Let’s discuss that topic that quite frankly has so much stigma attached to it that we as a society have created it to be a construct used to judge people when it comes to their sexual activity. My question is- why does it actually even matter? Why do we as a ‘progressive’ society still hold onto such out-dated concepts around sex and modernise them?
Virginity is an archaic concept with damaging ideologies dating back thousands of years. Virginity defined women and oppressed them into being the property of men, it was something for a husband to take so a woman could be owned. If a woman lost her virginity before marriage, she was an outcast, ‘ruined’, reputation gone, whilst men spent their nights expressing sexual desires in brothels with those ‘ruined’ women. In that perspective, doesn’t the “importance” of virginity sound so oppressive to you?
In today’s society there is so much pressure around sexual expression, we have modernised this sexual oppression through the way that sexual partners are kept “count”, a social construct called “body count”.
Body count discussion is something that pops up a lot in society today. Upon meeting new people, especially in the dating scene, chances are someone is going to ask you how many people you’ve slept with, that invasive question: “What is your body count?”. This question is something that has seeped into most parts of society, turning on the TV you’ll find reality shows like Geordie shore and Love Island where contestants will discuss how many people they have slept with and place a lot of emphasis on it. But why? Why is it something that society has built for us to be judged upon? Alternatively, if you haven’t slept with someone yet, society still seems to find a way to judge you. Whether it is 0 or 100, why is this social construct imbedded into us as something that could potentially define us to other people?
What can we do to try and break down this damaging social theory?
The issues that stem from ‘body count’
This obsession society has created around body count and virginity is somewhat toxic and certainly creates more problems than it solves.
The problem is, in doing this we have made it confusing to those who have experienced sexual violence and assault- for many survivors it raises the question of whether they “count” it, because the term “body count” is so vague and limiting in the way that it is very restrictive to any sense of alternative situations. This is the same for virginity, sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have to add confusion to their trauma based on the idea that society has constructed around “losing” virginity or having a “body count”.
I normally hate analogies; however, I feel as though this one could be somewhat useful to put this into more perspective. If your friend had a physical object stolen from them, you wouldn’t say it was their fault and they had lost it. You say the item had been stolen by someone. Therefore how can you say that someone has “lost” their virginity if they were raped? How can you say that it should be “counted”? Do you see how confusing and trauma intensifying that could be for a survivor of sexual assault?
It is the same concept for people who have already had sex but experience sexual assault, due to this emphasised “importance” on body count, it creates confusion to a survivor on whether their “number” should stay the same or not. The same analogy applies here. If body count wasn’t so drilled into society today, this confusion would be lessened because there wouldn’t be this awful pressure around how many sexual partners we have.
The fixation and pressure we as a society put on the perception of body count makes it difficult for sexual assault survivors to feel any sense of clarity, only confusion. If this construct and the importance placed on it didn’t exist, then it wouldn’t even be something that sexual assault survivors would think about after experiencing such trauma.
Generalisation is something that also stems from body count. What I mean by this is that we as a society fixate on the number without any context behind it at all. Sex isn’t just gathering numbers. We all make the conscious decisions to have sex with who we want to, and all situations are different. Normalise understanding the contexts as well as not being obsessed with a number because behind those numbers are real people, real situations. You can’t judge someone based on a number because it isn’t as simple as that.
Normalise being open
I am not really one for a lot of reality television, however, one contestant of Love Island season 5 really stands out to me as someone who owns their sexual openness and verbally challenged the idea of body count, Maura Higgins. I personally found her appearance on the show extremely empowering as a woman. Her openness and expression around sex was something that many found “intimidating”. Contestants such as Molly-Mae even expressed that she assumed the number of people would be higher due to the way in which Maura was so open to talk about sex. This was challenged completely by Maura who explained that “women enjoy it just as much as men, so I don’t know why anyone gets so shocked when I talk about it”.
It is arguable that the importance society has constructed around body count played a part in the attitudes towards Maura here, quite frankly I think we could all take a leaf out of her book, in the sense that if society was not so obsessed with keeping numbers would we really have this attitude that it is shocking for women to be open about sex? The idea that sex is a taboo subject and women should just keep it to themselves out of fear of judgement seems archaic doesn’t it?
Why does it seemingly vary in attitude regarding gender?
I Just want to say that in saying this, I am not trying to undermine any gender based on societal attitudes towards body count and virginity. We need to recognise that there is not necessarily an inequality, but a vast difference between the attitudes towards male and female body counts. There is, in my opinion a massive difference to how body count is almost ‘glorified’ in men but used as judgement for women. Now I know that seems like an ‘inequality’ but the reason it isn’t is because glorifying higher body counts in men is just as damaging as forming judgement on body count in women. This is because it creates an unnecessary pressure for men who haven’t had sex yet or haven’t slept with a lot of people, it gives an emasculating effect to those who don’t fit into this glorification. This can lead to men feeling less worthy for having lower body counts; in the same way that by judging women leaves them feeling less worthy if theirs is higher.
The reason this isn’t an issue of inequality is because the fixation society has on body count and virginity is damaging for everyone, however it is damaging in different ways. Therefore, fixing this issue does not boil down to also glorifying higher counts in women or judging men because their count is higher because then the same effect applies. Instead, it is a case of letting go of numbers as a way of defining people, open your eyes to how unimportant it is as a social construct and how having an obsession on the number of people everyone sleeps with is unnecessarily damaging.
Forget about numbers and just start accepting people for who they are, not based on the number of their sexual partners. We as a society need to start realising that we cannot subconsciously hold onto archaic judgements around sex as it only creates more problems on a personal level. These issues include, complete confusion for sexual assault survivors and the feeling of pressure placed on both men and women when it comes to sexual partners.
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- Chloe G