Twilight, Glee & JFK: Romanticizing Virginity Loss
Recently, I have become fascinated with a website called LostMyV (www.LostMyV.com) where people can submit their intimate and personal memories of how they lost their virginity. The mission of the website is to de-taboo virginity loss one story at a time by, in a way, normalizing first time sexual experiences. Everyone’s story - young, old, gay, transsexual, heterosexual, male, female, Catholic – is acknowledged and legitimized.
Reading these intimate memories made me think of how our society romanticizes first time sex. Three powerful examples are Twilight, Glee, and the confession of Mimi Alford – who lost her virginity fifty years ago as a young intern to then-President John F. Kennedy. The theme is manifested in three very different ways. Twilight idealizes abstinence, Glee depicts the illusion of a magical first time sexual experience, and Mimi Alford romanticizes her sexual escapades to let go of her secretive past.
In Glee’s “First Time Sex” episode, Finn and Rachel’s, and Kurt and Blaine’s first time sexual experiences were tender and sweet. Unlike most teen-targeted television shows,virginity loss was not portrayed in Glee as meaningless, wild, or overly sexual. In fact, the producers and writers of Glee handled the issue rather delicately. Rachel gives Finn “something no one else will ever get” – making her virginity an object she can gift to someone special – and Kurt tells Blaine that “he takes his breath away.”
Indeed, tapping into their sexually awakening characters as they rehearse for their school’s production of West Side Story , turns out to be more than just a sexual quest to lose their virginity. In fact, their intimate moments carried all the romance, magic and sweetness of a first love. In so doing, Glee romanticizes first time sex for both a straight, and a gay teen couple in an emotionally satisfying way.
On the other hand, Twilight romanticizes abstinence and post-marital sex. The book series places great emphasis on self-control and chastity. The vampire, Edward Cullen, who has lived as a 17-year old for more than a century, insists they wait to have sex until they are married. Although the film has been criticized for its regressive gender representations, particularly Edward’s controlling nature and Bella’s submissiveness, many people in our society, specifically Christians, uphold similar pre-marital sex beliefs.
The feelings of romance and sexual desire he gets when he’s around Bella are new for centuries-old Edward. He tells Bella that “most of those human desires are there, just hidden behind more powerful desires.” In fact, Bella reminds Edward that these are new feelings for her too: "I've never felt like this about anyone before, not even close.” Throughout the books, when sexual tension rises between Edward, the vampire, and Bella, the human, Edward pushes Bella away because the encounter could be potentially dangerous for her. Symbolically, for author, Stephanie Meyer, the danger could also be interpreted as a fear of pregnancy, lust, or sexual promiscuity.
When Bella and Edward finally have sex in their honeymoon, the scenes and story-line are sexually powerful. Such ultimate sexual climax may set unreal female and male expectations and fantasies for first time sex. Moreover, it can be argued that the significance placed in first time sex for both Twilight and Glee may place unreal expectations for young people. Young women, in particular, may expect harps playing, rose petals in the bed, falling head over heels in love, marriage, and living happily ever after with their first sexual partner. Because, as it is depicted, virginity is a magical gift given to their one true love.
This brings me to Mimi Alford and John F. Kennedy. Early this year, Mimi confessed the sexual 18-month affair she had as a White House intern with President Kennedy. Public commentaries questioned whether anyone cared or found her story relevant. She reveals, “When you keep a secret and when you keep silent about something, you do it because you think it’s keeping you safe, but in fact, it’s deadly.”
Mimi was swept into a whirlwind of exciting romance with a handsome president who had abundant charisma, and magnetism. He was glamorized, adored, even idolized by American society. Joanna Schroeder, writer for the Good Men Project, states
“In a time when female sexuality was both demonized and put on a pedestal, when virginity was one of the most valuable aspects of a woman, when women had very little sexual agency, perhaps Alford had to romanticize the loss of her virginity to survive the pain of what may have been a less-than-consensual interaction.”
Mimi carried her secret for 50 years. When asked if she would do it again, Mimi replies, “I still wouldn’t say no.” Remembering her affair and loss of virginity as exciting romance is her way of surviving and overcoming the shame of her first sexual experience. A shame imbued by society. In fact, when she told her husband, he told her never to speak of it again. However, romanticizing her first time is a way of accepting her haunting past.
First time sexual experiences evoke much emotion in our lives. As sexual beings, our sexuality is an important part of who we are, our self-esteem, and our perception of the world. Females and males are taught different ways of viewing their virginity. However, virginity loss is an important milestone for everyone.
Romanticizing first time sex can have both negative and positive repercussions. Failure to meet societal expectations may cause a person to view their experience as shameful, or even, harmful to future relationships. However, romanticizing a societally-disgraceful experience may help a person overcome the negative emotions associated with a scarring past.
And thus, I continue to read stories published at LostMyV to further understand the different personal meanings and interpretation of virginity loss in our society.