What the Hell Was Up With Early-2000s Virginity Tradition?

Once I was ten years outdated, I made a decision I wished to attend till marriage to have intercourse. This wasn’t one thing my mother and father instilled in me — they typically most popular to avoid talking about sex altogether — nor did I decide it up at church. (Like my mother and father, and in contrast to the evangelicals, I feel the Catholic Church most popular to keep away from giving its youthful parishioners the intercourse discuss for so long as doable.) Somewhat, I made this excessive choice about the way forward for my hymen after spending many of the summer season between fourth and fifth grade watching seventh Heaven reruns on ABC Household. 

For the uninitiated, seventh Heaven was a TV present a few protestant minister, his spouse and their wrestle to lift their gaggle of kids with Good Christian Values in sexually “permissive” instances. Spoiler alert: virginity, particularly maintaining it till marriage, was a significant theme. Over the course of the collection’ record-setting ten seasons, a few of its characters completed this purpose and others didn’t. Whereas those that didn’t weren’t often punished to the extent they’d have been in a Victorian novel (i.e. shunned, impregnated and/or killed) the messaging was fairly clear: virginity was not simply morally proper, however romantic, even. The characters that “waited” had profitable marriages with loving companions, as a result of they deserved it. Those that didn’t sometimes cast extra wayward paths and have been often, to some extent, written out of the collection.

The present premiered on the WB in 1996 and ran till 2007, making it the longest-running collection on the community. It was a predictable hit with Christian organizations of the day, just like the Mother and father Tv Council, which hailed the present as the best on television in 1999, one which bravely “exhibits the results of reckless and irresponsible conduct.” But it surely wasn’t simply area of interest, ultra-religious teams consuming it up. seventh Heaven was a mainstream hit on a mainstream community. It stays the WB’s most-watched present of all time, and likewise holds the document for the community’s most-watched hour at 12.5 million viewers. (Information it seemingly maintains, partially, solely as a result of the WB ceased to exist by the present’s ultimate season, when it merged with UPN to create the CW.) 

Clearly the present feels retrograde and aggressively conservative by at this time’s requirements, however watching it as a pre-teen, I didn’t really feel like I used to be being fed some stodgy non secular indoctrination. seventh Heaven made virginity appear not simply regular, however cool — to not point out romantic. As one other standard slogan (and at one time partially government-funded organization) of the period goes, “True Love Waits.” However past the normalization and romanticization of morality, the present made virginity appear, mockingly sufficient, attractive. At ten, seventh Heaven contained a few of the most frank discussions of intercourse and sexuality I’d ever seen on TV, to the extent that I typically puzzled if I used to be even allowed to be watching it. To me, the present’s intense deal with intercourse — even when that focus was on not having it, or no less than not outdoors of god/patriarchy-sanctioned boundaries — was provocative in a means that made virginity itself appear attractive. 

After all, seventh Heaven was removed from the primary or solely cultural entity of its time (or of any time, actually) to make virginity appear cool and attractive. 

“Fetishizing engaging girls’s virginity is a really outdated factor,” says Laura M. Carpenter, an affiliate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt College and creator of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences. “It’s a contradiction as outdated because the hills.”

At the moment, particularly, virginity was a giant deal for a few of the greatest — and, by default, sexiest — celebrities of the day. Jessica Simpson, a proud Southern preacher’s daughter, famously “saved herself” for her first marriage to Nick Lachey, telling People in 2000, “My virginity is one thing I stand sturdy in.” Britney Spears was relentlessly harassed concerning the state of her virginity in interviews, significantly throughout her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Teen dream Miley Cyrus flaunted a purity ring for a bit within the mid-aughts, as did many of her Disney contemporaries, together with her then-boyfriend, Nick Jonas

On the identical time, after all, these girls have been the most important intercourse symbols of their day. (Learn: they have been ruthlessly sexualized by the media.) Naturally busty and blonde, Simpson was the final word bombshell, a job she would later embody on display screen in barely-there cutoffs and crop tops as Daisy Duke. Spears, from the time her debut single premiered at 16, was well-known for dancing in provocative, midriff-baring outfits. However that, after all, was a part of the enchantment. 

“Britney Spears extends a honeyed thigh throughout the size of the couch,” begins the  now-infamous profile that accompanied Spears’ 1999 debut as a Rolling Stone cowl star. Inside that first paragraph, the creator goes on to explain the 17-year-old’s “ample chest” and the best way her “silky white shorts cling snugly to her hips.” Afterward, he notes that Spears “cleaves to the Baptist religion” and has made some extent of refusing to document overtly sexual songs. (The joke, the primary of many the general public would make at Britney’s expense, is that she appears unaware that her hit debut, …Child One Extra Time, is in reality a sexual track.) On the quilt, Britney lays on sizzling pink satin sheets clutching a stuffed Teletubby doll. It’s, because the story’s subhead shamelessly teases, a peek into the teenager’s bed room. Additionally it is, as Jude Doyle put it in his 2016 e book, Trainwreck, very apparent that we’re imagined to need to fuck Britney, not regardless of however because of her innocence. “Males have been imagined to need to fuck Britney, that was clear sufficient,” writes Doyle. “However they have been imagined to need it particularly as a result of she was a baby.” 

In accordance with Carpenter, this seemingly contradictory sexualization of virginity is “a extremely outdated cultural trope,” one rooted in upholding and reaffirming males’s energy over girls and their our bodies. “Traditionally, there’s been this concept that for males, particularly, the concept of deflowering a girl is meant to be ‘the final word’ of one thing,” says Carpenter, “that one way or the other imprinting your self on any person or being the one who introduces them to all of the wonders of partnered sexuality makes you extra particular, extra manly, extra one thing.”

Whereas it might appear regressive in new and unwelcome methods each time it re-enters the zeitgeist — particularly when it interrupts an in any other case progressive period — Carpenter notes that the purity tradition of the ‘90s and early 2000s was nothing new, estimating the development pops up as typically as each 15 to twenty years. Within the ’80s, she notes, Brooke Shields was the younger, engaging star being grilled over the state of her virginity and slammed for uttering an arguably suggestive line in a Calvin Klein commercial.

“It’s all a part of a really misogynistic tradition that judges girls each by their sexual enchantment and their sexual purity,” says Andrea L. Press, a professor of media research and sociology on the College of Virginia and creator of Media Ready Feminism and Everyday Sexism. “They’re idealized for this sexual aura, however then they’re devalued in the event that they act sexually.” 

This, after all, is a story as outdated as time, and it’s one upon which all the idea of virginity was based mostly. Virginity has at all times been a worth that girls, primarily, have been anticipated to uphold. (When it has been utilized to males — resembling in non secular contexts or, say, on the Disney Channel —the stakes have often been decrease, and it has nonetheless been within the curiosity of reinforcing sure patriarchal ethos, like faith and the worth of the nuclear household.) 

Why? As a result of males — not essentially on a person degree, however on a patriarchal one — acknowledge that feminine sexuality is a particularly highly effective pressure, and thus one they need to discover a strategy to exert management over, lest it management them. (The policing of sex work will be defined in a lot the identical means: males don’t need to pay for intercourse, however know they may, so they need to use their energy to disgrace and criminalize intercourse work.) Thus, the idea of virginity was born: a assemble that enables males to police girls’s our bodies, their sexuality and the best way they categorical it, whereas nonetheless sexualizing these our bodies and the ladies inside them. 

“The idealization of younger girls as virginal is all a part of that,” says Press. “It’s a part of the best way to say, ‘Males do management our sexuality and girls love that.’”

Anthropologists typically supply a extra forgiving evaluation of how the idea of virginity received to be. As Carpenter notes, historians typically chalk up virginity to a organic want for a person to make sure the offspring borne by his companion is in reality his. However in an age of contraception and superior reproductive expertise, “It turns into extra obvious and extra blatant that [virginity] is not only about controlling copy; it’s about controlling girls’s means to do no matter they need to with their our bodies,” says Carpenter. 

Within the late ’90s and early 2000s, particularly, sure cultural forces at play might have very properly contributed to that period’s particular obsession with virginity. For one factor, it was the peak of abstinence-only intercourse schooling in America. On the time, notes Carpenter, there have been federal grants for states that stated they’d train abstinence-only intercourse ed. So, as famously parodied in Imply Ladies, abstinence was a giant deal in excessive faculties on the time; after all it will bleed into the zeitgeist. 

Then there was the rising hyper-visibility of celebrities, and with it the shortcoming to ever unsay something — to un-espouse a perception  — irrespective of how younger a star had been after they first expressed it. I could have been in a position to resign my seventh Heaven-inspired virginity pledge later in adolescence, (and naturally I did) however Britney was not afforded that very same luxurious. If she stated she was going to save lots of herself for marriage as a 12-year-old, then she was nonetheless anticipated to uphold these values a decade later, and shamed relentlessly as soon as the media caught wind that maybe she hadn’t. 

There’s additionally the age of the mother and father to think about, as Carpenter factors out, and the tradition surrounding sexuality after they have been coming of age. Many mother and father of kids rising up within the 2000s had themselves come of age amid the AIDS epidemic, when intercourse turned one thing to be actively feared. Imply Ladiessex ed scene, during which Coach Carr threatens his college students with near-certain loss of life ought to they’ve intercourse, is a parodied however not completely unrealistic model of early Twenty first-century attitudes towards intercourse amongst many adults who had witnessed the AIDS epidemic of their youth or early maturity. 

However the factor to recollect, notes Carpenter, is that this isn’t a development that belonged to anybody time. Like most tendencies — be they regrettable but ultimately harmless fashion styles or literal fascism — our cultural obsession with virginity is cyclical. 

“It appears to be a factor that continues to go round and round once more in U.S. sexual tradition, even within the durations the place it’s been comparatively permissive,” says Carpenter.  “It’s cyclical. It occurs repeatedly and once more. There are examples from the Nineteen Twenties; there are examples from the Nineties.” 

We might flatter ourselves that we’re previous it now. We watch interviews from the early 2000s of Britney Spears being driven to tears by Diane Sawyer and look on in dutiful disgust. However till we efficiently rip these patriarchal constructs erected solely to exert management over girls and their our bodies from their roots — one thing I’m not completely certain will ever be doable — we’re actually solely ever 15 to twenty years away from the following virginity craze.

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