Sunday, August 31, 2014

Selling Virginity: Who, For What and Why

At long last, let’s chat a bit about selling one’s virginity. I’m talking about female virginity put up for public sale, in this case, by the women themselves here in the US. And for the sake of this discussion, anyway, let’s define female “virgins” the way most of Western culture defines them – females who have intact hymens and whose vaginas have never experienced penile penetration. Of course, pre-intercourse males are described as virgins as well, but the cultural narrative about them is a very different story – one that deserves attention, but will appear in a later post.

At the outset, though, let’s also be completely clear about something else too: I’m in no way advocating for the unspeakable horrors of sexual trafficking. Or the exploitation of under-age girls, or the exploitation of any human being on the planet.

Yet, there’s this: Every now and again I’m intrigued to hear about yet another young, intelligent, very attractive woman who has made the decision to monetize her virginity. Often in the US it’s done by auctioning it off to the highest bidder, in much the same way as one might auction any other commodity, making lots of us in the feminist activist gender-equality crowd want to rip our hair out.

But while others of us continue to be intrigued/shocked/amused/ befuddled when we hear about some smart, beautiful, well-endowed grad student somewhere who goes online to auction off her virgin status, there’s something about the in-your-face entrepreneurial moxie of these women that makes me smile.

And while it’s no secret that many of us spend quite a lot of energy trumpeting the myriad benefits of capitalism, in a quasi-successful democracy, in which notions of personal freedom can be as plentiful as the boundaries that restrict them, there’s never any dearth of enterprising up and comers who are only too happy to set media outlets on fire with controversial, boundary-bursting schemes to make their fortunes.

Let’s be candid here. There are myriad ways to make fat wads of cash leveraging patriarchy’s mythologized notions about women’s unsullied sexuality. Yet, perhaps none is more intriguing or so blatantly transgressing of society’s rigid rules about women’s sexual behaviors than the outright auctioning off of one’s own virginity. Think about it: in a culture that continues its maddening proclivity for dividing women into good girl/bad girl rigid binary constructs, as a group, we find ourselves shocked by smart, pretty, accomplished and savvy women who advertise their virginity for sale in the internet. Maybe it’s just cognitive dissonance at work: it’s good to be entrepreneurial, bad to be a rule breaker in doing it. It’s good to be self-sufficient, bad to fly in the face of social conventions. It’s good to be fit/pretty/attractive/smart, bad to use your perceived assets in ways that other’s don’t approve of.

After all, who but the most outlaw and rule-breaking among us would take the leap into the wholesale auctioning of her storied status as virgin, especially after having the restraint and focus required to stay that way into adulthood? In reality, it can’t be easy, given the constant temptations to do otherwise in a culture where overt homages to the mind-bending joys of penetrative sex are visible everywhere – in television and online, in film, music, advertising, fashion, and so on.

But it happens, and just so we have a feel for how the whole thing goes, it’s something like this: smart, beautiful, well-endowed female usually in the 18 to 20 something age range, posts a photo of herself online with a statement indicating that she’s a bona fide virgin who’s willing to have her vagina penetrated for the first time by someone who’s willing to pay her a certain sum of money in return. Frequently the price is arrived at by way of a good old-fashioned auction in which a starting bid provides the bidders a threshold from which to begin. And let’s be clear. The women involved are no “slouches,” so to speak, no desperate damsels hopelessly devoid of other options and choices. In fact, they’re often highly educated and variously accomplished, sometimes working hard towards advanced academic degrees. In fact, some of them are quite candid about their intent to use the auction’s proceeds as a way to further their education. Or to finance a more traditional enterprise. Or to pay off student loans. Or to do whatever they like, in much the same way that any entrepreneur might utilize liquid assets earned.

The pivotal irony in all of this is clear. In terms of the physiology here, virginity as I’ve described it and as most of us understand it, is largely a meaningless status. The notion that there’s some way to “prove” virginity, like the fabled breaking of the hymen, which is the thin membrane inside the opening of the vagina, is purely and simply a myth. Hymens have holes in them naturally, and are often ruptured further by everyday physical activity. And with the miracles of modern technology, it’s easy enough to purchase an artificial hymen these days – in fact, as many of them as you want. They come with fake blood, are insertable with one’s finger, and arrive with explicit do-it-yourself directions, of course! And if it’s the fabled snuggly grip of virgin vaginal walls that one’s clamoring to bid the highest for, then rest assured, artificial hymens are “guaranteed” to expand comfortably upon insertion – provided that you follow the instructions and insert in a timely way.

Not so much into the manual insertion of foreign materials? Not to worry, as they say; there’s the increasingly popular hymen replacement surgery as well.

Oh, my….

In patriarchal systems, the value of a woman’s virgin status has always, to some degree, been expressed in terms of spendable currency. Think about cultures, like some in Africa, wherein it was, and often still is, customary for a man to pay a “bride price” to the family of his future wife. Her monetary value, that which the prospective husband is expected to cough up to the family of his bride, is pretty closely correlated with cultural norms and expectations of sexual “purity.” Not that attributes like being pretty, healthy, able to cook well, and so on aren’t considered in the calculus, because they are. But we’d be naïve to think that virgin status doesn’t raise a woman’s value considerably. Even for women who marry after divorce or the death of a spouse, and therefore cannot be expected to be virgins the second time around, the amount that second husbands are expected to pay, if at all, is considerably less than they’d pay for a woman who had never been penetrated.

While countless folk find the bride price practice disturbing on many levels, one of the most problematic aspects of it is this: it’s never the woman herself who pockets the cash.

So what’s the downside for these virginity-selling women? Aside from the very real concerns about personal safety when engaging in any sort of internet-based sexual activity, I’m not sure there is one really. This assumes, of course, that the choice to enter this marketplace is made by informed women themselves. Women who are leveraging their own agency and personal sexual freedom, without external coercion from other parties. Women who understand that all of us still exist within a cultural milieu that’s still far from gender equal and that continues to objectify women and men in gut-churning ways. In fact, while there are certainly men who auction their virginity, they hardly seem to garner our attention in quite the same way.

The truth is that it’s not these women themselves who are commodifying their virginity. Rather, the credit for that dubious accomplishment lies with us – all of us, who passively accede to the antiquated fiction that an inexperienced vagina is somehow more valuable than any other kind.

So how much actual money is it possible for a woman to rake in? The answer depends on a number of factors, not the least of which are her marketing expertise and her obvious physical attributes. Is she willing to prove she’s a virgin, however specious and inconclusive such an attempt at proof might be? Hmmm…

At base, of course, is what any decent economist will argue: the limit of what one can make is ultimately determined by whatever the marketplace will bear. Take, for example, a virginity-auctioning California woman who says she received a bid of  $3.8 million. Really….

Of course, as with anything even remotely transgressive, it’s easy to get passions exercised here about morality, religious prohibitions, and even about common decency, I suppose. But then, as always, there’s the matter of a grown woman’s choice. Her agency, for lack of a better term, and at base, her inalienable right to do as chooses with her body. Her body…

I long ago lost faith in the old chestnut that having a good education, in and of itself, guarantees anyone a future of wealth and success. It helps, of course, but for some of us determined to make ends meet - and make a little extra - turning garden-variety objectification into something distinctly lucrative is a sophisticated business decision and nothing more.
And while we’re speaking of objectification, I’m fond of quoting the legendary feminist scholar and activist Audre Lorde as she argues so brilliantly that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Ultimately, that’s true, of course. But there’s something powerfully strategic and courageously subversive about women who take charge and have no qualms about turning the tables as they leverage our troubling fixation on inexperienced vaginas to enhance their bottom lines.

Would you ever have considered selling your virgin status? If yes, why? If not, why not?

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<a herf="">Calm and Strong</a> via <a href=">photopin</a> <ahref="">(license)</a>

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