by AMBER EBANKS
The purpose of Sex Week, held at the University of Maryland throughout the week of April 6th, was to provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn and explore the world of sexuality. Throughout the week, there were many events on sexual health & wellness as well as events on sexual exploitation but Friday’s event was the sole event that addressed abstinence.
“Losing Your (Concept of) Virginity: Losing or Gaining?” was held on Friday, April 10 to address the concept of virginity, and different stigmas, definitions, and myths. The event, co-sponsored by the University of Maryland’s Eta Beta chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, provided a forum for students interested in discussing virginity.
The event aimed to positively discuss how virginity is different for women and men. In an effort to make all attendees comfortable, the speakers also announced that the event should be inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Aminah Arrey, a junior community health major and a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, said that the sorority co-sponsored the event with the Health Center to raise sexual awareness.
“I think religious and conservative are the words usually associated with virginity because that’s what people called me,” said Arrey.
For the event, the speakers posted several words including pure, snobby, insecure and clingy to describe people that are still virgins. Speakers also said that stigma and pressure surrounding one’s virginity typically has a negative connotation. Some people believe that those who are not sexually active are conservative in all aspects of their life, including their dress and the way they speak. Others heard things like virgins are only abstaining from sex because they’re unattractive and no one wants to have sex with them.
Speakers at the event brought up that sexism can also add to the negative connotation of losing one’s virginity. Many attendees believed that for men, virginity is something you get rid of. For teenagers and adults, their manhood is questioned if they’re still virgins past a certain age. Women are taught that their virginities are special and should be treasured. One attendee mentioned the ‘virginity tests’ for female police officers in Indonesia, requiring female police academy applicants to undergo an “obstetrics and gynecology” examination to determine whether their hymens are intact.
Abstinence, the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something, was another topic discussed at the event. Though religion and culture are the most common reasons, Arrey said that it can also be “self-empowering to go against the norm.”
Since the concept of “losing your virginity” has a negative connotation because it is seen as a loss of something, Jill Santos, a senior Psychology and Criminology and Criminal Justice double major and Sex Week Public Relations Representative, uses the term “sexual debut.”
“(I) know not everyone feels like they are losing something. The phrase losing your virginity is not inclusive. Sexual debut does not imply that something is lost or that people cannot go back. Losing your virginity is seen as shameful and sexual debut can be powerful.”
Nisa Hussain, a junior community health major and a member of the Sex Week executive board, believes this event was important because many students believe that sex week is only for very sexually active people. Hussain, who is also a Health Works Peer Educator, wants students to know that Sex Week can be representative for all people.
“Abstinence is a choice and it is a socially constructed concept, which is a problem. Labeling virginity, which is something that does not have a clear definition for all people is problematic, especially for women and LGBT people.”