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Why being a virgin is neither right or wrong

Illustration by Marta Kierkus

Growing up in Singapore, sex was considered a taboo topic. Most parents never talk about it to their children because it’s seen as embarrassing. At school, we learned that vagina equals girl, penis equals boy, and penis added to a vagina can sometimes equal baby.

During puberty we began having feelings that made things more complicated. But between gruesome images of herpes-ridden genitalia and reminders of the importance of saving ourselves for “the one,” it was almost impossible to tell anyone how we felt, for fear of being seen as dirty deviants.

So we learned to associate sex with impurity, especially if it was done outside the sanctimonious bond of marriage.

You have to remember that Singapore is a pretty conservative society. Up until 2007, oral sex that did not lead to intercourse was criminalized.

When I arrived at the University of Ottawa for an exchange program in January and was told that students here who haven’t had sex faced pressure from their peers, my first thought was to tell them to visit Singapore.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize how conceptually wrapped up virginity is in a society. Take, for example, here in Canada. For the most part, at least in university, virginity is perceived negatively. Virgins are viewed as naïve, inexperienced, and uncool.

But around the world being a virgin can mean many things. If you’re in a society that values purity and tradition, being a virgin right up until marriage is seen as a necessity. Failing would not only make you an outcast, but would also bring shame to your family.

In a society that values freedom and sexual liberation, virginity can be seen as a sign of power and choice. I guess I thought this was what I was going to see in Canada.

Back in Singapore, we were practically cultivated to believe that premarital sex was wrong. Only when I started university did I begin to wonder why I thought it was wrong. When you really think about the ways you conceptualize sexuality and virginity, you find that you really have no basis for the way you understand it, except that that’s how you’ve always thought.

I was programmed to think that way by people who had been programmed to think that way, and I’ve imposed my judgment blindly on others without realizing it too.

The thing that coming to Canada has made me realize is that whether someone decides to have sex should be their own business. You can choose to share the graphic details of your own sex life with your friends, but you have no right shaming people for choosing not to share theirs, or shaming those who decide not to partake in the act.

Being a virgin is not wrong. What’s wrong is putting other people down for seeing the world differently than you do, and acting like you know more about sexuality than anyone else.

Your decision to not have sex does not define you as a person. It is your choice and it deserves as much respect as anyone else’s choice to have sex.

It’s not a competition, nor is your virginity a status. No one has to justify their sex life. And if the pressure ever gets to be too much, you can always go on exchange to Singapore–they will worship you.