By Amanda Levitt Since she was quoted saying that the hardest thing she has ever done in her life has been to remain a virgin until marriage, the news circulating about LoLo Jones, the 29-year-old Olympic athlete, has exploded. While I don’t really care that she is a virgin, seeing as how I am one myself at age 26, the way her status is being portrayed–not only by herself but by the media–is an interesting take on being a virgin in public life. I have written about my own virginity and the social construction of virginity on my blog and many of the same themes show up in the numerous articles written about her.
LoLo Jones portrays her own sexuality as heroic in that it denies all of the social pressures to conform to the over-sexualized society that we live in. In doing so, she is trying to place herself outside of what it means to be an older virgin in society, a place that is often filled with what society believes are a group people with no other choice than to be virgins. By saying that it was hard, she is able to counter the assumption that no one has ever been attracted to her, or that there is something wrong with her that is keeping her from having a sexual relationship.
The quote itself came from an interview that she did with HBO sports where her status was automatically treated as a character flaw. Being an older virgin is often seen as motivated by religious belief, as it is in Jones’ case, or it is considered a sign that there is something inherently wrong with you. For women, we still live in a society that reinforces the idea that self-worth does not come from ourselves but from a potential partner.
My own experiences with this have come from friends or even coworkers who figured out that I was not sexually active and tried to hook me up with someone because they assumed I was not able to find dates on my own. Many people have gone as far to suggest that I should be content with any kind of attention I get, no matter how unwanted it has been. When on dates or talking to someone I am interested in about the subject, the conversation always comes back to the idea that there must be something wrong with me to still be a virgin at my age.
The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested that Jones should get together with the football player Tim Tebow. They are both athletes, but the way the media is linking these two together serves two different purposes. First, it is an attempt to ‘fix’ them, since their status as virgins is not only considered a flaw but is also in opposition to what we consider to be socially-acceptable time in life to have sex, regardless of the reasons they are waiting. As with my own friends, the assumption is that they are unable to do this on their own, since that time has long since past.
Second, by putting two people together who share a similar sexual status in the mind of society, we assume that they must also have the same form of sexuality or level of sexual understanding. We believe that someone’s sexuality begins with being sexually active with a partner, not something you can explore on your own. In my own experience, I find that people not only automatically assume that I am a prude but that I also know nothing about sex–many times assuming that I am asexual. The need to pair people who are considered the same happens in the case of religion, race, body size, sexual orientation and so on. This is not something that is unique to ‘deviant’ forms of sexuality but an idea that people who fit into any specific category are the best if paired together.
Clutch Magazine wrote that Jones shouldn’t have even talked about her sexuality because it opened her up to public scrutiny and harsh criticism. My own experiences with being public about my sexuality have been mostly positive. I also do not tell as many people as I did when I was younger and was ashamed of my status because I thought it was a personal failing. Jones’ choice to be public about her sexuality is a choice that she is allowed to make on her own . This kind of public scrutiny happens with all forms of sexuality that are considered deviant, and she shouldn’t be forced to hide something that she thinks is an integral part of who she is.
If more people were open about their own sexuality and spoke bluntly about it, the idea that someone is a virgin wouldn’t be a huge deal. There are more of us out there than you would believe.
Amanda Levitt is the blogger at FatBodyPolitics.com and the founder of Love Your Body Detroit a non-profit activist organization dedicated to ending fat phobia. She can be found on her blog as well as on twitter @FatBodyPolitics.