I have to respectfully disagree with Alexandra Gekas’ recent Soapbox excoriating Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones for considering her virginity “a gift I want to give my husband.” Taking Jones to task for how she’s decided to pursue her sexuality strikes me as yet another way to be holier-than-thou, through a feminist lens, almost the opposite of slut-shaming (conservative-shaming? virgin-shaming?). There are a seemingly infinite number of ways women are told we are expressing ourselves, sexually and otherwise, incorrectly. Are we showing too much cleavage? Putting out too soon? Living in sin? It’s like we can’t win, and while I’m not in Jones’ position, I’d like to think anyone who’s been judged for being “slutty” can empathize with being judged in this way.
It’s contradictory to say that you respect another woman’s right to make her own decisions about her sexuality (or anything else) but then feel she hasn’t made her decision for the right reason. That doesn’t change even though Gekas qualified her opinion with, “…if Jones’ decision is right for her, then not only do I say more power to her, but I am impressed that she has neither succumbed to the pressure nor the temptation.” One of the main tenets, to me, of feminism, is respecting women enough to acknowledge that we won’t all think alike. I didn’t view losing my virginity as a “gift,” but I don’t want to judge someone else for doing so. All I ask in return is that I not be judged for how I live my life. We’ve certainly come a long way from the time when women were only valued for their virginity, when that in and of itself was a prize to be won. Anyone who settles down with Jones is clearly going to be partnering with more than just “a virgin”—they’ll be matching up with a woman who is accomplished, successful, outspoken and knows what she wants: a single, Christian non-smoker with a job and no kids, according to a Twitter post.
Yet Gekas isn’t the only one chastising not just Jones, but women anywhere who are holding out on getting between the sheets. There’s a sex therapist who warns that women who wait for marriage may be setting themselves up for vaginismus. We’ve reached a point in our culture where a woman being a virgin isn’t always seen as a “prize.” A University of California at Berkeley student named Dwinelle quoted a potential male partner who rejected her based on her virginal status to The Daily Californian: “‘I’m sorry but you’re just going to have to leave. It’s not you. In my personal experience, girls who are virgins — after they have sex with a guy — they tend to be really clingy and won’t leave him alone.’” Jones acknowledged this dilemma in her interview on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” saying of her virginity, “It was cute when I was 22, 24…. [At] 24 to 29 it’s not cute. You get judged a lot, a lot of guys won’t return your calls after they find out.”
Meanwhile, at the extremely conservative Lifesite News, Damian Goddard is making up a supposed agenda for people who believe in sexual freedom: “…Lolo Jones is an enemy merely for what she is standing for. And that is not only sexual preservation, but the most glorious institution of marriage.” I don’t think Lolo Jones, or anyone who is a virgin by choice, is anyone’s enemy, and they should be accorded the same respect as someone who’s slept with dozens of people.
Maybe it seems strange for someone who makes a living writing about sex and who has been sexually active since age 17 to be sticking up for a 29-year-old virgin, but I see this as a wider issue. To me, sexual freedom means being able to make your own sexual choices for whatever reasons you like and not be shamed for them. Saying that you have the right to make your own decisions but that your reasoning is faulty is like being pro-choice but saying a woman should only have an abortion for a “good” reason. The problem is that “good” is subjective, as is “gift.” If Jones is a role model for other virgins, I don’t see why that’s a bad thing, as long as being a virgin isn’t being upheld as the only way to be “good.” At The Washington Post, Rahiel Tesfamariam laments the media’s desire to focus on black women at the extremes of celibate or promiscuous, and writes, “Our abstinence is presented as a superhuman, radical break from the norm, one made only by devout Christians — when factors such as sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and infidelity make it a far more commonplace choice than the public realizes.” To that end, I’m glad that Jones acknowledged that being a virgin isn’t necessarily easy (in a statement ready-made for headlines, she said being a virgin has been “harder than training for the Olympics”).
I think it’s great that Jones is so outspoken about being a virgin, not because I care either way about other people waiting to have sex or not, but because she shows that virgins can be strong, sexy and successful. That should be obvious, but I think it’s sad that there’s not more cultural support for those who haven’t had sex yet, whatever the reason. Instead, we tend to fixate on virgins like they are freaks. An MTV casting call for a show that wound up being cancelled before a pilot was event taped asked: “Do you want to take things to the next level? Like, are you ready to hand over your V card? Or do you have a friend who is ready to lose it?” In a cultural landscape where we talk about a “V card,” maybe we need more outspoken virgins like Jones. I like what Heather Corinna of Scarleteen told a reader asking whether it’s possible to become a virgin again by abstaining from sex: “All there ever is is the best choice we can make for yourselves with the information, insight and skills we have at a given time.” Indeed!
Don’t get me wrong: the conservatives who are also crowing about Jones like her virginity is a prize to be held aloft as an example to all of us slutty fools are wrong too. A prime example: Creative Minority Report, who wrote in response to Gekas, “It makes people angry when someone ascribes such value to something they themselves gave away without any thought. They don’t want to think about what they threw away.” I don’t think Gekas is angry that Jones has made a different choice than her regarding premarital sex, simply that she is making it for an unfeminist reason.
Open-mindedness regarding women’s choices doesn’t mean not holding women accountable for their public statements just because they’re women; if Jones had said something along the lines of, “All women should save themselves for their husbands” or “What I’m doing is the best thing any woman can do,” then I’d agree she should be taken to task. But the fact is, even the most ardent feminist likely does something that goes against feminist orthodoxy or that would offend some feminist somewhere. That’s why the Tumblr Is This Feminist? is so hilarious. In my opinion, the same need for opinion-mindedness and recognition that women are smart enough to make decisions that work for them can be applied to much more than sex; it’s one thing to, say, want to look out for women’s health, like in the case of binge drinking, but another to say to another woman, essentially, “I wish you thought and acted more like me, and I’m judging you for not doing so.” That applies to religion or finances or eating or any number of topics we take extremely seriously. There’s always going to be someone out there who thinks they know what’s best for other people. If they’re your friends or family or a trained professional, maybe they do, but I can’t condone judging someone else for a decision that they are making based on their own values, because then it’s an extremely slippery slope for someone else to condemn me—or you.