“Virginity is like a balloon; one prick and it’s all over.” So went the punchline of a joke I remember from my high school days in the latter half of the 1970s. At the time virginity was largely associated with the virtue of teenage girls and young, unmarried women; it was something they were expected to safeguard until marriage. It was an issue for teenage boys and young bachelors too, but in a different way. For a boy during adolescence and a young man, generally, he wanted to give up his virginity very much, and before marriage if possible. The sexual revolution was in full swing at the time. The period between the 1960s through the 1980s saw the legalization of abortion and birth control, the decriminalization of gay sex and gradual acceptance of people engaging in sex outside of marriage. Nevertheless, I remember a degree of discomfort experienced by some of my classmates in grade ten health class when the sex education portion of the curriculum was presented. Despite the liberalized attitudes toward sex that emerged in the West during the sexual revolution, the age one chooses to give up their virginity (if at all) and to whom remains a delicate issue.
The Oxford Dictionary defines virginity as “the state of never having had sexual intercourse.” (Oxford Dictionary) This definition of virginity is the common understanding of the term. In this instance virginity is simply the status one enjoys before they become sexually active. However, for many people virginity is also synonymous with purity, decency and innocence. In this instance virginity is sometimes seen as a calling. Some people choose celibacy as a vocation, vowing never to marry and keep their virginity for life. This is the case, for example, for those who take up Holy Orders in the Roman Catholic Church, men who become deacons, priests and bishops. This applies also to people who choose Monastic Life (monks and nuns) and lay Catholic women who become Consecrated Virgins. For lay Catholics who choose to marry, it is expected they remain virgins until they are married.
Virginity is synonymous with purity, decency and innocence in Protestant Churches also. In the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention initiated a program promoting chastity until marriage for young people (teenagers and college students) called True Love Waits. Young people who take up the challenge make the following pledge: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.” (as cited in Wikipedia) Of those young people who take up this challenge, some wear purity rings to indicate to those around them of their decision to abstain from sex until marriage.
With regard to sexual activity and teens in the United States, data generated in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens these days are less sexually active than their parents when they were teens in the 1980s. The data show that “44 percent of girls and 47 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 had sexual intercourse at least once from 2011 to 2013.” (MedlinePlus) Gladys Martinez, author of the study and a demographer/statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), observes “that’s down from 51 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys in 1988.” (MedlinePlus) This must be good news for those who view virginity as a virtue, but the fact remains teens are giving up their virginity. That and it is typically boys who are more eager to give up their virginity than girls.
This brings me to the scandal I spied in recent news reports that inspired me to write this article. Molly Shattuck, a 48 year old woman, socialite and former cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens (NFL football team), plead guilty to the charge of statutory rape in a court in Delaware on June 16, 2015. It seems she initiated a sexual relationship with a 15 year old boy (presumably a virgin) in May 2014. The boy’s family is angry with her for this, declaring Shattuck had stolen their son’s innocence. The boy’s mother stated for the record “Miss Shattuck is a criminal, she admits to being a rapist. […] She must be held responsible.” (Baltimore Sun) On August 21, 2015 Shattuck was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but two years suspended. The two years to be served as probation, in alternating weekends, at a Delaware community corrections center. In addition, she is obliged to pay more than $10,000 in restitution. What brought about the downfall of Molly Shattuck is the fact she upset the balance between her civil liberties and community standards in initiating a sexual relationship with this 15 year old boy.
Thankfully, the mainstream media is respecting the privacy of the boy and his family in not revealing their names or the salacious details of the sexual relations between the boy and Shattuck. Still, some people imagine the boy may have willingly taken part in his seduction by Shattuck, on the assumption that teenage boys want to give up their virginity and will do so readily with any woman who agrees to engage in sex. The fact is it was inappropriate for Molly Shattuck, a 48 year old woman, to initiate sexual relations with a 15 year old boy. As the Prosecutor John Donahue stated in court “this was not an interaction between two adults.” Moreover, Raeann Warner, a lawyer in Delaware whose law practice represents sexual abuse victims observed “many people tend to think that abuse by female perpetrators against male victims is less serious than it is.” (Baltimore Sun) Molly Shattuck can think about what she did to the boy and his family as she serves her sentence and lives with the shame she brought on herself. As for the boy and his family, one hopes the boy will recover from his loss of innocence and find true love with someone closer to his own age someday, and that his family can move on, putting this affair behind them.
Thus, in the present where attitudes toward sex are far more liberal than anytime in history, the fact is virginity remains a contentious issue. For some virginity is a virtue, something they maintain for life. For others, it is something they safeguard until they marry, while some view sex as a natural and enjoyable part of life so giving up their virginity is just part of growing up. In the last analysis, whether you choose to remain a virgin your whole life, become sexually active in your teens or remain a virgin until you marry is entirely a personal matter. Of course, as with any choice one makes in life, there are consequences. As the case of Molly Shattuck and her 15 year old conquest demonstrates, even in a society with a most liberal attitude toward sex, where virginity is concerned it is still possible to upset the balance between civil liberties and community standards. In the case of Molly Shattuck, the consequences she faces for her indiscretion are grave indeed.
Posted by Geoffrey