penetrated but also that it was broken via physical activity or the use of a tampon or dildo. Many women possess such thin, fragile hymens, easily stretched and already perforated at birth, that the hymen can be broken, or merely disappear, in childhood, without the woman's even being aware of it.

In contrast to the common cases of an absent or partial hymen, in rare cases a woman may possess an imperforate hymen, such as prevents the release of menstrual discharge. A surgical procedure known as hymenotomy, which creates an opening in the hymen, is sometimes required to avert deleterious health effects. The playwright Ben Jonson claimed that Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen, had a "membranum" that made her "incapable of Man", and that a friend of hers, a "chirurgeon", had offered to remedy the problem with his scalpel and that Elizabeth had demurred.

The presence of a hymen is a possible indication, but no guarantee, of virginity, given that it is speculated that some degree of sexual activity may occur without rupturing the hymen and because there may exist varying definitions as to the type and extent of sexual activity that is required to terminate the state of "virginity". This is further complicated by the availability of hymenorrhaphy surgical procedures to repair or replace the hymen. (This procedure is more common in countries where virginity is greatly prized, as in the Middle East.)

In some cultures, women are not regarded as virgins after a sexual assault, but some people disavow this notion. There are also those who take this "spiritual" concept of virginity to its maximum, considering "born again virgins" to be virgins, regardless of their past sexual conduct.

In males, there is no physically visible indicator of virginity. The sexual partner during the loss of virginity is sometimes colloquially said to "take" the virginity of the virgin partner. In some places, this colloquialism is only used when the partner is not a virgin, but in other places, the virginity of the partner does not matter. The term "deflower" is sometimes used to also describe the act of the virgin's partner, and the clinical term "defloration" is another way to describe the event.

One slang term used for virginity is "cherry" (often, this term refers to the hymen, but can refer to virginity in males or females) and for a virgin, deflowering is said to "pop their cherry," a reference to destruction of the hymen during first intercourse.

A curious term often seen in English translations of the works of the Marquis de Sade is to depucelate. This word is apparently a literal translation of dépuceler, a French verb derived from pucelle (n.f.), which means "virgin". Joan of Arc was commonly called "la Pucelle" by her admirers.

In some countries until the late 20th century, if a man did not marry a woman whose virginity he had taken, the woman was allowed to sue the man for money, in some languages named "wreath money".

Feminist criticism

The word is emotive, for some, because it distinguishes between unmarried women who have had no sexual partners, and those who have. The idea that a virgin has an emotional "blank slate", without complications for her potential intimate emotional life with men, leads to the abstraction of unadulterated purity, which can be applied even to non-human referents.

Academic study

Although wide variety of terminology is employed within academic literature, a common term for "losing virginity" is sexual debut. One theory hypothesizes there is an appropriate developmental stage for this, hence an approximate age (see age of consent).

Cultural anthropology

Cultural anthropologists have discovered that romantic love and sexual jealousy are universal features of human relationships. Social values related to virginity reflect both sexual jealousy and ideals of romantic love, and appear to be deeply embedded in human nature.

Social psychology

Psychology explores the connection between thought and behaviour. Seeking understanding of social (or anti-social) behaviours includes sexual behaviour. Joan Kahn and Kathryn London studied U.S. women married between 1965 and 1985 to see if virginity at marriage influenced risk of divorce.

This study makes no recommendation, it simply notes that the women most likely to exercise freedom to enter sexual relationships prior to marriage, overlap significantly with the women most likely to exercise freedom to leave a relationship after marriage. Men were not the subject of this study, they may show a different degree of overlap, greater or lesser.

Religion

Hinduism

In Sanskrit a virgin is called '. ' means "diminished", a is the negating prefix and yoni refers to female reproductive organs generically - used freely for womb or vulva as context requires. Hence '' suggests something like "undefiled womb" or "unspoiled vulva", but could be understood specifically as "unruptured hymen". Common related words are kany? and kum?r?, which refer to a young, unmarried girl, a bride or a daughter in general. Whilst virginity is not strictly implied by the words, it is generally presumed. These are also names of the goddess Durga, who is a virgin in some of her aspects or manifestations (see avatar'').

a [[Purana|]] text:

"The sun-god said: O beautiful, your meeting with the demigods cannot be fruitless. Therefore, let me place my seed in your womb so that you may bear a son. I shall arrange to keep your virginity intact, since you are still an unmarried girl."

a legal text attributed to Manu:

"The nuptial texts are applied solely to virgins, (and) nowhere among men to females who have lost their virginity, for such (females) are excluded from religious ceremonies."

Contemporary Hinduism

In predominantly Hindu societies in Nepal and India, any form of premarital sexual intercourse is still frowned upon immensely and is considered an act destined to bring great dishonour and disrespect to the family. It is practically impossible for a non-virgin girl to find a partner from a traditional family.

Judaism

Virginity first appears in the Jewish scriptures in Genesis, where Eliezer is seeking a wife for his master's son. He meets Rebekah, and the narrative tells us, "the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her" . Virginity is a recurring theme in the Bible - the nation is frequently personified as the virgin daughter of Israel in the prophetic poetry. It is a wistful phrase, since Genesis also says that Israel's (Jacob's) only daughter Dinah was, in fact, raped as she entered the promised land. The Torah also contains laws governing betrothal, marriage and divorce, with particular provisions regarding virginity in .

Sex in Judaism is not seen as dirty or undesirable - in fact, sex within marriage is considered a mitzvah, or desirable virtue. Jewish law contains rules related to and protecting female virgins and dealing with consensual and non-consensual pre-marital sex. The thrust of Jewish law's guidance on sex is effectively that it should not be rejected, but should be lived as a wholesome part of life.

Although there is a provision in Judaism for sex outside of marriage, the idea of a pilegesh, is it very seldom used, partially because of the emphasis placed on marriage and other social pressures, and partially because some prominent Rabbis have been opposed to it, for example Maimonides.

While a child born of certain forbidden relationships, such as adultery or incest, is considered a mamzer, approximately translated as illegitimate, who can only marry another mamzer, a child born out of wedlock is not considered a mamzer unless also adulterous or incestuous.

Contemporary Judaism

However, in practice, contemporary Judaism is fairly lenient about sexual relations and has been, since its early days, fairly pragmatic about the realities of sex and sexuality. The more liberal denominations (Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism) are relatively open to pre-marital sex: while it is not encouraged, it is not ignored, either-rules governing sexuality still apply, etc. In stricter denominations, such as the Hasidim, sex before marriage can be relatively uncommon, as religious practices of modesty, arranged marriages, marriages at a younger age, and related practices, may apply, thus restricting the mobility of single people.

Greece and Rome

Virginity has been often considered to be a virtue denoting purity and physical self-restraint and is an important characteristic of Greek goddesses Athena, Artemis, and Hestia. The Vestal Virgins were strictly celibate priestesses of Vesta. The Maiden or Virgin is one of the three persons of the Triple Goddess in many Neopagan traditions. The constellation Virgo represents a wide selection of sacred virgins.

Christianity

Like Judaism, from which it was derived, the New Testament views sex within marriage positively, in fact, it is encouraged in . Just as this chapter is against sex without marriage, so it is against marriage without sex. Self control is valued, however it is considered unrealistic for most, and therefore allows for sexual expression in the safe boundaries of marriage.

Some have theorized that the New Testament was not against sex before marriage. The discussion turns on two Greek words - moicheia and porneia (1|Corinthians|}}, incest, homosexual intercourse and prostitution are all explicitly forbidden by name. The theory suggests it is these, and only these behaviours that are intended by Paul's prohibition in chapter seven. Two of the strongest arguments against this theory are: 1. Paul speaks as though porneia is widespread and virtually inevitable, which is unlikely of incest, homosexuality and prostitution, but plausible of pre-marital sex; and 2. the Old Testament especially, but also the New outside Corinthians, speaks against pre-marital sex; without evidence Paul permitted pre-marital sex, it is safer to assume he did not.

As in Judaism, the interpretation of Genesis is that it describes sex as a gift from God to be celebrated within the context of marriage. The New Testament also speaks of the Christian's body as a holy temple that the Spirit of God comes to dwell in. Purity in general is deeply threaded throughout the entire Bible.

Christians have officially accepted the New Testament claim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin at the time Jesus was conceived, based on the accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox denominations, additionally hold to the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. However, Protestants cite evidence against this including : "Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren't His sisters here with us?". The Catholic Church holds that in Semitic usage the terms "brother," "sister" are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters. Some Christians may refer to her as the Virgin Mary or the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The above statement is generally not true for protestants. Most protestants believe that at the time of the birth of Jesus, Mary was a virgin. However, she was engaged and then married to Joseph, with whom she later had children.

Catholic theology

Virginity has two aspects in traditional Catholic theology. The first is the material aspect which is present only in women and is the integrity of the hymen. Catholic teaching holds that the Virgin Mary was miraculously preserved even as regards to the physical material sign of her virginity both during and after the birth of Christ.

The other aspect, by far the more important, is the moral. In traditional theology, virgins are thought to receive a special aureola in heaven, and as such it was important to define exactly what constituted this "theological virginity". Depending on the culture, this definition of virginity may be very different from the "social definition of virginity." In Catholic theology, virginity is technically lost by any deliberately felt sexual pleasure, and as such is forfeit even by masturbation, though not necessarily by sexual acts in which one participates but in a way that does not cause genital pleasure for oneself. In some part because of this last possibility, it is specified that not all virgins are necessarily chaste, and that an intention of purity is needed for the virginity to be meritous. However, while this intention can be lost and restored and the aureola still gained, the physical fact of sexual pleasure voluntarily engaged in is irreversible.

In some ways, this is the most logically consistent definition; in traditional theological thought there is little objective difference, either physiologically or morally, between being brought to orgasm by one's own hand and being brought to orgasm by the body of another if the latter act was not open to life. Acts such as masturbation and sodomy have traditionally been regarded as worse sexual sins because they are allegedly unnatural for not being open to the possibility of conception, whereas fornication or adultery could still theoretically be "natural" even if not moral. Therefore, it would be odd for theology to conclude that virginity is lost by a less grave sin but preserved in worse and more unnatural sins of lust.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "There are two elements in virginity: the material element, that is to say, the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure." And, "Virginity is irreparably lost by sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced." However, for the purposes of consecrated virgins and nuns, prior masturbation is not usually inquired into, and canonically it is enough that any sexual activity of theirs is not publicly known or infamous.

Aquinas, emphasizing that acts other than copulation destroy virginity, but also clarifying that involuntary sexual pleasure or pollution does not destroy virginity says in his Summa Theologica, "Pleasure resulting from resolution of semen may arise in two ways. If this be the result of the mind's purpose, it destroys virginity, whether copulation takes place or not. Augustine, however, mentions copulation, because such like resolution is the ordinary and natural result thereof. On another way this may happen beside the purpose of the mind, either during sleep, or through violence and without the mind's consent, although the flesh derives pleasure from it, or again through weakness of nature, as in the case of those who are subject to a flow of semen. On such cases virginity is not forfeit, because such like pollution is not the result of impurity which excludes virginity."

. Jakob Böhme was very influential to a number of Christian mystics and religious leaders, including George Rapp and the Harmony Society. The Harmony Society was a religious pietist group that lived communally, were pacifistic, and advocated celibacy among its membership.

Contemporary Christianity

In Finland, the phrase ei ennen papin aamenta (not before priest says Amen) refers to abstinence before marriage. It is also used in any contexts to warn doing anything prematurely or before its time. The phrase includes also a side meaning "but do it for good once the priest has said the amen!".

Until recently, some states that have a significant Christian population have or have had laws protecting virginity. Germany abandoned a law (§1300 BGB) only in 1998 that entitled the deflowered virgin to compensation if the relationship ended. In Mexico, there is a very old saying, still used by women today: "Fulfill your promise to marry me (if we had sex), or leave me how I was (a virgin)".

Medicine and biology

In early modern Europe, prolonged virginity in women was believed to cause the disease of chlorosis or "green sickness".

For cross breedings of some laboratory animals, females are needed that have not already copulated in order to insure that the offspring possess the intended genotype. To do this in Drosophila flies for example, females are used that are maximally 6 to 8 hours old (at 25 °C); only after this period has elapsed do inseminations begin.

See also

External links

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