As a mental exercise, I tried to imagine when I first heard the term “virgin” when used to describe a person’s state of non-experience with in terms of sexual relations. To be honest, I realized that I first heard it among friends, when talking about girls they liked – in the sense that “do you think so-and-so is still a virgin? That would be so hot! I hope I’ll be the first to get her!”
At the time, it didn’t matter to our teenage minds just how wrong all of that sounded (I’ll expound more on that later). All that mattered was that we were thinking of how great it would be if the girl were a virgin.
Of course, as we grew older, the value that was given to a person being a virgin changed. Here are some interesting observations about how the “virgin value” changes, depending on who it is, and what generation you’re talking about.
The difference between male and female virgins
Traditionally, the idea of being a virgin is more important for a girl – but then, this also calls into question how the local community or society views women. The whole concept of women being virgins before marriage is to make sure they aren’t “used” or “damaged” goods. That’s a big issue, if you think about it, because all that means is that women are being treated as assets. In the larger scheme of things, this also means that marriage is seen as a bond that can be used to unite families – for whatever reason.
If anything, this view of virginity makes it not so much a sign of moral purity, but of women as material commodities that should be kept pure – for the equivalent of horse-trading. However, because the practice is also given religious significance, this aspect of virginity isn’t often thought about.
With men, it’s a very different ballgame. Men aren’t expected to be virgins – if anything, they should already have experience. Among my friends and I, the common rite of passage was to have the fathers take their sons to the local girlie bar or whorehouse, where the fathers would be the ones to pay for their sons’ first times. This was done so that the sons would not be caught “inexperienced” if ever sex does happen. For men, then, sexual experience and virginity were at odds with hidden social values. Masculinity and ability to attract girls was called into question if a man stayed a virgin. In some cases, it even becomes as point of support for the suspicion of homosexuality. Male virginity, then, is not a required asset – in fact, it’s a state of inexperience that should be remedied.
Think about it for a second: women as material assets, men as failures, when it comes to virginity. Is it any surprise, then, that virginity has such a tenuous present social meaning?
Virginity as a… problem
These days, virginity is not anymore seen as a material asset – nor is it seen as something to be rid off immediately. If anything, it is simply beginning to be seen simply as a factual state: you are a virgin because you haven’t had sex. Yes, there are women going around who want their virginity to mean something, and there are young boys (mostly) who want to be rid of theirs as soon as possible. The effect of the modern age, however, is that these are treated now in a more factual manner.
In the past, the issue of virginity is that it is one of those virtues (for women) that had a strange position in the cultural context: one could talk about it when praising it, but it would also be partially a taboo, in that you’re not supposed to talk about it too much. And given that Filipino communities start at the family level, and, in a more social level, the barrio or barangay, it’s no surprise that virginity, at the base community level, takes on twin meanings, based on actual information being passed on, and on the fact that Filipinos also have their chismis grapevine.
As time has gone on, the idea of virginity while outwardly being seen as a virtue, has also become one that invites a certain amount of ridicule.
The past and the present
The big problem here is that as values change, so has the view of people on what virginity really means. For example: relationships are now more or less independent of clan politics and social contracts, and that means that the idea of virginity as a plus to the asset (so to speak) is slowly fading. Indeed, for some people, the opposite may now hold true, with virginity being seen as woeful inexperience in sexual matters – a possible turn-off when it comes to attraction.
There is also the idea that virginity for men may not be so important anymore, as the traditional masculine models are also disappearing. In its stead is, again, more of being able to satisfy one’s partner sexually, but not because of being a “man,” but simply because it would be the “right thing to do.” For the present, the practically polar viewpoints when it comes to how men and women view virginity are slowly coming together to a middle ground.
Not surprisingly, while some would see sexual experience as important in a relationship, there are also other who think of virginity as a measure of personal growth or character. In this case, virginity has a value because it demonstrates other positive traits. These traits are now rarely put in for male or female roles, but rather, it is about overall character development. Moreover, there are those who eschew the idea of virginity having any value at all, seeing it as only a circumstance that will be addressed in the way a person chooses to address it, and nothing more.
Virginity in the future
So what does the future hold for the concept of virginity? Well, health risks aside (and in this age of drug resistant STDs and HIV, these are serious risks), the future seems to point at virginity becoming a more neutral concept, not as loaded with gender and cultural roles for men and women. However, does that mean virginity will go out of style?
If anything, how virginity is seen will simply become a signpost of the times. And for now and the near future, it seems that virginity has become a way to find other people who have the same views on it, which can indicate better personal and sexual compatibility. And even if that has some significant implication in terms of teenage morality and sexual activity, there is also the plus side that maybe, just maybe, virginity won’t reduce people to roles and assets.