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The definition of virility has evolved from ancient to modern times and has been replaced with more modern terms such as masculinity or manliness. Virility in ancient Greece, as described by scholar Maurice Sartre, was synonymous with guts or audacity on the battlefield. In ancient Rome, virility was not only linked with a man’s sexual prowess but also in other aspects. The virile is not simply what is manly; it is more: an ideal of power and virtue, self-assurance and maturity, certitude and dominance, courage and “greatness,” accompanied by strength and vigor.
In the movie “Gladiator,” Russel Crowe’s cinematic display of General Commodus can be said to be the perfect embodiment of virility—quite, strong, brave, and with control over his senses. The modern definition of virility, or to be precise, sexual virility, is synonymous with a man’s sexual prowess with women or “how good a man is in bed,” reducing it to just sexual aspects.
Virility vs. unvirility
Masculinity in the modern era has almost become synonymous with a man’s sexual vigor. In an essay on “the code of virility,” Alain Corbin provides a dispiritingly long list of the types of men who were unvirile or who could be exempted from being virile.
“He who hesitates to get into the assault on the day of the battle; he who chooses to get a replacement because he has drawn a bad number in the draft lottery; he who was unable to save his comrade from life-threatening danger; he who does not have what it takes to be a hero; he who shows no ambition; he who remains indifferent to excelling or to the prestige of a medal of honor; he who ignores emulation because he does not seek superiority; he who has trouble keeping his emotions under control; he whose speech and writing style lack confidence; he who refuses women’s advances; he who performs coitus without ardor; he who refuses group debauchery—all these men lack virility even though their masculinity would not be challenged.”
“Are you man enough?”
Proverbs such as “Are you man enough?” are still part of our subconscious, where men have some ideal standards that should reflect in their personalities. A man who is not good in bed or is not long-lasting may be thought to have less virility and an inferiority complex. “Does size matter?” is a very common question that is asked of many women, and almost half of them reply in the affirmative. A man is judged according to his sexual strength and often ridiculed if he is not as vigorous as he is expected to be. The modern-day concept of virility runs contrary to the traditional aspects of virility, which were more about maturity and self-assurance. Many sociologists have shown in their work that masculinity varies from culture to culture and generation to generation. They contend that masculinity is a set of characteristics acquired by men through social interaction rather than a biological trait. Maintaining masculinity through the hazy lens of sexual virility is misogynistic!
Man’s Obsession with Sexual Virulence
By today’s standards, dominance by way of sexuality and intimidation of the opposite sex is considered to be the mark of a virile person, and an individual is termed “manly.” Well, “love” and moral qualities from ancient cultures should be considered when categorising a person as “manly enough.” A man’s lack of “perfect size” or “longevity” are two standards by which he constantly judges himself. It’s nice to be “enduring,” but what about moral standards and virtuosity, which are more attractive than any other characteristics?”
There’s an old saying, “Action speaks louder than words.” This proverb needs to be adopted, where a man’s moral qualities and righteousness will take precedence over his sexual virility—that should be a barometer for measuring masculinity!