Periscope Depth

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

A reminder that this is Ghostbusters Week on Overthinking It: our look back at the 25th anniversary of the release of Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson’s epic comedy. My post, Death of a Thousand Pecks, went up today. Only in the 80s could an EPA inspector be a movie villain – but what does this mean for the movie? Or for the 80s?

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Also, this week’s Overthinking It podcast talked about the weird framing of abstinence in pop culture. I’d like to expand on some comments I made there.

(WARNING: the following contains what a male in his late twenties thinks about sex. Viewer discretion is advised)

I mentioned on the podcast that Hollywood tends to depict virginity in two different ways:

  • The Disney view, in which virginity is a treasure to be held onto as long as possible; and
  • The Apatow view, in which virginity is a burden to be discarded as soon as possible.

(Neither of those are fair labels, since Disney characters don’t even talk about sex, and Judd Apatow did not invent the teenage sex comedy. But they’re useful labels, since everyone knows what they mean)

My observation at the time: no one takes what I’d call the agnostic view of virginity – namely, that “virginity” as a concept does not signify anything useful.

Recall that the notion of virginity, as it applies to humans, is inherently patriarchal. A “virgin” is a female who has not had sexual intercourse. Her status as virgin matters only in that it enhances her value in a marriage contract. A woman who has not had sexual intercourse may be married proudly; a woman who has had sexual intercourse before marriage must be put away privily.

So, given that we live in an age which admits that women aren’t just child-bearers, but might be agents capable of thinking, why does a woman’s virginhood matter?

My fellow podcasters*, while agreeing that the loss of virginity didn’t transform a person in any biochemical way, insisted that virginity is still special because it’s the barrier of “the first time.” The first time doing anything holds a special significance – riding a bike, going off to school, getting a job, etc.

And while I agree that’s true, nobody considers their first sexual experience and their first day on a new job equivalent milestones. There are a lot of differences. And I don’t just mean the nudity, the intimacy, the male/female dynamic, etc – y’know, trivial stuff. I mean the expectation of success.

Bluntly, everybody knows you’re going to fall the first few times you ride a bike. Everyone will tell you that your first job out of college will probably suck. But pop culture insists our first sexual experience will be magical. Soft lights, elevator jazz, lots of awed eye contact and plenty of cuddling after.

Show of hands if that sounds like your first time. Anyone?

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Okay, I’ll go: my first time was not like that at all.

I believe that the unrealistic weight hung on the importance of The First Time hurts the young. Your first time having sex will probably be a little awkward. Your first time doing anything is awkward. Don’t stress out about it. Alcohol helps, in small doses. Just remember to breathe, use all the protection available to you, and wash up after.

More important than your first time having sex, I’ve found, are the times you have sex with someone you really care about. Or the times you have really amazing sex. Or the times you have awkward, lonely sex (I said “important,” not “good”). Or the times you have comical, embarrassing sex. These are the moments you want to reflect on and learn from – not necessarily your very first time.

You shouldn’t hurry into losing your virginity for the wrong reasons. But you shouldn’t hoard it for the wrong reasons either. You should have sex for the first time for the same reason you have sex for the nth time: because it’s with someone you care about, or because it’s fun, or because you want to make a baby, or because it feels good. Whatever your reason, have a reason. And the sanctity of virginity should not be it.

* All males, which is why I’m re-opening the discussion here; I’d really like to hear some female viewpoints on this.

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