People are obsessed with virginity. But do they really understand it?
Our obsession with virginity goes deep. Let's just look at one recent pop culture example. A single mom on “The Bachelor” was very obviously jealous of another contestant’s virgin status because clearly it was the way to win the heart of the show's star.
So filmmaker Therese Schecter decided to dig into it all with a documentary, How to Lose Your Virginity. “The more I learned about virginity, the more complicated it became,” she said before a screening of the film last night in New York. “There is no real, actual definition.”
The average age Americans lose their virginity, meaning vaginal sexual intercourse, is 17.1 years for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. How to Lose Your Virginity explores the myths surrounding virginity, the various forms of sexual education teens are getting, and what losing your virginity even means in today’s culture.
At the beginning of the film, Shechter asks why we give virginity so much power. Seriously, what does it even mean?
She interviewed one young couple who said they were “technically” virgins because they hadn’t had vaginal intercourse, but they still had a wide array of other sexual experiences with each other.
“There are just many ways that we do sexuality,” Shechter said, adding that Americans are trapped in a very narrow definition that a woman loses her virginity through vaginal sexual intercourse. But “there’s no one magic moment.”
That common attitude, that a man is responsible for taking a woman’s virginity—and therefore her worth, in some cultures—leads to the idea that a woman can be transformed from clean to dirty through sex. It also implies that women can only become sexual beings through a man.
“You’re being given two different opposing messages,” said Shechter. “But at the same time I think it’s the same message. It’s the message that you are going to be judged and identified by what happens between your legs.”
Those dueling ideas that women can become dirty or sexual through sex are, naturally, complicated ideas to today’s teens — especially in an age when most sex ed programs are failing so miserably.
Much of How To Lose Your Virginity, which has been broadcast on Fusion, focuses on purity balls or purity pledges, where little girls basically give their virginity to their fathers for safekeeping until their dads give them away to their husbands for marriage. Shechter interviewed women who had gone through these programs as teens. Again, unsurprisingly, many had gotten married very young because they wanted to experience sex, or eventually had sex anyway and were completely unprepared.
From 2006 to 2010, 11.4 percent of teenage girls between 15 and 19 years old reported they didn’t receive any formal sex ed on how to say no to sex before the age of 18, according to the CDC. A little more than 29 percent of the same age group reported they didn’t receive any formal instruction before the age of 18 on the different methods of birth control.
For teenage boys between 15 and 19, 17.5 percent reported they didn’t receive formal instruction on how to say no to sex before the age of 18. And 39 percent reported not receiving a formal education about birth control before turning 18.
“That’s kind of what abstinence is: It's a throne of lies,” said Shechter, who advocates for a comprehensive sexual education for teens.
The documentary ends with Shechter discussing her own sexual journey and her wedding. Ultimately, she didn't wear the big white dress — she wasn't a virgin on her wedding day. She and her fiance walked arm-in-arm down the aisle because no one was giving her away to another human.
Abby Rogers is a feminist who is completely content being a crazy cat lady. She reads everything, but only in real book form — no e-readers thank you very much.