Friday, March 19, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Virginity as Social Construct

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Christians who frequent the major social media sites are finding it difficult to miss the sudden and precipitous increase in closed accounts, shadowbannings and deplatformings of Christian, conservative and even centrist voices. When so many are being abruptly silenced, it is not unreasonable to wonder which opinions are still acceptable in the public square.

Wonder no more. A mother of five girls is using her TikTok account to try to put an end to the “social construct” of virginity, which she claims is “designed by men to control women’s bodies and ultimately make women feel bad about themselves”. [Caution: coarse language in link.] She says she is raising her daughters to believe there is no such thing as virginity.

Well, not in her home at any rate.

Noises from the Echo Chamber

Tom: Cayce LaCorte’s video has 2.5 million views and counting, with lots of positive feedback from viewers, a fact that should hardly surprise us given that the Right is fleeing TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like horses from a burning stable. What’s left is an echo chamber, and the echoes are getting louder.

What do you think, IC? Is virginity a social construct?

Immanuel Can: Why not? Apparently, sex, child-bearing and even womanhood itself are being called “constructs”, so why not make the same argument for virginity?

Tom: Well, that makes for a short discussion …

IC: I’m kidding, of course. I would just point out that there are no reasonable limits to what people are calling a “construct” these days. It’s the label they slap on everything that used to be considered a fixed reality. I’m fully expecting to be told soon that, given the new possibilities of technology, death itself will shortly be called a “construct”.

Tom: I quite agree.

IC: Virginity is actually a fact. Just like there’s no being “a little bit dead” or “a little bit pregnant”, there’s no being “a kind of virgin”. One is, or one isn’t.

Virginity and Economics

But I guess the more important question is, why does it matter?

Tom: There is much debate about this very question online, and very few hard statistics. Putting together the 15 or 20 articles I briefly glanced at, what appears to be the case in that there is a not-insignificant number of men — most either Christian or from the developing world — who are quite comfortable declaring openly that they would prefer to marry a woman who has never had sex with other men, or if not no sex at all, at least as little as possible. The outpouring of vitriol against that particular expression of opinion, mostly by women, is quite funny. It is, after all, an opinion, a preference, a personal choice — something to which others used to be entitled. Not anymore. Those who express such sentiments are apparently trying to “control women’s bodies”.

So my question would be why these men prefer inexperienced ladies to experienced, and the consensus answer I’ve found is something like this: rightly or wrongly, these men believe that after a certain number of partners (and nobody is quite sure how many, but five seems to be a frequent number cited), a woman becomes so habituated to sleeping around that she cannot be counted on to remain faithful once married. And that is important to these guys. Hey, it would be important to me too. Moreover, their logic doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me: a woman who has demonstrated not even a scintilla of self control in her teens and early twenties can hardly be expected to magically become a one-man woman by simply taking a vow. That is true of men as well, of course, though I have yet to find on the Web a correspondingly vocal preference from eligible women for young, inexperienced men. It may exist, but it’s less openly discussed.

IC: I was reading a book by sociologist and relationship expert Dr. Mark Regnerus, provocatively titled Cheap Sex, but subtitled The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy. It’s actually a very serious, academically solid, well-researched report on the state of male-female relations in the present age. I highly recommend it. Anyway, he points out something that many people — women in particular — find hugely offensive. It’s what he calls the “economics” of intersexual relations.

His argument is long and interesting and I can’t do it all justice here, but one of the things he points out is that in the exchange relationship involving males and females, a readily-available supply of sex always advantages promiscuous males, and drops the “price” of all the available females to the lowest common denominator.

Tom: The law of supply and demand.

Virginity and Gatekeeping

IC: Traditionally, it is the withholding and gatekeeping of sexual access that has empowered females and given them leverage with males, and raised the “price” of their consent (not merely in money, but in good behavior, commitment, affection, fathering, providing, protecting, and all the things that women value). But now we live in a world of low-cost sex for men, of women who believe they have to supply sex early and on demand, and especially a nearly infinite and free form of sexual experience from porn, and so there is simply no reason for a man to invest at all in any of these things women value, apart from them being able to offer an exclusive relationship of a kind not available in other ways. Virginity has traditionally been key to women’s “economic” value, and to their power, in other words.

Tom: So virginity is the only real currency left to a young woman who wants a good man. (The bad men don’t care about it, sure, but do you really want one of those?) You don’t have to like it or think it’s fair to acknowledge what’s in front of your eyes. When society has become morally degraded to the point that all one’s potential marriage options have already been to bed with dozens of other men, there will always be some men who will opt do without, and no amount of hen-party hectoring will ever change that opinion or convince them a visibly promiscuous woman is worth the substantial investment — and risk — that marriage involves.

And this reality really frustrates the sort of woman who wants to control the shape of society and the shape of public opinion, and especially the future prospects of her five dissolute daughters. The fact is that you can’t control what people prefer. They will value what they value, and all the disingenuous rhetoric about “men controlling women”, and all the efforts to market sow’s ears as silk purses, do not change their preferences one iota.

Virginity and the Bible

But is there a biblical basis for valuing virginity, IC?

IC: Yes, of course. There are many angles from which we could approach that. One is the exclusivity of God’s ideal relationship. Another would be the implications of sexual relations as reinforced by Christ himself in Mark 10:7-9, which actually repeats the Genesis passage. There is no doubt that God approves of exclusive sexual relationships and calls other options either “fornication”, “adultery”, or even in some cases “prostitution”. Of course, almost no sin is unforgivable, but that doesn’t make those things not‑sins.

Tom: Thank you. That’s good reason to think seriously about chastity prior to marriage. And even if we move away from what our conduct looks like in the eyes of God to how it impacts our ongoing relationships, my experience in counseling others is that a plethora of sexual experience prior to making a commitment to a life partner leads to all kinds of complications, jealousies, paranoia, wrong assumptions, worries, apathy about the opposite sex, and general misery that God never intended us to go through in marriage. Who wants to be compared to ten or twenty other previous partners, and who really wants the job of doing the comparing? It’s exhausting and destabilizing.

Age and Desirability

But there’s another subject here we should probably touch on that’s a bit difficult and potentially hurtful. Still, I think it’s an important issue to raise. Let’s be honest: if you are a thirty year old man, opting for a twenty year old virgin as a partner looks quite desirable, easily preferable to a twenty year old who has been around the block. But choosing a thirty-plus year old virgin as a partner raises a few awkward questions. The phrase “old maid” might get bandied about. You may start to wonder if there’s maybe a reason this woman (or, frankly, a man of comparable age) has not partnered up before …

IC: And there might be. At the same time, it might not be something negative about the woman; it might well have to do with the condition of the available men, which we would have to admit is not particularly admirable in a great many cases today. Some are addicted to porn, gambling or online gaming. Some are promiscuous, materialistic or irresponsible. It’s also true that many men today are compelled into a kind of protracted adolescent state of fiscal and personal dependency by things like higher education and career difficulties, and are thereby rendered unsuitable for a reasonable woman. Since women like to marry older and more accomplished partners than themselves, it would make sense that a woman could be in her early thirties and have found many of the good men taken and the available men not good. So we’d need a lot more information before making any conclusion. I wouldn’t want to form an opinion of any case without knowing what was involved.

Tom: I can’t help thinking many of these modern problems of sexual temptation and promiscuity would be mitigated or resolved entirely if both men and women were preparing themselves for marriage earlier in life, prioritizing becoming mature in the Christian faith. But education and careers are often seen as a priority until it’s too late. And it is often well-intentioned parents who are pushing for prioritizing the good education and the “right” job, to the detriment of potential life partnerships.

IC: Well, I think that’s true. And as for children, what are the ideal years for them to come into the world? I think we can all see that biologically, our present society’s arrangements are not very good for anyone.

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