Yesterday it was 40 degrees Celsius in Melbourne and for some (possibly related) reason, my internet stopped working. I decided to amuse myself by watching one of the movies I’d downloaded recently and hadn’t gotten around to watching, I chose Liberal Arts because I like Elizabeth Olsen. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I thought it might be a way to fill in a couple of hours and maybe it would be a little bit sweet or fun or something because although I obviously have a cold, dead heart sometimes I do like to have a little smile. I should have known what I was in for from the start, I mean when is a movie written, directed by and starring a white 30-something dude from a sitcom good? Let’s be real. But I was actually a little surprised by how pissed off I got while watching it. It got me thinking a lot about older men and younger ladies and sex and the whole social construct of virginity. Now be warned – there will be spoilers in this so if you care about that (you probably shouldn’t) stop reading, go watch Liberal Arts and then come back and chat.
A quick overview of the movie – Josh Radnor (aka Ted from How I Met Your Mother, I will probably just call him Ted whenever I talk about him because that is all he will ever be to me) plays this mid 30s dude named Jesse who lives in New York, works in admissions at NYU and is generally pretty sad and lonely. He goes back to his old college in Ohio to see an old professor he’s buddies with and meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who is 19 and free and interesting in the way that only manic pixie dream girls can be. There’s a mutual attraction, she makes him a mix cd of classic music (pretty much a rip off of the whole Shins thing in Garden State or the mix cd Kirsten Dunst makes in Elizabethtown), they become pen pals blah blah blah. It’s basically about how Ted misses being young, college was the most fun he ever had, and he kind of wants to try to relive that time by hooking up with young Zibby but he also kind of thinks he should accept getting older. Zach Efron makes a couple of appearances as a stoner hippie guy, probably the best/most likeable character in the movie so good work Zefron.
Anyway, the scene that bothered me the most was when Ted and Elizabeth Olsen are about to have sex; she tells him she’s a virgin and he freaks out. It’s a common movie trope, the girl who is ready to give herself to a guy (vom) and he freaks out because he doesn’t feel worthy and tells her she should wait for somebody more special or something. I’ve seen it in about a zillion movies and tv shows. Here’s a good example:
(Shoshanna from Girls)
It got me thinking a lot about the idea of virginity and how it’s portrayed in society/life/films etc. I’ve seen this exact scene in a lot of movies and always felt annoyed by it but I’d recently read this quote which kind of made it click in my head as to why it annoyed me so much.
“What does virginity mean to a queer person, who may never have vaginal intercourse in her/his/hir life? What of a lesbian who chooses to never engage in any sort of penetrative sex act her entire life, does she remain some sort of super, extra virgin? If a straight man receives a blowjob, he will in all likelihood still consider himself a virgin, but a gay man receiving a blowjob may have a more complicated understanding of what it means for his sex life. In many ways, our conception of “virginity” erases or invalidates queer sex.” – Sex Pos Grrrl
The whole situation of an man telling a (usually younger) lady that she should wait for somebody special is completely condescending, as though these older men somehow know the worth of sexual experiences and of a ladies’ body better than she does. As though these silly virginal girls just can’t understand the power and importance of sex unless they have had penetrative penis in vagina sex, regardless of any other sexual experiences they might have had. It makes me think of another really great quote I read on tumblr a while back (give me the proper source if you have it!) – ‘I think the concept of virginity was created by men who thought their penises were so important it changes who a woman is‘ (And yes, I know dudes are considered virgins too but not in the same disgusting purity ‘gift’ bullshit way girls are). This idea that p-in-v sex is the be all and end all of becoming a sexual being or whatever is a load of shit. Sexuality is a fluid thing and I hate this idea that those who have had p-in-v sex are somehow wiser or have a greater understanding of sexuality that those who haven’t.
I don’t understand how young ladies can be expected to feel any agency over their own bodies and their own choices if they are being constantly told (especially by older men) what sex has to mean to them, what virginity is, which sexual experiences are big/important and which aren’t. Now obviously nobody is obligated to have sex with anybody else and there’s a million different reasons not to have sex with somebody, and maybe somebody else not having had p-in-v sex is a dealbreaker for you. Sure, cool, that’s fine – but there’s a way to communicate that without telling the other person what importance they should place on this one sex act, and without pushing all of your moral judgements about sex onto them. It’s a bit of an off-shoot of slut shaming, holding up this idea of female virginity as a measure of purity, and as a gift that should be given to one special man. As though having p-in-v sex for the first time in a spur of the moment situation or with somebody you’re not in love with would somehow be a huge and horrible mistake. I just hate the way girls are constantly being told how they should feel about sex, what their ‘first time’ should be like and even what sex is when really these are things that are highly personal and should be figured out by each individual. Maybe you’ll feel like you lost your virginity when you have your first orgasm, or when you have oral sex, or anal sex, or maybe you’ll feel like kissing somebody was the singular most important sexual experience you’ve ever had, maybe you’ll never feel like any sexual experience you’ve had is any bigger or greater or more ‘life changing’ than any other and all of these scenarios are completely normal and completely ok. I don’t think it’s at all helpful or healthy to hold up this idea of one size fits all sexuality, it’s so heteronormative and dumb.