By Evanne Gordon
This week’s SIC-sponsored workshop on “empowering virginity,” while perhaps misnamed, was an informative, comfortable space for the discussion of the definition and implications of the loaded “v-word.” Like all of the workshops this week, the talk started with a quick review of the SIC message and why we were having this whole week dedicated to safer sex, as a more meaningful alternative to the previously lone Safer Sex Dance. My overall impression was a very comfortable environment that was not just for awkward virgins (although there were many of those) but open to all kinds of people who wanted to talk about what virginity means and what its place is as a symbol in American popular society.
In our initial search for a definition for sex, comments included “mutual genital stimulation” and “a penis penetrating a vagina.” We came to the conclusion that virginity certainly has a fluid definition and can be personally redefined by any individual based on their experience and sexual/generic status. SIC reps Charlotte and Rose showed us some video clips so we could talk about stereotypes and stigma, drawing on popular examples from Superbad and Easy A. (Somebody has a crush on Emma Stone.) From these clips we got started talking on what it means to “lose” one’s virginity and I think that would have been a good point of departure for the legacy of penetration and what it means to refuse to be dominated thus and therefore be truly an empowered virgin, but unfortunately we never got to that.
The floor was opened up for questions; people were interested in the double-standard of young women losing their v-card and becoming skanks (negative/despoiling), while young men are encouraged to do so in order to go through some rite of passage (positive/maturity). Also, we discussed why people assume that everyone should be fucking by a certain age, but the question wasn’t really answered… I think maybe because there is a peak of hormonal activity for most people when they are the most horny and once that has subsided most people have found ways to get out some of that sexual energy with others in their age group that are also feeling the effects of those hormone releases. Someone brought up the word “prude” and how that hurts if one is abstaining by religious choice. I talked about the game “Ten Fingers” and how strange it is that it always gets sexy and we are so interested in “how far” our friends have gone, and the culture of comparison between these levels of experience.
We watched a clip from the The 40-Year-Old Virgin and talked about how ashamed Steve Carell is when his friends find out he hasn’t had sex. If virginity is the entrance to adulthood, where does that leave people who never have sex? This was where we really got into alternative definitions of virginity with regard to non-hetero-normal gender and sexual orientation. Is it possible to be a virgin with one type of sex and not a virgin with another? What does this room for classification mean for the overall definition of virginity?
The last part of the talk was devoted to attempts by certain interest groups to limit sexual activity among America’s youth. These include PSAs with Jenny McCarthy handing a surprise baby to a couple thinking about doing it in the car, various horror stories about abstinence-only education, and a “bizarre” documentary about the Purity Movement—look it up.
I really feel that the environment for this talk was perfect for encouraging people to really explain themselves and their personal sexual choices, but instead it was more of an hour devoted to showing how virginity comes up in our daily society and popular culture. In this way I believe the workshop is possibly misnamed, although it is good to think about the sexual freedom we are encouraged to explore safely here at Oberlin in relation to the strict stigmas against said activity in other parts of the country. I’ll leave you with a sad story: One girl at the workshop related the tale of her high school friend who became impregnated and had to firstly, apologize to her entire church, and secondly, marry the fool who knocked her up. True, if she hadn’t boned in the first place she wouldn’t have had to go through all of that, and abstinence is the only sure bet, but I think we can all agree, that with a little sex education the world would be a much better place.