posted by Claire Teitelbaum, Advocate
This post is inspired by Amanda McCracken's November 13 op-ed in the New York Times, Does My Virginity Have a Shelf Life?
For me, the whole premise of feminism – and progressivism in general – hinges on the idea of choice. In any given situation, an individual has the right to make an informed decision as long as their actions do not significantly infringe on the rights of others. Any number of conditions can constrain this choice – misinformation, a lack of resources to carry out a decision, social pressures that place value on one option over another – the list goes on and on. Though the word choice has largely been made visible by the abortion rights movement, facilitating informed decisions is a fundamental tenant of every feminist issue because the choices of oppressed groups are so often limited, particularly when it comes to an individual’s right to make choices about their own body. In this op-ed, the author discusses her choice to abstain from sex, even past the age where virginity is generally expected or accepted.
Virginity is a charged word, with a number of different meanings – both literal and connotative – in different social groups. The author of this article points out the many different ways in which people react to her choice to abstain from sex, from horror to pride to confusion. Whether or not we share her values, however, it is clear that the author’s abstinence from sex is an assertion of her ability to make choices about her body. This is not a woman who is a virgin by chance or coercion. She has made a choice based on her principles and has carried out this decision, even in places where it is not necessarily accepted. In this sense, her story is a feminist success.
But let’s get back to the values associated with virginity. The author acknowledges that the decision that is right for her is not necessarily right for others. She expresses no judgment for her non-virgin friends. However, exactly what makes this decision right for her is never really clear. She states that she fears the loneliness that would come if, after having sex, she learned that her love for her partner was not reciprocated. While this reason is personal, one of protecting herself, her reasoning requires that intercourse be distinct from other sexual acts or even from expressions of emotional closeness present in romantic relationships. Furthermore, she describes her virginity as a “gift” and having sex as “giving herself,” both of which imply that her body and sexuality are not solely her own, but can be given a reward for someone else’s love. Is ideal free choice possible if our decisions are based upon principles that allow other people to own our bodies?