What is virginity worth?

Apparently, to some men and one woman, it is worth at least a million dollars – apparently as high as 3.8 million dollars.  Today’s post is ruminating primarily about adult sexuality.  Just FYI.

Natalie Dylan has been all over the news recently because she’s selling her virginity.  Not to the highest bidder, notably, because Natalie is taking applications as well as bids and choosing among them.  She’s doing it to pay for her graduate education, plus quite a bit of extra it sounds like.  She is being dogged all over the news cycle – from CNN to The Tyra Banks Show.  Frankly, I think the emotional and psychological beating she’s taking by being so public with her decision might be much harder to work through in the end than actually having sex for the first time for money.  (And, of course, it is also driving her price much higher too.)

Natalie’s story brings up two questions for me.

First, What is the DEAL with virginity?  I’ve written about this in the past (and here and here and here).  There seems to be some intense psychological attraction that some men and women have about having sex with someone for the first time.  I honestly don’t get it.  I remember my first time having intercourse just wasn’t all that.  I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t really know how to respond to my partner other than just kind of lying there.  Frankly, I kind of sucked as a lover.  I know that I certainly would not have wanted to have sex with me when I was a virgin.  And there are plenty of people who see eye-to-eye with that perception.  I know men and women who have said they would decline to have sex with a virgin because there’s too much emotional intensity to the encounter or because the virgin will likely be a poor lover.

Maybe it’s primarily a gender thing.  I’m having flashbacks to Memoirs of a Geisha.  It was a fabulous book and a decent movie, but the image that’s really stuck with me is the outrageous one-upmanship of the two men bidding for the main character’s virginity.  So maybe this desire to have sex with a virgin, and more to the point a willingness to pay obscene amounts of money for the honor, is essentially a pissing contest between men where the focus is really on being better (i.e., richer) than other men rather than getting to have intercourse with a virgin.

Because intercourse is what we’re talking about here, right?  I mean, Natalie is going all over the place saying she’s a virgin and she’s taken a lie detector test and maybe there will be some physical exam, all of which is to say she’s never had a penis inside her.  Maybe girlfriend is a lesbian and has had plenty of hot lesbian sex that didn’t involve penetration.  And more power to her if she is and she has, but the point I’m making is that there’s been a lot of the word “virgin” thrown around without much attention to what it means.  (Natalie does say on the Tyra Banks Show that she’s both given and received oral sex with a man.)

Can anyone clarify this point for me?  Why is having sex with a virgin so sought after in some circles?

My second question is, What do I really think about sex for money?  Or sex for food or housing or education?  This is a really hard question.  With my college sex ed classes, when we reach the Sex for Sale session towards the end of the semester, the students by and large come in expecting a diatribe on my part against prostitution.  But as Natalie Dylan is constantly pointing out, there is far more gray here than much of popular America believes.  I start out my class on prostitution with a story:

A woman in medical school is living with a platonic, male friend.  One month, she’s a bit short on rent, she’s depressed and not sure what to do.  She and her roommate get a bit drunk and end up having sex.  The next day, he tells her not to worry about the rest of the rent, he’ll cover it for her.  The same thing happens the next month.  Eventually, she has stopped paying rent, but is having sex with her roommate about once a week.  There’s no romantic attraction on either of their parts, and they’re both pretty happy with the implicit, unspoken arrangement.

Then I ask: Is she a prostitute?  By and large the students agree she is not a prostitute.  Then, I have them answer a series of questions anonymously with some nifty little hand-held gadgets the college has.  Here’s what I ask:

  • After someone has taken you out on a really nice date, have you ever felt obligated to give them a goodnight kiss?  Or a quick make-out session?
  • After you have taken someone out on an expensive, thoughtful date, have you ever felt that there was some sort of…obligation for a physical connection at the end of it?

Pretty much everyone agrees that there’s an understanding of what happens at the end of a date.  The students get my point pretty quickly – that this is an implicit exchange.  Inevitably, this leads to a conversation about whether it’s okay if there’s a feeling of romantic and sexual attraction between the two people.

The shades of gray start to emerge.

And so I ask, assuming that you’re not in a relationship, would you…

  • have sex with someone really hot for a million dollars?
  • have sex with someone of the gender you do not usually have sex with for a million dollars?

This is generally a pretty mixed question, with lots of students asking for clarification.  What if there is a romantic and sexual attraction between you and the person offering the money?  Does it make a difference if it’s money being offered rather than food, shelter, or educational funding?

Eventually we move into talk about the implicit understanding that most monogamous couples have that sex will occur with some perhaps-unstated frequency.  This implicit understanding is often too much (or too little) for the individuals involved, but they generally work it out and do it anyway.  How is this expectation different – or “better than” – an explicit exchange of money?  There’s some serious gray in that question.

Ultimately what matters the most is that everyone involved is actively choosing his or her sexual encounters.  What kinds of implicit or explicit expectations occur around individual, mutually chosen sexual encounters are not necessarily for me to judge.

But back to Natalie Dylan.  If you want to see her talk about what she’s doing, here’s a pretty long clip from the Tyra Banks show:

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I’m pretty sure that these multimillion dollar sums have a huge “I’m the guy who had that girl on TV’s virginity” factor to it. If she wasn’t in the throes of her 15 minutes of fame right now, I don’t see someone paying $4 million for sex with her.

    Secondly, I’m not sure what the hangup about prostitution is. Sex for money goes on all the time. Or did you actually believe the 22-year-old hottie when she says she’s with that 68-year-old multimillionaire because “he makes her laugh”?

    What makes that sex-for-money arrangement any different from a simple cash transaction?

  2. You’re right, Bob, except that prostitution does seem to come along with huge hang-ups. I wonder where and when it became such a huge taboo? Maybe it has something to do with men wanting to know for sure their lineage, and someone who sells sex generally has sex with more than one person? (The 68-year-old multimillionaire aside, of course.)

    But we should totally lighten up, I mean even those randy penguins do it! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/60302.stm


  3. Lighten up? OK.

    “Now, Kaytlyinn. You had better not violate your Abstinence Pledge. Your virginity could really be worth something someday! Just look at Natalie Dylan!”

  4. HAHAHAHAHAHA! If I didn’t hate the acronym ROLFMAO, I would use it right now.

  5. Karen,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this article on the CNET computer news web site:

    5 questions for woman selling her virginity online

  6. Thanks for pointing me towards the site, Steve. But I’ll admit I’m actually less interested in the particulars of Natalie Dylan and more interested in the general concepts of virginity and prostitution. So I don’t really care if she’s a farce or what she intends to do with the money or the man. But I am very interested in the general reaction to Ms. Dylan and her intentions.

    I wonder why the author of this article was moved to look so closely at Ms. Dylan’s intentions and history? It’s just so telling of our societal issues that Ms. Dylan has become such a national story of the moment, and that people have become so fascinated that they want to know all about her past and predict her future.

  7. Hi Karen. Where have I been? I had not heard this story but I can bet that it will come up in OWL very soon. But this does raise a good discussion on the topic.

    To answer your first question, I think I agree with you more on the notion that it is a pissing contest between men. There is also a bit of ego boosting involved because our society places a high emotional price on virginity, as it if giving it up to someone is some reward. Dan Savage had a call on this on his podcast last week. I don’t understand the desire to have intercourse with a virgin. Not to say that I wouldn’t if it were someone I cared about and had a relationship with, but perhaps I have intellectualized it to the point that you mentioned above with intensity and/or bad lover notion.

    Second, I’ve often wondered about your end of date questions and that gray area that emerges with them. Is the line the implicit/explicit notion of intercourse? And if so, does it make a real difference?

  8. How do you answer that second question, Jairy? (Or anyone else!) Is it the implicit/explicit difference? Is it the actual money/goods and services difference? Is it that most people have put out after a good date but not for cash, and so they fall back on the in-group/out-group belief structure to feel that they are still a good person?

    There’s lots to talk about here, but on this point, I’m really interested in what ya’ll have to say, not what I have to say!

  9. First of all, I can’t seem to let go of the romanticized idea that if you love someone, you won’t care if he or she is a virgin or not.

    Second, I’m not going to touch the sex-for-money thing, but it reminds me of another issue. Suppose a man and a woman are living together in a platonic relationship. Both of them would like to have kids, but they haven’t met “the one” yet, so they decide to have sex and get pregnant and co-parent the kid together. Society then turns against them because they aren’t married. How is this any different from people having a romantic attraction and getting married and divorced and co-parenting their kid? I mean, isn’t it simpler to not get married in the first place and parent with someone you actually like?

  10. The girl that sleeps with her roomate for rent to be covered is a prostitute, without any grey area. She may not feel bad about it. You may not feel she is even doing anything “wrong”, although other may disagree. But, the fact is she is sleeping with someone she is not in a relationship with, and she’s doing it for money, plain and simple.

    The Dictionary offers insight:

    1.a person who engages in sexual intercourse for money

    Just because someone may not fall into OUR cultural/social idea of what a prostitute is (ex. drug addict w/ pimp), doesn’t mean much. This girl’s actions are completely in line with the definition of a prostitute.

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