The Virgin Diaries is not a political book by any means. The authors, Kimberley A. Johnson and Ann Werner, set out to create a guide for teenagers and young adults that would help them overcome the incredible pressure they’re put under to lose their virginity.
They succeeded brilliantly.
I would go so far as recommend TVD as mandatory reading for both parents and their just-about-to-enter-adolescence children. I say the parents need to read it as well because Johnson and Werner have accidentally revealed just how distorted our views of sex and sexuality are as a country.
The Virgin Diaries is not a book in the traditional narrative sense, rather, it is a compilation of stories in response to a survey circulated by the authors. From Arkstories:
Hundreds of years of collective experience answer the questions every virgin has. THE VIRGIN DIARIES is a book about sex that really isn’t about sex at all. Rather, it’s about the feelings associated with that first time: wondering about it, worrying about it, the expectations, the surprises and the disappointments. Within these pages are the recollections of seventy-two people, young and old, gay and straight, who responded to the call for answers. This candid collection of stories provides a unique opportunity to be a fly on the wall. There is no commentary. The stories stand on their own, allowing the reader to form his or her own conclusions. Whether you are a virgin and desire to make an informed decision, a parent faced with “the talk” or are interested in reading detailed accounts of one of life’s most personal experiences, THE VIRGIN DIARIES offers confidential insights and illustrates the commonalities we all share: our hopes, dreams, fears and insecurities. It shows that we are all human and therefore, all connected.
The writing style obviously varies from story to story and some are more explicit than others but throughout, a broad narrative arises: nobody knows what the hell they are doing the first time they have sex. Further, parents either did not have “the talk” or failed to do it in such a way that it left an impression. The result? There’s a whole lot of unprotected first time sex and even more misinformation. Here’s a few examples:
“Dad never said much at all. My mom always told me not to do anything. That advice kept me from enjoying myself for years to come.
I heard some extreme rumors, especially in high school. Once heard a guy used his gym socks as a condom.”
“My mother always told me to wait until I was married. She would tell me to imagine that Jesus was in the backseat with my date and I when we were together, so that if we started something, that would stop me. What really stopped me was imaging my mother in the backseat.”
To this end, The Virgin Diaries is an extremely useful tool for parents that have long since forgotten how fraught with tension and confusion those early days of sexual exploration are. TVD can serve as a reminder that teaching abstinence only serves only to produce dangerous ignorance and an unhealthy understanding of our sexuality. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about sex and the sooner parents understand that, the more use they can be to their children.
A second broad narrative also arises, that is just as depressing as the first, is that sex for girls is stigmatized. They are sluts even to the boys that lose their virginity to them. Like so:
“My friends weren’t having sex that I know of. I remember a girl who had sex in high school but everyone talked negatively about her. Everyone said she was a slut. Actually, everyone that had sex was a slut. Sex was a no-no. It was okay if you had sex but you just had to hide it.”
“I didn’t have much trouble getting it in. She helped a lot. I knew she was experienced because her friends told me she was a huge slut. This turned me on because I knew it would take very little work to nail her.”
This is a disturbing trend in America. Even at a young age, women “know” that sex is something to be ashamed of instead of enjoyed. Women that enjoy sex regardless are sluts and whores for doing so. “Sex was a no-no.” “She was a huge slut.” The sad truth is, sex is more perilous for a woman since our society places almost all of the burden for an unwanted pregnancy on her whereas it takes a court order to hold the man even minimally accountable. We see this reflected in how we, as a country, respond to rape. We will happily shame the victim for dressing “sexy” or “drinking too much” or “leading him on” while giving a pass to the rapist. The Virgin Diaries does not delve into rape culture but it does have one story of coerced sex and, in that, both of the underage participants were victimized by an adult. It was included because it’s important for kids in that kind of situation to know that they are not alone. The isolation and fear are enough to keep them trapped and even the slimmest of lifelines can be sufficient for them to seek help. This is one of the few instances where a female victim is actually treated like a victim. The general rule, unfortunately, still remains that sexually active women are tainted by their desires.
Slut shaming is just a symptom of the larger problem: Sexual education in America is a joke. Unintended pregnancies are a source of misery and poverty for millions of women very year. In the richest country on Earth, we restrict access to contraceptives and information. We allow a small group of religious fanatics to use pregnancy as a punishment for being sexually active (women only, of course) and condemn many of these children that they claim to protect to grow up in abject poverty and hunger. It’s time that we acknowledge that our attitudes towards sex are archaic and actively harmful. Our children are surrounded by sex everywhere they look but receive very little, if any, accurate information about it. It’s time America grew up and stopped acting like adolescents when it comes to intercourse. Being squeamish about our favorite national past time (no, it’s not baseball although it does involve bats, balls and scoring a home-run) is ridiculous. We need to sit down, talk with our kids and make sure they know sex is natural, healthy and how to be safe about it. We need to teach it in our schools to take the fear, uncertainty and social stigma out of it. Anything less is a failure in guiding the next generation.
At its heart, The Virgin Diaries is a book about hope; the hope that we can pass on our hard-won wisdom to every teen and young adult about to walk the gauntlet of losing their virginity. The stories contained within point out some of the more obvious pitfalls and even some of the more insidious traps that await virgins. It doesn’t necessarily give a surefire way to avoid them but just knowing that others have felt the same way is sometimes enough for the frightened and insecure to gain the confidence they need to move forward at their own pace. We should all have been so fortunate when our time came.