27-year-old Elizabeth Raine is auctioning off her virginity on April 1st. She plans to use the money to pay for school, after donating 35% to a charity that brings education to underserved women in developing countries. Aside from the fact that they let a toddler airbrush these photos, I’m pretty on board with this whole thing. (This isn’t the first time someone has auctioned their virginity, by the way. It’s kind of a thing.)
The rundown: Raine’s website says she is 5’10”, 130 pounds, with measurements of 34A-26-36. More importantly, she doesn’t seem like a complete asshole. Actually, she appears to be much more thoughtful and reasonable about the whole thing than opportunistic or lacking a sense of self-worth. Which is why this whole thing is surprisingly positive: The auction of Raine’s virginity isn’t out of financial desperation (at least, so she says) where she is compromising herself and her beliefs and will feel shitty about the whole thing later. This auction has every appearance of being about an exercise of her personal power – and her willingness to speak openly about her decision to sell her maiden vaginal voyage to the highest bidder, while clearly part of promoting it, is also creating some interesting dialogue about what virginity and sex means in a bigger social context.
In a Q&A on her website, Raine address the value of virginity:
Virginity loss is a commonplace physical experience and for so much to be contingent on it makes very little sense. However, at a personal level, I value my virginity enormously and cannot be made to feel as if this is wrong. Sex is important and the first time is milestone after all. In addition, like everything, virginity has a place in a social context that is impossible to ignore altogether. I know this is all terribly confusing (my own brow is momentarily furrowed), but I will try my best to meld my thoughts into a clear answer. Ideally, virginity should not be valued, and definitely not at its current rate. Realistically, we live in a deeply imperfect society forever preoccupied with sexuality and virginity. So, it is my belief that if a woman assigns a value to her virginity – be it for personal, social, or financial reasons – this is her right and it needs to be respected. With respect to my case, I am perfectly capable of thinking idealistically and often do, but I have never found it very productive to live staunchly by ideals. Instead, I choose to operate as best I can within the framework of reality. I happen to think I have done very well at the virginity front. My own virginity has never been anything less than a source of personal freedom and power, even prior to placing it up for auction.
Clearly, some people aren’t going to be so down with v-card auctions. It does, undoubtedly, go fiercely against the belief systems and moral codes of so many people. Which is why I love it – maybe (okay, definitely) we’re at an excellent stopping point, collectively, to pause and evaluate what ideas and messages form the foundation of those belief systems and moral codes, and rethink our treatment of sexuality, particularly female sexuality. Why are we so quick to judge someone for taking something that is considered a valuable commodity, to which they rightfully claim ownership, and leveraging it for their personal gain according the what benefits them the most? What is wrong with that? Isn’t it more degrading to presume to tell someone that their virginity is their “most precious possession” (or whatever) but then tell them what they are supposed to do with it?
I’m not going to get into the implications of the worshipping of virginity and purity except to say that it’s been going on forever, and it’s no less weird now. Throughout history, there has been a clear correlation between major societies – ours is very much included – revering virginity and youth and the existence of a culture where women are generally oppressed. We like our women to be as infantilized as possible, and as far removed from power as possible – and sex is a way to tap into some massive channel of primal, human power. It’s all connection and chemicals and energy and the mechanisms that create life. Once you go through that door, and come to know those things, and access that power, you start to possess a strength and agency that can’t be revoked, and usually does nothing but become more profound and effectual with time and experience.
I think that’s why men love the idea of taking a woman’s virginity: They take it and, to some degree, feel a sense of ownership over that woman, especially if the man and woman involved were raised in a culture that backs up this mentality. Obviously, this is not always the case; a lot of couples have sex for the first time and it’s genuinely nothing more than a gesture of their love for each other, or a simple physical desire to grind their bits together. It’s not some pathological power play. Even still, when you combine a culturally-instilled connection between “virginity” and “virtue” and “purity” and “goodness”, and women who sleep with lots of dudes are still fighting the good fight against not being regarded as worthless whores, there is surely some validity to the idea that being the first man to have sex with a woman gives you at least the perception of having some possession or lofty station in her life.
Why don’t we exalt a woman of knowledge and experience? Doesn’t it stand to reason that she’ll be better at sex if she’s had (lots of) it before? Doesn’t the fact that we vilify sexual experience in women while respecting it in men one of the core double standards that speaks to the disempowerment of women? How can we not conclude that men are more attracted to sexually inexperienced women because it makes them feel more skilled by comparison? They get to feel like big, strong, knowing men guiding the inexperienced, timid woman through her first sexual venture. If sex puts people in their most basic, uncomplicated, ultimately true, exposed position, then it’s not difficult to understand why ideological sexism would be against sex where a woman has authority over a man. So we put virgins on pedestals and shame sexually knowledgable women.
Side note: the words we use to talk about losing or taking someone’s virginity are very telling; we say “losing” as if having sex for the first time makes you less complete than you were. We say “taking“, not “sharing” or “being given”, or god forbid using language that doesn’t automatically imbue the situation with the dynamics of a transaction. Having sex is a thing you do together. The more we can erase mindsets – and the words that reinforce them – that portray women and their bodies and their sexuality as a “thing” to be “taken”, the easier it will be to move towards healthy gender relationships in general.
In the meantime, I love things like virginity auctions. They essentially take one of the most long-established traditions of male dominance and putting the power squarely with the woman, while also challenging conventional ideas about what virginity is, and what sex is, and what bodily autonomy really means.
But we still need to work on homegirl’s airbrushing game.