‘Virgin’ - New York Times
FIRST CHAPTER — VIRGIN
By HANNE BLANK
Published: March 25, 2007
By any material reckoning, virginity does not exist. It can’t be weighed on a scale, sniffed out like a truffle or a smuggled bundle of cocaine, retrieved from the lost-and-found, or photographed for posterity. Like justice or mercy, we can only determine that it exists at all because of the presence of its effects-or its side effects. Unlike many of our habits and practices, virginity reflects no known biological imperative and grants no demonstrable evolutionary advantage, nor has being able to recognize it in others been shown to increase anyone’s chances of reproduction or survival. Perhaps this is why even our nearest animal relatives, whose sexual behavior and social structures are often startlingly similar to our own in other respects, show no signs at all of knowing what virginity is.
Virginity is as distinctively human a notion as philanthropy. We invented it. We developed it. We disseminated the idea throughout our cultures, religions, legal systems, bodies of art, and works of scientific knowledge. We have fixed it as an integral part of how we experience our own bodies and selves. And we have done all this without actually being able to define it consistently, identify it accurately, or explain how or why it works.
How do we define virginity? How have we defined it in the past? How do we tell who is and isn’t a virgin? How do we know what virginity is and does and means? These questions, so basic to a book like this one, tempt even the most thoughtful of us in the direction of snap judgments and pat answers. We live in a culture that does not appreciate ambiguity when it comes to either sexuality or morality, after all, and virginity is inextricably twined with both.