Why Have We Always Been So Obsessed With Virginity?

Angella d’Avignon
The Establishment
Published in
8 min readMay 11, 2016

Stained glass of the Virgin Mary at Saint Patrick Catholic Church (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The conditions that define purity have long been used to control and exploit women.

UUpon hearing the word “virgin,” the first image that will likely spring to mind is that of a young woman. In the Bible, in film and literature, in current debates about reproductive rights, a woman’s body has been the vessel for original sin. The onus of purity falls squarely on the shoulders of women-identified bodies — and why is that?

Virginal obsession and the myth of purity are nothing new. Virginity is historically rooted in establishing paternity and entrenched in male ownership. The popularity of virginity is often attributed to Mariology, the Roman Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary, i.e., the mother of Jesus.

Mariology began flourishing in the 14th century when Byzantine theologians reportedly believed that Mary (along with baby Jesus) was at the center of the cosmos. This took full social force during the Middle Ages, when Mary was upheld as the “New Eve,” heavily bolstering the status of women. Or at least, the importance of her purity. The concept of chivalry, for example, was established in defense of the honor of a maiden (otherwise known as a virgin), and sought to train men that would protect these fair ladies. Since Mary was the mediator between the holy and the earthly, her popularity adjusted the socially held belief that women were the source of evil.

Virginal obsession and the myth of purity are nothing new.

A prime example? Queen Elizabeth I of England, the “Virgin Queen” who ruled England from 1588–1632. Before, during, and after her 44-year reign, countless books, plays, and films have been dedicated to rumors about her various relationships and whether or not she and her boy toys ever sealed the proverbial deal. Here, virginity was a technicality: the kingdom obsessed over Elizabeth’s love life not because of the company she kept (okay, maybe a little bit), but because she was childless at 34 and did not provide the aristocracy with a new prince like a good queen ought to, so she was assumed to be a slut. Sex without progeny was unacceptable, as it was a Queen’s role to maintain the patriarchy and anything outside that labor was…

Angella d’Avignon
The Establishment

Angella d’Avignon is a writer. Read more of her work at heyangella.com.