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Chaste and pure: on the Myth of female Virginity

Chaste and pure: on the Myth of female Virginity

Translated by Egle Morrone

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The first time is important for a girl: when I was young, this is what I got from magazines, books, teen dramas, and the mushy second-hand romance novels I used to buy for 200 Lire* each and devoured when there seemed to be nothing else at home. For guys, doing it as soon as possible, being the earliest in a group of friends, was an absolute triumph. Women, on the other hand, carefully needed to take account of timing, people and situations. Their purity was at stake.

I wondered in what, physically – besides a simple piece of skin – resided this mythological innocence that had to be defended at all costs. For what reason the same sexual act could culturally mean things so different for the people involved. Purity implies a missing experience, an experience that means entering the real world for the first time. Expecting someone to lack this experience is like demanding someone to live outside of reality, without, in fact, being the protagonist of their own lives. Doing otherwise would cause other people to be offended by such behaviour, by this desire to know things, to literally experience them on your own skin: this, after all, is a desire traditionally reserved for men. Men need to know life, need to immediately experience it with their own body. Sex is the strongest symbol of this initiation. A woman stays at home. She does not learn, she does not discover, her body is therefore untouched. The knowledge achieved through her own flesh has to be controlled, selected and codified.

I know this purity is a mental paranoia that can poison every girl’s intimate choices, especially when she feels a physical urge in sharp contrast to the calm she’s supposed to feel when making such a decision. One that, we are told, is almost a turning-point. Little is spoken about teenagers’ sexual awakening, and there is always the risk of grotesque tones describing greedy and vain Lolitas who throw themselves at anybody until true love sets them on the right path. Female masturbation is a taboo, as it is, in general, any discussion on female desire. Proof of this is the carelessness of the pornographic scenery, that aims only at a male public – which therefore, I believe, is unfairly limited.

Why do they speak about girls’ desire and pleasure so little and so badly? Probably because desire means willpower, one thing that from a physical level up to a cultural one, the world prefers to ignore. Then it strikes me: sex is seen as something that taints women. Because of this, they need to keep to a minimum this filth from which they cannot escape – once you were pure, now you’re not anymore! They must find something that will lessen the guilt they feel at the act of having, and wanting to have, sex.

So you do it for love, with Mister Right, and not actually for a desire that makes you less worthy in front of the world. But then, is penetration considered degrading? Since penetrating is an act of force, a domination over others, does being penetrated mean defeat, humiliation? Here is a clue: when (straight) guys are asked whether they would like to try gay sex at least once, all of them half-jokingly claim that, if they really had to, they would play an active role. Playing the passive role is therefore perceived as a humiliation. After all, everyone thinks that, in a relationship, there is always one who dominates and one who is dominated. Transferred on a physical level, there is the one who touches and the one who is touched. Let’s think about those cheesy expressions found in romance novels: he made her his own, he took her, he possessed her. This obsession with conquering the other almost as a if in a battle field, with penetrating someone without being affected, seems to hide a real fear of being touched and changed, as well as having someone know us utterly and completely. Like in a war, the ones that stay in the trenches, behind a wall, never risk losing nor being hurt.

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What joy is left, however, in an experience divided into active and passive, domination and submission, purity and filth? Can we really attribute certain feelings to one sex rather than to another, merely on the basis of their genitalia? Penetrating and being penetrated are events not so easily restricted to elementary concepts. They speak of meeting, of welcoming, of giving and receiving, all translated into thousands of different little gestures. And we cannot really discuss it until the story of female innocence is replaced for good by the narration of everyone’s vulnerability before that overwhelming experience – sometimes illuminating, sometimes traumatic, often wonderful – that is physical contact.

*Lire: old italian currency that was used before the Euro. (ndT)


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