I know I keep giving you beautiful, faithful readers recommendations for more reading, but I just can’t help it. When I find a book that inspires me, I want to disseminate it from the rooftops (in the metaphorical sense – methinks that a 300 page tome thrown down more than a few stories would cause concussions).
My latest ‘breakthrough book’ is Hanne Blank’s Virgin: The Untouched History. Although not a new release (Virgin was published in 2007), I recently discovered the title through my ‘suggested’ list on Goodreads.com (what did I do before I joined that site? And no, I’m not a paid sponsor). In Virgin, Ms. Blank takes her readers on an anthropological journey through the changing conceptions of virginity in Western culture in the form of meticulous research as well as alternately humorous and horrifying ‘pub trivia’ moments – did you know, for example, that vaginal rejuvenation has been practiced since the second century? Throw that little tidbit out at your next cocktail party, and see what happens.
The section of Virgin that spoke the most clearly to me, however, was the conclusion to the chapter entitled, “The Erotic Virgin,” which analyzed what Blank termed ‘parthenophilia’ – a pronounced sexual interest in virginity or virgins.
“As little as we know about the erotic desire for virginity, we know even less about the erotic lives of virgins . . . Virginity is not the opposite of sex. Rather, it is its own unique and uniquely troublesome sexual entity, and one we have largely avoided addressing.”
Blank goes on to note the number of ‘virginity loss’ stories permeating our culture (from those told amongst our own small circle of friends to those writ large on television screens) and the absence of the story of the virgin her/himself.
Reading these sections as a virgin myself was particularly moving. I’ll turn twenty-three next month, and, by virtue of my sexual status, I am a member of a group filled with mainly 15-18 year-olds. The representation for adult virgins such as myself in media is, to say the least, disheartening.
In an attempt to explain the mystery that is an adult’s virginal status, popular culture has given me one of two equally inaccurate and distasteful options. Either I could be a social reject a la Steve Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin or I could be ‘saving my treasure’ for that special someone a la the creep-tastic Virgin Diaries on TLC. Seriously, does anyone believe that two grown people kiss like this? Blatantly staged and sensationalist, it seems that portrayals like these are hand-crafted for the amusement of those who have checked off all the ‘normal’ adult milestones.
On a personal one-to-one level, my virginity is no easier to define. The expectation that my status is religiously motivated runs rampant and I’m left defending myself against the assumption that I’m a religious objector to an armed force that I’ve been ready and willing to be a part of for years.
Having only recently had the opportunity to start dating (see my post on the misadventures of online dating), I’ve practiced (but not yet had the opportunity to use) my speech clarifying my virginity to a potential lover in my mind so many times it’ll probably come out sounding like I’m reading off some invisible teleprompter.
I consider being a virgin one of my (many) ‘baggage’ pieces. An albatross around my neck I can’t wait to shed. So much so that the creep-tastic (yes, I’ve used that imaginary word twice in one post – but isn’t it fun?) out-of-the-blue offers for ‘cuddling’ from strange, internet men hold a certain pull. At least then it would be out of the way, and I wouldn’t have to make my disclaimer to a partner I’m actually interested in.
I realize how illogical all of this sounds, but isn’t that what relationships and sex and romance are all about? We all have illogical, obsessive, downright insane notions when we’re wrapped up in our own sexualities . . . VIRGINS INCLUDED. And all our stories deserve to be heard. Because, here’s the thing . . . hearing and telling stories that reflect our own experience makes a difference in our lives. I can pick up Glamour (I was at the doctor’s office and I had nothing to read, okay?!) and read about how to navigate a break-up, but can I read about how to convince a friend that I can give perfectly-sound sex and relationship advice to a friend when her subtext is telling me that I ‘just don’t understand’ because I haven’t personally made my debut in those areas?
So, I’ve told you my story. And now I want to hear yours. And your friends’. And your family members’. Even if you’re not still a virgin, do you remember what it felt like to be one? The moment of your virginity loss was short-lived, but the time you lived as a virgin who was fully aware of her/his own sexuality was undoubtedly much longer. Tell me about it! Message me personally through the contact form, put it in the comments . . . just take these first steps with me in lifting the stigma of virginity the only way we can – through telling our stories.