by Kamini Ramdeen

The idea of “How To Lose Your Virginity” may seem daunting and a topic that is forbidden to talk about, especially if you come from a sexually private society, like most South Asians do. How many of you have had the sex talk with your parents? very few, I presume. Sexuality and virginity are taboo topics in our culture, which most adults hush and shy away from. So the question is – how do we as a society then learn about the concepts of sexuality and even the forbidden idea of “losing your virginity,” when we’re not open to speak about the topic with our parents, older relatives, teachers or mentors?

Most of us, only learn about our sexuality and about our virginity through our peers and friends. Even then, this discussion is hidden in the shadows of our minds, which for many of us goes unresolved. That is until writer and film director, Therese Shechter, brought it up pertinently in her documentary boldly titled “How To Lose Your Virginity.”

I had the pleasure of discussing her views of the documentary and getting into the fascinating idea of how and what people say in regards to their virginity.

(Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)
Lisa Esselstein and Therese Shechter doing rec carpet at US premiere of film at DOC NYC (Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)

What made you interested with the concept of loosing ones virginity? 

What first got me interested was the rise of abstinence until marriage programs in the mid 2000s. It made it clear that a lot of young people weren’t getting good information about sex and not only were they getting bad information, they were getting misinformation. They were learning about getting sexual through bad science, through sexism, through shame. It got me interested in finding a better way to talk about sexuality with young people. The more I got into the topic of virginity, the more fascinating it became, it includes, pop history, culture, science, there’s a lot there, and it became an endlessly fascinating topic

The title itself can leave your mind spinning because it boldly opens up the question that can make anyone cringe. Shechter, who directed and played a role in this documentary, opens up about her own life and experiences with virginity and shares the stories of other women, whom she met along the way in, researching the very question we’ve been secretly curious to ask.

How did you collect your research to make the documentary? 

Some people were really keen on sharing their stories, and some were more hesitant. It is very awkward to talk about openly, about our own sex lives. We’re always measuring our sex lives against, what we see on T.V. or some women’s magazine, or even porn. It was really a process of gaining people’s trust, emailing, or talking to them on the phone. I was clear about what we would be talking about, and anytime they didn’t want to answer something, I told them to tell me, and we’d move on. Sometimes it’s a gradual process, some people don’t want to talk on camera. Similar to a sexual relationship, trust and consent is key.

Is it hard for others to speak about their sexuality and their sexual choices? 

 I think it’s a really radical act to speak honestly about your own sexual life, and your sexual choices and how you feel about them. I feel that people get silenced about their own sexuality and then are pushed into stereotypes, the good girl, the slut, the prude, the virgin, we’re way more complex than that. The more women, men, queers, straight, the more that we can hear stories, and have more honest conversations, it improves the quality of conversation about more topics like rape, abortion, contraception, that come out of the shadows.

Shechter, through the medium of film, opens up the question of how virginity is used to control women’s sexuality, self-worth  and the influence virginity can have on women, all around the world.

(Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)
(Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)

After speaking to Shechter, she gave great insight to her views about virginity and what this film will do to change the objectivity of virginity.

“Becoming sexual is a process and that process is about you, and you should be able to make your own choices about your sexual life, based on good info, no shaming or judgment, with pleasure and consent, but we will only get there when we start talking about sex honestly and ruling out sexism, double standards, lies, and misinformation. To keep talking about it, that you are much more than your sexual choices, it’s just one part of your life.”

Virginity Myths Workshop at Harvard Sex Weekend: Giveaway table! (Image source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)
Virginity Myths Workshop at Harvard Sex Weekend: Giveaway table! (Image source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)

In filming this documentary, Shechter’s impressions of virginity began to change. She saw the impact of stereotyping surrounding sex.

At first I was really interested in ‘slut shaming,’ where women were being shamed for being too sexual, but in doing this film, the same judgment exists on women who aren’t having sex. No matter what choice a woman makes, someone will judge her for it, and someone will categorize her for it, and someone will punish her for it. It’s an almost impossible situation for a woman to be in, regardless if you’re having sex or not. I became more aware of someone who is an ‘older virgin’ or a person not being ready for sex. There’s a lot of stereotypes for women who aren’t sexually active. I used to define virginity as sexual intercourse, but that has broadened over the course of this film. It made me aware of what men are women are being judged for when it comes to sexuality, everyone is on their own timetable.

This film focuses on every aspect of virginity, from the very idea of it, to the most despicable aspects of women’s sexuality, such as the sale of virginity. The sale of something that can’t be held or felt, it is virtually intangible, and yet it is sold for lots of money. This is called the phenomenon of selling your virginity and what happens after its sold?

If you’re offering sex in return for money, there’s an added gimmick of virginity. The thing that is fascinating and disturbing, the men that bid on these auctions, believe that they’re buying something tangible. Whereas, when we put a price on virginity. It means that when it is gone, the women has no more value. Think about it, it’s a bad way to think about women and sexuality. To say you have this thing worth money, and when you give it away, you’re worthless. That to me is the real issue around virginity culture. That we think there’s a magical moment before and after sex, which will change a woman forever. It’ll change her body, her values, her future, her morals, we have to get over thinking that, it puts women’s sole value in her virginity, and sexuality is a process, there’s many types of it to lose.

Shechter shared her most memorable moment during the filming of “How To Lose Your Virginity,” which was spending the day on the set of a porn franchise, Barely Legal. I also asked her about the ideology that comes with the idea of “the first time,” and how it could be handled.

We were interested in how the porn industry represents and defines virginity. We went to their set to see them film a scene and it was incredibly fascinating to see it being made. I don’t think I will ever forget standing next to my cinematographer whilst this couple is having sex on the car. This is the work they do and they go home. I think it’s interesting how porn creates this stereotypical idea of virginity of this young clean white girl, with white panties, and pigtails, and who knows nothing about sex, until this guy comes along and makes her a women. He teaches her, goes into fantasies that a man is needed to make a women sexual and that you can’t be sexual on your own. This is an ideology that comes from the patriarchy. The idea that men are in charge this is how it happens, they get to take this gift that they created.

Kinsey Institute 8th Annual Juried Art Show presenting The V-Card Diaries (Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/) Kinsey Institute 8th Annual Juried Art Show presenting The V-Card Diaries (Image Source: http://www.virginitymovie.com/events/)[/caption]

Is there really an answer to the films titled question? How does one even go about answering this complicated question?

There is no right way to lose your virginity, you’re not losing anything, and virginity is a concept that has many different definitions that shouldn’t be defined by the person who is becoming sexual, no one can answer it for you, and you may not want to answer it there are people that believe that it doesn’t exist, it’s an idea that we thought of as a society, it’s literally man-made, it is a concept that we have come up with that has for most of history been used to categorize judge and punish women, there’s no medical definition for virginity.

As women, what can we take away from this discussion? We can talk about our sexuality, because it is in fact ours. Opening the topic for discussion and keeping it open will only make us a more knowledgeable society that can lead to more informed choices.

I would like to hank Therese Shechter for channeling this topic, and bringing forth the wave of new knowledge to bring more women out of the shadows, especially ones with of our skin color. It is not always easy for us to talk about our sexuality and sex life to older people whom we can trust. So, we need to be more mindful of starting an open conversation about it amongst ourselves. This way, we can learn to have open dialogue about loosing ones virginity with the next generation.

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