[Dash of SAS] The problem with virginity

Ana P. Santos
Let virginity be a personal decision rather a measure of someone’s character, or lack of it.

Dash of SAS joins the Rappler conversation as a regular column on sex positivism. We’ll dish out bits of juicy insights and ask biting questions meant to provoke thought and rouse positive conversations about sexuality. Changing the way we view sex starts with the way we talk about it.

ANA P. SANTOSAfter a Rappler #SexTalk Google+ Hangout, I was asked if oral sex causes pregnancy — on Twitter.

I was quite surprised by the publicly posted question, but not caught entirely off guard, thanks to a friend who suggested that I reply, “Hindi ka mabubuntis, ‘day! Mabubusog ka lang!” [You won’t get pregnant, girlfriend, but you will have a full stomach!]

It was a tempting reply, but I decided to give her the scientific facts: “No, unprotected oral sex does not cause pregnancy, but oral sex can lead to STIs.”

She was not content with my reply and I asked that I follow her fake Twitter account so she could send me a DM (direct message).

In her succession of DMs (it was, of course, longer than 140 characters), she revealed her nagging concern and a little bit more about her sexual activity.

She described — apologizing for going into graphic detail because she didn’t know what to call this sexual practic — how her boyfriend would slide his penis outside her vagina but never put it inside. She was looking for reassurance that this would not get her pregnant.

Unfortunately, it was assurance neither science nor I could give and told her, “Even without penetration, pre-ejaculation fluid already contains a mixture of sperm and semen, which can get you pregnant or give you an STI. I recommend you use a condom at all times.”

“But he’s never put it inside because I don’t want him to,” she protested.

I restrained myself from telling her that genitalia is slippery when wet and there is a high probability that her boyfriend would “slip” and fall inside. 

Her protests matched her persistence as her DMs continued to flood my inbox. “And I’m a virgin. So very limited chances of getting pregnant, right?”

Ah…and there lies the problem with virginity and the obsession with preserving the hymen.

The flawed logic of abstinence only programs

On paper, it may seem like abstinence-only programs are an appropriate response to combatting teen pregnancy and rising STIs.

But in the practice of real life, it is not exactly the case.

The Guttmacher Institute, a leading US-based research institute on sexual reproductive health conducted a study, “Consequences of Sex Education on Teen and Young Adult Sexual Behaviors and Outcomes” (also published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health), and showed that teens who receive sex education that talks about both waiting to have sex and methods of birth control are more responsible about sexual activity than those who receive no sex education at all.

The study, done among a group of 4,691 men and women, aged 15-24 in a 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, showed the following:   

  • Respondents who had received instruction on both abstinence and birth control were older at first sex than their peers who had received no formal instruction. They were also more likely to have used condoms or other contraceptives at first sex. In addition, these respondents also reportedly had healthier partnerships.
  • Condom use at first sex was significantly less likely among females who received only abstinence instruction than among those who had received information about both abstinence and birth control.
  • Given the possible influence this information has on sexual activity, it was also recommended that this information reach people before they start engaging in sexual activity.

Everything but the girl

In a study on taking a virginity pledge published in the Journal of Adolescent Health and American Journal of SociologyDrs Hannah Brückner and Peter Bearman found that taking a virginity pledge does delay sexual initiation among people — but only for an average of 18 months.

Brückner and Bearman found that among sexually experienced youth, more than 88% of pledgers had broken their pledge and had sex before marriage. (Remember Britney Spears?) They found “loopholes” to keep their pledges (and their hymen intact) by engaging in risky oral or anal sex instead.

It was not clear in the study what caused them to break their pledge, but the study showed that once they engaged in sexual activity, they did not use contraception or condoms and were therefore at higher risk for STIs and unintended pregnancy and usually had more partners in a shorter period of time.

A number of studies show that providing comprehensive sexual health education has a better impact on delaying sexual initiation and developing sexually responsible attitudes than abstinence-only programs.

Some reasons that have been forwarded.

1. It puts restrictions where there should be options

An abstinence-only program is premised on prohibitions and restrictions and gives very little options. Its message is not to have sex, but does not offer  alternatives like making responsible sexual health decisions if you do.

2. It limits the definition of virginity to an intact hymen and regulates sex to be  within the bounds of marriage 

In so doing, it effectively fails to consider and provide options for those who cannot get married like the LGBT community.

It may keep people from keeping their hymen intact, but not from engaging in sex altogether. So couples try everything from dry humping to oral sex, anal sex or like the girl on Twitter, sliding the penis outside the vagina and never putting it inside.  Everything but the girl, as they say.

3. It limits the discussion to just sex and not having it when the issue is so much more than that

Just as learning Math was more than just putting 2 and 2 together, sex education is so much more than sex.

Math is a lesson in logic, accuracy, order and sequence. Similarly, sex education is also about relationships you have with yourself and others, and how decisions you make can impact the future.  The deeper lessons of sex education are accountability and forward-thinking.

Just to be clear, as any sexual health educator will tell you, abstinence is the most effective form of birth control and protection against STIs.  But it must not be done selectively by engaging in haphazard alternatives meant to simply comply with preserving the hymen.

And as for virginity — let virginity be a choice, not one imposed by social conditioning and the need for moral acceptance. Let virginity be a personal decision rather than a measure of someone’s character, or lack of it. – Rappler.com




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