The Social Value of Virginity

“America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”

Josef Stalin

“Your first time should be amazing!” This is how the HBO actress Lena Dunham addresses young “virgin” voters in her recently vetted campaign endorsement for President Obama. Critics have called the 30-secound double entendre a tasteless and inappropriate targeting of young female voters. In the controversial sexual advertisement entitled, “Your First Time,” Dunham insists that “your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy… a guy who cares about whether you get health care insurance, specifically, whether you get birth control.”  At the risk of appearing partisan, Dunham’s You-Tube commendation provides the perfect opportunity for a brief commentary on the issue of virginity.

The 26-year-old Lena Dunham is the self-defined “voice of the twenty-something generation.”  In her edgy drama cable show, “Girls,” her relationship-obsessed character chronicles the coming of age of five post-college New Yorkers.  Dunham’s satirical political parody clearly targets this specific audience by ridiculing virgins and comparing sex to voting. “My first time voting was amazing,” she insists. “Before I was a girl, then I was a woman.” Tragically, many impressionable viewers will be duped into accepting her notion that the contemporary voting booth is nothing more than a societal boudoir that leads to womanhood!

What is the actual presage of “virginity?” Is it an exclusive title for eccentric individuals, an insurance policy that assures royal bloodlines for those who have deferred first-time sexual activity until marriage? Does the designation identify something precious – something extraordinary – or does it simply specify an obsolete medieval taxonomy? Is it a valuable cultural distinctive or, as Dunham and others suggest, a political endorsement that can be sold like a trophy to the “One” who promises significant financial subsidies?

The word “virgin” originates from the Latin word (virgo) for maiden. In contrast, although typically applied to women, its Greek derivative (parthenos) is often applied to men. While in both cases the word specifically denotes the absence of sexual proficiency outside of marriage, the Greek term implies moral purity and the strength of personal character. By so extending its primary sense, the idea of virginity is used in ancient mythological texts to express self-control, independence, valor, and social authority. It is significant that the ancient temple dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena located on the Acropolis in Greece is referred to as the Parthenon!

The Parthenon is much more than the enduring symbol of ancient Doric architecture. Created between 447 and 432 B.C. by the famous Athenian sculptor Pheidias, this most exquisite Greek monument also honors the ideals of civility, wisdom, and democracy. Dedicated to the heroic epitomes associated with Athena’s virginity, the Parthenon celebrates the goddess’ wisdom, courage, justice, inspiration, just warfare, strength, and love of the arts! Later, in the 5th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian cathedral dedicated to Mary, the Ever-Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ. One could correctly infer that Ancient Greek Culture understood the model of “virginity” as much more than a surreptitiously protected sexual preference.  On the contrary, it was venerated as a supreme personal sacrifice – an idyllic venture that generated great societal value and guaranteed the stability and safety of their empire!

This was the persuasive interpretation of virginity that captured the imagination of writers, painters, sculptures, theologians, and legal scholars for centuries. This was why, like the goddess Athena, the Vestals of Rome were understood as much more than virgin priestesses charged with the responsibility of keeping the nation’s eternal fire burning. Virginity was the “mother” of all virtues, whose glamorous image of strength, influence, and piety directly stemmed from personal purity! It was the inspirational power that ultimately provided the civilized world with security, honor, and grand scale familial protection.

Contemporary society seems intent on deconstructing this once grand ideal of Athena’s Parthenon by convoluting the value of virginity with Hollywood-based political chicaneries. Today’s understanding of virginity is, unfortunately, small and shallow in comparison. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, 95% of Americans have sex before their 25th birthday. The average young person experiences many pressures in the formation of personal sexual standards and behavior. As a result, like the pristine beauty and splendor of the Parthenon, the sculpted ideal of “parthenia” has fallen prey to the ever-changing climatic decays of a relativistic morality.  Like the Parthenon, whose mighty Phidias chiseled Pentelic columns had once turned a hoary grey, the white marble of virginity no longer blinds in the dazzling brightness of modernity’s cultural sun.

While secular culture is smugly leading a young unmarried generation astray, faith-based institutions are, at best, tepidly upholding the importance and value of virginity. One wonders where the contemporary religious shepherds are hiding.  Where are the homilies lauding the virtues of purity and self-control? Where are the research-based workshops, books, and articles that advocate the benefits of abstinence and the dangers of cohabitation? The church should not be ashamed to discourage “hooking-up” and “Bunga Bunga” parties, but courageously celebrate the choices associated with discernment and sexual modesty.  Sadly, the laxity of religious institutions to do so has allowed the new media to characterize the discretion of virginity as a virtue of dysfunctional ridicule!

Although men and women tend to regard it in different ways, recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans agree that virginity is an “irrelevant” measure of sexual capacity. Films such as “How To Lose Your Virginity,” “The Purity Myth,” and “The Chicktionary,” are all part of a new vanguard seeking to redefine how we think about pre-marital sexuality. The account of a 22-year-old San Diego woman’s private auction of her virginity for $3.8 million exemplifies society’s unashamed opinions that, now include, the linkage of virginity with the tomfooleries of partisan politics.

Olympic athletes such as Lolo Jones are ridiculed by sport reporters for their pledge to remain chaste until marriage. At the same time, images of long-time cohabitators Kate Middleton and Prince William are splashed on the cover of magazines commemorating their nuptials. The now Duchess of Cambridge unabashedly wore a beautiful white dress, the quintessential symbol of the virgin bride, at her lavish wedding. Ironically, 30 years ago when William’s father, Prince Charles married Diana Spencer, his young wife’s virginity was widely touted. Three decades later, virginity is under withering attack by the paparazzi.

Opponents of virginity cite a number of medical, psychological, and financial arguments to buttress their permissive moral attitudes. While the experiential perspective emphasizes the desire of newlyweds not to appear like sexual novices on their wedding night, the compatibility argument underscores the importance of testing person-to-person sexual compatibility before marriage. The contraceptive argument, on the other hand, insists that when the fear of pregnancy is taken out of the sexual equation, moderns are given a virtual green light to do as they choose.

Apart from the preceding estimations, the marital argument is perhaps the most prominent barney for premarital sex. It argues, that since a couple is in love and plans to swiftly marry, “why wait?”  Most family therapists and experts on spousal relationships, however, insist that the best way to sabotage a future marriage is to frolic uncontrollably at its relational doors. In fact, loss of respect, guilt, and dissatisfaction intensify when couples irrepressibly preempt their marital vows. Studies verify that sober restraint nurtures relationship and makes the honeymoon something very special, rather than a continuation of already-established patterns.

Sociological argumentation aside, meaningful sexual activity involves the exclusive physical union of a husband and a wife in a relationship of mutual caring and marital intimacy. While every normal person has the physical desire for sexual activity, they should also harken to the inner voice that whispers the accompanying desire to know and be known, to love and be loved. Religious, legislative, and business leaders should, consequently, seek out creative ways to advance this important and distinctive understanding. As many believe, promiscuity is an issue of utmost national security and not, as Dunham may suggest, an opportunity for political humor and tasteless double entendre. Ultimately, it is the desire to be known, respected and loved that makes up the real quest for intimacy and not the availability of complimentary contraceptives!

From what has been observed, the tactical prescription tendered by Josef Stalin, quoted at the onset of the week’s commentary, requires serious consideration by our nation’s leaders.  If America’s health is, as Stalin suggests, based on a threefold linctus of resistance, namely patriotism, morality and spiritual life, then sober reflection should be given to the modes in which America’s “parthenon” of purity, modesty, and virginity are indulged. If these three virtues of national security are ridiculed, weakened, and finally depreciated, America will, in fact, be in danger of collapsing from within!

The ancient Greek empire wisely considered the Parthenon as much more than the ultimate achievement of their architectural prowess.  Due to its location, which offers a wide view of land and sea, it was also deemed a valuable military fortress.  Metaphorically, however, it was the white marble columns of the Parthenon, and not the respective powers of the voting booth, treasury, or praetorium that was rightly judged the most important rampart of their security.

As a sanctuary that honors the virtue of virginity, the Parthenon was understood as the personification of piety, purity, modesty, and familial self-sacrifice. Like the Vestas who kept watch over the flame that symbolized the unity of the empire, it was the virtue of virginity that carefully tended the societal hearth of their collective households. In the end, it was virginity – not votes – that defended the homeland from outside forces and from the interior lure of political and financial servitude.  Contemporary voters would be wise to assume a similar posture!

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).

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