The October 2009 issue of Glamour has an article by Elna Baker called “Yes, I’m a 27-year-old Virgin.” It isn’t available on line, but here’s a Youtube video of Baker’s standup act that goes over much the same territory (although the bit about making a Halloween costume that’s supposed to resemble a fortune cookie but ends up looking like a vagina is unique to the video):
Now let me be clear. I have nothing against virginity or being a virgin (I do have something against the Mormon church, but nothing against individual Mormons). But Baker’s article got under my skin for the reason that a lot of “virgin” articles do–her ridiculous definition of “sex.”
She begins her article with the sentence “I’m lying on my back in a king-sized bed at the Hotel Chelsea in New York wearing nothing but my underwear.” In the bed with her is a naked man. Cute set up–will she go through with it or not?! Four pages and lots of backstory later she reveals, to readers and to James (the naked man) “I’m not ready to be intimate.” To her credit, she admits that James’ point “What do you think this is?” is a valid one, but the whole last section of the article is about how she realized that her mother and the Mormon church are Right and her virginity is something incredibly special. She says
There were many times I could have taken that leap with sex, and the consequences could have been heartbreaking for me. No matter how sweet or well-meaning the guys were, the hot-and-heavy moments I shared with them just didn’t add up to something worth losing my virginity over. After all once it was gone, I could never get it back.
Excuse me while I bash my forehead against my desktop for a few minutes.
Okay Elna (can I call you Elna?). First of all…YOU ARE NOT A VIRGIN!!!! Excuse the shouting, but can we please, please, for the love of all that’s good and holy (by which I mean vegan chocolate cupcakes and Shakespeare) get over this notion that SEX=PENIS IN VAGINA INTERCOURSE and if you haven’t had PIV intercourse, you are a virgin? Look at the terms: “oral sex” “anal sex.” They have “sex” right in the name! If two people have touched, fondled, licked and nibbled 95% of the available turf on each other’s bodies, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they’ve had sex, even if there wasn’t an erect penis in a vagina.
Are we supposed to believe that two lesbians go to their coffins virgins if they don’t have sex with a man? What if they use a dildo? Or if two men have sex, they remain virgins cause there wasn’t a vagina in the room? Didn’t we have this conversation back in the 90’s with Bill Clinton?
Second, what is the big friggin’ deal? Elna, you seem like a smart, thoughtful, funny woman who has considered her faith and decided to keep it, rather than blindly following it (good for you). So I cannot figure out how this remains such a huge issue for you. Look back at that paragraph I quoted. Sex “could have” consequences. Well, so could riding the subway or eating a donut! And how much is your virginity “worth”? I’m sorry, but as soon as you frame it in terms of something that can be given or lost, you’re in the wrong metaphor. The first time you have sex should be about the first time you have sex (I know, duh!) not a mythical gift and its value.
Here’s a hint. Virginity is WORTHLESS (yes, I know I’m shouting again). It used to be a guarantee to a man that his wife wouldn’t present him with a bastard (although it got prettied up with terms like character and morals). But now that we have birth control and DNA tests that point is moot. Sex still has tons of meaning–it can create life or kill it (yes, I do know about STIs even if I don’t think a wedding ring is a magic charm against them), it fosters intimacy, and, done right, it feels amazing. But the truth of the matter is, sex isn’t love, and love doesn’t always make for great sex.
People, can we stop making sex both more and less important than it really is? Can we stop pretending that if two people don’t have intercourse until they’ve said “I do” it will be “the best kind of sex, the deeply-in-love-kind” (as Elna puts it)? I’ve been married (to a man I love very deeply) for over a decade and you know what? We have all kinds of sex: the relaxed kind, the hurried kind, the make up kind, the I-want-you-right-now kind, the let’s-try-something-new-kind. You know what? In the end, sex and love (or marriage) don’t actually have that much to do with each other. One is a committment and the other is a fun activity. Really.