I have a little sister and, like any good feminist, I spend a lot of time making sure that she knows that her worth extends beyond her beauty, her body, and her sexuality. As she is still a teenager, a big topic in her life and that of her peers lately has been virginity. Personally, I don’t think that my sexuality or “virginity” is an object to lose, or give away, and I don’t want her to think that either. That’s why I was so excited to watch How to Lose Your Virginity with her.
In this documentary, filmmaker Therese Shechter uses her own path out of virginity to explore why our sex-crazed society cherishes this so-called precious gift. Along the way, we meet sex educators, virginity auctioneers, abstinence advocates, and young men and women who bare their tales of doing it — or not doing it. How to Lose Your Virginity uncovers how all the hype around virginity is basically a campaign to control and commodify women’s bodies.
Did you know that the word “virgin” comes from the Latin word “virgo” which literally means young woman?
The film makes it clear that our culture’s obsession with preserving purity and regulating women’s sexuality comes from a time when women were legally considered to be property. If a man
bought married a woman who had already had sex, how would he be sure that the children she bore were his? However, this logic only appears to have applied to women who were not enslaved, i.e. white women. Because enslaved African women’s children automatically became the valuable property of their owner upon birth, the more children slaves had, the better. This of course meant that slaves did not have any purity to lose, or really any sense of agency in their sexuality. According to this logic, slaves could not be raped. These cultural practices continue to have deeply painful and harmful legacies on the way we map sexuality onto racialized bodies today.
In spite of the fascinating and telling historical context, the true triumph of How to Lose Your Virginity is in how relatable it is. The first time I had sex, I was surprised at how anti-climactic the whole thing was. Watching this film, it was touching to see my experience mirrored back at me.
After the success of the film, Shechter decided to expand upon that sentiment and create the V-Card Diaries, a crowd-sourced story-telling tool to share virginity stories. The site asks users to describe and categorize their most meaningful sexual experience, serving up plenty of answers that do not involve penis and vagina sex. For many people, their most meaningful experience was becoming comfortable with their bodies or masturbating for the first time. For others, their first sexual contact was through sexual assault.
My sister is a confident young woman, but just the same I’m glad she watched the film with me. In a world where we have to work hard to unlearn so much, it is so meaningful to reaffirm things that we feminists learn over time. Sex is not an object, but an experience, one which every human being should be able to define for themselves.
Lifetime’s “Preachers’ Daughters” Shows Everything That is Wrong with Purity Culture
“Queer Sex Doesn’t Count” And Nine Other Myths Uncovered- And Debunked- at the Harvard “Rethinking Virginity” Conference
The Purity Myth, the documentary
Juliana was a sexual person way before she had sex and was still a sexual person after she had sex.