STOP SAYING ‘VIRGIN’

Comfispec Disposable Vaginal Speculum - Medium Long (Pack of 25) - HCE  Healthcare Equipment

I was knackered. In front of me was a row of model vaginas, and next to them a row of speculums. Each speculum was a different length, from a about 20 cm down to about 10. Our job today was to get ourselves fully and competently trained in for what a lot of women is a terrifying, invasive, and painful ordeal: cervical examinations.

‘And this is the medium long, for ladies who have given birth…’ the teacher went on, talking us through the slightly tedious but very important choice of speculum size for cervical examinations.

‘…and there are no nerve endings in the cervix, so this bit shouldn’t be painful.’

I internally snorted and raised my hand to let the teacher know that it was so painful for me that I cried and fainted. She was delighted by this sort of interaction. The discussion was lively, all of us women, all of us desperate to do our best for patients.

The teacher went on ‘… and this one here is a virgin speculum…’

I felt my insides freeze, as I raised my hand again to ask what reason we could possibly have for calling this a ‘virgin’ speculum.

Because I absolutely hate it. The word ‘virgin’ needs to disappear from our language with immediate effect. Used only for olive oils and for strange greedy companies, and that’s it.

Why do we need to label people who haven’t had sex with this revolting term? Why – just because you haven’t sexual experience – do you need to have this potentially humiliating, nonsensical, vomit-inducing term attached to you?

It’s vile on so many levels. This idea that if you haven’t had sex you’re some sort of desirable ripe fruit ready for the picking. An idea sewn by creepy men from the past. A patriarchal heap of bullshit. An idea rooted in religious tripe. Don’t get me wrong, I like some aspects of religion, but this sickening frilly little lace crown given to young women who haven’t had sex isn’t one of them. Why is it such a big deal that Mary was a virgin anyway? Why do we call her ‘the Virgin Mary’? Since when do we refer to people by their sexual experience? Okay sure, from now on you can call me ‘They Who Have Not Had Sex For Four Days Due To Vaginal Thrush Charlotte.’

And on top of that, let’s face it, you can be extremely evil and snakey without ever having sex. And you can be wonderful and sweet whilst having lots of sex. The term ‘virgin’ means nothing.

Why do we need to burden young people with this label? Teens have this identity attached to them which is embarrassing and creepy, that they then feel they have to shed. THEY DON’T NEED TO SHED ANYTHING, BECAUSE BEING A ‘VIRGIN’ ISN’T A THING. When you have sex you gain an experience, hopefully a positive one, you don’t lose anything. You don’t shed any frilly little lace crown. The lace crown was never there. And that’s without even mentioning how soul-destroying this term must be for victims of sexual abuse.

I can’t get my head around it. ‘Virgin’ used in the context of sexual experience needs to end. What does it even mean? It seems to be wrapped around the idea of a penis going inside a vagina as some sort of holy miracle. It’s deeply heteronormative; completely ignoring gay sex or sex that doesn’t involve vagina-around-penis action. What is sex between humans anyway? In my books, it’s consensually allowing yourself to be sexual with somebody else. End of. No need to imagine what that means for different humans, no need to hype it up or attach it to notions of ‘purity’ or ‘innocence’. And let’s be clear, if sex isn’t consensual, it isn’t sex. It’s assault.

Language is important, it changes the way we feel and therefore the way we act. Please join me in boycotting this term. Politely ask people not to use it when you hear it. Let’s stop heteronormalising language around sex.  Let’s stop making people feel like shit either because they haven’t had sex or had a terrible first sexual experience. Let’s stamp out the creepy patriarchal haze that the word ‘virgin’ creates. Let’s stop referring to humans or speculums for that matter as ‘virgin.’

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