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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

Virginity

This post is admittedly way off-topic for a blog about gaming, but whatever.

I read a blog by a woman who calls herself N. Mallory. I began reading because she's a gamer, she often posted interesting links to various political articles, and she loved to bash on the President. Lately, however, her blog has been much more personal in nature. And yesterday she wrote a post entitled "Is Virgin a Dirty Word?"

You see, Ms. Mallory is a virgin and makes no apologies whatever for her choice. Nor should she: I respect everyone's right to choose how to live their lives. But when she announced to someone that she was a virgin, she seemed shocked by their reaction.

Really, I’m quite bewildered and offended by his reaction. What’s so wrong with being a virgin? I mean, I’m not likely to discover that someone I dated in my past has gifted me with some surpise ticking death bomb. I’ve never had to worry about sexual disease or getting pregnant. He makes it sound like I’ve committed some dirty act by not committing dirty acts.
She doesn't understand that it might strike someone as odd to meet a thirty-five-year-old virgin? I was so bewildered by her bewilderment, that I felt I had to respond:

Since I wasn't there, I can't pretend to know exactly what prompted this person's response to your admission, but let me try to explain what I think was going on.

People are often made uncomfortable when confronted by those who are different from themselves. This, it can be argued, is the root cause of homophobia, racism, and any other example of xenophobia you can come up with. We are afraid of that which is foreign. And for adults over the age of 25 or so, the vast majority are not virgins, and so this makes you alien to them in a way that you may not fully appreciate.

You might liken it to someone who has refused to ever watch TV. There is no reason to think that person is any less mature, any less intelligent, any less capable, or any less worthwhile than someone who has. You could even make the argument that someone who hasn't watched TV is better off: they are free from the constant barrage of mass-marketed images, free from the influence of pop culture, and have more leisure time to spend doing things more worthwhile than sitting on the couch. But not watching TV makes you an outsider. You can't talk with co-workers about last night's episode of 24. You don't know the inside jokes from Seinfeld. And since you have voluntarily chosen this path, people just don't get it. They watch TV, everyone they know watches TV, and so the person that doesn't seems abnormal, because they've chosen not to participate. There's nothing inherently better about TV-watchers than non-TV-watchers, but by opting to behave contrary to social expectations, you have made yourself an outcast.

But the TV analogy doesn't go nearly far enough to illustrate the point, because sexuality is such a powerful force in people's lives. Sex is an inherent, biological drive that can outweigh the desire for even food and sleep. For the majority of people, voluntary abstinence is simply unthinkable. This is not to say that people are ruled by sexual desire, but it is a drive so fundamental and so potent that they cannot imagine living without it. Most people cannot understand why someone would choose not to have sex. Even in the face of fervent religious belief, even in the face of punishment or duress, sexual behavior is nearly impossible to totally suppress. Sex fulfills basic physical and emotional needs. To most people, an adult who is a virgin doesn't make sense, because they cannot identify with them.

On top of this, many also see losing one's virginity as a rite of passage into adulthood. Whether this is a useful characterization is debatable, of course, but the fact remains that in our society, this is how it is seen. After all, we refer to media with sexual content as "adult", because we believe that it requires a certain amount of maturity in order to understand it. Like many of life's most powerful experiences, having sex changes your point of view in a way that is hard to explain. The lack of this experience, in many ways, could cause someone to see a virgin as immature, naive or even irrational, because they have willfully exempted themselves from an entire dimension of human experience.

Someone who has never watched TV couldn't really understand the power of the medium to influence our thoughts, to shape our opinions, to entertain or educate us. They have never experienced it, so they just don't get it. In much the same way, you may not understand why your choice seems odd to some, but that's because you're on the outside. You've chosen a different path.

There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to be a virgin, or a pagan, or a polygamist. But like every choice that puts one at odds with society, the price can be steep, indeed. Not everyone will understand. You just have to know that you made the right choice for your own happiness.

I welcome feedback, flames and comments.

Comments on Virginity
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Saturday, July 15, 2006 5:29:00 AM
Can't say I disagree with the way you see things, but the only sexual behavior I consider creepy is the non-existant one... Or considering sex a *diry thing*... Gosh... Bring on the Inquisition.

Mind you, that such behavior usually has something to do with extreme religious beliefs...
  Comment from Anonymous N. Mallory at Monday, July 17, 2006 2:32:00 PM
Mind you, I don't consider sex a "dirty thing" at all. ;) Though I will admit that it took me quite a long time to overcome my personal "religious judgement" of other people in that area.

That said, as Redbull said, I make no appologies for myself. It's my personal decision and it isn't even about religion any more. All I ask is if other people expect me to respect their lifestyle choices -- whatever they may be -- without blinking and without overreacting badly, then can't I expect the same?

For example, the person who was shocked and appalled by my virginity is gay, which is absolutely fine by me and I've been thoroughly supportive attending local gay charities, etc. Shouldn't I then be able to make similar requests of support from him?

Perhaps that's where my bewilderment comes from. In this day and age, I find it amusing and fascinating that I am the odd woman out and that virginity is a taboo thing, not to be spoken about.

BTW, Redbull, thanks so much for your comments.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 6:28:00 AM
Aha! I knew virginity had to have a religious cause!

BTW, it's no taboo Mallory, it's just a highly unusual way of life. usually highly bound with religious fanaticism....
  Comment from Anonymous N. Mallory at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 11:13:00 AM
But it doesn't have to be. For intstance. I am not a religious fanatic. I don't believe I was ever a religious fanatic. Just because at one time I practiced a faith and followed a set of rules that included not having sex does not make one a fanatic.

Currently I do not necessarily follow that exact faith but I maintain that particularly lifestyle choice because I feel it's right for me for other reasons. That still does not make me fanatical or creepy.

I find it rather judgemental of you to label a person with any sort of religious belief as extreme or fanatical. It seems rather hypocritical and close-minded.
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 12:04:00 PM
Gnome: "Fanatic" is too strong a word to use in a polite discussion, but I understand your sentiment.

Any set of beliefs that overrides basic biological needs must be powerful, indeed, but it need not be unhealthy. Dedication to an ideal is admirable and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in itself. I would only use a word like "fanatic" to describe someone whose beliefs were blind and destructive.

Mallory: You say that your choice is driven by reasons other than religious belief. What are those reasons?
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 2:16:00 PM
I'm sorry Mallory, if you thought that "fanatic" was adressed to you... It wasn't. It was a definetely social judgement, and a justidied one at that... Well, where I live at least, where the vast majority of virgins are indeed religious biggots. In no way did I mean that every virgin is religious or a fanatic in any way.

And I definitely didn't mean to offend you. I also think this should have been clear... I did write (and I quote) "usually highly bound with religious fanaticism".

As for being judgemental, worry not, for I can't conceive it as an insult ;). But close-minded and (especially) hypocritical? Totally irrelevent assumptions, especially if all you're basing them on is my previous comment. And let's be honest, you are. Care to explain perhaps?

Oh, and red bull, fanaticism doesn't neccesarily mean "Destructive". A fanatical Buddhist for example can be totally harmless and peace loving, but a stuck-up fanatic nonetheless.

On a sidenote... Dedication to an ideal is not always to be respected... Would any of you for example respect a Nazi? An ideologicaly inclined paedophile?

Didn't think so...

(quite an interesting discussion this... Kudos go to Red Bull)
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 3:11:00 PM
Gnome: You're looking at the term "destructive" too narrowly; I was using it in a broad way, similar to my earlier use of "unhealthy". A fanatic is someone who follows an ideal to a fault, and this is ultimately self-destructive, even if the person is peaceful. A "fanatical" Buddhist might decide to meditate so much that he dies of starvation or verbally attack those who do not share his radical point of view. Whether you're hurting yourself or others, it's still "destructive".

And of course not all ideals are worthy of being held in the same regard, but that's pretty tangential to my main point. I understand that there are few (if any) absolutes when it come to morality, but at least in terms of our discussion, I think it's clear from the context that we're talking about ideas that are probably Christian. Comparing Nazi ideals to Christianity is pretty hard to do in any meaningful way. Christianity's fundamental tenet is "love thy neighbor"; the Nazi credo was "love your Fuhrer".

Respect for other peoples' ability to make their own choices is the foundation of my personal philosophy of right and wrong. The moderate strains of the major world religions all teach respect for our fellow humans. Mallory has demonstrated that she is tolerant and respectful of others' beliefs, even when they differ from hers, and so I would call her beliefs moderate based on this evidence. Neither you nor I know why Mallory has chosen this path for herself. I will not make any assumptions or conclusions until I hear her reasons.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 4:07:00 PM
Red Bull: A fanatic isn't someone who abuses an ideal or an idea, but someone who completely and passionately advocates and believes in it.

As for the main, and rather more interesting part of this discussion, I obviously agree with your statement that absolutes in morality are very few or even none whatsoever.

Christianity, on the other hand, even though it (at times at least) preaches the "love thy neighbor" principle, can be easily compared to Nazism. Firstly, as a religion wich only accepts one true god (in contrast say to paganism), it cannot *on principal* accept any other deities. These are a priori false. Other than that it was indeed the religion that murdered hundreds of thousands of pagans in order to impose itself, burnt an estimated 14 million 'witches' during the last part of the Middle Ages (using the Maleus Maleficarum as a guide), never respected/tolerated what was by it considered unethical, burned and crushed uncountable ancient temples and statues, didn't respect women, held the Crusades, fought against each and every revolution, supported (even backed) Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain, commited genocide on two whole continents, convicted free thought and ... I guess i'll just stop here. I could write on quite a bit more mind you. I do believe though everyone's got my point.

As for the respect of anyone's right to do anything it pleases him/her, as long as it doesn't hurt others, I really agree (again!). I don't even care if he/she hurts him/herself. It's a definite right of anybody to even commit suicide. Besides paternalism really isn't my favorite way of things...

Finally, and regarding Mallory, I really have to state that a) it's not personal b) I do believe she's tolerant c) I really don't need to know her own personal reasons in order to discuss virginity in a general/societal level d)she might as well be the greatest and kindest human being on earth...

That's it for now...

I'll be back (in an Arnie voice)

:)
  Comment from Anonymous N. Mallory at Tuesday, July 18, 2006 8:41:00 PM
Since the question's been asked, and, really, what could I possibly be embarrassed about answering if I admit to being the world's oldest virgin, I'll answer.

Really, it always surprises me that there aren't more people like me. Maybe there are and they are just afraid to admit it. Who knows? *shrug*

I think there are lots of practical reasons to not have sex in this day and age if you consider the risks. For starters, there's STDs. Let's face it, I basically grew up in the Age of AIDS and there's no cure. While in fact, I can control who I sleep with, I can't control who my partner(s) sleep with or have slept with.

But if you don't want to talk about worrying about disease and dying, what about worrying about pregnancy. Since I'm Pro-Choice but personally anti-abortion, a pregnancy for me would mean a child -- I do not intend to have children. I think that would be a horrible thing to inflict on a child. I would be a terrible, irresponsible parent. And also there's the thought that what if you get pregnant with someone you aren't sure you want to spend the rest of your life with? Now you have no choice. You are bound together for the rest of your lives.

And, O.K. Then there's the thought that I have pretty much decided not to get involved with anyone until I'm content with myself -- I've come to the conclusion that until I've finished working out my big inner issues, there's no point in trying to deal with anyone else's.

Besides, there's a lot of pressure in my age group to rush things. Rush dating. Rush jumping into bed. Rush living together. Rush getting married. I find it very frustrating because most of the men I meet seem to talk about marriage and kids right off the bat. No one seems to be interested in just dating for a while any more. It's getting more and more difficult for someone who doesn't want marriage or children to find suitable dating companions. It just seems easier to sit the whole thing out.
  Comment from Anonymous Princess Molikins at Thursday, July 20, 2006 12:12:00 AM
Mallory...I am curious to know of what age group you are referring to when you say that people are only interested in dating for marriage and children. Also, kudos to you for standing up to a belief that you feel strongly about.
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Thursday, July 20, 2006 1:10:00 AM
The risk of sexually transmitted disease is something all sexually active people have to face, but this is certainly not insurmountable. Even if you prefer not to use condoms, you can choose your partner wisely, get tested, and consider yourself safe. There are also a wide range of birth control options to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Since I'm sure you're aware of all of this, then it seems that the primary reason for your choice is this decision that you've made not to get involved until you've solved your "big inner issues".

I am not sure what issues you feel are so disabling that it would prevent you from managing an intimate relationship, but the simple fact of the matter is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone I know has huge personality flaws. I'm not talking about run-of-the-mill insecurity. I'm talking about alcoholism, crippling social anxiety, alienating arrogance, and the like. Everyone has those psychic hobgoblins that prey on their doubts. That includes, me, you, and anyone you would ever choose to date. If you try to perfect yourself before being in a relationship, you will never get there, because you will never be perfect. No one will. And that's just the way things go: we're human, we're fallible, and there's nothing we can do about it.

But this is what makes relationships so important to our personal development. When you love someone — and I mean in that I-don't-want-to-ever-be-without-you kind of way — you learn to forgive yourself, because they forgive you. A relationship becomes a kind of mirror, where you can see yourself in your partner's eyes. You can understand the world in a whole new way because someone lets you into their world.

Sex is an important component of this kind of relationship because it cements this bond in a way that nothing else can. When you live together, love each other, when they become a part of your life, you learn a new way to live. When someone else's happiness becomes more important to you than your own, you can begin to let go.

This is not to say that love will fix everything. In the words of a wise poet, "love can mend your life or love can break your heart". Most of the time, it does a bit of both. But like most growth experiences, while it can be painful, you come out of the experience a better person.

I am not equating love and sex. But I think that platonic love is essentially different from erotic love, because it lacks the raw power of our animal nature to effect change. Attraction is more than just lust; it's the foundation of true, honest love because it gives it its reason for being. Emotions change from moment to moment, thoughts are vague and insubstantial. Physical love cements a relationship, gives it a concrete expression, and brings you back down to earth.

I think that it is a rare person who can experience this sort of romantic intimacy without the support of a physical relationship. The way I see it, it's much like trying to appreciate a foreign country without ever visiting it. You can read a hundred books, see a thousand pictures, speak the language and know all the history. But until you smell the air, walk its streets, until you live in that place, you don't really know it.
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Thursday, July 20, 2006 1:31:00 AM
@gnome: You said that "a fanatic isn't someone who abuses an ideal or an idea, but someone who completely and passionately advocates and believes in it." That's certainly not true. I think this is the fundamental miscommunication: the word fanatic is definitely pejorative and implies a fairly strong value judgment. I understood what you meant, but I disagree with your choice of words.

As to your comparison between Christianity and Nazism, these are superficial similarities at best. Genocide has been carried out ny followers of political and spiritual ideologies of all kinds. This does not make the ideologies similar at all. All it means is that their adherents chose to commit atrocities in their name. As to comparing Christian monotheism to the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip, these are fundamentally different on many levels, notably the former's grounding in an idealist framework of spiritual reality superceding material existence versus the latter's grounding in existenial philosophy that explicitly rejects that premise.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Thursday, July 20, 2006 8:06:00 AM
Regarding Mallory: I think my dear, that Red Bull is the one I have to agree with... Still, it's a perfectly ok personal decision, even though I would get shocked if anyone I know told me he/she were a virgin. My faux perhaps, but I guess, that I too am a product of society... Other than that, I don't like discussing personal matters with people I dont know. It almost feels like gossip...

Red Bull: ..alienating arrogance... that's me buddy! Do I know you perhaps?

Guess not... Being from greece though, I would ask you to believe me on the meaning of the word fanatic, it being greek and all. Still, we did manage to communicate ;)

As for comparisons... I'm well aware that Nazism and Christianity are two different belief systems, even though I strongly believe that Hitler's ramblings were a) in no way connected to existensialism b) stronlgy idealist in nature c) absolutely not Nietschean d) rather ridiculous. Other than that, the similarities are indeed superficial. They were only meant to illustrate that these two beliefs are quite comparable (not similar per se; even though similar in their fierce exterminating mania), just like any two other...

The Fuehrerprinzip does seem like an interesting theory, but I cant say I'm convinced. Anyway, have you read Main Kampf?
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Thursday, July 20, 2006 1:45:00 PM
@gnome: I have not read Mein Kampf, and upon further consideration, I think you may be right: Hitler may have been trying to recast Nietzschean concepts in an idealist mold, which seems absurd.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Thursday, July 20, 2006 2:48:00 PM
Actually, I do have a feeling that Nietzsche, despite hia hatred for gof, plato and idealism, actually died an idealist (of sorts). And of course a lunatic too. His obsession with the things he had seen through "the crack" or whatever this concept of his is called in English, is highly reminiscent of idealist thinking.

Lovely thread this. Well done red Bull.

Oh, and no need reading Mein Kampf. Not worth it...
  Comment from Anonymous N. Mallory at Monday, July 24, 2006 5:21:00 PM
Sorry I disappeared, guys. ;) I had this post saved in my reader and it must have got unchecked. :(

I am not sure what issues you feel are so disabling that it would prevent you from managing an intimate relationship, but the simple fact of the matter is that everyone is in the same boat.

I imagine they are the same issues that make me feel unready to face the risks (STDs, pregnancy, etc.) that go along with intimate relationships. ;) The truth is that being the practical person that I am, until I feel I can manage my own personal demons (as you've mentioned, I've been increasingly personably honest as of late on my website) regarding my genetically inherited mental illness, I am unsure how well I could manage a relationship and I certainly wouldn't want to burdon someone else in the process and cause him pain.

Now, however, I do want to go back to the idea that started this little discussion. I still don't get the big deal. I still think that anyone who expects me to accept his or her lifestyle of choice and hear the open details of it, particularly someone who isn't a stereotypical hetrosexual, really has no business reacting that way. I mean, you can't classify it as "too much information" because it's really "no information". It's a lack of something happening. There's no mental image that can be forced on the mind's eye for that one.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Monday, July 24, 2006 8:29:00 PM
Welcome back Mallory :)

Let me just say, that it actually doesn't have to be a relationship... You could just have sex.

As for the reaction, especially when coming from someone "not steretypicaly heterosexual" (!), thus someone who prizes sex-life to such a point, that considers it a character-defining trait (and I 'm only guessing here), his shock would be quite justifiable...

Still, give it a try, before it's too late. The chances of geting an STD or even pregnant are actually so minimal, that aren't worth considering.

(sorry for getting too personal here... not my standard style)
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 4:15:00 AM
Your friend's reaction is ultimately unjustified, but completely understandable. It's the sort of reaction one has to an uncomfortable admission.

For example, if a close friend of mine were to tell me he was gay, it wouldn't be the mental image that would bother me, it would be my feelings of alienation that would bug me. I couldn't understand it right away. It would change the way I saw that friend, because in that moment I realize that he is living in a world that I don't understand, since I couldn't understand making those choices myself. This doesn't justify a judgment of any kind, but it's easy to see how one might say something odd. I think your friend was feeling something just like that.

People do not understand the choice to remain a virgin. Such a choice is unthinkable for most. Maybe a good analogy is choosing to live a vegetarian lifestyle. I, like many other people, could never make such a choice because it seems absurd. Eating meat is pleasurable, natural and healthy. Why would one choose to live without it?

I think you made your friend uncomfortable because you told him something personal and unusual. Like it or not, "virgin" is something like a dirty word because it creates a sense of social dissonance.
  Comment from Anonymous N. Mallory at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 10:33:00 AM
Now, see...I think the fact that I don't (like to) eat pork or sausage is a much more disruptive lifestyle choice to my friends. ;)
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 12:01:00 PM
Red Bull (as expected) I agree, and Mallory :).
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