Bristol FemSoc asked students: ‘What does virginity mean to you?’

TW: Honour-based violence, death, virginity testing

The treatment of women around the world so often seems to hinge on the concept of virginity. From virginity testing across Africa, to the hideous schoolgirl fantasy that seems to lead to so many girls being harassed in their school uniform. Yet, when we look into it, it’s just a concept. Being “a virgin” can at most mean just “an individual who lacks the experience of having sex”. There is no necessary physical change in any gender after having sex, and if you have a hymen it will remain with you until your dying day (seriously, watch this CollegeHumor video ).

Maddie Burton, Campaigns Officer for Bristol Feminist Society

What’s interesting about honour abuse is that it speaks volumes about how women are perceived by some societies, and so much of that attitude seems to be tied up in concepts of purity and virginity. With around 5000 honour killings internationally per year this is a serious issue. Of course one can face honour violence for a number of reasons: being gay, transsexual, or in love with the wrong person.

None of these, however, seem so rooted in the virginity concept. Women are seen as commodities that can only lose honour or value if they don’t uphold family traditions. Even the term to “lose” your virginity implies that virginity has some positive value and that there is some “loss” to be had.

With this in mind we took to campus on Monday to ask “What does virginity mean to you?”. Is it something to be preserved? Something to be hastily cast aside that weird afternoon when you were 16 and your parents were out?

Unsurprisingly, we uni students seem to have pretty liberal views on losing the V plates. The majority of people we spoke to thought it just didn’t matter when you get around to doing the deed, as long as it was with the right person. There was one individual (who did not agree to be photographed) who came back with “get rid of it ASAP”, but overall no-one seemed to have strong feelings either way.

Most importantly, no one thought that remaining a virgin was important. The matter was considered too private to matter to anyone else, least of all your family. This, ultimately, highlights how futile honour abuse is. Women are killed for the sake of a concept: virginity. All because society associates sex with impurity and therefore with dishonor. If the world can shake off these outdated notions that women must remain “pure” and “modest”, then a good deal of atrocities could be cast aside.

To learn more about honour violence and forced marriage, visit this website.