It’s not every day that a sophomore art school project makes headlines. However, in October 2013, the press learned of a Central Saint Martins student’s plan for a new performance piece entitled Art school stole mine virginity. Clayton Pettet’s project would culminate, he claimed, in a live performance where he would have sex with a male partner for the first time in front of an audience. However, when the performance finally took place the following April, some were disappointed. The 120 or so people who bought tickets for the London event didn’t witness a live “defloration,” but instead Pettet scrubbed words like “NSFW” and “TEEN W****” off his body while a topless -Teenage boy severed chunks of his hair. The contestants were then led downstairs to a private booth, where each person was asked to pop a banana into Pettet’s mouth multiple times.
Many were quick to label the whole thing a gimmick, no more than an elaborate art stunt, and a number of critics suggested Pettet rigged the media circus for 15 minutes of rabid tabloid fame. Still others saw a deeper meaning behind the final performance. Because when it comes to virginity, what could be better than an event that never really existed? If Clayton Pettet’s project was “just hype,” couldn’t the same be said for the concept of virginity itself?
Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist and therapist, calls the concept of virginity “a cultural and social construct, and often one used to justify abstinence, breeding, or financial worth.” Indeed, Pettet described the impetus for his project in precisely these terms, defining virginity as “an achievement made to value women; a heteronormative term constantly used to determine a person’s worth.” Almost a decade later, the questions Art school stole my virginity are still, for lack of a better word, pervasive. As Pettet put it, “Is virginity even real? Or is it just an ignorant word used to dictate a woman’s worth before marriage?”
The concept of virginity, its validity and value remain controversial. In recent weeks, social media users have reported a spate of “virginity testing” videos going viral on TikTok. Virginity testing is reported to be common in more than 20 countries, making women worthy of marriage or employment. Much of this recent video trend focuses on ceremonies performed by Romani communities in Western Europe, where a young woman’s virginity is ‘confirmed’ by an older, professional woman, or a juntaora.
This particular “virginity test” is based on the belief that there is one in a virgin woman’s body etc (Grape) – a pale core containing them Honorpresumably a yellow liquid that is spilled and “lost” when a woman is penetrated during intercourse with a man or when she is “deflowered” by one juntaora. As many of the TikToks show, the “defloration” consists of shoving a tissue-wrapped index finger into the young bride’s genitals to “pop” the “grape” or, more colloquially, “pop the cherry.” A series of spots or “roses” are then displayed to a watching crowd. The value of their value before marriage is publicly and humiliatingly assessed.
thinking back to Art school stole my virginity It is somewhat ironic that in many places around the world performances of virginity are more socially acceptable than performances of its supposed “loss”. Although the latter are consensual acts between adults, a display is considered a proof of value; the other of humiliation. But “virginity tests” – be it for a woman Honoror, as is the case with “two-finger tests,” her hymen — can truly only be described as gimmicks and elaborate stunts, as they are based in a dense web of false science and fears about female sexuality.
The basic idea that virginity is verifiable and that the body reveals its secrets to scrutiny is rooted in error and falsehood. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Human Rights and UN Women called on governments to ban virginity testing worldwide, deeming the practice “medically unnecessary”. Instead, it aims to envision the importance of female “purity,” to breed a culture of shame around female desire and embodiment, and to establish the law that sex is a gift to men.
Saarrah Ray is a Doctor of Laws student at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on violence against women, with a particular interest in the legal regulation of female genital practices and the intersections of body image, race, gender and culture. “To put it bluntly,” she says, “‘Virginity’ is a myth. It’s nothing more than an idea attached to a useless, malleable, fleshy membrane that may or may not exist in the vagina.”
But Ray makes it clear that debunking virginity as a myth doesn’t diminish its real power. “The myth of virginity should not be undermined,” Ray urges, “because the power of belief in upholding this social construct is partly responsible for causing serious emotional and physical harm to girls and women around the world.”
Just as “virginity test” videos were racking views on TikTok, news broke across a slew of Indian media outlets that a 24-year-old woman in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, had allegedly been forced to take a “virginity test.” from her in-laws. She was then beaten and beaten by her husband and his family after she “failed”. Police later reported to the press that the woman had told her in-laws that a neighbor had raped her shortly before their marriage.
Criminalizing virginity tests and hymenoplasty could be the start of having factual discussions about sex and breaking down double standards
Violence of this kind occurs everywhere. “We now know that girls and women have suffered such harm here,” says Ray, “in British clinics by healthcare professionals.” They are “subjected to two particular practices that explicitly manifest the virginity myth: virginity testing and hymenoplasty.” Last year, an undercover investigation revealed that dozens of private hospitals in the UK pledged to restore “virginity” with hymenoplasty – a surgical procedure aimed at ensuring a woman bleeds the next time she has penetration sex so she can pass the virginity test. Health professionals and activists have condemned both practices as a form of violence against women and girls.
Still, there are signs that, in the UK at least, the law is finally catching up on the damage done by the myth of virginity. Earlier this year, the government added an amendment to the Health and Care Act that made hymenoplasty and virginity testing illegal. Ray describes the move as “monumental to the feminist movement” as it clearly shows that UK law “prohibits coerced acts against girls and women who reduce their bodies to sexual vessels and devalue and subordinate the value or worth of their lives”.
But if the law changes, what about the culture? Changing laws may not be enough to end harmful, pseudoscientific beliefs about virginity or social expectations of female sexual “purity.” Ray admits it’s “unlikely” that the law alone can change people’s views on sex. However, she hopes that the criminalization of virginity testing and hymenoplasty in the UK “could be the start [of] to have factual discussions about sex, especially sex-positivity, and to dismantle double standards that effectively obscure violence against women and girls.”
Kalila Bolton and Holly Jackson are the co-founders of “Women’s Sexual Wellness Brand” SheSpot. Both acknowledge the importance of changing the Health and Care Act, but say they “still feel there is still work to be done to completely tear down archaic notions of sex and virginity.” After launching SheSpot in 2021, Jackson says she was often “surprised at how ingrained sexual shame and stigma is in the women we speak to” and how it affects all age groups. “There are still stubborn taboos, especially around self-pleasure,” Jackson says. In their research, they heard “several reports from male partners expressing unease about their wives/girlfriends masturbating outside of partnered sex,” something that Jackson felt “like an extension of outdated views of virginity and the idea of giving men sex as a gift.” , feels .”
Jason Biggs, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Eddie Kaye Thomas plot to lose their virginity in 1999’s American Pie
For Elena Zaharova, CEO and co-founder of sex and relationship app Purpur, the key issue is a general lack of consideration or respect for pleasure when it comes to sex education. In her view, it still treats sex as “an act of intimate physical interaction between people, not an attempt at communication or pleasure.” Jackson and Bolton agree, suggesting that this “lack of knowledge about healthy sex and pleasure, coupled with increased consumption of unverified online content” is creating a “perfect storm” for young people. They believe it’s this toxic combination that “perpetuates harmful ideas about sex and virginity” and fuels “the viral nature of the TikTok videos showing virginity tests.” Ness Cooper, founder of The Sex Consultant, also emphasizes that part of the challenge in changing ingrained cultural notions of purity and pleasure is working against conservative-minded algorithms. “Unfortunately, TikTok algorithms stigmatize and are more likely to remove sexually positive posts,” she notes, “and retain posts that focus on sexually negative and stigmatizing views like virginity testing.”
However, there are also reasons to be optimistic. “Sex education in the UK is moving away from abstinence-based education,” says Cooper. Now, “there’s more of a focus on teaching consensual sex and normalizing healthy sexual behaviors than embarrassment.” A broader, sex-positive curriculum — one that focuses on queer sex and relationships, masturbation and consent — coupled with a change in the law , will, Cooper hopes, go a long way in countering the “perfect storm” of myth and unverified content online. “I expect things like virginity testing will become less popular over time.”
Ultimately, it may take more frenetic discussions, public appearances, and elaborate stunts by art students. Except instead of working with shock, shame, and myth, start and end with acceptance, comfort, and pleasure.