It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue--Voltaire meet the Bush Administration. In its non-ending war on science, the Bushies attacked a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control on sexually transmitted disease just concluded. The conference was to discuss how the promotion of abstinence-only sex education could undermine the fight against STDs by reducing or eliminating the time spent discussing other forms of protection, particularly condoms. The list of speakers went through the usual peer review, and included at least one outspoken opponent of abstinence-only education. When the political appointees at CDC were done, that speaker was eliminated and two proponents were added. The moderator also was changed and the symposium, a respected international meeting, had a title change. It went from "Are Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?" to"Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth." The Christianists in the Bush Administration are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on these programs. ("Christianists" is a wonderful new word to describe those who push Christianity into government.)
Abstinence, of course, is complicated. If young people all kept their virginity until marriage it is absolutely true that STDs would disappear. Unfortunately, the world and youthful hormones don't work that way. Study after study has shown that most kids who make those pledges don't keep the promise or at best delay the first sexual encounter a year or so and then just do it.
UPDATE--According to a study just published, [not yet posted] in the American Journal of Public Health, Janet Rosenbaum, a doctoral student at Harvard, found that more than half the kids who take the vows deny they did so a year later, usually after they have become sexually active. And of course, there is the 10% who lie. They had, in fact, been screwing around, claimed they were still virgins and would not do whatever it was they said they never did. It reminds one of Oscar Levant's line that he knew Doris Day before she was a virgin. According to the Washington Post:
Rosenbaum said her study shows that efforts to evaluate such programs' effectiveness is complicated by teenagers' reports of behavior that may be influenced by religious or social factors. "Whatever environment you're in, you're more likely to conform," Rosenbaum said.Additionally, teens have redefined virginity to include the usual act of a penis in a vagina and but exclude oral and anal sex, which has their own dangers. (The comedian Sarah Silverman once said: "I didn't lose my virginity until I was twenty-six. Nineteen vaginally, but twenty-six what my boyfriend calls 'the real way.'" Whatever.) One might also suggest that the wedding night is about the last night you want to learn what the hell to do with that other body in bed, but that's another argument.
In some Christian circles, the hymenally challenged have become something of a fetish. The hilarious San Francisco columnist Mark Morford describes Purity Balls, where dad dresses up in a rented tuxedo and his little girl (sometimes as young as 7) dresses in the latest creation from J.C. Penny and they head off to the nearest Marriott or Holiday Inn ballroom. They dance and then:
It begins. At some point the daughter stands up, her pale arms wrapped around her daddy, and reads aloud a formal pledge that she will remain forever pure and virginal and sex-free until she is handed over, by her dad (who is actually called the "high priest" of the home), like some sort of sad hymenic gift, to her husband, who will receive her like the sanitized and overprotected and libidinously inept servant she so very much is. Praise!The High Priest then responds by pledging that he will protect his daughter's virginity at all costs, so help him God.
While I'm on the subject, a comment from the Jewish desk. Yes, premarital sex is forbidden by all streams except the left wing of Reform. Birth control is fine except for the right wing of Orthodoxy. In Orthodox Judaism there even is a rule against using a condom or any birth control if you are married and still childless, it being a mitzvah to have children (fruitfulling and multiplying and all that). One consequence is that young Jews are getting married later so that they will, they feel, be ready when the babies come. They are up against the rule on birth control. In a meeting in Jerusalem this week, Modern Orthodox rabbis (those are the guys not wearing black hats) suggested that perhaps the rule ought to be bended rather than have people delay marriage. But one guy came up with a killer of an idea. According to the Talmud, says Rabbi Tzvi Zohar, horny young people can be accomodated. Concubines. A single man and a single woman can be assigned to each other to do each other. As long as the women goes into a mikvah, a ritual bath, before she services the guy, she is not commiting a sin.
Is this a great religion or what!
[Illustration: "The Loss of Virginity" by Paul Gaugin]