Rare is the subject that makes me think, ‘hang on…I don’t think I have heard enough male opinion here’. Cooking, cleaning, menstruation, all deemed female matters, all have thousands of words, hours of footage and comment about them by men. Yet when it comes to virginity we only seem to want to hear about it regarding girls. And the last thing a girl’s virginity is, is her business.
Jessica Valenti’s book (now a documentary) The Purity Myth covers the extreme importance assigned to a girl’s virginity, and how it relates to her self-worth. Whilst boys are part of this American culture of purity balls and promise rings there seems to be a dearth of interest in male virginity and their various anxieties and feelings regarding it.
Girls are informed about sex on the assumption they are virgins and taught to value their virginity. But it’s quite clear boys don’t receive such focus on their virginity. It’s also worth noting girls received one on one interviewing with Cherry, whereas the heterosexual boys were interviewed by Cherry in a group situation. A situation not known for promoting honesty.
Cherry Healey visited a shared house in Huddersfield to talk to said group of boys about how they lost their virginity. Assuming they all had lost their virginity.
Led in to one boy’s room which contained dirty sheets and a single bunk bed, the audience was informed the bunk bed owner was a bit of a stud. According to him women don’t come to his room for romance. And I believe him.
This small cross section of heterosexual 20-somethings did seem, as Cherry observed, to not be applying much thought to their story. Embellishment, maybe, but no hesitancy. Only one boy dared to betray his anxiety and desire to slink out afterwards. “I was really nervous, when I first did it; to be honest…it was nerve-wracking”.
Teenage boys are under as much pressure as teenage girls to ‘do it’ if not more. If a girl is a virgin, she’s probably saving herself. If a heterosexual boy is a virgin, well, what’s wrong with him? Girls can be choosy, boys need to just source a willing receptacle.
Everybody seems to pretend poor boys know what they are doing, as if a literary diet of the Beano, Nuts and internet porn really does poise one for their first sexual experience.
The channel 4 series The Inbetweeners broaches this subject of knowledge versus bravado; Jay and Neil aren’t too clear on whether or not testicles can or should be inserted. Which is nothing compared to Will, who hopes simply lying atop his beloved might count. You might have found this episode implausible, however it appears the character Will is from the Simon Gray School of virginity relieving.
Gray details the non-sex he partook in as a 25 year old uninformed virgin in The Last Cigarette, “I had peeled my trousers down to my knees, and had rolled my underpants down to my trousers' crotch, I lay on top of her and bucked about, yelping.” This is more enthusiasm than Will was able to muster. Not even close, no cigar for you.
So what, outside the TV interview, comedy or diarist realms, will men divulge from behind the curtain of anonymity? Taking my cue from the Cherry Healey school of interviewing (not really - exploiting the BCC button, I e-mailed all my male friends) I asked some men what virginity, specifically theirs, meant or had meant to them.
It seems boy virginity isn’t all American Pie. Whilst it isn’t seen as something to be cherished, I was surprised to find more thought went into both the keeping and giving of male virginity. Male Friend 1 (MF1)* told me that: “For a long time I assumed sex only ever made sense between two people who were deeply in love - and that was what I wanted.”
It appears no-one found school sex-ed too enlightening and turned to family and the media: “Specific 'tips' I picked up from FHM etc, before I realised how much bollocks they printed. Hey I was young!” Male Friend 2 (MF2)
Sex was introduced to one of my friends purely in the capacity of ‘making babies’, intercourse was not discussed as pleasurable: “I had an Usborne book of knowledge with diagrams of a penis box robot and a vagina box robot. I didn’t it - how could they have got it so wrong? I was about to tell my friends about this hilarious notion when I heard them discussing it. I was shocked, but soon got used to it. At one point I had a sex dream, but I hadn't yet learned about erections - so that was interesting. Eventually my older sister bought me a book about it, but I had it figured by then.” Male Friend 3 (MF3)
Peculiarly contraception was not mentioned in Cherry Healey: Like a Virgin, because I am responsible I did query the use of contraception, “I don't think we discussed it - I just assumed it was required. I used the condom I'd been carrying in my wallet since Fresher’s week!” MF2
What was discussed with the only virgin on the show, Beth, was preparation of a different nature. Be-hymened Beth, in anticipation of losing her virginity went for a Brazilian bikini wax and booked a holiday.
From my totally in depth research the only difference in attitude was body preparation. For girls it is all about matching underwear and groomed pubic hair. When asked about body anxiety one of the men answered: “I didn't care about my body at all - hers was quite sufficient to take all of my attention”. MF1
None of the men I interviewed had been concerned about their body, should girls who consider themselves virgins be so concerned about bodily preparations and knowledge that involves bendiness? “I'm sure a lot of people saw sex for the first time in porn. But I don't think most normal guys get too carried away with the way sex is portrayed in porn, which is often kind of horrible. It's just the only thing available when boys are at the horniest time of their lives, and in many cases, cruelly, the least likely to get laid. There was definitely some peer pressure, depending on who you consider your peers.” (MF3) Is the hyper-awareness that a boy’s first encounter with sex is through porn creeping into women like Beth’s minds – hence the Brazilian wax? Or are we just ascribing rather high expectations on teen boys? It’s certainly a sign that virginity is starting to be lumped in with prom, weddings and landmark birthdays: all that matters is that you get the right outfit/reach your goal weight/hire an expensive car and everything else will fall in to place.
Surrounded by rose petals or parked cars, boy or girl, everyone deserves to feel comfortable about their First Time.
Cherry Healey begins her programme on the basis she wants to know if losing one’s virginity was “fundamentally different for men and women” somehow her conclusion is linked to her doing a burlesque strip. Because of course, there is a first time for everything.
Continuing on in Cherry Healey’s ‘everybody poops, everybody starts out a virgin’ reasoning I wonder if both would benefit from a little of what the other sex has in attitudes towards virginity. And everybody should wash their damn sheets.