A woman's purity certificate went viral. Time to talk about that whole 'virginity' thing.

The conversation about virginity doesn't seem to go away. So let's set the record straight.

Are you a virgin?

Sure, the question might seem simple at first glance...

Nope. Not so fast.


When we dig into what "virginity" really means, it gets a little more complicated.

Just like this photo that went viral. Check it out: Just a young woman in a wedding dress beaming as she stands next to her father on her big day.

Nope. Not so fast. Take a closer look...


Image via ABC News/YouTube.

They're both holding a "Certificate of Purity" from her doctor.

Now, I'm not here to knock the fact that Brelyn Bowman had a goal that was important to her that she achieved. But there is something messed up about the, um, measurement of that goal.

Here's the thing: It's impossible to "prove" someone is a virgin using a hymen test.

The basis for Bowman's test was whether her hymen — a membrane in the vaginal canal — was still intact. While the test worked for her, it has long been debunked as a useful tool to determine whether someone has engaged in sex.

There are two big issues here: First, not all hymens are created equal. Some people are born with hymens that are not intact. And, second, even if someone is born with it intact, the hymen can tear due to a variety of nonsexual activities, like horseback riding or gymnastics.


Quick! Someone tell her to get off that horse or it'll render all obsolete virginity tests useless! Photo by richard266/pixabay.

OK, so if the hymen test doesn't work. What does?

Wait! Back that horse up because we're putting it before the cart.

There's no set definition for virginity. People commonly say that a virgin is someone who has never had sex. But what counts as sex?

Does oral sex count? Anal intercourse? Conventionally, people have tended to believe that only penis-in-vagina intercourse counts. But then ... are gay people always virgins? What about people who engage in other sexual contact?

I wouldn't blame you if you're scratching your head right now because it all seems pretty complicated and confusing.

It's hard to parse it all because virginity isn't a biological state. It's a social construct.



Think about it: The valuation of virginity is only targeted toward women.

There's no test for people without vaginas.

That's because virginity and sexual purity emerged way back in ye olden times as a way to control women's behavior. And we see that in all the sexual double standards we have between men and women.

See what I mean? GIF from "How To Lose Your Virginity."

In spite of the fact that virginity can't be proven, it's still used as a way to measure a woman's so-called "purity."

Look at the phenomenon of purity balls: A girl's "sanctity" is promised to a male protector (father) until it's (presumably) handed off to a male spouse. (The possibility that the young woman won't be with a man or ever get married? IMPOSSIBLE.)


Fathers and daughters dance during a purity ball. Image via ABC News/YouTube.

There's nothing wrong with choosing to wait to have sex. But let's make sure we provide young people with fact-based information to help them make that decision.

Providing comprehensive sex education, which would explain that a hymen test isn't an accurate test of virginity, could be a great start. Comparing people who have multiple sexual partners to chewed gum doesn't provide the proper foundation to make a fully informed decision.

A Harvard study revealed that abstinence-only education does not make a student less likely to engage in premarital sex. They're just as likely to have it, but less likely to use contraception the first time. You know what actually helps students delay sex (and use contraception to boot)? Comprehensive sex ed education.

Behold, the power of accurate knowledge!

The whole notion that a woman's "purity" — and thus her value — is tied to whether she has had sex or not is just plain wrong.

As Jessica Valenti, author of "The Purity Myth," says:

The purity myth is the lie that women's sexuality has some bearing on who we are and how good we are. Because, really, I think that we all know that young women are so much more than whether or not they have sex.

We really should be teaching our daughters that our ability to be good people is based on their intelligence, their compassion, their kindness — not what they do with their bodies.

I'm not judging Bowman for her decision.

Instead, I'm aiming my judgment at a society that perpetuates misinformation about sex and our bodies.

More

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular