Sex with virgins (Parthenophilia)
Parthenophilia isa sexual attraction to virgins. A virgin (or maiden) is, originally, a young woman characterized by absence of sexual experience (see Etymology). Virginity is the state of being a virgin (never had sexual intercourse). The word is also often used with wider reference by relaxing the age, gender or sexual criteria. Hence, more mature women can be virgins (The Virgin Queen), men can be virgins (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), and potential initiates into many fields can be colloquially termed virgins, for example a skydiving "virgin". In the last usage, virgin simply means uninitiated.
Analogies relating to virginity
The sexual partner during the loss of virginity is sometimes colloquially said to "take" the virginity of the virgin partner. In some places, this colloquialism is only used when the partner is not a virgin, but in other places, the virginity of the partner does not matter. The term "deflower" is sometimes used to also describe the act of the virgin's partner, and the clinical term "defloration" is another way to describe the event.
One slang term used for virginity is "cherry" (often, this term refers to the hymen, but can refer to virginity in males or females) and for a virgin, deflowering is said to "pop their cherry," a reference to destruction of the hymen during first intercourse.
A curious term often seen in English translations of the works of the Marquis de Sade is to depucelate. This word is apparently a literal translation of dépuceler, a French verb derived from pucelle (n.f.), which means "virgin". Joan of Arc was commonly called "la Pucelle" by her admirers.
Human sexual selection
In 1989 and 1990, evolutionary psychologist David M Buss and colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin published results from a large study of expressed preferences in mate selection, then current across human societies. The study involved more than 10,000 respondants from 37 cultures. "The desire for chastity or virginity (lack of prior sexual intercourse) proved to be the most cross-culturally variable. Mainland Chinese placed tremendous value on virginity; Scandinavians typically placed little importance on chastity." Respondants also expressed preferences regarding appearance, income potential, age difference and other factors. Some factors—like kindness, intelligence and health—were valued highly across cultures and by both sexes. A mate's appearance was more commonly reported as being important to men than to women, whereas income potential was more important to women than to men.
Also published in 1989 and 1990, a much-cited study at a United States campus by Clark and Hatfield involved male and female researchers approaching total strangers of the opposite sex one-to-one and asking one the following questions.
- * Would you go out on a date with me?
- * Would you go back to my apartment with me?
- * Would you have sex with me?
Female students answered yes to the male researchers 50%, 6% and 0%. Male students answered yes to the female researchers 50%, 69% and 75%. (A later Austrian study attempted to reproduce the results, but found as many as 6% of females responded yes to a sexual invitation from a total stranger, concluding that social context was significant in female assent.)
Studies like those above are consistent with evolutionary explanations of certain aspects of human psychology. Psychological preferences in sexual behaviour can have reproductive consequences, hence natural selection should operate on them, and may do so differently in men and women. In particular, "Males who preferred chaste females in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness, ceteris paribus, presumably enjoyed greater reproductive success than males who were indifferent to the sexual contact that a potential mate had with other males." Dickerman (1981) and Daly & Wilson (1983) argue, "chastity would also provide a cue to the future fidelity of a selected mate. A male failing to express such a preference would risk investing in offspring that were not his." Buss notes, "A female could be sure her putative children were her own, regardless of the prior sexual experience of her mate. This sexual asymmetry yields a specific prediction: Males will value chastity in a potential mate more than will females."
David Buss has had a long and distinguished career, pioneering cross-cultural study of sexual jealousy and refining evolutionary explanations of this psychological phenomenon. The Evolution of Desire (ISBN 0465077501) makes the academic work accessible for the popular market.
The evolutionary theory also accounts for the linguistic evidence, where terminology for sexual inexperience is more often associated with women than with men. Virginity, or chastity, in women is probably simply more valued psychologically, hence talked about more. Nonetheless, the evidence also suggests that cultural influences are significant in reinforcing or suppressing any evolved, psychological factors.
Another cross-cultural study in 2003, by Michael Bozon, found contemporary cultures to fall into three broad categories.
In the first group, the data indicated families arranging marriage for daughters as close to puberty as possible, with significantly older men. Age of men at sexual initiation in these societies is at later ages than that of women, but is often extra-marital. This group included sub-Saharan Africa (the study listed Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia). The study considered the Indian subcontinent also fell into this group, although data was only available from Nepal.
In the second group, the data indicated families encouraged daughters to delay marriage, but to abstain from sexual activity prior to it. However, sons are encouraged to gain experience with older women or prostitutes prior to marriage. Age of men at sexual initiation in these societies is at lower ages than that of women. This group includes Latin cultures, both from southern Europe (Portugal, Greece and Romania are noted) and from South America (Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic). The study considered many Asian societies also fell into this group, although matching data was only available from Thailand.
In the third group, age of men and women at sexual intiation was more closely matched. There were two sub-groups, however. In non-Latin, Catholic countries (Poland and Lithuania are mentioned), age at sexual initiation was higher, suggesting later marriage and reciprocal valuing of male and female virginity. The same pattern of late marriage and reciprocal valuing of virginity was reflected in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The study considered China and Vietnam also fell into this group, although data was not available.
Finally, in northern and eastern European countries, age at sexual initiation was lower, with both men and women involved in sexual activity prior to any union formation. The study listed Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic as members of this group.
The state of virginity often has special significance, usually as something to be respected or valued. This is especially true in societies where there are traditional or religious views associating sexual exclusiveness with marriage. Attitudes regarding male virginity and female virginity have often diverged, however, usually placing greater emphasis on the latter, and even devaluing the former. In modern times it is not uncommon for either male or female virginity in adolescents and adults to be disparaged by peers, as a sign of immaturity.
Female virginity is closely interwoven with personal or even family honour in many cultures, especially those known as shame societies, in which the loss of virginity before marriage is a matter of deep shame. For example, among the Bantu of South Africa, virginity testing or even the suturing of the labia majora (called infibulation) has been commonplace. Traditionally, Kenuzi girls (of the Sudan) are married before puberty (Godard, 1867), by adult men who inspect them manually for virginity (Kenedy, 1970). Female circumcision is later performed at puberty to ensure chastity (Barclay, 1964).
In Western marriage ceremonies, brides traditionally wear veils and white wedding dresses, which are believed by many people to be symbols of virginity. In fact, wearing white is a comparatively recent custom among western brides, who previously wore whatever colors they wished or simply their "best dress." Wearing white became a matter first of trendy fashion and then of custom and tradition only over the course of the 19th century.
History evidences laws and customs that required a man who seduced or raped a virgin to take responsibility for the consequences of his offense by marrying the girl or by paying compensation to her father on her behalf.
9. ^ David M Buss, 'Human mating strategies', Samfundsøkonomen 4 (2002): 50.
10 ^ M Voracek and others, 'Clark and Hatfield's evidence of women's low receptivity to male strangers' sexual offers revisited', Psychology Report 97 (2005): 11–20.
11 ^ a b DM Buss, 'Evolutionary theory', in Personality: Critical Concepts, edited by Cary L Cooper and Lawrence A Pervin, (Routledge, 1998), p. 423.
12 ^ Paraphrase from Buss (work cited), emphasis original.
13 ^ Deuteronomy 22, see also Shotgun wedding.