by: Mason Strand
This past Wednesday the cover of the RedEye featured a picture of Tim Tebow, accompanied by the title “Power Virgins: It Doesn’t Take Superhuman Strength to Conquer Temptation.” I don’t usually get an opportunity to read the RedEye because I ride my bike to work and the RedEye is the official news publication of CTA riders, but this cover so caught my eye that I brought it back to my cubicle for a lunchtime read. The bulk of the article dealt with the many celebrities who have recently “come out” as virgins, as well as interviews with a couple of people who are currently “waiting,” and a few married people who talked about what a wonderful gift sex was because they waited.
One of the things that I found most interesting about this article was that it merited the front cover of an extremely popular daily newspaper. I mean, I’ve seen heteros accuse the gays repeatedly of “flaunting their sexuality in public,” and here I am, reading about these heteros’ sexual preferences — and mind you, this is actually the details of their preferences in regard to the act, not the sex of the person they’d like to do it with. What’s more, with quotes like, “I’m thankful I get to treasure all those moments with one person, and they don’t become memories I am ashamed to think about,” I felt like their sexual preferences were being compared and valued against mine. In fact, the complete lack of mention of LGBTQ folks in an article about very traditional ideas about sex and marriage hinted at a subtext of “sex is for a man and a woman only”-style homophobia.
And that brings me to my next point: the reasoning behind this article. Even if I hadn’t been intrigued enough to pick up the newspaper, I’d have known that Tebow is a virgin simply by virtue of the fact that it was the damned headline. I don’t need to know that he hasn’t had sex. I don’t care. Well, okay, now I care, but only because he had to go out of his way to let me know, and I find that annoying. I can think of plenty of celebrities who I know are gay, but I can’t think of one that has said anything about their actual sex life – probably because it’s none of my business. Why is OK for Tebow and many others, many times under the guise of “morality,” to publicly declare their virginity? If this article is any indication, it would seem that these public virgins are being positioned as more virtuous — able to “resist temptation” — than the rest of us sinners.
The article in question tries to position them as combating our hypersexualized culture — thanks, Jessica Valenti — but, to bend a quote for my purposes, I don’t think that word means what they think it means. Hypersexualization of women (and, to a lesser extent, men) is about the ways that bodies are portrayed – not what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms (or kitchens, or sex dungeons, etc). Having sex is not the problem – making people into sex objects is.
And the examples they cite, such as Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers – are we still considering them relevant? — are certainly not exceptions. In fact, I think they’re pretty perfect examples of the way that teen pop stars are hypersexualized in order to market them and teach proper gender roles and sexual desire to teenage girls. The fact that the celebs in question happen to be virgins becomes irrelevant in this context.
I want to be clear in stating that I do not think that there is anything wrong with being a virgin. We live in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t society, where being a virgin is embarrassing (mostly if you’re a guy), but so is not being a virgin (mostly if you’re a girl). People assume things about you no matter what your “V” status is, and that, too, is part of the problem.
As a queer, I am deeply committed to sex positivity. I think that all people should have exactly the amount of sex they want to have — which includes not having it, if you don’t want to — at exactly the times that they want to have it — in relationships or out of them, with multiple partners or by themselves, with whomever or however many people they want.
In fact, the only time I think that sex is “wrong” is when it isn’t consensual. It is a sad fact that in our culture, consent is actually one of the least considered things when it comes to the topic of “sexual morality.” On the other hand, slut shaming of people who have lots of healthy, consensual sex is considered perfectly acceptable and is practiced on a daily basis in both the hetero and homosexual communities. This is a serious problem, and it needs to change. As queers, we have a responsibility to disrupt the norms that say there is a correct context in which to have sex. We also have a responsibility to be hyper-vigilant about consent and to disrupt rape culture whether in speech or actions. (In case you’re wondering: No, your rape joke isn’t funny. Not ever. Thanks.)
I personally didn’t lose my virginity until I was 21. It was with someone that I really wasn’t attracted to, and I wasn’t particularly ready, but I just wanted to get it over with so I went for it. I was ashamed about being a virgin, and to this day I still deal with issues that I can’t exactly put my finger on, but I know have to do with shame about sex. On the other hand, I have friends who lost it at 13 or 14 that seem to have very healthy attitudes about sex.
The point being, it isn’t about when you lose your virginity, as this article would like us to believe. What is important, when it comes to sex, is having a healthy attitude. No matter what we may see on television, or even be told by scientists, many people still believe that sex outside of marriage is shameful.
As a teen, I can remember my high school Christian Sexuality teacher telling us how wonderful her married sex life was, but that if we did it before marriage, we were going to hell. My girlfriend, who was raised in an even more conservatively Christian environment, had similar experiences. The moral aspects of adults talking to teens about the details of their sex lives aside, it’s easy to see the dichotomy that was carefully being created. There are good types of sex and bad types, those you can feel good about and those that are shameful. Later, my girlfriend told me, many of the people she knew who “waited” ended up getting married very young, and many had a lot of anxiety and shame about sex that continued into their marriage. Some are now getting divorces.
I’m not here to say that waiting until marriage for sex is a recipe for disaster. I realize that, for some, the act of sex within marriage is sacred, and I respect that. I think leaves some pretty big unanswered questions that factor into a very important decision, but that’s my opinion and based only on my own experience. Ultimately, whether or not you wait is up to you.
However, what isn’t up to you is what I do with my sex life. That is entirely my decision and not one that has any morality attached to it. I think that the only way for our culture to “get healthy” about our sex lives is to leave all this bullshit “morality” baggage behind and start trying to respect the individual and unique ways that each person relates to sex.
And, for the love of everything, let’s leave Tim fucking Tebow out of it.
Mason Strand is an aspiring film editor whose ultimate dream is to work on queer films with a group of awesome, progressive people. Strand has a B.A. in film and an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies, both from DePaul University. During his day job, he teaches school kids about walking and biking safety (which is a pretty damned good gig), and in his free time, he explores Chicago on his bike, seeks out queer dance parties and searches for his next seasonal beer obsession. He identifies as ftm and queer.