The one thing the storytellers in Bocaccio’s Decameron didn’t have a lot of was time. Locked away in a deserted Florentine villa from the Black Plague, they got out 100 stories in two weeks not knowing whether they too would be victims. The stories are surprisingly down to earth by any time’s standards. After all, what did they have to lose?
One story is about a virgin on her wedding day who gets kidnapped by pirates and sold into the sex trade, but by a series of fortunate events, and by dint of her newly acquired sexual prowess, after several years she finds her way back to her lover’s arms. The wedding is still possible and so resumes. So far as anyone knows she is still a virgin. Even on her wedding night, her new husband praises her chastity. The moral: despite common opinion–or perception–her nether parts are as clean and tight as ever, brand spanking virgin new.
Wait. This certainly doesn’t jibe with our modern puritan notions–Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter, “True Love Waits”–of losing the one thing you can never get back: your virginity.
But the very notion of virginity, whether in a sexual context or any other context, not too unlike the notion of the tooth fairy.
Yes, the hymen is a simple thing to break. So is the grass that grows greener for cutting. A bird must lose its down to grow proper feathers. The human spirit is very strong indeed. It may be easily broken, but it can fix itself. as often as it needs.
There is no great fall of mankind, besides the belief that we cannot rise again.
Simple economics, baby.
The down-and-dirty is, it’s simple economics. After the plague, the mercantile class, which the stories in Boccacio’s tales represent, saw it as a matter of survival to put sex back into the natural moral and quotidian order, and beyond that, as a Malthusian imperative to get the economy alive and kicking again by making babies and correct the balance sheet.
Last week Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 2 into Texas law banning abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, four weeks earlier than the standard set by Roe v. Wade, under the right to abortion until viability–the Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid”–“usually about 28 weeks, but…even at 24 weeks.” This is more or less in line with recent statistics, but it can be observed that with better technology babies can be “viable” earlier and earlier, so in the not too distant future, if not now, 20 weeks is pretty much in line with the standard and keeping with the law, leaving it to states, not the feds, to decide the rules after its initial criterion.
This period of a baby’s viability, in terms of human science and evolution, is an ever shorter term. Even the great atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens openly questioned his stance on abortion for this reason.
However you choose to look at the question, it begs to be answered: Why is it that a doctor can legally kill a legally and scientifically viable fetus while in the womb, and her right to choose–in some ways she is even a heroine–but if the doctor goes to the trouble to give birth to the baby and the mother decides to kill her child at the same viable age outside the womb, she is a monster and sentenced hard time in jail?
We tend to look at the woman either as a martyr or a monster all depending on which side of the womb the baby is killed on.
Planned Parenthood, infamously founded on the economic principals of eugenics, i.e. keeping the poorest population at a controllable figure, is facing certain doom or a radical change of business strategy, such as, God forbid, poor women’s health.
Might state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), when speaks for all Texas “mothers, daughters, sisters and every Texan who puts the health of their family, the well-being of their neighbors” when opposing Perry’s signing this bill be speaking a little out of turn?
Or bluntly put, has the practicality (never mind the morality) of eugenics, at least for the time being, perhaps run its course?
Let me contextualize this last question: The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that the dependency ratio, or the number of people 65 and older t.o every 100 people of traditional working ages, is projected to climb rapidly from 22 in 2010 to 35 in 2030. This means that there are too many old people in this country and not enough youngsters. The average age of Americans is 37 right now, compared to age 22 in Mexico, to give just one example for the sake of comparison. If we don’t stop planning so much and just get to making babies, we’re going to have a real problem on our hands for a while.
This is not news. This isn’t about morals, unless you’re a true believer or a sap.
It’s simple economics.
Does true love really wait? Wait! Really?
Yes we all know the statistics: All those girls and boys who promised to save themselves for their one true love, well, didn’t.
Or they went with alternative routes, side streets you could say.
Not even government-funded promise rings (until 2005) could seal the, well, their you-know-whats. There are a lot of studies about oral and anal, but when I was a church kid back in the 90s, every pretty (and ugly) girl in the youth section got pregnant making it the newly christened and sanctioned sermon-time maternity ward.
But you know the old saying, if at first you don’t succeed–renew your virginity. Wait, what?
If true love waits for the one God specifically chose for you, does that mean God choses domestic violence partners, deadbeats, philanderers, and anonymous donors? I guess so. But masybe what God really meant is that the second or third time is a charm.
For all of us who did wait (and by the way have stayed faithful), we can feel very smug, but personally there have been at least a good handful of the ” ones” I’ve come across since I said the vows (I had no idea what I was saying. I didn’t write my own vows). And isn’t miraculous and glorious to find another soul mate after the lost of a long-abiding spouse? How sweet it is.
So this is what Jesus meant maybe when he said that there is no marriage in heaven. It is just way too damned complicated.
Virginity as metaphor
There is, at least in the life of every human being, I suppose, a first time for everything.
On the more morbid side of the spectrum, every killer has his–or her–first kill. The mark of Cain. And if the mother has her baby and it’s viable, then she aborts it, she’s a killer and has lost her life-giving virginity for life.
Birth perhaps represents a loss of virginity more for the child than the mother or father, which could explain so many parents-to-be wondering how they can bring a child into this world. This is the case whether you’re into a fallen, sinful world scenario, the evil of capitalism, or mere eugenics.
So what we are talking about, then, when we talk about birth–birth as vessel and as newborn–or our first sexual experience, or our death, or another’s death, or the union of two people as life partners (this last, as metaphor, is balderdash, but as a practical means of survival is very real, at least until the kids grow up), all this is marked by ritual and, to a large respect, is ritual. These event rituals–our rites of passage–in order to cope with them, to lessen their trauma and recognize them as a vital part of our existence, we mark with ceremony. Sometimes we confuse the ceremony with the ritual and sometimes through this first confusion we confuse the rituals themselves, as, I would argue, is the case, with our first sexual encounter and our life partnering.
At least science has made clear, almost nullifying the possibility of pregnancy using the proper precautions, the that these can be two very different rites of passage, first sexual experience and marriage. In each instance, now, it becomes abundantly clear, that to go through each rite of passage, we give up one phase of life as a means to step into the next. We lose one thing to gain the next.
If we do not go through these rituals, we do not grow. That is why youth laugh at their virginal peers, and young women gossip about their unwed friends, and men lose respect for a peer who cannot master the hunt.
The perversion of ritual perception
If our society perceives that we have stepped outside the boundaries of ceremony and misperceives the breaking of ceremony as a perversion of the ritual, or rite of passage, society traditionally has stigmatized the most obvious offender.
Note bene the lesson of the scarlet letter. While Hester Prynne is the most obvious offender and therefore, as the symbolic sacrificial lamb, must wear the scarlet, blood-colored letter, Hawthorn’s novel shows the cowardly Arthur Dimmesdale as suffering more greatly precisely he does not avail of this societal ceremony–he gained nothing–that names the perceived perversion and deprives himself of societal punishment, which inversely affords us, however misperceived, a reprieve.
Not many of us have the strength to cast aside our heritage, our inherited mis-perceptions, perhaps once viable but now outmoded, without ending in some kind of nervous breakdown. So then Cain’s punishment, certainly at a psychological level, is far worse than the the later, more merciful, and arguably more sophisticated, eye for eye and tooth for tooth.
Michel Foucault tells us in Discipline and Punish that sometimes a good quartering for a single minor offense is better than the theft of a person’s soul.
Of course the step forward, the more merciful strain, can be found in the teachings of Jesus and by his example.
But did we learn? No. Arguably, in our modern times we have taken again a step backwards.
On our real-life news, the judge gives the stiffest sentence possible to a young man (always a young man, usually black or brown, or at least tattooed), and everyone understands that despite whether or not the crime merited the sentence, the man looked cold and emotionless and therefore deserves to rot the rest of his life. Oh and by the way, if he gets out, he can never get a job, vote, or ever really be free again. Even if it’s for such temporary relief from life’s madness as marijuana.
This point is driven into us on about every cop show on television there’s the prominent idea of recidivism, indicating that once you violate the law, you can’t go home again. As in the parable, nobody can ever believe that the prodigal son has returned.
Neal Caffrey, ultra-suave TV criminal extraordinaire. Hates guns, though awful handy with one when it counts. Steals art, which is venial despite the rake is a lot more than a convenience store register. Also a real lady’s man. A charmer. Catch me if you can style, he gets to be a CI, or criminal informant, an extremely well tailored consultant and keep up a mighty fine living. Well why not? Besides being a handsome devil, he’s a good devil’s egg. His nemesis, Keller, on the other hand is, as Neil puts it, is his blue collar version, complete with the thick Brooklyn (?) accent. Of course he gets caught and locked away. The central question of the show becomes, can Neil change? Can he renew his virginity. It’s interesting, but safe when, honestly, this guy looks as virgin as they come (in gay porn). I would say, only in the white collar division. It’s really still economics.
Nota Bene: To give this show its due, it also asks the opposite question: what’s so great about the “suits”?
What the loss of our virginity costs us
Nothing. If we don’t believe the fairy tail. Above else, guard your heart, for out of it springs the well springs of life. Nobody can touch that if you don’t want them to. Most normal, functioning people realize eventually that Santa Clause isn’t real, even if he turns out to be an asshole and slips a lump of coal in your shoe–or a baby in your womb–for being naughty.
It’s your thing. Do what you wanna do.
Or as the poet said, Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Okay, so your environment, the people around you may put a scarlet letter on you if you happen to screw up. But seriously, did you really lose your virginity? Maybe you just fell off the horse. Get back up and ride that baby and break her in. And be careful. It’s pretty crazy out there. But you can succeed–and get laid too.
Interlude by Robert Herrick
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
Final word, for now
To all you lonely hearts out there, if you lost something and you want it back, think about it. Do you really want it back?
Then go and get it. What do you have to lose?