Media Prey Upon Strange New Species: Virgins

Top 10 ways movies, TV treat virginity as feature of a bizarre breed.

SPECIES: The Virgin (Sexus Nontilnuptials)

PREDATOR: The Media (Sexus Perpetual Obsessicus)

METHOD OF ATTACK: Exploitation and Extinction Virgins

Peer through a leafy curtain deep in the Amazon and you might just catch a glimpse of an elusive specimen: “the virgin.”

Though rare, this foreign species manages to survive in some of the world’s most hostile ecosystems, constantly threatened by its natural enemy, the media. The media preys upon virgins for profit and mere entertainment – to dismiss them as soon as they conform.

Seen through the field glasses of Hollywood’s “Very Good Girls,” or MTV’s “Virgin Territory,” the virgin differs from “the human.” Humans “come-of-age” and “find themselves.” Virgins resist the examples of oversexed celebrities and an instant gratification culture – enhancing their mysterious allure, and making them just plain weird.

Here are the 10 ways media treat virgins as a foreign species:

1. Virgins Never Grow-Up 

“Very Good Girls” stars Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as best friends who make a pact to lose their virginity before heading off to college. Opening in theaters July 25, the film bills itself (with some help from the media) as a “coming-of-age” story. As the trailer revealed: “When we lose our innocence, we have to find ourselves” – sounds like a story that every adult can relate to (right?).

“It’s a part of life,” Fanning said an interview after stripping for her first sex scene in. Boyd Holbrook, who played her partner, emphasized, “What this film’s about is going into life, this first sexual experience.”

The media provided back-up. “It’s this coming-of-age story of two young girls” that’s “dealing with those things that are universal, that we all deal with: friendship, family, death, love, heartbreak,” HuffPost Live Host Alyona Minkovski gushed during an interview with the writer and director, Naomi Foner.  

Similarly, Wall Street Journal Live Anchor Tanya Rivero praised the “beautiful film.” “You explore that time in a young woman’s life, between girlhood and becoming a woman,” she told Foner. “As a woman, I identified so closely with the characters and that period in life.”

Even Foner described her characters as, “serious, interesting, committed girls who are trying to make some decisions about how they become women.” Women will flock to see the film, she added, because they “don’t often see themselves with any reality on screen.”

Missing is any acknowledgement that girls may become women without the sex act, or that it just might be a good idea wait until marriage.

2. Virgins Occupy a Different Habitat

Beginning July 16, MTV followed 15 young adult virgins in “Virgin Territory.” These young adults experience a “very tumultuous journey” in the “tricky world of virginity.” 

“Whether they’re trying to lose their V-cards, or keep them safely tucked in their pockets for as long as possible, being pure,” according to the network, “is really starting to grate on them.”

As MTV’s Executive Vice President of Series Development and Head of West Coast Unscripted Lauren Dolgen explained, “MTV has a legacy of documenting the lives of young adults and openly talking about sex with thought-provoking programming such as ‘True Life,’ ‘16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom.’” Because of a partnership with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she continued, “MTV will continue this tradition by elevating the discussion of responsible sexual health to include the topic of virginity in a way that our audience might find surprising.”

But how exactly surprising?

Fox News’ Dr. Keith Ablow criticized how the show, “turns a personal life event into profit” while Variety’s Brian Lowry warned in his review that, “some networks will pimp kids out — under cover of sex education — to score ratings.”

Even Slate’s TV critic, Willa Paskin, argued that the show “tries to get into psychological explanations for all of this unwanted virginity, because like the participants’ friends, MTV thinks it’s weird.” She explained, “Watching these three fret about their sexual status, I was reminded of the stress of being a pubescent girl who gets her period late: Until it arrives, you are embarrassed that you don’t have it.”

Case in point: 23-year-old Lisa saves herself until marriage in the first episode, and disappears as soon the wedding night is over. New York Times’ Jon Caramanica wondered “So it’s tough to know if that means that, in the eyes of the show, she accomplished the goal, or that she’s no longer interesting. Is it a high-five or a judgment?”

3.  They Morph …

The transition from virgin to human fascinates media chroniclers, so they dwell on how celebrities, America’s most famed, lose virginity – and point out the ones who don’t, including:

As if that wasn’t enough, the media want to hit celebrity replay: In “Losing Your Virginity,” John Stamos (“Full House”) interviewed celebrities about their “first time.” While he wants to avoid graphic content in his Yahoo! webseries, Stamos confessed, "We're going to do re-enactments (of celebrity first sexual experiences) with puppets, Barbies, animation."

Stamos explained, “Everybody wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m just like you.’ So losing your virginity — how much more can you relate to somebody?”  

4.  … Into Incredibly Happy Butterflies

And the stars love the recognition. According to Girls’ Lena Dunham, losing virginity is as simple as voting: “Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody. You wanna do it with a great guy. It should be with a guy with beautiful--someone who really cares and understands women. A guy who cares whether you get health insurance, specifically whether you get birth control.”

“My first time voting was amazing. It was this line in the sand. Before, I was a girl, now I was a woman.' I went to the polling station. I pulled back the curtain. I voted for Barack Obama!” she continued.

Speaking from “experience,” Dunham previously noted her loss of virginity in college. She patted herself on the back over it, saying “I commended myself for making a healthy, albeit hasty, partner choice. I really couldn’t wait to tell my mom.”

Other stars expressed similar sentiments. “The first time I had sex I raced home and was like, ‘Mum, I just had sex!’” Chris Evans remembered. Actress Brooke Shields admitted that because of “the public and all this pressure,” “I think I would have had sex a lot earlier!”

Others took the topic less seriously. Sean “Diddy” Combs confessed, “I was on top of a girl who was nine or 10,” but “it didn’t happen — so everybody doesn’t have to bug out.” Not until “When I was 13, and I felt I was a porno star because I’d been watching porn for so long. In the Bronx you could get a hotel for an hour. I always had $20 or $30 to take a chick to a hotel. I’m proud to say I love sex. “

5. Virgins Can Use Their Status as a Bargaining Chip

Media latched on to 23-year-old Nigerian pop star Adokiye after she offered her virginity to Islamist group Boko Haram in exchange for the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April. To introduce the story, NBC prompted, “Haven’t heard of Adokiye? Well, soon you will have” – if not as a rising star, then “because she’s a virgin.” Time, New York Post, New York Daily News, Daily Mail and International Business Times also noted the story.

A similar occurrence happened when 27-year-old med school student Hanna Kern, or “Elizabeth Raine,” attempted to auction off her virginity earlier this year. The Huffington Post dedicated four stories to her name and other media outlets followed the trend including Daily Mail, New York Daily News, MStars, International Business Times, E!, Mediaite and Radar. She called off the auction after a bid for over $800,000.

6. Virgins Make for Good Comedy

Dan Beers and Mathew Harawitz’s “Premature” hit select theaters July 2 and tells the story of a high school senior who “re-live[s] losing his virginity over and over again until he gets it right.”

In an interview, Beers explained his and Harawitz’s inspiration for such a tale: “We were thinking about how we failed the first time we had sex, and when the concept came about out of nowhere, I just thought it was so fun.”

Enough fun, even, for a drinking game. Beers continued, “There are no movies where you see the young lead have eight orgasms over the course of the movie. It'd be a great drinking game though — shots for every orgasm!” With that logic, even the trailer would provide a drunken stupor.

7. Virgins May be the Product of Human Rights Violation

When Canadian teenager Emily Dawson fought tooth and nail against an abstinence class taught at her public high school, the media recognized her bravery. Dawson’s name appeared everywhere, in outlets including Jezebel, Salon, Cosmo, CBC News, New York Daily News, ThinkProgress, Huffington Post Canada,  The National Post, and CBC News. 

Providing more detail, The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti  wrote “Abstinence sex education doesn't work. It teaches lies to ill-informed virgins” to explain, “Dawson and her mother were right to report her religious sex-ed class as a human rights violation – because that's exactly what it is.” “Teens – whether you like the idea of them having sex or not – deserve access to information that can keep them healthy and safe,” she continued. “Anything else is criminal.”

Salon’s Jenny Kutner agreed, “In addition to being considered inaccurate and ineffective, abstinence-only sex education might also be considered a violation of basic human rights.”

8.  Virgins Pledging their Beliefs Hurt Others

Both Salon and New York Magazine highlighted a recent study on virginity pledges, claiming they “don’t work” and added as an afterthought “Unless you’re super religious” (which no one is, right?). New York Daily News, Daily Mail, Bustle and also stressed the findings.

The study found “when religious commitment is high, adherence to the pledge is greater,” while “for pledge signers with low religious commitment, there are unintended negative consequences with regard to increased participation in risky sexual behaviors.”

“Surprise! Morality-based abstinence education only works for people with those beliefs (and it harms everyone else),” Salon’s Jenny Kutner translated.

9. Virgins Will Only Become Rarer

A new study published in March from the University of Illinois about the loss of virginity found that “Men reported more pleasure and anxiety than women, and women reported more guilt than men. Anxiety decreased over the three decades for men; pleasure increased and guilt decreased for women.”

But not until the end of July did the media latch onto the news, translating the findings into headlines like “Losing Your Virginity Is Better Than Ever” (TIME Magazine), and “Losing your virginity isn’t as awkward as it was 20 years ago” (Salon) or even “Losing Your Virginity Is Way Less Awkward Than it Used to Be, Says Study” (Bustle).

10.  Virgins are Embarrassing

Media went on the prowl when conservative commentator and Fox News contributor Steven Crowder wrote about his wedding night – after saving himself for marriage. “If you’re wondering whether all of the mocking, the ridicule, the incredible difficulty of saving yourself for your spouse is worth it, let me tell you without a doubt that it is,” he wrote in his post-marriage piece.

Along with others, Jezebel “barfed” at the piece.

Using a slightly different tactic, the media recently ignored CBS host and "Inside Edition" correspondent Megan Alexander as she explained her logic in remaining a virgin until marriage. Besides Inside Edition, only conservative media appeared to report the story: Fox 411,  LifeSiteNews, LifeNews, Christian Post, The Blaze, CBN.

Alexander explained to Fox 411: "Sex is everywhere, it sells. It's on magazine covers, it's in television shows, it's in movies and I think its pretty unusual when someone speaks out about waiting for marriage in the entertainment industry."

“I decided to speak out,” she explained, “because I feel like young people today, specifically teenagers and millennials in their 20s and 30s, there's so much pressure to just get involved [physically] and to think that that's normal." She continued, "I wanted people to know, hey there's another option. This is the option that I chose and it can work for you too."

Appearing on the cover of “Whoa Women” for her piece entitled “Marriage Still Matters,” Alexander admitted that “I am reminded every day in my industry how unpopular this decision is,” and warned, “don’t look to Hollywood for advice on marriage.” 

After noting her interviews with those in the entertainment business, she continued, “I am often discouraged by Hollywood’s portrayal of love. Movies and television make it seem that people should participate in sex as easily and as often as brushing your teeth.” 

She concluded: “My advice for the next generation is this: Be bold; dare to be different; and be proud of who you are and what you have to offer.”


— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.