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Virginity to me is like the safety seal on the inside of a pill bottle—once the seal is broken, you can never put it back. Sure, you can close the flap back over the top—or pay thousands of dollars for a hymenoplasty if it’s that deep for you—but that doesn’t change the fact that it was once opened.
Last night, TLC premiered the first show of its new series, Virgin Diaries. The tragic first kiss between Ryan and Shanna on their wedding day makes the other 59 minutes and 30 seconds of the show completely worthwhile, but putting that awkwardness aside, I was much more interested in Tamara, a 29-year-old “reclaimed virgin.” Tamara says she’s slept with all of her past boyfriends, which she thinks adds up to about seven men, but because she feels so different since she’s abstained from sex, she figures the next time she does (on her wedding day), “it will be like I never had sex before.” Her roommate Lisa, 30, who is an actual virgin in the medical sense of the word, has her doubts. She said on the show, “I don’t think it works quite like that.”
I don’t either Lisa. When I first heard Tamara say she was a reclaimed virgin, I thought she might’ve had sex once, possibly even with just one person, and decided to abstain, but seven men is a lot of sexual activity to undo in one verbal proclamation. Most people who are no longer sexually active say that they are abstinent or celibate—which traditionally meant more than just not having sexual relations but also not getting married. Tamara’s choice of the phrase reclaimed virgin has a hint of shame in it to me, as if she wants to literally reclaim the time when she was “sexually pure” so to speak. But is that really possible?
Sex is as much mental as it is physical. The physical part is something you really can’t reclaim unless, as I mentioned, you undergo hymen reconstruction, which, according to the Daily Mail, is on the rise in the UK, although the number of operations is still low. Doctors there say women are having the procedure in response to pressure from relatives or future husbands who say women should be virgins when they get married. That’s a pesky little double standard that, despite all of the other barriers women have knocked down, won’t seem to die. I suspect that is the same thinking that underlies Tamara’s choice to reclaim her virginity rather than say she is simply abstaining from sex until she walks down the aisle.
The emotions that come along with sex are pretty difficult to undo, whether it was love or simply lust, and it’s nearly impossible to not, at least subconsciously, compare past lovers. Reclaiming virginity doesn’t kill those memories. Many women look at abstinence as a period of preparation for new and better sexual experiences, rather than erasing ones of the past. It’s usually a decision to save your body for someone who is perhaps more worthy than others have been, or on the most basic level, to protect yourself from sexual diseases that our continually increasing in our community. You can reclaim all you want but that doesn’t omit what you know has transpired.
I think we all joke during a long sexual drought that it will feel like the first time all over again once we finally get back to rolling around in the hay, but feeling like the first time and actually being the first time are two completely different things. If Tamara can sleep better at night feeling as though she’s reclaimed her virginity then more power to her, but at the end of the day you can’t really ever undo what’s already been done. And when it comes to virginity, I’m not sure you really need to.
What do you think about reclaiming one’s virginity? Is it the same as abstaining or do women do this in response to male expectations of female sexuality? Do you think it’s possible to really be a reclaimed virgin?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.