My apologies, gentle reader, for not updating in a while. I have been very busy, and I am working – again – on my time management. That being said, I have had something I have wanted to write about for a while now.
The Virgin Fetish.
What is the Virgin Fetish?
The Virginity Fetish is a focus on sexual purity. In erotica, it is the focus on sexual purity as a means for arousal and sexual gratification. So long as it is presented in a way that is respectful of the players in question, as long as all players in question exercise their Agency, I personally find nothing wrong with the erotic use of the Virgin Fetish in and of itself. I even wrote about it on request for On the Fives. The astute reader will notice that my virgin is a male character chasing the ideal of losing his virginity to become a “real man.” It’s a pretty typical idea for a man, and one that I sought to play with and twist around to my own delight and amusement.
Unfortunately, the Virginity Fetish is poisoned by a society that uses it for both arousal (unfortunately in ways that if you examine them are creepy and outside of what would be allowed to be presented in erotica) and as a tool of misogyny. I had considered writing at length about the damage of the Virginity Fetish (also known as the Purity Myth) in our society. Someone else has actually written a book about it, and it is very good. Here is an excerpt from Alternet if you would like to check it out. Actually, I do recommend it. The previous link pops out so that you can read the article and come back. It will give you some understanding. If you are on of those that does not take author recommendations on what to read, here is a quick summary.
The Harm of the Virginity Fetish/Purity Myth in Society
- It gives women, especially girls and young women a sense that their (and other women’s) moral center and self-worth lies between there legs.
That is really all the summary that I need to make of the article. I invite you to reflect on that statement for a few minutes. Think about being in high school. If you were not one of the girls labeled “slut” and made to feel bad about your lack (or perceived lack) of Virginity, then I bet you still remember the face, if not the name as well, of the girl that others (possibly even you, and I can forgive you because in high school you were acting out according to how you were socialized, without any way to really understand sexuality) did label “slut” and “whore”. She was probably treated very badly by most everyone, either to her face or behind her back. Even yours truly fell victim to passing such judgment on other young women even as I am sure others passed that judgment on me. There was no care or concern to anything else about her moral character. She could have gone to soup kitchens every weekend and given everything she owned that she did not absolutely need to charity. She could have sacrificed most of her free time to help her single parent raise younger siblings. She could have been the nicest person in the world. Her being a “slut” and a “whore” made her a terrible person, not worthy of anything except scorn.
What is really bad is that this only works on women and girls. If a young man has slept around, we do not instantly deride his character. He may be a football player working his way through any willing young woman. The key word is willing, so he’s not so bad. He may also be smart, or friendly. Sure, he’s a womanizer. Maybe sometimes he has to “convince” a girl to sleep with him or provide a little alcoholic incentive. But he’s the one who sticks up for the nerds and geeks and stands up to bullies.
When it comes to young men, we will overlook their sexual “transgressions” as long as they have other aspects of their moral character that are ideal. If they are brave, if they are honest, if they go to church every Sunday, if they study hard we are happy to still call them good people.
So, okay, I talked a little more than I was going to about the Virginity Fetish. I will stop there on that. I think that you have the idea. If you think about it, you can probably picture the face of or name the young man in high school who was still liked even though he had slept with one or more young women. He might even be you. He was possibly even looked up to.
Society’s Virgin Fetish Meets Erotica
Society’s unhealthy obsession with Virginity and its perpetuation of the myth of purity is problematic for the Romance and Erotica author – or it should be. Unfortunately, I see many who do not seem to be at all bothered by it. They write about the Virginity Fetish while locked into the modes of thought created for them by society. They do not question what they have been taught and they do not understand that their work is not merely a path to arousal and romantic ideas. It also becomes an example of how a “young woman should be” and reinforces the idea that she is only desirable for her sexuality – or lack thereof. This happens because all of the negative and unhappy societal expectations are reinforced through the story, through characterization, and through how the story conflicts are resolved.
Fifty Shades of Grey
I think we have been harping on how bad Fifty Shades of Grey is since it started becoming popular. We focus in on the abuse present in the relationship between Anastasia and Christian because the story presents it as an ideal romance. That is so very dangerous. If you know women and you are not either a woman in an abusive relationship or her abuser, then you probably know a woman who is. When you go into your office and you see the faces of the women around you remember that 1 out of ever 5 of them has been a victim or nearly a victim of sexual assault. 1 in 6 were stalked. 1 in 4 are or have experienced domestic violence.
By the way, I can include myself in each of the statistics I cited above. Unfortunately, when you go into the office, you will probably be face to face with other women who can say the same thing. Each of those abusive behaviors are demonstrated by Christian Grey in the book. Read the infamous Chapter 12, only consider the chapter not from Anastasia’s point of view, but Christian’s. You will understand why it is so bad. While we know when Ana says “no” it is only that she does not want her shoes removed, Christian does not know that and is never told that. What do you think Christian is assuming she is saying “no” to?
Something else is demonstrated all through the book, something we do not talk about much. We do not talk about it because it is an elephant in the room. Not every person who decries Fifty Shades works to make the world a better place for women. Oh, they may do a lot to help women against Domestic Violence and other crimes. They also perpetuate the same ideas and stereotypes that help both of those things thrive. So they are not going to look at how the novel perpetuates the Purity Myth or how Christian’s obsession is a classic example of the Virginity Fetish, even as he is angry at Ana for being a Virgin.
Ana is presented as an unrealistically “pure” girl. This purity – her innocence and naivety, is what attracts Christian to her. Her purity is her most defining characteristic. That Christian wants to “fix” it for her is as bad as those who would seek to preserve it or deify it. Remember, in the Purity Myth, a woman’s worth is based only upon her willingness to withhold her sexuality or to offer it up freely. There is no in between and Ana has no real agency in the story to dictate how her sexual encounter will take place. Christian simply tells her what will be and she goes along.
The unrealistic image of “purity” presented in Ana is typical for the erotica genre. Ana is more than just a virgin. She has almost no sexual experience whatsoever. She does not even masturbate. How a young woman got through high school and college without some kind of sexual encounter is unknown to me. I am also unsure how she got through college (at the latest) without discovering masturbation. She is not an asexual character, so she has to have been aroused sexually at some point in her life. Unfortunately, she is so “innocent” that she cannot bare to refer to her genitals in any way except “down there.” You know, the language usually reserved for children.
She is unrealistically pure because Christian is unrealistically broken. She is presented this way so that the reader understands she is the only one who can “fix” Christian. What we actually get is an unhealthy picture not just of a relationship, but of female sexuality, both of which are presented to us as ideal things. I cannot tell you how often I see women talking online about wanting to find their “own Christian Grey” and how much it makes me cringe. I cringe at the thought of a woman idolizing an abusive man and getting into a situation that will see her hurt. I also cringe at the thought of a woman finding a non-abusive man, one who otherwise enjoys consensual kink, and thinking that she must somehow “fix” that out of him.
The series as a whole presents to women the idea that the ideal romance must end with the woman receiving the house and kids. Sex is a pure and vanilla thing, free of the darkness of BDSM and kink. Everything becomes the neat little mainstream ideal of romance, with all the dark stuff to arouse you along the way. It is again, part of the Purity Myth. You see, Christian being the one to take her virginity and the one she ultimately marries means that she is unspoiled and worthy of that perfect and ideal life.