A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.
The word “virgin” generally indicates naivety, innocence, or inexperience in a particular context. Virginity can also represent sharing a previously un-shared part of yourself with a partner, and, for this reason, is often associated with intimacy. Writing, too, involves sharing part of you with other people and, like losing one’s virginity, can be frightening, enthralling, or unremarkable. In writing, the loss of virginity can be related to moving from innocence to awareness of the craft of writing. Regret for stories written or published too soon can be equated with unwise choices in sexual partners. Social stigmas can influence your willingness to explore new forms or subjects in writing as well.
In American culture, we have myriad views of virginity. Annelise Pennington notes, “Today, our society has made virgins feel bad for being virgins.” A stigma—a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person—exists on each sides of the issue. According to Voltaire: “It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.”
Misconceptions and prejudices about virginity can arise from religion, pop culture, love, choice, or bad luck—even myth. In ancient Greece, it was thought that the deepening of a girl’s voice determined loss of virginity. Some medical writers of the time argued that virginity meant no desire. Soranos and Galen suggested that virgin women suffered from less disease than other women. In early Christian writings, the paleness of a woman’s face was an outer sign of virginity. Christianity argued for the value of preserving one’s virginity in terms of the life to come. True virginity resided in the body and the soul. [i] Today, countries including India, Turkey, and Africa place a high value on virginity. A woman’s eligibility for marriage can hinge on virginity testing, a practice that continues despite scientific evidence that the presence of an intact hymen is not a reliable indicator of whether a female has been vaginally penetrated. Women who fail virginity testing are often divorced by their husbands instantly, disowned, beaten by family members, or in some cases, even killed.[ii]
Myths about the loss of virginity are still pervasive in America, too. These myths can lead to rampant misinformation, including that losing your virginity will cause irreversible damage to the body, that it’s going to be pleasurable, magical, painful, bloody, or life-changing. According to an article in The Atlantic, “These myths persist in part because of a lack of information about what happens to the human body, specifically the hymen, during sex—information that’s often not taught in schools, that’s not always found online, and that’s not always available from medical providers.”[iii]
Though virginity can be an embarrassing, confusing issue to explore for anyone, regardless of gender, historically and culturally, women have faced more stringent restraints to their sexuality and intimacy. For this reason, many women don’t feel comfortable writing about sex and desire. Helene Cixous, author of “The Laugh of the Medusa,” says,
[W]omen must write her self: must write about women and bring women into writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies—for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Women must put herself into the text—as into the world and into history—by her own movement. […] I wished that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women, other unacknowledged sovereigns, might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs (p. 875, 876).
Refusing to acknowledge or avoiding the topic of sex in writing only compounds the problem of misinformation. Young people often cast virginity in a shadow of negativity and have trouble taking ownership of their sexuality due to myth and misinformation. A potentially pleasurable experience can be viewed as stressful and unnecessarily traumatic. As writers, it’s our job to help dispel or clarify myths that can be harmful to our health and well-being.
Prompts for More Promiscuous Writing
- Do you remember when you moved from innocence to awareness of the craft of writing? How would you describe any feelings of confusion, fear, or worry? How did you make your voice public?
- Have you been told that you have to write a certain way or write about certain topics? Is this what you, too, tell yourself? How have you allowed yourself to venture out into new types of writing that might change how you look at the world?
- What must break in order to welcome a new writing style or to take a writing risk? Write about a transformative writing experience. What is it like to share your body of writing?
- What genres do you write in? What genres are you most comfortable reading/writing? Write about the first time you crossed genres in your writing. What did you notice as you wrote? What most surprised you? What have you yet to explore/share?
- What parts of you are pushing your writing in new directions? Do you ever feel pressured in your writing? The loss of virginity for some of us is painful, humiliating, even shameful. We may feel empty during it or afterwards. Make a list of all of the shameful or painful experiences you would never write. Now write them. Go after your desires; make yourself vulnerable to your loved one, which is to say writing.
- How do you feel when put out your most vulnerable writing? In what ways do you write to please others and conform to their expectations rather than writing for self-expression or experimentation? How are you self-conscious in your writing? How do you think people will think of you if they were to read your words?
- What stretches and leaps do you allow yourself to take in your writing? Is it possible to come back to our innocence once it is gone?
Virginity, by being once lost, may be ten times found: by being ever kept, it is ever lost. ’Tis too cold a companion: away with ’t!
―William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well
[i] King, H. (2003). Disease of Virgins: Green Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty. Routledge, pp. 47-48.
[ii] Francis, S. (2010). A Thin Membrane Called Honor Hymenoplasty in Muslim Cultures. Retrieved September 28, 2014 from https://www.pcc.edu/library/sites/default/files/thin-membrane-called-honor.pdf
[iii] Feeney, N. (February 7, 2014). Living myths about virginity. The Atlantic. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/living-myths-about-virginity/283628/
Debbie McCulliss spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry Therapy, Studies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental Health, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women, Statement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.