What is virginity in philosophers perspective?

How do philosophers see virginity while its being a value and as part of a practicing religious belief?

How do philosophers see this from their perspective?

Most people in certain cultures, e.g. Islam and Hinduism, want their partner to be a virgin. The Indian community sees virginity in connection to marriage as more important. To put it differently, they don't want individuals to have pre-marital sex.

How do philosophers see this?

There are different medical facts about virginity. People who know about that facts can provide an answer from a philosophical perspective.

  • 2
    Why do you think that there must be a philosophical perspective at all? You asked several questions, but your angle on this is still unclear to me. Yes, there is a concept of "virginity", and many religions have something to say about that. Where does philosophy come in? I could understand a historical approach, one from the philosophy of culture, but if I understand you right you're asking for a moral evaluation, and I don't see how that would work without tying the argumentation, in turn, to religion.
    – iphigenie
    Nov 19, 2012 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


Some selected quotes

It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.

— Voltaire

Prudishness is pretence of innocence without innocence. Women have to remain prudish as long as men are sentimental, dense, and evil enough to demand of them eternal innocence and lack of education. For innocence is the only thing which can ennoble lack of education.

— Friedrich Von Schlegel, Selected Aphorisms from the Athenaeum

It is not because it symbolises feminine virginity that integrity fascinates man; but it is his admiration for integrity that renders virginity precious.

— Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

The idea that virginity represents integrity is likely to come about from the historical tendancy of men to regard women as a resource to be guarded and, if you will pardon a seriously Orwellian euphemism (but still quite accurate as quasi-agricultural metaphor), cultivated. The value that women place on their own virginity, in view of Schlegel's remarks on innocence, is essentially that this notional asset in the currency of innocence is one of the most prized things they can have, the "greatest gift a woman can give a man". Indeed, in societies that value "integrity" of this sort in a woman, to "give up" her virginity is an incredible act of trust on the woman's part, in those circumstances that she "gives" it freely (and to the extent that it is even possible that this is a free choice), because it puts her status with respect to what is these days called the virgin/whore or Madonna/whore dichotomy in a very precarious condition.

By way of contrast, a short and self-aware statement on male sexuality:

Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.

— Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Brief remarks on medical facts and limited historical speculation

As a supplement, I'll just remark that it appears that the "folklore" about hymens — that is, the common ideas which permeate non-medical professionals — is not exactly accurate. In particular the hymen does not cover the entire vagina (which would prevent women from menstruating), and in grown women is an elastic membrane which is not necessarily damaged in any substantial way with sexual intercourse (and may of course be damaged in other ways). See for instance the Wikipedia page on the hymen.

Of course, the idea that there could be some quite patchy medical knowledge which might inform societal values is not surprising, and we cannot expect ancient cultures to have had enough detachment (or female empowerment enough) to think about calmly about exploring such topics. The very fact that women have often not been systematically given any substantial room to direct their own lives, that women were (ahem) an object of interest for many generations of men who had substantial political power, and the very foggy notions that ancient, medieval, and even colonial western societies have had about reproduction in general (let alone the special case of the anatomy of female genitalia), went some way to permit all sorts of ungrounded ideas about "purity" and ways that "purity" might be indicated to gain currency, when it can be quite well argued that it was both (a) purely a conceptual invention except inasmuch as it was inversely correlated with the woman's experience of the world; and (b) physically accurate only to the extent that the women whose virginity was so highly prized, may not yet have actually been sexually mature.

An apology

Surely someone who is not a complete dilettante in philosophy, let alone gender studies, can write a more comprehensive answer than this. I would be happier if someone with a stronger background could make this answer quite obsolete.

  • This is an excellent answer. If that is was asked for I'd propose a change of the heading though. I don't like that every matter that was subject to smart people's thoughts becomes "a philosophical matter". I don't see how this becomes relevant to philosophy, just because some philosophers had an opinion on it. It's still general thoughts on traditions and manners, descriptive moral, which falls under "sociology", imho.
    – iphigenie
    Nov 19, 2012 at 13:45
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    @iphigenie: In this case, it is non-trivially a philosophical matter, because it is tied up in notions of morality, spirituality, and others. It is something which gives people existential crises (now that we have that term to work with) on a daily basis; it plays into how they think of themselves. I agree that not everything which a famous thinker has had an opinion on is philosophy; but anything such as this which strikes to the core of how people are apt to talk about "how things are" and "what is right" surely must be, or else we're only left with language games. Nov 19, 2012 at 13:50
  • I just don't see a way of addressing this matter as morally relevant when treated isolated. When we do, I mean take the concept of "virginity" out of it's social context, then it's a adiaphora. It's not bad, it's not good, it's not even clear, what we're talking about, the utility of preserving it, the "sin" of losing it, "it" being a piece of skin. We can collect thoughts on this, but there is no moral value we could be discussing.
    – iphigenie
    Nov 19, 2012 at 13:57
  • @iphigenie: Except that we're not really taking the notion out of context; it would be as meaningless as taking the notion of 'energy' out of context -- both are notions which were identified and explored by people who had certain priorities. We talk about and evaluate the notion, and in doing so talk about and evaluate the priorities which caused the concept to be singled out. This is true for absolutely all conversations on philosophy -- while we may give answers which might adopt different priorities, any answer must involve some well-recognised paradigm for reasoning about some subject. Nov 19, 2012 at 14:03
  • Seems we don't really disagree. I don't think we should or can take it out of context, I just think that discussing it in context isn't normative ethics, nor meta-ethics, but descriptive, which is, as I was taught, a sociological perspective, and then we have the discrepancy of topic and heading I addressed.
    – iphigenie
    Nov 19, 2012 at 14:06

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